Gezi From The Field

Having spent some time in the past few days talking with working-class people in Istanbul (shopkeepers, traders, taxi drivers, housewives, and others) and residents of a village that I know well, I heard unimpeded support for AKP and PM Erdogan and a lack of sympathy for Gezi protesters, who are seen to be primarily destroyers of property who are causing financial damage to people, and who are likely steered by outside interests.

Where did these people get their news? Many watched TV, the men read Zaman. These same views were expressed by an MHP voter, so approval of AKP’s infrastructural improvements didn’t mean someone would vote for them (In this case, the man voted MHP because he found the other parties too corrupt in doing his business.) Corruption was a big complaint against the AKP, but also the CHP.

In the village, Gezi might have been happening on another planet. People really weren’t that interested, having made up their minds that this was a bunch of hooligans and that it was under control.

A delicate question that might arouse the antagonism of my many liberal friends who are very invested in this new and wonderful display of non-ideological, non-party-linked social solidarity: Are we romanticizing the impact of Gezi?





13 Responses to “Gezi From The Field”

  1. My husband, as an owner/manager of a small business in the vicinity of Taksim, is one of those ‘esnaf’ that we keep hearing about, and his business is suffering. Most small businesses on and around İstiklal have suffered immense losses this summer. Business of course always goes down in the summer, and especially during Ramazan, but now things are quite dire for many. Rents are going unpaid and few will be able to recover from their mounting debt. Last summer of course didn’t go to well for those who lost their outdoor tables. Beyoğlu has long been a place for political expression–and businesses managed just fine in between protests. But what has changed now is the constant deployment of the police. Last night (Saturday July 13) experienced yet another catastrophic night of pepper gas and water cannons. Yes, enough is enough. Each weekend that goes by with nights of violence means more and more businesses will go under. Beyoğlu, and especially İstiklal, will undergo immense changes in the coming year or so, with small restaurants and cafes being replaced by corporate-run establishments. The result will be that Big capital will replace small capital. This in essence is what the AKP policy of brutal police intervention is bringing about. And the Gezi spirit, no matter how uplifting it may be for a certain sector of society, is powerless to prevent this.

  2. A delicate question that might arouse the antagonism of my many liberal friends who are very invested in this new and wonderful display of non-ideological, non-party-linked social solidarity: Are we romanticizing the impact of Gezi?
    Perhaps it’s time change your friends, if so. Highly trained and otherwise lucky people with diplomas supposedly showing their capability for rational analysis should have learned at least from their failure to be realistic and truthful during the period of AKP’s ascendance and not repeat the same mistake. The mistake I have in mind is not about being on the ‘right’ or the ‘wrong’ side but losing touch with the truth, reality and reason to follow fashion to fool themselves, and, inevitably, the others who take their views seriously. Some of the same people who fed people nonsense about AKP are now feeding people nonsense about the Gezi situation and its effects (irresponsibly too, since people hitting the streets are also in danger). This would be visible in English-language publications but here’s a fun read in Turkish about Ahmet Altan:

  3. A reality check away from intermixing with the secular urban Istanbul elite. This elite (no longer the governing political elite…that is the AKP) have views supported by many university-educated people sympathetic to the Gezi riots.

    However they are not the majority in Turkey and even they know that deep inside their hearts though they constantly refer to themselves as “*the* Turkish people” the majority of Turks consist of people such as the conservative Anatolian countryfolk.

    Aside from rural Anatolia, their kin who have migrated to the big cities and the working classes are in general antipathetic towards Gezi.

    Those who support Gezi are:

    – Leftists
    – Many in the educated classes (though not all)
    – Upper-middle class Republican elite who have always sought to ape European culture
    – Alevis
    – Some ultra-nationalists (ulcukler…though definitely not all).

    These groups in total still constitute an overwhelming minority in Turkey as a whole.

    Always good to leave Beyoglu and Kadikoy and see the real world.

  4. Although I am not sure what the point of Sam’s comment above is, other than attempting to identifying the social groups who support the Gezi protests, one thing is clear is that the great divide in Turkish society revolves a great deal around education. AKP, as well as the Kemalists before them, have done a woeful job in education. And one thing is clear: democratic institutions cannot function without a largely educated population nor with large discrepancies in wealth. AKP’s newest strategy to stay in power is capitalizing on the fears of the uneducated and that is nothing to praise. We will see in the elections, however, how irrelevant the above groups of people– largely from the educated urban classes–who support Gezi, and who are not limited only to Beyoğlu and Kadıköy, but are found throughout urban centers including Eskişehir, Ankara, İzmir, Antakya, etc. After all 70% of Turks live in urban areas. And don’t forget that in the last elections 33.6% of the voting population did not even go to the polls to cast a ballot. If the Gezi spirit does have any significant long term effect, it will be the mobilization previous non-voters to vote in the next elections.

  5. […] stata a Istanbul in queste ultime settimane, ha seguito proteste e quant’altro dal vivo. Dal suo blog, apprendo che ha avuto modo di parlare con persone delle classi sociali più umili: e ha scoperto […]

  6. Very interesting. I would add only that it seems dangerous to assume that outside a few neighborhoods, Istanbulites are an undifferentiated mass of poor, pious AKP supporters. Kılıçdaroğlu and the CHP won 38% of the vote in the last Istanbul mayoral election, and a Pew poll just before the protests put Erdoğan at 46% favorable/54% unfavorable in Istanbul. Are those all coming from affluent secular neighborhoods? Are leftists and Alevis making up the lion’s share of the difference? Geographically, are any petty bourgeois votes for the CHP concentrated in a few Kemalist neighborhoods or are they more dispersed?

  7. You can look up 2009 local election results for Istanbul by district here:

  8. Bulent, thanks for the link. I don’t know the geography of Istanbul comprehensively, but I don’t think of places like Zeytinburnu or Bayrampaşa or Küçükçekmece as bastions of the secular elite – and these are still places where the CHP pulls 30-35% of the vote. So this only raises my curiosity further!

  9. […] Gezi From The Field […]

  10. FF, that was in ’09 when the economy was contracting and of course local. The “secular elite” vs. AKP business when it comes to voting patterns is just something that got spread in English language reporting a while ago. One can probably explain AKP’s votes by perceptions/numbers about the economy rather than through stories involving secular/non-secular elite/non-elite characterizations. Check Kartal for example where CHP won in ’09 but the votes shifted in ’11 (I’m giving a single link for ’11 to avoid the spam filter, you the link above for comparison):
    Also keep in mind that history got revised and the revised version got pushed rather heavily (and unchallenged in the English language outlets) to lead people to think that CHP was somehow the incumbent (some recent US think-tank report actually literally said so!). CHP couldn’t even pass the election threshold in ’99 and wasn’t in the pre-AKP parliament. So thinking in terms of CHP may be misleading.
    A better way might be to try to figure out at what level of electoral support AKP stops being the unified party of the ‘right.’ It is going to be a hard two years for them since we’ve already changed the system in ’07 to have a directly elected president (vs. a PM appointed by the president and approved by the parliament). If RTE becomes that president, w/o RTE AKP probably cannot be that party of the right. If RTE doesn’t become that president, we’ll have a president that got elected by 50+% (the system guarantees it) with RTE being what? How will this be resolved in a way that keeps AKP the way it is? Can it?

  11. Very interesting report (and discussion), but the Istanbul people you have been talking to (shopkeepers etc) are surely – apart perhaps from the housewives – small property owners rather than ‘working class’?

  12. I wantted to express my opinion as a member of 90’s generation which played a huge role in Taksim/Gezi. Let me introduce my self firstly; I have an engineering degree, I speak English, French and Spanish. This is more than enough to be counted as an intellectual person in Turkey. The whole situation is summarized as movement of such kind of new generation. However, as a non- AKP voter, and member of the generation, I didn’t support the Gezi, the moment I found out the reality. I have seen that Gezi was not innocent as promoted in foreign and local media which I follow closely. I called my friends who were protesting against police. Most of them were member or president of CHP youth organizations. They were making preparations of coflict ! They were driven by the revolutionist propaganda. (in 2013? yeah 🙁 ) I know this people for a long time, I always find their understanding of politics very shallow. They are leftist but also they are “soldiers of Mustafa Kemal”, the person who ruled country with iron fist and happend to known as supreme leader (same case in N.Korea). They were saying that they will take down the gov’t. The moment I heard this, I concluded that this was not a democratical protest but an initiative of a civil coup ! You just don’t overthrow a democratically elected gov’t in the heart of Europe and Middle East n o matter how much u hate them ! Not any more, my relatives suffered too much from coups and I know those times very vell. So I just went back home. Those people you talked feel the same way too. No one wants anarchy for shallow, cheap arguments in the country. Not just highways, and metrobus but other executions changed so much in the life of a middle men during 10 years of AKP rule. Such as free and open to everyone hospitals, cheaper drugs, free state universities, improvement of financial student aids, improved numbers of university dorms, free books in schools, computer labs etc.. They may not be the best in terms of democracy but they are the best when it comes to the service to people. AKP invested so much in public service. This is why people love them and they never loose their social base. People understand, and aappreciate it. Even they don’t know what to say about gezi park, beacuse of AKP investements, middle men hail them and give support. Turkish Republic have never been closer to be an EU country ever. People know there are some bad things, but you cannot change shitty past just in 10 years. Turkey will become better and better in time. I don’t vote any party but if I don’t say, AKP was succesful in terms of public investments I would be a bad person. To sum up, this success creates a strong bond between PM Erdogan and people.

  13. Turkish politics is dominated by the centre right, i.e. parties not “too religious” like Refah/Saadet but with conservative values respectful of religion e.g. Turgut and Ozal. The AKP currently fill that space, and have no competitors.

    The MHP are “nationalists” with a confused ideology as they appeal to both secular pan-Turkists with a fondness for Tengrism and whose 2nd party would be the CHP, and also religious nationalists whose 2nd party would be the AKP or BBP. Both – somewhat contradictory – currents exist in the MHP.

    The CHP are a secular leftist party who cannot appeal to the conservative centre-right majority in Turkey, something Kemalist intellectuals are acutely aware of, thus they at times opine views such as “educated” people having a vote of 2 times the value as the “uneducated” majority masses.

    The CHP like the MHP also has contradictory currents within the party. There are the traditional hard Kemalists who are secular and anti-Kurdish, they are secular first before leftists. Then there are the leftist elements including some Kurdophile ones. The former DTP leader Ahmet Turk was himself a CHP member.

    The Gezi rioters do not represent the vast majority of Turks especially outside of the big cities and definitely not of mainstream Anatolia.

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