There have been no great uprisings in the major cities of my country, Turkey, since the 1970s. It has wrestled with the scourge of terror for 30 years; we have always lived side by side with terror. Suicide bombings, banks being blown up and explosions on buses all happened under our very noses here in Istanbul, this lovely city where we live, study, work and walk about.
But I never saw my own people rise up.
The recent protests began as a peaceful protest against the uprooting of trees in a park. Sensitivity toward trees and nature is good. Protests are also fine. Protests are necessary to declare ideas and speak freely. They are necessary for democracies. Many problems in democracies have been resolved through protests—and that is the case in Turkey, a Muslim country where 82% of people consider themselves to be religiously observant. People raise their voices freely.
But protests always attract different groups, and small, peaceful protests can turn into a propaganda opportunities for marginal groups. This poses an even greater risk in Turkey. The terror organization Turkey wrestled with for 30 years was a communist one. Some parts of the terror organization cannot bear the idea of withdrawing from the country and the subsequent period of peace.
The action in Taksim Square was a cover for such groups. The events even began very oddly. Right after the peaceful protest, insulting messages began being sent to government supporters. Everyone was organized and incited to “violence.” These calls, made on the basis of new calculations, made it clear this was not going to be an ordinary protest.
The real protesters were peaceful, and a healthy sign of democracy. But because of other groups, violence quickly followed the protests. There was no more talk of trees and parks. Instead, the banners of various communist organizations began to be seen. The trees the show was meant to protect began to be uprooted, and furniture was burned. Had the fire department not arrived in time, the whole park would have burned. But was the whole point of the action not to protect that park?
Political parties’ responses to the protests and the violence were interesting. The Republican People’s Party, the main opposition party, originally agreed with the project and then took part in the protest against it! The opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) said, “We oppose the action,” but some of the protesters were supporters.
False reports suddenly began spreading on Twitter. A picture of an American injured by the propeller of a yacht in Florida was sent all over as “a youngster murdered by the police.” A picture alleged to be of an action “on the Bosporus Bridge” actually came from the Eurasian marathon of 2012! A picture of a police officer firing pepper spray at a dog clearly showed the word “policia” on his back—not the Turkish “polis.” The first picture of the start of the protest actually came from Tahrir Square.
Balls studded with nails were prepared before the demonstration and paving stones were torn up. Do you know what use balls studded with nails or paving stones have? They kill. Do you think people who want to protect for trees would prepare weaponry intended to kill? Of course not. It was not peaceful protesters who did this; neither was it peaceful protesters who stoned the police while they were pulling back from Taksim Square and damaged police cars with sledgehammers. Many artists who arrived on the scene intending to take part in the protest turned back at once and took to Twitter to warn against serving the ends of those wishing to incite provocation. A great many protesters understood and went home. The scene was left in the hands of communist provocateurs.
I witnessed the events in Taksim with my own eyes. And I also witnessed the false reports that reached the foreign papers: “Tens of deaths” and “attacks using tanks.” How the foreign press was provoked so quickly! Twitter was at the center of that provocation.
No, nobody died. There were no tank attacks. Pepper spray? It is true that was used. Should that have been used in such quantities? Of course not: the government itself said as much immediately after the event. But that was not the only mistake. It was announced a few days after the protests that no trees in the park had been cut down, they had been replanted in another part of Istanbul. The government said that the new construction project involved a park area with trees, and that it has reforested an area of 900,000 hectares to date. Nobody knew that. It would have been good if the government could have announced this, nicely, beforehand!
Those who describe this uprising as a “Turkish Spring” are being naive. Turkey is neither Mubarak’s Egypt nor Assad’s Syria. More than 20 parties take part in elections in Turkey: 22 will take part in the 2014 elections. These include communists, Maoists, Kurds, leftists, rightists and parties of all shades of opinion. The public chooses the party that forms the government; they elect the government once every four years. It is our election. If we wish, a leader stays. If we do not so wish, he goes. Unlike in the Arab Spring, our leaders in Turkey do not step down when paving stones are torn up and flung. That happens through elections. The opposition parties have also been raising their voices very powerfully and excitedly. They criticize the government freely, because we have democracy in Turkey. Leaders come and go through elections. The foreign press needs to be more sensible about this and see the true danger.
Let me remind people that such provocation can only be resolved with love. What I expect of my own government and police and people is for them to find more room for love in their hearts. They must try talking and mutual understanding before becoming angry. There is a lack of love in the world. Turkey has received its share. Those who applaud this are doing wrong. They fail to see the danger, and they unknowingly support the hatred. It will be a shame.