Syrian refugee children at the Boynuyogun Turkish Red Crescent camp near the Syrian border last year
"Those without sympathy for suffering Syrians have no right to self-pity and flaunt themselves as resistance forces." © AFP
Syrian refugee children at the Boynuyogun Turkish Red Crescent camp near the Syrian border last year
Last updated: June 4, 2013
T. Seleme Basturk: Unpacking the Gezi Park media package

“The Syria issue, the motivator behind this article, is where the hatred and hypocrisy of this ‘revolution’ becomes manifest”

Banner Icon These protests in Turkey present themselves as striving for the same values, and against similar dictators, as the Arab Spring. But such surface appearances are illusionist tricks, writes T. Seleme Basturk.

The Turkish protests have become a global sensation as international media associate it with a struggle for freedom and equality, and resistance against oppression. I find the English articles I have read to be insufficient because none convey the Turkish way of thinking or the dynamics of Turkish society and politics. Despite my past reluctance to express an opinion on Turkey, after seeing the deceptive enemy identities erupt and be misrepresented by all sides for their opposing purposes, I can now say “Nothing is what it seems, everything is screwed up.”

As an American not interested in making a career out of a political-identity affiliated journalism, I need not judge according to a team. My point is that if someone who does not understand the distortions of Turkish society takes a position on these protests based on the international media like those I have read, they have unknowingly sided with certain hateful groups (unfortunately even normal group identities here derived their strength from hate) and are lending legitimacy to their pursuit of power, which will be as repressive as the figures they are fighting.

A simplistic reading entirely associating the protests with a struggle for noble humanitarian values is a naïve—or manipulative—interpretation as the values which certain groups will pursue if they have their way are limited to certain freedoms for certain people. So the battle is not between rights and oppression, but who has the power to protect the rights they value while suppressing those valued by their opponents.

Rather than defending the AKP, I intend to indicate that the international media’s presentation of these protests legitimates the claims of certain political groups. While seeming to oppose the excesses of government powers, they actually oppose that Erdogan currently holds such power. Staged as a struggle against the system, it is actually a fight over who controls the system.

These protests are being framed according to the image of the Arab Spring and the participants have learned the power of media—yet associating them with the Arab Spring, and Occupy movements, undermines the justified revolutionary vision of the latter two. For political motives or journalistic sensation, news sources have dived to equate these protests with the Arab Spring despite apparent dissimilarities. In the latter, hundreds to tens-of-thousands died as the majority revolted against dictators who had ruled for decades. The death toll, the dictators who remorselessly mowed down people, the risks undertaken by society make it insensitive to draw a parallel.

Those without sympathy for suffering Syrians have no right to self-pity

The participants included various groups, even supporters of the AKP, joining and leaving depending on the shifting faces of the protests: activists with constructive causes, misguided pawns, elements serving as gunpowder and dynamite awaiting ignition by the master match. Furthermore the excessive adoption of social media indicates that for others, this less-than-lethal hot-topic became a trophy for some individuals’ identities (Facebook accounts can vouch that this revolution was the hippest club in town for some circles).

The entire situation cannot be ridiculed based on these individuals, but they nonetheless represent contemporary social media-driven political involvement. The obsession with social media, and international media’s response, have been the illusionist’s touch supplying the look of a courageous revolution.

Let’s focus on the activists, pawns, and explosive elements and the articles emphasizing governmental excesses. The Arab uprisings were understood in the context of decades under dictators. But for Turkey, which likewise has a traumatic past, only the last decade when the AKP was democratically elected – despite the obstacles placed in its path – is addressed. If this larger context was addressed, justified doubt would be cast on the eagerness with which these protests are being applauded.

What unifies, or temporarily unified, these protestors is their opposition to the alleged authoritarian activities of Erdogan’s AKP. Their primary complaints include Erdogan’s government’s crackdown on opposition, privatization and consumerism, the imposition of a certain lifestyle, and police brutality. These criticisms may have some basis, but these ills were not born from AKP rule, nor are they necessarily threatened. These oppressive ills are part of the Turkish republic’s history, having been abused by various ideologies. The AKP has become the scapegoat for the sins of the fathers of the republic.

The past decade has witnessed unprecedented reforms. Given that the current disputes are being waged over who has the power to allow and restrict freedoms, many protestors would undoubtedly consent to their opponents being silenced by the same means of which Erdogan is accused. These measures were applied more severely for decades, but those formerly content with them are now rising against them to attack the current government.

The Syria issue, the motivator behind this article, is where the hatred and hypocrisy of this “revolution” becomes manifest. Many protesting groups, who have assumed the look of the Arab Spring, are those condemning the Turkish government for the Syrian refugees and support of the Syrian rebels. Some of these typically anti-Arab groups even adopted a pro-Assad stance. If there was any appreciation for a revolution, it would have to be for Syria where the daily death toll is in the hundreds. Many Turkish protestors, who have no sympathy for the rebels sacrificing themselves and for the civilians who have no option but to flee, expect the world to glorify them. Their claims mock the severity of an actual civil war which has leveled cities. They both express contempt for Syrians and constantly compare Erdogan to Assad. This attempt to elevate the Turkish opposition trivializes the horror of the Syrian crisis. Those without sympathy for suffering Syrians have no right to self-pity and flaunt themselves as resistance forces.

Beneath the veneer of liberation, lies the battle over who determines which freedoms actually resemble the rise of the KKK in the US. Without equating these protestors with the KKK, the similarity lies in how their masterminds rallied people to their threatened causes by appealing to a discriminatory sense of supremacy. After an artificial sense of superiority by means of mastership could no longer be claimed, the KKK emerged to restore the past order, gaining popularity among poor Whites horrified at the new system which no longer arbitrarily placed them above colored people. This crisis relates to Turkish secularism since the idea that secular people, proving themselves through meaningless symbols, are more evolved is now being challenged.

Those with power have responded, mobilizing others for whom an easy access to artificial “power” will be denied if its hollow claims are no longer accepted as givens. Rather than egalitarian freedom, the core ideas behind these protests seek to uphold an approach to rights preserving the past sense of superiority. A mutual enemy which must be kept down unites the participants.

This resistance presents itself as one striving for the same values, and against similar dictators, as the Arab Spring, but these surface appearances are illusionist tricks. The AKP’s faults have not been addressed as international media amply cautioned its potential wrongs before it even dared to act with initiative. The international media has been waiting in eager expectation for a decade for wrongs to be committed and innumerable such articles can be found, along with articles falling for this imitation revolution.

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