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Turkey protests: This genie should not be tricked back into its bottle

The state is realising only now that these youths are not calling for chaos, but for inclusion

A new language of freedom and democracy has been emerging in Turkey in the past decade. This atmosphere was created by removing the military’s influence from civilian life and politics and, recently, by opening roads towards peace between Turkey and its Kurdish citizens. The ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party deserves applause for these developments.

But what the government has not realised is that the youth of this country, who are the main actors in Taksim Square presently calling for a more fully-fledged democracy, have not experienced military oppression. They know about it, but it was not an integral part of their life like it was for my generation, whose members were beaten up, tortured and murdered.

Accordingly, the language of the youth is different than that of the government. They are shocked when they are tear-gassed and told to just shut up and listen. The present conflict stems from this language of the father versus the child. The new generation is saying they are not children anymore and that they want to be respected and listened to. They want to be trusted and taken seriously.

This is happening for the first time in our country’s history. It may look and sound like an anti-AK Party movement, but it is not. It is a movement against authoritarian reflexes. It is a sign of a growing democracy. It is a sign of health.

The AK Party responded initially with the knee-jerk reaction of the powerful state. It is realising only now that the youth are not calling for chaos. They are calling for inclusion in decisions that have an effect on their daily lives.

This democratic voice had been hijacked by various interest groups of the past, namely ultra nationalists, and extreme left-fringe groups which have sided with the military and the big business which has a history of using and discarding any type of dissent, if and when it serves its short-term interests. 

We need to note that the Turkish bourgeoisie is nothing like the Western bourgeoisie. It is more like the Russian oligarchs. This is where the West fails to understand the systematic  provocations and manipulations. The old system opposes a civilian constitution (blocked at every level), as well as peace with the Kurds (rejecting Kurdish identity with such slogans as “Turkey belongs to Turks”).

The West has to analyse better and be able to separate democratic dissent from these manipulations. In turn, as democrats in Turkey, we have to align ourselves with the government, BUT never fail to criticise when it shows authoritarian reflexes. The genie that just came out of the bottle should not be tricked back in. It is a good genie.

What has arrived is a new language. A civilian language that is anti-authoritarian and inclusive. The government may only be realising about this – we shall see. I remain very hopeful.

What Turkey needs urgently is a democratic constitution that has no red lines (red lines create social exclusions in a multi-ethnic post-empire society) discussed at local level by civilians, working its way up, and we need a continuation of the peace process with the Kurdish citizens of Turkey.

Kutlug Ataman is a filmmaker and artist based in Istanbul