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TRAVEL > Suddenly feeling like a foreigner in Turkey

Wilco van HERPEN

Following the news and in the meantime also sometimes putting some of the information I got on my Facebook page, reactions started to come in. A lot of people were ‘liking’ my messages but some people started criticizing me for giving space on Facebook to these events. Suddenly I became a foreigner

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Living for over 14 years in Turkey, I feel at home here. While being on the road for my television show, while walking around in whatever place in Turkey, people of different ideologies, religions and social standings would come to me and congratulate me on my program. Wilco, you really became a Türk; or Wilco, you are really one of us.

For my photography program, Yücel Tunca, a Turkish photographer, suggested I go to Gezi Park. It was a cold winter day and just a handful of people were peacefully protesting the plans for this little park. Two weeks ago a friend of mine asked me if I had heard the news. Not being aware of what was happening, I started watching television and was in shock. This could not be true, how is it possible that the police are trying to end an – as far as I had seen – peaceful demonstration with so much violence? Two weeks ago I might have been scared to write this but since the mayor and governor also acknowledged that there had been an excessive use of violence, I feel that I can write it now. (By the way, to answer the question of someone making a remark about the article I wrote in last week’s edition of the Hürriyet Daily News, no, I did not censor myself there.)

Reactions to Facebook messages

Following the news and in the meantime also sometimes putting some of the information I got on my Facebook page, reactions started to come in. A lot of people were “liking” my messages and writing their ideas and feelings about Gezi Park. But there was another development as well. People started criticizing me for giving space on Facebook to these events. Suddenly I became a foreigner who could not know and should not write or have an opinion about the things going on in Turkey. Living in Turkey for 14 years now, Turkey has become another homeland to me. I sometimes make a joke about it to people, telling them that I am a very rich man with two homelands. But this situation changed right after the protests started. I, as a foreigner, do not have a right to write or show what I am feeling and thinking. While everybody is discussing this situation we, as foreigners, have to balance on a very thin line with the answers we are giving. That is not an easy thing to do; to whom are we talking? Is this person against the protests or is the person supporting the protests. This whole event can even influence your personal relationships in the work field. So how are all those foreigners dealing with such a situation, I wonder.

I spoke with a Turkish/ Dutch friend of mine, Özkan, who lives in the Netherlands and came to Turkey for his holidays. While talking about the events he pointed out that whenever there is a problem in the Netherlands people start pointing at our “integrated” minorities, saying they are not Dutch, do not know Dutch culture and are not integrated enough to analyze the situation. Özkan knows Dutch culture and politics much better than I do, so why should we take away his right and discriminate against him because he was born in Turkey?

Why do the so-called foreigners have no right to give their view on the things that are happening?
One of the points that worried a lot of foreign friends was the lack of communication. Whenever there is a problem in the Netherlands the politicians organize a consultative body to have a dialogue with both politicians and the people.

Finding a compromise

I remember the Saint Elizabeth flood of 1953 in the Netherlands. During a devastating storm a big part of Zeeland, a province in the Netherlands, was flooded. In order to save the country from another lookalike disaster, the Dutch government decided to block the sea with a row of locks.

Environmentalists did not agree with the decision and protested it. The Dutch government, together with engineers and environmentalists sat around the table and tried to find a solution and compromise for this problem. This resulted in the Delta Works, a technical miracle that is a perfect example of how politics can work together with environmentalists in order to find a compromise.

As a Dutch citizen I am very surprised about what happened 15 days ago in Istanbul. The solution would have been so easy. Just sit down with the guys and talk, listen to them and if the arguments of the protestors are reasonable, try to find alternatives. But writing this down in the social media or in a newspaper is a big risk for me. People might not agree and comment in a very harsh way.

I still do feel at home, but I am worried. Not about myself, but where we are going. I am worried for my daughter, who was born in Turkey and hopefully will live here for the rest of her life. But I am also positive, I believe in the future of Turkey and think that to become a real democracy Turkey has to live and experience this. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has changed a lot of things in Turkey, I hope this time he will also be able to deal with this and turn the negative wind (or storm) that is blowing in Turkey at the moment into a positive one: Listen to the voice of the people (even if it is a minority like the environmentalists); the people who voted for him and the people who did NOT vote for him.

June/12/2013

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