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I lived in Istanbul for a couple of years and love the city enormously, so have been glued to the coverage of the Istanbul protests (revolution?) over the last few days.
It started out as a peaceful sit-in by some citizens who were angry over plans to redevelop one of the few remaining green spaces in the city (the population of which has increased tenfold between 1950 and 2000). Heavy-handed policing brought more people out into the streets. This cartoon (circulated by a Turkish friend) illustrates this well:
When I lived in Turkey (in the mid nineties) the police were a law unto themselves. Every month they’d come to the bar where we English teachers hung out to demand on-the-spot “fines” for our not having passports (they knew that the passports were taken away for weeks by the grindingly bureaucratic work permit authorities). When a bomb planted by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) exploded, my Kurdish girlfriend hid in the house for a week; she explained that the police would beat or rape local Kurdish people. Forced virginity tests were common.
So what do the protestors in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir want? It seems (bucking the comfortable Western narrative) that this group of young muslim people aren’t reactionary zealots. Sumandef, a Turkish woman writing in English on her blog post What is Happenning in Istanbul? says what many of those interviewed on TV and friends of mine say:
By so called «complaining» about my country I am hoping to gain:
Freedom of expression and speech,
Respect for human rights,
Control over the decisions I make concerning my on my body,
The right to legally congregate in any part of the city without being considered a terrorist.
To all who are protesting in Turkey (or anywhere else) against authoritarians who wish to tell us how to live our lives, I wish you safety, and success.