- Symbol of the revolution: a banner with the likeness of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk on the Atatürk Culture Center, Taksim Square.
A few final thoughts before I board a plane and return to Seattle for the summer:
Since the spread of the "Standing Man" protests across Turkey, a new (but less popular) form has emerged—the "Falling Man," commemorating the death of protester Ethem Sarisülük, who was killed by a police officer in Ankara in the first week of June. The policeman who fatally shot Sarisülük with a pistol was put on trial this past week and acquitted almost immediately. Video footage of the killing was the main evidence used in the case:
According to an article in Milliyet, the judge ruled that the officer involved in the death was acting in "self-defense" and fired due his "fear of being lynched." (Video footage shows him charging into a small group of people, kicking a demonstrator on the ground, then firing into the crowd.) Since then, people have been collapsing on the street in protest of the court decision.
The other night I attended a mevlüt, an Islamic ceremony which involves a hodja reading prayers or Koranic verses in the home of the family of the deceased or the ill. After the hodja had left, the talk in the room immediately turned to how the AKP government could be beaten in the coming election. For me, this was a perfect illustration of how Islam vs. secularism is not the issue at hand in Turkey. In the midst of conversation, one of the attendees mentioned the giant banner bearing Atatürk's face which had recently been removed from the front of the Atatürk Culture Center in Taksim Square because it was "torn and needed cleaning." He explained that when days passed and the banner was not replaced, he contacted the city and told them: "If you only have one banner with Atatürk, I would be glad to provide another free of charge."
This illustrates a major shift in Turkish culture and the politics surrounding images of its founding father. When I first arrived in this country seven years ago, the images of Atatürk found in banks and classrooms or hung from public buildings on holidays were ubiquitous and banal. Lately, as the very nature of the country has been challenged, the symbols of Turkish nationalism that I used to make fun of have been reborn as symbols of resistance and revolution.
According to another article in Milliyet just days after the protests in Turkey began, a group of students in the city of Mugla were hanging a poster of Atatürk in the hallway of their school when a religion teacher tore it down on the grounds that they had not gained permission to hang it. To put things in perspective, hanging a poster of Atatürk in Turkey would be about as objectionable as students hanging a poster of George Washington in an American school. The religion teacher is reported to have yelled: "You are terrorists! All of you wore black!" The second statement is a reference to people who wore black clothing the first Monday after the protests began, to show their support for the Gezi Park movement. To this, the students responded: "We are all soldiers of Mustafa Kemal [Atatürk]."
This marks the greatest reversal in Turkish politics since the intial movement towards secularization, modernity, and westernization in the 1920s. Some readers may recall the (abandoned) trial of Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk for his critical remarks about Turkey and Atatürk in 2005, which at the time seemed like the greatest offense imaginable. This May, when Prime Minister Erdogan made some oblique remarks about those who had drafted Turkey's laws concerning alcohol consumption (Mustafa Kemal and and his vice president, Inönü) as being "two drunks," he faced no repercussions at all. This is the same man who was briefly imprisoned in the late 1990s for reading a poem that the government declared was "inciting religious hatred." Two weeks ago, in his "Respect for the National Will" meeting, Erdogan made many remarks that could be interpreted as trying to divide and oppose two segments of the population. But no charge has been brought against him.
I will leave you, as I leave Turkey, with the current statistics: seven people dead in connection with the protests, including one police officer; over 7,000 wounded; more than 3,000 detained (around 50 due to Twitter messages they sent); and nine still missing.