29/03/2014

Happy Election's Eve


"TGIF" was the first facebook message I received on Friday morning, sitting down to a cup of tea at work. I could not agree more.

It has been a hell of a week on just about every level you can think of - my local area for one. Tarlabaşı has become rather lively since the police moved their main Taksim base from our area to the main square, where they now have a permanent barracks. It doesn't matter what time I've been walking back, but something seems to be always up. I've been a witness to heinous crime and assisted in a police investigation, chilled around camp fires with a load of dealers on ecstasy, broke up a bloody fist fight between a Russian gay couple and fled the scene of an armed dual. And that's just half of it.

However, the background to all these shenanigans has been the constant drivle of politics. Like a white noise, there has been no escape. The signs and posters plastered on every lamppost in the city, the vans blasting out this year's party theme songs, the news, the facebook updates, the TV stations and haw-haw hilarious forwarded memes. 

This is not to say that I don't take an active interest, far from it. But having to listen to my colleagues compete for who can appear as the most blindly fanatical anti-AKP slacktivist often drives me to becoming that most hated of social pariahs - the guy who has his earphones on so loud that everyone is bugged by an incessant, tiny drum beat. And I am conscious of how petty that is, but what can I do?

Whilst most would tell me to quit whinning, I should mention, as I have done in the past on here, that my place is rather different to that of most in regards to the current political situation as I'm one of those who has had, until the last year, a fond admiration for the AKP. As for those who have been cursing them since they came into office, I simply say that a broken clock is right twice a day. Their own Republican preferences set the precident for autoritarianism and lack of consideration for free speech even when they shared a more seats with the AKP in their first years in office. They don't show obvious signs of having learnt anything from this time in opposition, which just confounds my depression, as it leads me shuffling back to the AKP like an abused lover too scared to run. How I would love to be smuggly outraged by Ergdoğan's cringe-worthy phone recordings, offensive tone and absurd excuses (which would be considered comic gold if Turkish politics was a shiny-shoed improv group). 

I am just distraught, and my only response is facetiousness in the face of despair. 

At the AKP rally in Yenikapı, I wandered through the crowds. The number of people amassed was huge. However, the intrinsing suspicion of me as a foreigner with a camera, who either couldn't know anything, or was looking for a negative spin was awful. When taking photos of snipers positioned on the rooves a gentleman turned to me and demanded I stop, I protested that he had no right to which his response was (pointing to an armband I had just bought with the words of the shahada written on them) "do you even know what that means?", when I answered with the Arabic formula, the man had a moment of panick and quickly put on a façade of integrity stating, "it doesn't matter if you are Muslim, I was just asking, you can't take photos of them". It was evident from his first defence (pointing at the crowd, saying "you should be taking photos of these people") that the intention was the undermine any chance of the dirty foreign media trying to create false spin of the event.

Had these people any idea what was going through my mind, when I saw the posters and the flag waving, the chanting and the hyperbole, and the instant denial mechanisms at work when I offered an alternative view, they may have been won around to a little more nuance. But unfortunately an instant though-transferl machine  has not been developed by Apple yet, so for now, we'll see. 

The leader, and the waves of followers gathered at Yenikapı were whipped up by a dangerous sense of mission and destiny; The saviour was here - unblemished and undefeatible. The Kemalist zealots, with their uncritical approach and unwavering loyalty despite all the facts, have met their match. As Niesche might have put it had he been living in Turkey today, "when you gaze into Turkish Republican ideology, the ideology gazes back into you". The groups are so entrenched in their ways, with a smatter of mixed-up ideology, intangible buzzword like 'democracy' and 'freedom' and a double dossage of personality cult, that the idea of dialogue and a middle road is laughable right now.

As for me, having been told by the CHP in Bakırköy last week, that if I fostered a nuanced approach to identity, I should marry someone from my own country, and told by the MHP that there is no such concept as 'from Turkey' but that 'for us, you can be a Turk', I can see no serious ideological or political maturity from either main opposition party. The DSP got my sympathy ("If you want to fuck your girlfriend in the street, what's it to me", me: "do you think most Turks could think like that?" "They'll get used to it") and the HDP got my vote as the most 21st century-thinking party in the race. If only they could shake off the stigma that comes with being associated with the Kurds.

Tomorrow will be the AKP's once again. Sure they are likely to lose the coast-line, and a couple of Anatolian enclaves like Adana in the East, but the opposition must count on more than songs, posters and meaningless non-policies, like Mustafa Sarıgül's list of promised reforms - none of which are actually tangible.  Essentially, there needs to be a vision of an alternative future and a candidate trustworthy enough to convince the masses that there is an alternative to Erdoğan who will respect them and maintain their presence in society too.

How the AKPers, or the CHPers would tolerate the emergence of a movement like that, is beyond me right now though.

22/03/2014

Twitter, Shmitter and the Overwhelming Irony of it All


"You were warned Melih, enough already. Lots of love, Tayyip"
My own incredibly lo-fi attempts at pictorial satire to one side, it is obvious that the biggest victim to Turkey's Twitter ban will be the Mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökçen, who's addiction to Tweeting has provided comedy gold for at least the past year or so. Here's my favourites:

1) Making the most common mis-spelling in the Turkish language in a tongue-in-cheek style. Many detractors didn't catch the purposeful irony, but it's the desperate cry of 'I INVITE YOU ALL TO SEND YOUR MESSAGES :)' that recalls some the most self-obsessed 16 year old girls on facebook, which really makes me smile.


 2. Stating obvious facts and banal activities like 'hoovering the roof' and 'bathing the plants' can wind up even the most passive of Twitter users like myself (I have tweeted about 10 things in the last year. But Melih breaks the mold with the immortal 'Today is Friday 7th June. Tomorrow it will be Saturday 8th'. As testiment to the fact that Turkish social media users can be the most deliciously sarcastic on the planet, the first comment simply stated 'Melih mate, this is the most sensible thing you've ever tweeted'.

3. And finally, everyone's favourite. On the week when several ministers were forced to resign and their children were being rounded up after a spate of corruption charges, some joker commented on one of Melih's tweets that 'They've got your son', to which, rather than calling his boy or at least checking out the latest news, Melih hastily typed 'WHERE DID YOU READ THAT'. The user replied 'Only kidding, but tell him to stay indoors, it's going down out there'.


Double-standards

The Twitter ban was the talk of the town yesterday at work. Despite the fact that everyone accessed it perfectly fine in the morning it was displays of indignation from everyone who walked in the room. Yes, it is a blatant means of trying to curtail more information being released about government scandals that comes after half the prosecutors and police involved in the scandal have been replaced. That is the essential problem. 

However, this ban is no more enforcable than the ban on alcohol after 10 (which you can easily get if you a) put it in a bag before you leave the shop, or b) go to a bar). It is just as oppressive as the smoking ban, which is only really observed in public buildings. Apart from universities. And police stations. Essentially, these laws are simply symbolic aimed at looking tough, but in effect, actually succeeding in doing very little apart from moving the agenda from corruption, to censorship. Job well done.

And on this point of censorship, is where the Gezi supporters, previously looking so fresh and independent, a rupture in Turkish history, have begun to look like sour janus-faced old-regime conservatives. 

I sat down with a group of colleagues swapping snippy remarks about the ban and interrupted unannounced, with the slightly jolting question of 'Is there a party in Turkey that you think wouldn't do internet censorship?'

After a palpable pause one girl offered 'The CHP'. Yes, Mustafa Kemal's old party, who in 2008 said not a word in protest as their friends in the state prosecutor's office banned Youtube for over two years because of a blastphemous, low-quality video showing the leader in a toilet bowl, were suddenly deemed to be the savours of internet freedom. 

I thus offered that if censorship was the real issue, that it was one for the whole political class to think about.

However, I was cut off by another colleague, who said matter-of-factly, 'But that was about Atatürk canım, that wa reasonable'.

Thus, while Gezi may have represented a break from the past in terms of public partication in Turkish politics, the ghosts of the past continue to linger in the air, and pollute what could otherwise be a genuine beckoning of internalised democratic values. However, despite being, for the first time in Republican history, pushed to the margins of political influence, the old-school 'modernists' may still not quite have learnt the lesson that needs to be learnt, that you cant only complain when your own group's rights are being taken away...