As May turned into June this year, protests swept the streets of Istanbul and the rest of Turkey. The catalyst, the straw that broke the camel’s back in reality, was the plan to demolish a park to build an Ottoman-style barracks that protesters claimed would have included a shopping mall. Protesters also were out to demonstrate against the long-running Erdogan administration’s move toward more Islamification of Turkey, which was founded on secular principles. In all, I think the main issue was the people feeling like the government no longer represented them, and was taking away their rights.
These are all side issues as the political nuances of other countries are not my strong suit. Plus, I was in North Cyprus, in some ways close to the main event but in other ways quite far from it.
On June 1st there was a big rally here in North Cyprus’s capital city, Nicosia, in solidarity with the protests in Turkey. The protest here was attended by Turks and Turkish Cypriots alike, as many Turkish settlers have come to North Cyprus following Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus/rescue of Turkish Cypriots in 1974 depending on your perspective.
The protest here was 100% peaceful. There wasn’t much of a police presence. It started at the gate to the old city and protesters marched 100 meters to the Turkish Embassy.
I have only attended one protest like this before, the one in Leon, Mexico in 2011 against the rampant violence in Mexico. It was interesting for me to try and understand the crowd’s mentality and psychology as phrases were chanted and energy levels rose.
I saw the double edged sword of citizen justice. It would be all too easy for this to turn from a peaceful protest into something dangerous. I believe in peaceful protest, as people in power often lose touch with reality and need to be reminded that their inner circle usually doesn’t speak for the masses. But whether an agent provocateur or rogue policeman or crazy protester, often all it takes is one flash for things to go sour in a hurry.
I also couldn’t help but think of Gandhi and what he accomplished in his lifetime. The protests in the Arab world and in Turkey were organized and communicated about through social media. In Gandhi’s era nothing of the sort existed. Similarly, his constituency was made up of hundreds of millions of people speaking dozens of languages. Although it wasn’t perfect, his message of non-violent resistance was heeded in an incredible way. It makes me wonder what it must have been like for Indians protesting British rule to not lift their finger because the idea of Gandhi was greater than the instinct of self-preservation.
I don’t know. I’ve known that ideas trump violence and for a long time. I also know that long-term thinking is far harder than short-term thinking. And that’s how I see this. In protests it’s far easier to give in to the short-term temptation to resort to violence. While punching and knocking out a policeman who yelled an insult about your mother at you might feel good in the short term, it may just put your movement in peril as it could be the justification to resort to violence from the other side.
I also think about the battle of us vs. them. Let’s define the us in this case as the protesters and the them as the state/police. In reality, us = them when you look at it from a societal point of view. What these protesters are fighting for would benefit the police as well, as they probably don’t want to be shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at their fellow citizens. I don’t envy the conflict of needing to follow orders to keep one’s job, while not wanting to hurt your fellow citizens, maybe even your neighbors and family. I don’t envy the feeling of suppression either.
Life is complicated. Societies are even more complicated. I hope we all learn to live together happily someday. In the meantime, here are some pictures from the protest.