It is hard to write about events, particularly when they are still fresh and the outcomes remain unclear, as is certainly the case with the spasms that ripped through Turkey and specifically central Istanbul as a result of the Gezi Park protests.
I have seen a number of protests in my life, many here in Istanbul and a few others elsewhere, including one in Halifax, Nova Scotia after the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series sometime back in the nineties. That was the first riot I witnessed, involving not more than a few hundred people and lasting perhaps an hour. The intent of the rioters was completely unclear…jubilation, revulsion, inebriation all seeming likely causes.
Riots and protests seem to have become much more a part of the landscape than they were back in those days. We have had protests and riots as part of anti-capitalist movements, anti-war protests, as well as all of the events of the Arab Spring.
So, as unexpected and wide reaching as the Gezi Park event was, taken in a larger global context, it should not be such a shocking event. Brazil is currently undergoing an almost parallel version, though it is playing out differently due to the views and actions of the authorities.
The scale of Gezi was certainly massive and this was perhaps what is most worthy of commenting on. It involved millions of people.
But make no mistake about it, Turkey is a functioning democracy, and though this was a regrettable episode in this long path, one cannot count out or disregard Turkey just on the events and responses to this particular mini-crisis. Many mistakes were made and various people have stepped forward to attempt to soften the at times harsh rhetoric.
The stock markets went predictably manic, the currency plunged and it felt like something really horrible was happening. However, as the dust over the battle field clears, the picture also gets sharper. There was an ideological clash that occurred, but as many will agree, this was something that was already in the air. Now, it is a little more out in the open. This could be a positive if it is used to bridge the ideological divide. Is this likely to occur? I believe, in many ways, that it will and my reasons for believing so are as follows;
- Turkey has managed for centuries with the same or at least similar divides.
-Turkey has a lot of support from surrounding countries, which surely would also like to see a stable and strong Turkey.
-Turkey itself has gone through a period of unprecedented growth and it would seem unlikely that it will merely implode as a result of what were mostly peaceful protests.
-elections are not that far off and I think everybody will see that protests are fine, but if you want to influence events in a democracy, the best way to do it is still at the voting booth.
-the mayor of Istanbul has taken on a conciliatory tone and let’s face it, what goes for Istanbul, mostly goes for the rest of Turkey.
To some extent Istanbul has been having periodic spasms for the past decades due to the rapid change and re orientation of this city. With leadership and dialogue, there is little doubt that Istanbul can continue on an impressive arc, though the expectations are dimmed in this Spike Lee beginning to a hot summer. I hope the Radio Raheem’s are safe and we can enjoy gentle evening breezes on the shores of the Bosphorous for the rest of the summer of 2013.