This weekend's events: more impressions

Sunday, June 2

I arrived in Istanbul in the middle of the night this past Thursday/Friday. Normally my temporary residence in town this past decade has been in a green-ish quiet-ish neighborhood a few miles up the Bosphorus from more central areas of the city. Because I was arriving so late, however, I decided to crash at a hotel in tourist-central Sultanahmet the first night, then head up the Bosporus Friday morning.

Riding up the next day, my taxi driver mentioned that there were some 'events' taking place around the park in Taksim, but I didn't take him very seriously. Internationalist Borderlander that I am, I follow the Turkish news, even from the faraway hamlet of Bozeman-on-Mountains. I knew that some people were staying in the park to protest the trees--there are few of them in Istanbul--getting destroyed in the envisioned construction in the park. I figured my driver was talking about this. After all, it was a Friday--a traditional day for protest in Turkey and other Muslim-majority countries. A couple of times a month there's a march or something in Taksim. Sometimes the cops are cool with things, and sometimes the cops, demonstrators, or onlookers get violent. No big deal, I figured.

As usual, I was wrong.

I provided some initial analysis of the events in an earlier post, but I'm not really interested in echoing the news that everyone else is spreading right now. If you want something in English along these lines, make a point of looking at Jenny White's coverage of the events, which includes a number of eye-catching photos.

But I do have a few observations to make, as usual. 

Of the many, many disturbing things that happened this week, I think it's safe to say that the non-internet Turkish media treatment of these events has been particularly telling. Hardly any television stations or newspapers within Turkey carried much information about the events. Social media--the usual suspects, I won't mention their names here--were, in fact, the only ways of getting any sort of information regarding what was going on.

Why no media? They're afraid. I've written about media intimidation in Turkey before (look here, and here, and here). Now we're seeing the consequences of these policies in a moment of real crisis. The AKP did not by any means invent the practice of media cronyism and intimidation in Turkey, but Erdogan personally has taken this practice to another level entirely with stunts like the numerous personal lawsuits he has filed against journalists, opposition, and even cartoonists for "defaming" his character.

NTV nooze van gets the treatment 


Let's not forget the foreign media: thanks CNN, for telling the world that the Turkish police were using Agent Orange, a report that is, apparently, completely false. This is one of many rumors that have been swirling over the past forty-eight hours, and was created after an individual filed on "iReport" with this false claim.

Gee, CNN. I guess that abdicating your responsibilities by turning over content to (free) citizen non-journalists, does contain certain risks. Within hours, thousands of people were sharing, via facebook, completely false and inflammatory material. 

As someone who blogs, I'm definitely not against the idea of non-journalists contributing to the news, especially if they have video or pictures of breaking news. But the stuff needs to be fact-checked, or at least edited. The fact that these iReports are mainly intended to cover "global" (ie, non-American) news is particularly troubling. It's as if they're saying: we're too lazy to care about the rest of the world. Let the foreigners post whatever they want and we'll sort it out later. It's a loathsome approach and totally irresponsible.

Frankly, I think CNN should be held liable for allowing garbage like this to appear on their website in the first place. What right do they have to allow people to provoke others, possibly, to violence by turning over the keys to their website to any yahoo who feels like posting false information? They should be ashamed of themselves.

I'm not going to pretend: I've been staying in my quiet-ish little neighborhood on the Bosporus. As readers of this blog know, I have an opinion or two on Turkish politics, but this isn't my fight. There are too many Americans getting involved in other people's fights already, as far as I'm concerned.

But last night, as I sat here listening to the usual sound of seagulls and horns from the big ships passing up and down the Bosporus, I also heard the sound of sirens, and saw ambulances and police cars racing towards Besiktas, just a mile or so down the road. My old neighborhood. It was the center of protester-police battles on Saturday night.

People are pissed, and not only in Besiktas. They're ticked off about a recent law restricting alcohol sales, and infuriated by what appears to have been nothing less than a police attack upon peaceful protesters in the park on Friday. There have been reports of AKP supporters, clad in white shirts, attacking protesters in alliance with the police, who are not local but rather are part of a national force attached to the Ministry of Internal affairs.

This video is taken from an apartment window and shows the police walking down the street to meet protesters. Following about one hundred yards behind are a group of men, most of them clad in white, carrying clubs.

It's chilling, and not in a good way. The voices you hear are, apparently, the angry shouts of the folks in the apartment directed at the white-clad men.
Things may quiet down in the coming days, but this whole weekend has really been a nightmare. I know that many AKP opponents are delighted by the massive opposition to Erdogan that has been displayed in recent days, but I don't think Erdogan is going to back down. In fact, his confrontational comments over the weekend have just angered his opponents even more.
According to this report, here's what Erdogan, speaking of himself in the third person, had to say about the events at a speech he gave yesterday.

“[They say] Tayyip Erdoğan is dictator. If they call one who serves the people a dictator, I cannot not say anything.” 
The report continues:

Erdoğan also said the much debated Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM), also on Taksim Square, should also be demolished, proposing to build an opera house there instead.

A mosque will be built in Taksim, Erdoğan said. He added that he did not have to take permission from the main opposition leader or a “few marauders” for the projects, noting that the authority had already been given by people who voted for the AKP.
The fact is, there are a lot of people in this country--both opponents and supporters of the AKP--who have been spoiling for a fight for years. My fear is that these people are now finally going to get what they want.

Stay tuned.
More pictures, links and analysis can be found in the Borderlands Lounge. 

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