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.


By in Istanbul

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.

Photo Gallery

15  Photos
Photo Gallery: A Divided Turkey
Erdogan the Hero

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.


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spon-facebook-10000022009 06/26/2013
1. Interresting Point of View..
...but you simply ignore that between the peacefull demonstrations some Protestors ARE organazing attacks aginst police officers and causing damage to get a police reaction. You should maybe look closer.
jon.blackmann 06/26/2013
2. Trained "circumvention teams" worldwide part 1
How many of the Turkish unions are AFL-CIO American funded and manipulated, and how many are not? Something seems to be out of kilter over there, recent academic studies have proven the lack of interest in unions among Turkish citizens for well over a decade, due to the economic and social advances of Erdogan. My Facebook friends and me have been observing that the worldwide media heavily influenced by U.S. intel almost never mentions the tireless eforts of the US State Dept to create turmoil in Turkey. Furthermore, let's consider the multitude of global covert operations done in the name of "democracy NGOs" {a "hot" issue now due to Edward Snowden's 41 slide, rudimentary NSA Power Point presentation made for new Booz Allen Hamilton recruits, advising the new baby recruits what is going on at Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail, iPhone, et al.} Even stodgy "DW" German TV, Deutsche Welle, back in 2012 reported on the intensified efforts of the US State Department, headed then by Hillary Clinton, to infiltrate, catalyze, provoke, and support via social networks and their corresponding softwares --designed by American agencies, such as for Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, etc, "outbursts of American style democracy" in foreign lands. Let's see DER SPIEGEL top this kind of investigative splendor. The deeply governmental "non governmental agencies" in Turkey, such as NED and IREX and NDI and IRI and Chemonics, etc., i.e. the U.S. State Dept. formulas of destabilization and infiltration, against Erdogan, through their NGOs and media peddling -- exploiting Twitter-based NGOs and scores of 'totalitarian democracy agents' now descending on the Gezi Park civil protests that are mainly against real estate development burnout by nearby residents, like happens in USA nearly every month in a major city [who is asking JUST WHO BOUGHT the little Gezi park near Taksim Square, why is this not mentioned in the heavily edited and manipulated news breaks? The Developers and investors and new owners of the Gezi Park are from where? Only from Turkey? I doubt it! It would not surprise me if there are Wall Street fingers in the Gezi Park and Taksim Square real estate investments, or Israeli or London developers' hands also. Before spinning piece after piece and misleading video after misleading edited video about "firestorm of protestors in Turkey to overthrow Erdogan", simply do your investigative reporting and tell us who are the investors who created the Gezi Park friction???] These destabilization efforts in the name of "GW Obama Democracy" are advocated by US-backed NGOs and USA/UK/EU government organizations—including NED, NDI, IRI, Chemonics, USAID, DAI, IREX, and various wings of Transparency International and George Soros Open Society, regardless of the wants and needs of the local domestic populations, and despite who were the winners of former democratic elections in the country in question, the "target country".
jon.blackmann 06/26/2013
3. Trained "circumvention teams" worldwide part 2
In other words, to counterpunch the outcome of the elections in Venezuela, to destabilize Syria, to foment unrest and breakdown of Turkish society as was accomplished by NGOs in Cairo a few years ago, wherever the American Chamber of Commerce and CIA are not in the highest saddle worldwide, and wherever world leadership has no affinity to such US federal agencies, this is where "democracy must ultimately take root" and nowhere else. The 2012 Deutsche Welle documentary on NGO activists from the west networking in Cairo and Syria and China and Russia [but why are these activists so impotent in New York and Washington and London?], highlighted the "Open Technology Institute" {OTI} of the US State Dept, spearheaded by Ben Scott, a "shadow network expert" in over 40 foreign nations. OTI is helping to create "Net Kits" and "internet in a suitcase" so that "alternate portable infrastructures of internet connection" can be utilized by "circumvention technologies" and softwares and their protest provocateurs to circumvent the national internet firewalls that may exist anywhere in the world...except in the USA! Sascha Meinrath {also of New America Foundation, of whom Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, is Chairman also of Meinrath's New American Foundation}, Mustafa Hussein of Egypt, Alex Halderman of Ann Arbor {the "Telex Anticensorship System"}, are witting and unwitting players in working alongside federal employees of the US State Department, to foment anti-government agitation in many parts of the world, that do not want to be coerced nor cowed into copy cat imitation of what is called "democracy" by federal contractors such as Chemonics and DAI and hundreds of other NGOs who train and manage "circumvention teams" worldwide. Soon the U.S.A. will take down the American flag, a symbol of immigrant colonial revolutionaries in early North America, overthrowing the British crown and their spies in the New Land , and replace it with the logo for Booz Allen Hamilton ….. the global network that was the last employer of "leak artist celebrity" of recent fame, Edward Snowden. Is he for real? He had high security clearances for CIA, NSA, the US embassy in Switzerland , and Booz Allen Hamilton clandestine worldwide network, yet he had nothing above a high school education? The issuing of brown shirts long ago to promote a totalitarian idea, has today been replaced by colored T-shirts, in color revolutions, in nearly the same degree of sincerity. DO NOT LET THIS CHARADE CONTINUE. Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria ...... i call it the ARAB WINTER and not the ARAB Spring. If somebody REALLY respects and advocates democracy, then KEEP YOUR BLOODY fingers off of Syria and Turkey and Iran!!!! They were doing fine without you.
astarte24 06/26/2013
4. Respect
I am really deeply impressed by the kind of demonstration I see in Turkey. This Generation of people on the streets is the same idealistic, open-mided youth I know from Demonstrations in Germany, France and other EU countries. I just hope they are enough to make their voice to be heard. On the other hand we have the retrospected AKP with their supporters mostly in traditional villages, wich makes up the majority of the country. Thi generation gap remembers me of the clashes in the sixties and seventies here in Germany.
jaap 06/26/2013
5. international complot against turkey
erdogan is certainly right that there is an international complot: u.s., germany, israel, alawite syrians, sciite hezbollah and iran, probably also greece, serbia and other ex-ottoman colonies, plus the vatican, turkish traitorns (studied young people below 35 years)......
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