Is the World Getting Tired Of Turkey's Protests Against Recep Tayyip Erdogan?
On July 8, Istanbul-based Manhattan Institute Scholar Claire Berlinski tweeted about the #gezi movement, saying that "soon the world will have 'Turkey fatigue'." She was retweeted by Nebil Ilseven, the ex-Istanbul Provincial Head for CHP, the opposition party to AKP.
The sentiment has been validated, it seems, as there has been little-to-no international coverage of the wedding from Saturday night intended to take place in Gezi Park. The wedding party had to move to a municipality building following the sudden closure of the park to the general public in the late afternoon. There were plenty of onlookers at the park, and not all of them necessarily knew the bride and groom but in the spirit of solidarity, news of the wedding had been on most people's twitter feeds.
The wedding party made their way to their new wedding location and shortly after most people gathered in front of the park got water-cannonned. As people ran back to Istiklal Street, the police switched from water to rubber bullets and yes, good-old-fashioned tear gas.
The fact that people are still ready to protest and gather in celebration of the #gezi spirit is indicative of the movement's resilience. But while tenacious chapullers give me hope, the repeated clashes have caused the world stop paying attention.
There is a kind of weariness that comes from reading such news over and over again. Just when you think it's over and a sense of normalcy begins to descend, the acrid stench of tear gas returns and you realize that this might not end until after the local elections in March 2014. That leaves us with August, September, October, November, December, January, and February to live in fear in our own city.
Seven months of fear and oppression. Seven months of bad business because no one wants to visit the hottest tourist and shopping spot, Taksim, when there are riot control vehicles and police forces stationed throughout the district.
With hard times ahead, we are entering a period where the world has grown tired of the words #gezi and news of police violence in Turkey. The risk that such fatigue poses is simple: If the world stops watching, accountability decreases. Members of the Turkish police, some of whom already breezed through accusations of torture and rape in the past, are again accused of raping, assaulting, and torturing people. In some cases, it is more than accusations but personal and confidential reports of extreme physical abuse and in one instance, rape: s in the Turkish police raped my friend. Accountability is extremely unlikely in this day and age when machete-wielding men assaulting protesters simply walk out of courtrooms as free men.
How do I even begin to feel safe in Istanbul again?
According to IHD, a human rights organization in Turkey, 2,5 million people participated in the Gezi protests. 5 of them died. 8,160 were wounded, 64 were critically injured. 600 police officers were also wounded.
Having been previously employed in the tourism industry in Istanbul, I have been told by close acquaintances that many hotels have been steadily laying off staff (not paying monthly salaries is cheaper than selling furniture from vacant rooms), and are still suffering from major vacancies.
If AKP earns enough votes to stay in power, my knowledge of political science is not enough to predict the darkness that will follow. It is not, however, a darkness I am willing to live under.
My article on Turkish Gay Pride was meant to have another paragraph:
When I left for Oberlin College in 2009, I told people I had chosen to leave Istanbul because I had more faith in the American higher education system. This was a half-truth, in that while said faith existed, it was not the reason for my leaving Istanbul.
I left this country because I could not see a future for myself in Turkey. Not as a politician, not as an artist, and absolutely not as a gay man.
I was afraid that if I stayed, I would live in fear, in hiding, constantly compromising my identity. Countless brilliant minds from my generation, gay, straight, etc., have left and continue to leave Turkey because we have all endured censorship, violence, and injustice in one form or another. What all ruling parties need to recognize is that we have a tremendous amount to contribute but none of us are willing to live here if it means that the police will come knocking some day and take away our mothers if we are not at home.
The world may have Turkey fatigue, but it is critical that Turks who represent a brighter future for this country resist the weariness, maintain their faith, and find the strength in themselves to fight for a Turkey they would like to return to.
And even if it's the last thing I do, I will live in Istanbul one day. Husband and children and all.