March 13, 2014

Protesters here, organizers there

Notes from a conversation last night

A 15 year old boy

If you have any Turkish friends on Facebook then you know that on Tuesday Berkin Elvan died in the hospital, prompting protests in cities and towns across Turkey. You know that the kid was struck by a tear gas canister launched by the Turkish police during the 2013 summer protests, and the kid spent the nine months between then and now in a coma.

Turkey and Canada

Sometimes when we talk about political leaders I can't help but compare Turkey and Canada. Two prime ministers from conservative parties, both in power for a long time (Harper 8 years, Erdoğan 11), both democratically elected three times (I hope I have this right), both engaged in suppressing journalistic freedom, both critiqued for increasingly authoritarian manoeuvres.

But sometimes the comparison only goes so far

Last night my friend described how he navigated his brother home in Istanbul, over the phone, using Twitter and Google Maps, to avoid attacks by the police. He also described his own experience being beaten under police supervision after a protest a few years ago, and how after, a state doctor wrote that he was one hundred percent healthy, despite being covered in black bruises.

The power of the state is still a very abstract thing for me. I haven't breathed tear gas. I've never been taken off a bus at a police checkpoint. I don't worry about people listening to my phone conversations.

When I came home last night, another friend, an American in Antalya, said that on the way home he was confronted by police for taking photos of the crowds. While one policeman demanded his papers, another grabbed him from behind and raised a stick. Only an American accent got the stick lowered.

Spot the tar sands!

Meanwhile, back in Canada

"I am so sick of the corruption"
"I can't watch the news because I get too angry"
"I can't accept what's happening, but I can't do anything about it"
"I was afraid of being attacked, so I had to leave"

These are the thoughts I hear from immigrants and refugees that I work with towards the states they abandoned.

Likewise, I know a lot of Turks who have given up on the possibility of positive change within their own political system. The options seem to be tuning out or immigrating.

We talk about privilege a lot, but I don't think I have ever been so aware of this crucial privilege–to be able to effect change in your own political system.

Back in British Columbia, I have friends who are taking on powerful new roles to change political decisions, and preparing a citizen's initiative to prevent a pipeline from being built across the province, in spite of federal support. It seems almost cruel to talk about such things in Turkey right now.

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