Generation Gap Turkish Family Split Between Gezi and Old Way
The rift currently dividing Turkey also runs right through the middle of many families. SPIEGEL reporter Özlem Gezer has an uncle in Istanbul who loves Erdogan, a cousin who sleeps in the protesters' camp and parents who sit in Germany arguing over the unrest.
I'm sitting in an Ottoman corner booth in Istanbul, drinking tea. I've been listening to Sahmi for hours. "Erdogan won," he keeps saying, sometimes raising his hand for emphasis and sometimes pounding it on the table. Sahmi is a 64-year-old retiree living in Istanbul. He is also my uncle.
In recent weeks, Sahmi often prayed for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a small mosque on his street, asking God to protect him and give him strength to fend off the attackers. Erdogan has never disappointed Sahmi and, even now, my uncle sees him as a victor. Erdogan won the battle over Taksim Square, he says, and now it's time to punish those responsible. Only then, Sahmi says, will he be satisfied.
He argues that the demonstrators destroyed everything, the beautiful lawns and flowers. They lit city buses on fire and stole police cars. Even worse, says Sahmi, they insulted his prime minister and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), which Sahmi supports and believes is best equipped to run the country.
My uncle didn't go to see the protesters' camp in Gezi Park, even though it's less than 15 kilometers (9 miles) from his apartment. But he did hear what Erdogan had to say about the tent city, and it was enough for him: that it stank of urine, that condoms were being kept there, and that the protesters were all terrorists. Sahmi believes that dark forces, from both Turkey and abroad, were behind the protests.
Terrorists or Peaceful Protesters?
Is he talking about a different place? I spent a lot of time with the people in Gezi Park in recent weeks, talking to them for days on end. We were attacked, I inhaled tear gas, I fled from the police and I was almost arrested. And now my uncle is saying that these people are all terrorists?
Sahmi, of all people -- married to my mother's sister, my father's childhood friend, the person who took me to the zoo for the first time -- is more of a stranger to me than ever before.
I was in Berlin when the protests began in Istanbul. I sat at my computer and watched the live stream of a Norwegian broadcaster reporting from Taksim Square. There were teargas grenades flying through the air, and it looked like a battlefield. I tried to understand what was happening in this city, where I spent every summer as a child. So I called my father, who said: "It's a revolution against the Sultan, finally." My mother shouted into the telephone, saying it was provocateurs who were trying to divide the country.
Then I called my best friend Ümit in Istanbul. He had just fled from Taksim into a side street, had inhaled teargas, and the water laced with chemicals used by the police was burning his skin. He said: "There's a war going on here. And the press is asleep." I booked a flight to Istanbul.
Since then, everyone in my family has been trying to explain to me what is currently happening in Turkey.
My uncle says that I shouldn't let the protesters influence me. They are the "loud ones," he says, but they don't represent Turkey. The "quiet ones," he and the majority of Turks, he says, stand behind Erdogan. They are the 50 percent, the loyal voters of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP). For Sahmi, there is no alternative to Erdogan. He is charismatic and good-looking, he says, and he was the one who made the country strong, both economically and on the world stage. Sahmi says that Erdogan is someone who is even prepared to tangle with the European Union, as he did a few days ago, when officials in Brussels criticized his treatment of the protesters and Erdogan said: "You'd be better off paying attention to Greece. We're not part of the EU yet. Who are you to judge us?"
My uncle likes that sort of language. It makes him proud to be alive. For him, Erdogan is the man who is developing Turkey into a superpower, building highways in Anatolia, the country's first nuclear power plant, another bridge across the Bosphorus, another airport for Istanbul and a new canal to the Sea of Marmara. Progress! Prosperity! Can't I see how the economy is booming, he asks?
And, he adds, Erdogan isn't forgetting ordinary citizens, either: support for families who care for the sick and the elderly, free schoolbooks, no more tuition at state universities, no more standing in line for hours for an X-ray, inflation under 10 percent for the first time. For my uncle, who only discovered his inner devout Muslim at 50, it is even more important that he can finally be proud of his religion. "Erdogan is a prime minister who goes to the mosque and spends time with his people," he says. For decades, the Kemalists subtly repressed religious Muslims in Turkey. Under Erdogan, says Sahmi, that's finally over, and being religious is in again. "Why don't the people in Gezi Park understand that?" he asks. I feel like I'm stuck in an endless promo loop for Erdogan.
When Erdogan was cheered by his supporters in Istanbul on the weekend before last, my uncle pushed his way through the crowds to get a glimpse of his premier. "The people there were filled with love," he says. Why didn't anyone report on the rally? Why wasn't I, his niece, there instead of constantly spending time on Taksim?
The rift that currently divides Turkey also runs straight through the middle of my family. At the moment, a bridge between the two sides doesn't seem to exist.
- Part 1: Turkish Family Split Between Gezi and Old Way
- Part 2: Generation Gezi