Last night I returned to Istanbul in time to see thousands of entirely peaceful, standing protesters in Taksim Square being subjected to some of the worst shows of police violence yet. In the crazy logic of the past three weeks, it almost seems as though the more peaceful the protest, the angrier the police, and vice versa. Protesters are determined to demonstrate their good intentions, and police are equally determined to stop them doing that. Most people yesterday evening were standing and waving red carnations to commemorate the four fatalities of the protests. They tried to place the carnations in the grids of the encroaching water canon trucks, and were beaten as they did so. There were no political banners, nothing approaching the mystical “marginal groups” cited by the government as justification for previous police action. These people had nothing but flowers, and they were chased, beaten, gassed and shot at with rubber bullets. It has become like a nightmare.
In similarly nightmarish fashion, Erdogan has declared that the protests in Brazil have been organized by the same interest rate lobby that organized the protests in Turkey. At a pro-government rally in Samsun, yesterday, Erdogan announced that: “The same plot is being laid in Brazil. The symbols, the banners, Twitter and the international media are the same. They are doing everything they can to accomplish what they couldn’t achieve in Turkey.”
One’s first reaction is to laugh, but the sobering reality is that millions of AKP supporting Turks take this as gospel, just as they take anything else Erdogan says as gospel. They are living in a parallel universe, a universe where everyone is out to get Turkey and only their steadfast leader can save them – “the most popular and charismatic leader in the world”, in the words of Turkey’s EU minister Egeman Bağış.
If you follow the link below you can see a clip of a popular Turkish soap opera in which police are the brave victims of vicious attacks by rock-wielding protesters. A smartly dressed couple representing the “interest lobby” watch delightedly from the side lines as protesters throw rocks and Molotov cocktails at a police van. Just in case any of this looks remotely realistic to the outside eye, I should point out that scenes like this have never occurred at any point during the protest movement. The entire episode has been designed to pander to the picture given out by the government about the violent nature of protesters and the corresponding courage and patience of police. Samanyolu, the channel responsible for airing this particular series, is a religious, nationalist channel with links to the Gülen movement. Another of its series idolizes the heroic attempts of Turkish soldiers in the South East to save locals from evil Kurdish terrorists trying to bring about the destruction of the Turkish state.
This is not so much tragi-comic as tragic with superficially amusing overtones. These soap operas are the kind of thing which keeps millions of Turks in an artificial and shameful state of ignorance. Turkey has about 50 news channels, and only a handful of them have shown anything approaching the truth about these protests, so it is almost surprising that so many people have in fact educated and involved themselves in the protests. The Interior Ministry has announced that 2.5 million Turks have taken to the streets over the past three weeks, but that does not include those who showed their support at home, banging pots and pans, or those who demonstrated abroad in solidarity. The Turkish protests have so many beautiful images to define them – the lady in red, the standing man, the peace pianist, the red carnation. The police have only batons, water canons and guns. With each day these opposing sides become more polarised, but it is impossible to say where this will end.