Society, Politics, and Economy in Modern Turkey: Sociology of Turkey - Maintained by Tugrul Keskin
We are at a point in our work when we can no longer ignore empires and the imperial context in our studies. (p. 5)
― Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

What is Happening in Turkey: New Episodes of Contention

By Mustafa Gurbuz

Mobilizing Ideas
June 11, 2013

After two weeks of contentious politics, streets have started to return to normal in Turkey. Although the activists did not leave Gezi Park yet, current political atmosphere has already changed: massive confrontational rallies now harbor traditional battle-grounds instead of the sentiments that gave rise to the Occupy Gezi. The Occupy Gezi was an expression of a mass frustration by a wide-range coalition against aggressive neo-liberal regime that has been symbolized in urban renewal projects and PM Erdogan’s iron fist. The current organized rallies in the last two days, however, push people to be polarized as pro-AKP or anti-AKP. This is the new phase in contentious episodes, and arguably, a detrimental blow to the spirit of the Occupy Gezi.

Western media was too hasty in describing the protests as a “secular awakening” and a crisis of democracy in Turkey. Although late episodes of contention makes the traditional battlegrounds solidified, the initial spirit of the Occupy Gezi was unprecedented. Perhaps for the first time in modern Turkey, we have witnessed a type of New Social movement protests, typically occurring in post-industrial societies. No, it’s not Marx that grasps the spirit of the Occupy Gezi, it’s Melucci. Key words to understand these protests are dignity, self-realization, respect, resistance, and identity politics. All these demands find their symbolism in youth culture, according to Melucci. In fact, Occupy Gezi was largely organized by college students, who were considered to be apolitical (and who remember only Erdogan as their leader). The spokesperson of CARSI, a famous soccer-fan group that leads the mass protests, expressed the aforementioned feelings of youth resistance: “Life means resisting to power-holders!” (“Yasamak Muktedire Karsi Direnmektir!”) (See a recent scholarly article on Carsi) As social movement scholars well know, “relative deprivation” is a key process not only for mass uprisings after economic downturns but also mobilization of educated middle-class youngsters in post-industrial cities (For a shrewd analysis, see Cagaptay’s OP-ED in NY Times).

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