Letter from Turkey: Our Struggle Against Authoritarianism


For the last five days, there has been extremely brutal police violence against peaceful protesters in Turkey. Almost all news channels are censored since they are extremely afraid of the prime minister, including CNN Turk! It is unbelievable but while CNN International showed protests and police violence, CNN Turk showed a documentary about penguins!

A very limited number of people can learn what is going on via channels like CNN International and the BBC. Even some media like the Guardian have called this is a Turkish Spring! As you may easily guess what they reflect is a very small part of reality, a tiny part of the violence.

How do I know?

It all started with a protest against plans to turn a public park, rare in Istanbul, into a shopping center.

I know this from close friends on the street protesting the government right now, and for the last few days, sharing the news via Facebook. The only “weapons” these people are wielding are their smart phones, which they are using to communicate. Because police even shut down 3G, people around the region shared their wireless passwords! However, police have been attacking citizens with pepper gas, and with its seven stronger versions, pressure waters, etc.

What is worse is that they aim to increase the tension by utilizing civilian police forces against the protesters who demolish public property, allowing them to justify increasing the strength of their attack. And what is worse than that: They allow some civilians, perhaps fascist groups, to attack innocent civilians with sticks and other tools.

It all started with a demonstration in a famous (and one of the few) public parks in Istanbul to protect the park from being demolished to build a shopping center.

Then the tension increased because police brutally attacked this group of people, who were just simply protesting government by sitting and reading books.

At 5 a.m. on Thursday, May 30, the police burned the tents of these people. Then it spread to the rest of Istanbul and then to Ankara and other major cities, in total about 67.

However, particularly in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, the situation is getting worse and I have an immense concern about my friends, who are highly educated and highly peaceful people who have nothing to do with violence. They are just peaceful protesters like thousands of others.

Yes, I am talking about my friends who have Ph.D. degrees from top universities in the U.S., like Princeton. Although they have a great life and career in Turkey, they risk their lives because we secular people in Turkey, almost half of the country, started to feel alienated and discriminated against by the policies of the current ruling party in last 10 years.

The situation is far more serious than one can capture from the media. And, unfortunately, I can do nothing but ask your help. I do believe that you understand my concern and my sincerity and may do your best any way possible.

The situation is far more serious than what appears in the unofficially censored media and I can do nothing but ask for your help.

The White House has made an announcement about the ongoing events in Turkey but what we need is better coverage from the media, because no one can stop the prime minister in Turkey, who has been getting extremely authoritarian in general and brutal about the protesters.

He simply labels those people marauders and underestimates the protests, turning those people into anarchists in the eye of public, which I should say is unfortunately highly efficient strategy.

Of course, there are hundreds of people who have protested police violence in Turkey across the world. Since the mainstream media is censored, not officially, but de facto (highly controlled and manipulated by government), people cannot learn what has been going on and the prime minister has enough votes to sustain such inhumane policy against his opponents.

This protest may end in a few days, but it is a fact that my country will get worse and worse.

People are angry because the country has been getting very conservative (not in the sense of U.S., of course) even some argue (and I agree) that the minister de facto started to follow Sharia rules when he introduced a new law to limit alcohol sales and ban advertisement of it.

Although at first sight, this might seem like an innocent regulation to prevent people from excessive use of alcohol, some scholars, even those liberal Islamist people, have argued that the real goal of the law is not simply limitation of the alcohol sales but an intervention in the life style of secular people in the country.

Turkey does not suffer from a large alcohol problem at all. The consumption of alcohol in Turkey is the lowest among the OECD countries, much lower than the average.

This law on alcohol is only one of several “reforms” that change the direction of country toward being a Dubai, Malaysia, if not Iran!

(Editor’s note on the above image: The Spectator cannot independently verify the authenticity of this image, but it is among a portfolio of images being amassed on Tumblr. See this link for more.)


Adem Yavuz Elveren, Ph.D., lives in Turkey.


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