all images ©missyweimer 2017

all content ©missyweimer 2017

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Crowds, Politics and Power in Post Coup Attempt Turkey

Turba – Latin for “crowd.” From the Sanskrit word ‘turami’, meaning “to hasten” and also from the Greek verb for “to trouble, stir up” and noun meaning “to disorder, confusion and tumul”, this relating to turbulence and natural disasters, as well. This root shows the very negative connotations that were associated with the crowd in Greece at this time and that still exist today in varying degrees.
Crowds have been shown to be intimidating and dangerous, as well as, agents of change throughout history. Think French Revolution, or post Civil War lynch mobs in the United States. Their volatile and seemingly contradictory nature of order (their drive to a common cause or goal) and chaotic unpredictability make them powerful, if terrifying at times.

It’s been two weeks since I posted about my experience during the attempted coup in Turkey, in the blog post Pool d'état. In that post I discussed that roller coaster of a night and surreal following day, where I visit the pool with my good friend, Isil.
Allow me to pick up where I left off...On the way home from the pool, the day after the coup attempt,  Isil and I are almost hit by a speeding SUV waving Turkish flags and honking wildly - in celebration, we assume. I am home by 6pm and around that time, the crowds begin to gather in Taksim Square. Again, only much bigger tonight, the crowds take to the streets at the behest of the government. Emboldened by being personally called by the State, literally via text messages and also in Erdogan's surreal FaceTime call which was televised live, the people took to the streets, confronted the Army and WON! On the heels of this unprecedented action tonight's crowd is feeling powerful and victorious. New texts are going out and mosque speakers are at full volume, imploring the public to come to the square. I can almost smell the testosterone in the air. Being really big and pregnant, it seems too wild to go out and it’s still so hot. Watching the footage from Taksim Square live on air that first night, I can hear the roar of the crowds from my window.

I post to Facebook:
TRT World just had the dumbest reporter on live from Taksim. "I feel 100% secure here - the mood is safe and celebratory!" REALLY?? Then why don't I see a single woman or child at this massive rowdy gathering....?
A friend wonders the same thing in my comments, “I was wondering where the women and children were…” she said. The footage shows a large, rowdy group of (mostly young) men. They are waving flags and shouting patriotic slogans. I can't imagine bringing a child into that mob. The crowd in Taksim tonight looks like the crowds of Tahrir Square to me. It doesn't look 'safe' or 'celebratory', no matter what TRT says.

By 11pm I try to sleep but it’s just too loud. The din from outside is incessant and I can’t close the windows because it’s too hot. A number of times, I'm drawn to the window by the noise. I watch crowds parade up the street on foot and in cars, shooting guns into the air, chanting, some of them dressed as Ottomans, in make-shift costumes, which my husband thinks is hilarious and absurd. That first night, almost until dawn there is chanting, honking and gun fire.

Facebook post:
They are having a 'festival' in Taksim Square right now where they are hanging Gulen in effigy.

TRT reports a 'festive' gathering in Taksim Square. And they're right, it is festive! Two huge sound stages have been erected in the square and a number of tents have popped up, giving out free food. There is live music and countless Turkish flags, some the size of entire buildings. Now, entire families are out. The camera pans from a chic, headscarf clad mother and her three kids, one in a stroller, to a grotesque depiction of Gulen hanging from a noose, just one of many in the area.

New signs on public transit.
"The Judiciary Belongs to the Nation"
Public transit is free! It has been free of charge since the coup attempt.* This to encourage participation in the various ‘festivals’ and rallies. Some transit, like the train and tram, normally show amazing videos of babies and baby animals. This miracle image stream of cuteness now also includes the latest news about the Gulenists coup-plotters, conspiracies involving an American $1 bill and updates on what the Western press has dubbed “the Purge.” This purge includes 2,745 judges and over 60,000 others, including the dean of every institution of higher education in the country and even the nurse at my local neighborhood doctor's office. Erdogan is quick to state that the letter of the law will be followed in the forthcoming actions and investigations. On July 21st a State of Emergency is declared and I’m getting uncomfortable flashbacks to the “Patriot Act.”

This gutting of the court system, higher education and the military can be seen as “Creative destruction”. Academically, creative destruction­ is discussed in terms of breaking an egg to make an omelet. There must be a superseding and/or obliteration of previous social paradigms so that a new era can emerge. Practiced successfully by the much revered Ataturk and now by Erdogan, who would likely bristle at the comparison, the extreme measures leave many questions. Like who will fill these now vacant roles?

265 human casualties that night and the crowd calls for blood. While the death penalty has been outlawed in Turkey for some time, crowds have been ‘spontaneously’ demanding it at rallies and Erdogan aims to please the people. As Turkey's leaders assure us that their actions are now, and will continue to be, lawful, it seems that the law may need to be changed to suit the will of the people. The crowd demands justice for the bloodshed on that night.
Every night now, it's the same thing, even two weeks later. Rallies in the Square around dusk - after dark, honking, chanting and flag waving. Around 3am last night a three man parade came down our street. They sounded drunk (on Nationalism?). Turks yelling holy slogans in Arabic. One guy booming out the call, and then he and his two friends shouting the response in not-quite unison. And this inevitably gets the dogs barking.

Goldie on the left.
There is a gang of dogs which live in front of our house. After the night of the coup attempt, the one where jets buzzed our house, and sonic booms terrified our neighborhood, the dogs disappeared. It took almost a week for them to come back. They started to straggle out from hiding spots and reclaim their street. The oldest of the group, called 'Oldie' by me, and 'Goldie' by my husband, a big German shepherd looking dog and the sweetest of the group in my opinion, never comes back. He's dead, I know. There is no way he could have survived that. Later our neighbor, who was at the top of our hill that night, said he saw the jets dipping low into our little valley, getting so close he thought they would crash into our building, I wonder if Oldie's heart exploded from the supersonic sound, or if it just stopped beating out of sheer terror. I finally said to my husband the other day, “We don’t see Goldie anymore.”
“He’s dead,” he said.
I turn away quickly as tears come to my eyes, “Yeah, I know.” I tell him. Of course, we don’t know. But we do.

Expats are fleeing the city and Turks too, as evidenced by the flurry of activity on the Buy, Sell, Swap Istanbul facebook page, where entire apartments full of like-new furnishings are being sold for a song. Our property value has plummeted, seemingly overnight, as the city center seems a bit less appealing these days, and are suddenly plenty of apartments on the market. My husband, who works as a tour guide, has seen his business drop off exponentially and many of our guiding friends are out of work altogether.

Immediately following the attempt, somewhat inexplicably, America refused to accept any flight originating in Turkey, even ones which stopped in an interim city, essentially trapping any Americans who may have wanted to come home. When the ban was issued, my mom called and said, “I’m not sure how, but I’m still coming!”
“Good,” I said, “this baby is still coming! That hasn’t changed…”
Erdogan has been warned by international governing bodies not to overplay his hand. He is certainly busy these days. The ‘facts’ which have come out about the coup have been stranger than fiction. The longstanding talk of a ‘parallel State’ had always made me laugh, it sounded paranoid, outlandishness and unlikely, but now…? I’m still not sure what to believe. One thing’s for sure - The party is busy establishing total control and creating a powerful new narrative, one in which the crowd plays a central role.

Take the creation of ‘Martyrs Bridge’. By formally renaming the 'Bosphorus Bridge’ (Bogazici Koprusu) or 'the First Bridge’ to 'Martyrs Bridge,' in memoriam of members of the public who were killed there by the Army. By doing so, everyone who crosses this bridge (almost 200,000 cars a day) is willingly or unwillingly transformed into part of the “ecclesia martyrum” (latin) - Literal translation “church of martyrs”. It refers to the collective of martyrs and their followers. Encompassing the the group empowered (embodied) by the the triumph attained by the pain and suffering of the martyr, and the martyr in all of his/her symbolism. This a way of including even the periphery in the active, or core, crowd. We are all the crowd.

Yesterday, Isil and I went to a different pool, this one with a sweeping view of the city. The only obvious difference now is the flags and banners which can be seen from virtually any vista. Usually reserved for national holidays, it gives a bit of a festive feel. It's prideful, it's celebratory, it includes us. But it’s not a holiday - or is it? We are on a  2 week holiday and counting...

More citation available upon request.

*today, Monday, partial charges have returned to some forms of transit.

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