01 Jun 2013 08:00
Girls and women of all ages are on the streets of Ankara every night to protest the authoritarian rule of PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Many say they feel safe and empowered during this time of unrest in Turkey's capital city. They protest for the notion of "freedom," which has become threatened under PM Erdoğan's 10 year, pro- Islamic rule.
When I asked Z. what she wanted from the current nationwide protests in Turkey, she said "Freedom." She wants to feel safe when she walks the streets at night. Corporate wallflower by day, musician by night, Z. claims despite being a literature major, she has read more these past weeks than during her years at university. Never interested in politics, she now watches Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s televised speeches. In the beginning of the peaceful protests, she warned people not to let their guard down.
On May 31st, the police began attacking demonstrators with tear gas and water canons, in Gezi Park in Istanbul. The uprising against the police quickly spread to the capital, Ankara, and the tear gas and TOMA (water canon) invaded the streets of Kızılay, Tunalı, and Kuğulu Park. At night, Z. would read instead of sleep, thinking about the injured people in the street battles. The police clashes remain common on the weekends, but the weeknight protests have become more of a street party with Ataturk flags and car horns. Though she is disappointed the protests have become more like social gatherings than a revolt, as a few others share the same idea, she attends nearly every night to show solidarity with her people. During this time of uncertainty and unrest in her city, she feels liberated and safe and so she takes an active role in occupying the streets.
Religion was created as a way to teach people to be humane, but there isn’t a need for it. According to Z., education and experience enables people to be naturally benevolent. She believes religion has become a manipulative power and is being used by the Turkish government to control people. E.S., an IT specialist with a major bank, doesn’t support the Islamization of Turkey. “I am opposed to all kind of restrictions. Someone who wants to cover her head should be free, but also someone who wants to drink alcohol should be free.” A recent ban on selling alcohol after 10PM is one of the restrictions the government is enforcing on its people, among others. Mothers, especially those with daughters, have voiced their fears for the past few years that the government is oppressing and ignoring women’s rights. Honor killings, domestic violence, and arranged marriages are issues still rampant in the country.
The women establishing their space in Kızılay and Kuğulu Park agree they feel empowered by the ability to voice their discontent with AKP, the ruling Justice and Development Party controlled by the charismatic PM Erdoğan. A. G., a university English instructor, says she never would have imagined such scenes in Ankara. Women feel protected among their fellow protestors, however the police are viewed as a threat. As stories surface of people being beaten and/or arrested, the peaceful demonstrators have lost their faith in the protection of the police even more than normal. According to A. G., when the major clashes began, a female friend of hers was resting at a McDonald’s in Kızılay when police attacked her. She didn’t leave her home for 2 weeks after the attack, but the night she emerged she went to a local cafe made into a makeshift hospital to help the wounded. O.E., a young woman who witnessed the police clashes in Eskişehir before coming to Ankara, feels proud that she is able to attend the peaceful demonstrations in Kuğulu Park. She has a sense of power from taking part in the resistance against the authoritarian government.
As the nationwide anti-regime demonstrations continue into the third week, the climate being created is a kind of utopia, which is a surprise for many Turkish nationals. People who didn't usually help each other, are reaching out to pick a fallen comrade off the street, say "pardon" if they bump into someone, or help victims of a tear gas attack. Z. relates a story from last week, when tear gas enveloped a restaurant on Tunalı Street, 2 young ladies lost their friend in the scurry. A man, who, in a normal situation they would have brushed off, helped them get out of the conflict area. The generosity and consideration expressed by strangers on the street has become common and many hope it will endure. The creativity and humor of the Turkish people are apparent through the various slogans, costumes and homemade gas masks, which aids in the harmony being created by the discord.
PM Erdoğan remains defiant in his message against the protestors, which continues to make the protestors defiant against the government.