What’s Happening in Izmir (and the Rest of Turkey)
Within the first few days I could tell that the mentality of Izmir and Turkey had changed drastically since last year. There was definitely a tangible buzz of anti-government sentiments coming from local’s mouths. Thankfully there were no violent confrontations in İzmir when I arrived, but instead a rather festive atmosphere filled the streets, with whole families marching around our neighborhood banging on pots and pans and constant choruses of car horns only added to the noise. It seemed that no one wanted to be left out of the revelry, including the street dogs that guarded our complex-who howled along with the ruckus.
On the first Friday night, we went down to Alsancak (downtown İzmir) to join a few of Mustafa’s good friends Erdem and Anıl (who I had gotten to know quite well last summer). We were also meeting with Irmak, and I was thankful to have a girl in the mix (because it gets old talking about cars, girls and more cars;)). As we approached the center of Alsancak, the crowds thickened and the energy was palpable. Protesters waved Turkish flags with Ataturk’s iconic face proudly displayed in the center. Street vendors sold whistles, various other noise makers, flags and Guy Fawkes masks, like they were some sort of strange souvenirs. It had a carnival feel to it, but the undertone was somber and graffiti and fliers had overtaken some businesses where the protesters were clearly not happy with the owners and their agenda.
I know that İzmir does not reflect the state of the rest of Turkey though, and there have been some disastrous clashes with the police in Takim Square, where the protests started. Pepper and tear gas, and water canons have injured scores of protesters when the current government made it clear that there would be no violence against the (mostly young) protesters camped out in Gezi Park.
The use of social media has been paramount in these protests, where information has been spread at a rate that clearly infuriates Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Facebook and Twitter definitely did not jive with the media censorship that was intended to cover up the violence dispensed by the police in Taskim.
In a fit of fury, Erdoğan criticized protesters and called them “çapulcu,” which means “looter” in Turkish. Brilliantly, witty protesters took this derogatory term and made it their slogan.
If you would like to hear a (non-media associated) voice describe all this turmoil, here is a blog recommended by my roommate (thanks Adrienne) that explains what has happened at the ground level.