Turkey’s apolitical youth turns activist thanks to PM Erdoğan

Turkey’s apolitical youth turns activist thanks to PM Erdoğan

Sipping her bloody merry in a coffee shop in the posh Nişantaşı neighborhood, close to Taksim Square, she once again checked the detention procedures and tweeted the relevant link, reminding her followers to request a lawyer if they are taken into custody.

The scholar from a law faculty then took to the street, equipped only with a medical mask, a skirt, and chic barbettes; she is not exactly well equipped to survive clashes between the police and the demonstrators. “I am a pacifist; I am not going to clash with the police,” she said. She was one of the thousands that took to the street starting from last Friday.

What started as the protest of a small group objecting to plans to redesign Taksim Square has turned into anti-government demonstrations that have spread across Turkey.

So, who are these people?

My personal observation is that the majority have most probably never taken to the streets before!

Can you imagine, I saw people with flip flops. That’s not exactly the right dress code for a street fight!

But that’s the gist of the matter. They did not go out with the intention of fighting with the police!

I was with the crowds last Saturday that tried to walk up to Taksim from one of the main arteries going up to the square. Each time the crowds made an effort to advance, they were pushed back by tear gas, forcing hundreds to turn back and run backward. This come and go continued for a while.

“Now I understand. The important thing is not to give up,” said the young owner of a trendy restaurant in Nişantaşı, deciphering only now the codes of protest culture.

“This is no longer about Taksim. We are here because we want to express our anger against the AKP,” said a 60-year-old man, who came with his wife all the way from Büyükçekmece, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Istanbul. They were among the sizeable number of middle-aged people who had come to show solidarity with the young crowds, which made up the majority, ages ranging from 20 to 35.

“This is the urban uprising of the young generation, those who are well educated and integrated to the world, who find the outfit designed by the government too tight for them,” a scholar who I ran into told me.

According to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the protestors are a handful of vandals, marginals, and marauders.

“I have spent 48 hours with demonstrators. I have not seen a single marginal,” the security official of a five star hotel told me; which decided to open its doors to protestors fleeing tear gas. “3,000 youngsters entered the lobby. When they got out; not a single glass was broken,” he added.

With few exceptions, there were no veiled women among the crowds. Obviously this tells us something. The prime minister continues to say that these demonstrations are ideological. He is only partially right, in the sense that those on the streets are not from his main constituency.

For every two voters at the last election, one voted for the AKP and the other did not. The demonstrators were largely made up of the second group.

But the prime minister is wrong to perceive this as the continuation of some kind of an “Ergenekon-esque” illegal initiative to topple the government. And he is absolutely wrong to say the Republican People’s Party (CHP) is behind the demonstrators. The crowds took to the street because they are also frustrated by the inability of the opposition parties to express their frustration.

They are there to simply say that they are sick and tired of being otherized by the government, to express their resentment that they are being looked down by the ruling party because of their lifestyle, including - among other things - drinking.

They are there to show their frustration at not being taken into account, just because they do not endorse all the conservative values of the prime minister.

So this is a protest of lifestyle.

Now the question; will it continue?

“The leftist and socialist groups; those who have the experience of street protests are fighting in the front lines. If they quit, I think the thousands that you see behind them will disperse too,” a university student with experience in similar demonstrations told me.

I am not sure. In the past, ordinary people would close their doors and ask their children to stay away from the streets. Now, they are opening their houses to protestors, helping them out and even encouraging them.

As long as Erdoğan’s arrogance, defiance and contempt for the protestors continues, so will the demonstrations. But even if the PM takes a step back, or the demonstrations stop for this or that reason, one thing is for sure: The genie is out of the bottle. Turkey’s apolitical youth has now turned activist! Thank you, prime minister.