Monday, July 1, 2013

Turkey's Summer of Discontent

Rabbi Sonsino
During the month of June, Ines and I spent ten days in Turkey. The main reason for our visit was to attend the wedding party (of the daughter of a classmate of mine from Law School) that took place in the magnificent French Gardens by the Bosphorus in Istanbul. Before the festivities we flew to Cappadocia for a few days to see the famous rock formations in the middle of Anatolia. It was simply spectacular, with various types of caves and volcanic rocks as well as incredible underground housing that went back to the Hittites in ancient times.  We were lucky with the weather: it was sunny and hot.

We spent most of your time in Istanbul where I grew up. The city is massive with about 17 million people. Traffic is challenging at best. People everywhere. Construction continues without stop. Yet, the Bosphorus still remains as one of the jewels of the world. Our stay coincided with serious social upheavals in the country. The Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan, a very popular right-wing politician, promised to take down the Gezi Park, in Taksim (Istanbul), and instead proposed to build another mall, a mosque and Ottoman-style military barracks. In many parts of the world, such issues are usually handled by local planning boards. But not in Turkey and not by this prime minister. Young people, by the thousands, disagreed with his decisions, and took to the streets, shouting, “Government…resign!” The noise of the protesters at night was so loud that we had to ask the hotel, located in Nisantasi, about a 10 minute walk from Taksim, to give us another room facing a back street.

In reality the social unrest stemmed from the prime minister’s autocratic style: he tells his people what to do and what not to do, including , for example, to have three children. He also prohibited the purchase of alcohol after 10 pm and is leading the country away from its traditional Ataturk-style secularism, replacing it with a structure that is more traditional and more Islamic in its orientation. The reaction of the younger generation was rather mild and peaceful. There were  protests around the country. In Taksim, thousands occupied Gezi Park, where they set up a tent city with a library, free food, a place for animals, and a small museum.

Standing by the barricades at Gezi Park

One morning, we visited the park and talked to some people. I asked them, “How long do you think you can keep up this protest?” They said “maybe another week.” But the end came quickly, when the police attacked the camp the next morning and evicted all the occupants with brutal force, using tear gas and pepper sprays. Other cities faced the same violence. So far, four people have died and about 5000 were injured. Instead of unifying the people and trying to find a middle ground, the prime minister stood by his ideology and continued to divide further the country. It is too soon to say how the crisis will end. 

We were sad to witness this new escalation, and left the country with broken hearts but with the hope for a peaceful solution. The Turkish people deserve better.

Rifat Sonsino

July, 2013

PS. If you wish to receive my postings, please sign up at                   


No comments:

Post a Comment