Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Turkey's Day of Chaos: the New or Old Turkey?

Here in New York, it is 9:00 PM in the evening. In three more hours it will be April 1, or what many know as April Fools Day. However, what we experienced today, March 31, was like an April Fools day gone bad in Turkey, where it became a day of chaos. 

Despite the over four-thousand miles that separate me from Istanbul, a place which I consider as one of my homes, I could feel the immense amount of tension hitting at me via the social media waves. It was 7:00 am my time, 2:00 pm Istanbul time, and I wish I had not checked my twitter. Indeed, I had just went to get a cup of water and planned to go back to sleep. 
Blackout in Turkey (photo by Alec Perkins Daily Digest) 

At the first glance, I saw numerous tweets about a massive electrical outage that had struck the whole country. My feed was filled with tweets and news reports talking about metros, air fields, and stores closing, due to the fact that simply at one moment a major blackout had taken over the whole country. Some tweets were comical, others poked at the lack of accountability of the government. 

For me, this seemed like just another strange day in a country that for the last two years has been full of surprises; the Gezi protests,  recordings released on twitter pointing to mass corruption, the Soma Mine disaster that killed 301 miners, and the electrical outage that struck the polling booths during the presidential elections, which state officials blamed on the work of a stray cat. 

Then, I came across one tweet that with in one second clearly surpassed the story of the electrical outage. A state prosecutor. M. Selim Kiraz, had been taken hostage by a radical militant leftist group, the DHKP-C, which demanded information be released concerning the police killing of the 15-year old Berkin Elvan, who was shot in the head and seriously injured by a teargas canister during the Gezi protests, after laying for months in a coma, until he died. 

Picture of one of the hostage-takers and the prosecutor
The hostage crisis was surreal to say the least; it was splashed across our twitter feeds, with live tweets appearing to come from the hostage-takers themselves, two university students; we only saw the one dressed in a suit, with a beret on his head and a red scarf over his face, who held a gun to the prosecutor, with a Soviet hammer and sickle in the background. As someone who teaches Turkish history, this seemed like it was straight from the 1970's, from the days of Deniz Gezmis; certainly not from 2015.  But it was. This is the reality. 

In mid-afternoon my time, late evening there, slowly the electrical blackout was being replaced with a media blackout of the hostage crisis, and it was clear that the story would not end well. Negotiations between the two parties went astray and in events that are still not clear the two sides clashed, ending with the prosecutor and the two hostage-takers dead. Truly a tragedy for all the families. 

Even if one can only imagine what was going through the two hostage-takers head, who could easily have been my students, and even if one can argue that perhaps the Turkish special forces were too quick to pull the trigger, with it clearly being a botched operation, with the prosecutor now dead, the truth needs to be told: justice cannot be found at the tip of a loaded pistol. This act, regardless of their intentions, needs to be condemned with the strongest words.  

For me however the day symbolized much more. It had seemed that the system had gone totally astray, that the country was going off the rails, spiraling into chaos. Conspiracy from both sides spread like a wild blaze, that was best symbolized by a false report of a fire at an historic Ottoman barracks later that evening.  I too tweeted that there were reports of a fire, which seemed to have been confirmed along side the pro-gov mouth piece Sabah.

False reports of a major fire makes headlines
in pro-gov newspaper Sabah

Happily people in the region of the alleged fire quickly confirmed this to be false. However, the damage done was the fire that was ignited inside of us, and it had taken its toll. 

Tonight we were once again reminded that Turkey is at an extremely vulnerable stage. With elections just a little over two months away, there seems to be no reconciliation insight; and, for anyone who loves this country, Turkish or non-Turkish, pro-government or anti-government, it seems we are all on edge, polarized, frustrated and all very desperate for answers explaining what exactly are all of these events that are occurring in front of our computers screens, and our real lives

Within all this confusion, a major headline of 236 military officers being acquitted after years of serving prison terms for planning a coup against the government, almost seemed mundane. After a day like this who remembers the historic Sledgehammer (Balyoz) case? So much has changed in the last few years. Or, is it that nothing has changed? What Turkey's president, Erdogan, terms as the "New Turkey," seems exactly what we knew as the "Old Turkey." One where justice is a matter of relevance and injustices are great. And, so the story goes on...    


  1. This country is now rightly called "Timarhane"..

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