Open Democracy: Changing three young Turkish lives

One of the greatest accomplishments of the protests, for these three individuals, was the chance to meet and experience unity with people from different religions, classes and ethnicities.


Although the Gezi protests may have faded a little over the past six weeks, they haven’t for protesters. No youngster in Turkey has ever seen such massive state violence in action before. Before Gezi, many were passive family members, lacking any compulsion to get out on the streets and fight. At the same time their generation has lived under increasing pressure from the Turkish government and they have all experienced the attendant anxieties. So the protests carry on, low key, bringing various issues to the fore.

Many people seem to be suffering from protest fatigue, which has resulted in them eliciting a frequent groan when asked about their personal experiences of change as a result of the Gezi park protests. Some are willing to analyze events, from a general point of view, but are very reluctant to talk about their personal experiences. Yet the events in May and June were so massive that they did affect everyone who participated and gradually that impact is coming to light, though not always in expected ways. It appears to be too early to get a grasp on their impact. After asking around, three young protesters agreed to share their thoughts and experiences of the protests and what it means to them.

Pinar, 23, lawyer  

˝Our generation is often called apolitical. This does not mean that we don’t care about politics: there are just no loyalties to any political party. I am not alone in fighting against the party I voted for. In Gezi Park many people who voted AKP were fighting against them,” Pinar, a graduate from law school who was politically active before the Gezi Park protests, points out. ”We are always described as a lazy generation, too lazy to even go to the cinema to watch a movie. But the violence used by the police was a shock to our systems. And there were people who walked all the way from the Anatolian side to Taksim. For me, this was one of the most important turning points in the protests. Another very important moment was the loss of trust in our media. We don’t believe what we hear or see anymore.”

For Pinar, the protests were an unforgettable adrenalin rush, although she, like many others, has suffered from both physical and mental side-effects since. Participating in these protests was one of the most fulfilling experiences of her life: ˝My future will be determined by these protests, I’m convinced. I feel now that I have a goal, which is not money. Perhaps I will work in a non-governmental-organization or even volunteer. But what I want, without any doubt, is to be able to include politics in my life.” She is able to see similar changes in her friends’ political awareness: ˝Before, friends might have made fun of gays for instance: they knew nothing about the LGBT parade. This year so many took part in it. This was a political awakening and part of the amazing solidarity we felt in the park.”

˝I met so many beautiful people in Gezi Park! I would say I come from an upper-middle class background, which to some extent, has hitherto confined the number of people I could have met. The protests gave me the chance to meet a vast range of people. Now, I also try to meet people with different political ideas than my own, and I try to build a dialogue with them.” I heard this many times from numerous protesters – that one of the greatest accomplishments, for them personally, was the chance to meet and experience unity with people from different religions, classes and ethnicities. Pinar also adds that Gezi Park gave many of them a new sense of identity. Prior to the protests, she simply didn’t have a strong sense of belonging. ˝I am so proud of being part of this movement. I like to think of myself as a Gezi citizen!” Pinar says and smiles.

Ali Can, 23, engineering student

Ali Can was always interested in politics but felt he’d never previously had the chance to take part. Nothing had motivated him to go to the streets. However, this time the disproportionate state terror forced him to join the struggle. ˝I had never imagined such violence against civilians was possible and I had no notion of joining any such movement. This was the first time I got pepper sprayed. It was nothing like what you might see on television,” he commented. ˝At first, the more violence you encountered, the more courageous you became; but then it just all became too much.”

Ali Can was shot with rubber bullets, and this was the turning point for him. ”I discovered that I don’t have much resilience when it comes to dealing with physical violence and I became very scared to participate in protests. I still am. When I see a policeman let alone a TOMA, the water cannons they use, I know it’s going to hit me, even when there are no protests taking place. I am very afraid now. They have destroyed my mental resistance.”

After the protests, Ali Can and his friends started to talk politics; querying the acts of the Turkish government. They are much more rebellious. According to Ali, protests and political activism, for the time being, are undergoing fashion wave status. Everyone is everyone else if they are attending various protests. ˝It was certainly rewarding to observe the way the protests have ensured that the government simply cannot do whatever it wants. It appears they have to show more respect for the law. I understood that if we get together we achieve more. So if I’m psychologically able to do so, I will definitely go again to protest.”

Onur, 25, humanities student

Onur is an experienced activist who has taken part in many different kinds of protests before Gezi. In the Gezi protests he was hit by tear gas canisters and rubber bullets. For him the most rewarding moment was when Gezi Park, given its huge symbolic significance, was clawed back into the possession of the protesters. At the same time he acknowledges that the first few nights of the protest were hell – the scariest and also bloodiest experiences of his life.

Onur was known among his friends as a rather quiet person. ”I personally became more sociable because of the protests. Before I just felt so pessimistic about other people, watching their behaviour. But when you have the support of other people, you start talking to them and suddenly you trust them. Everyone simply accepted everyone else. That was a huge experience for me.” Another great change for Onur is that his friends used to occasionally make fun of his activism.”Now those friends who used to ask me what I was doing before, were in the barricades with me. I am happy that they have also got a taste of the feeling in the streets, which is so different compared to home. People meet other people and they open up.”

For Onur it is hard to think about the future. He doesn’t want to be a pessimist but according to him there is still a lot to do before Turkey really changes. ˝One of the most miraculous aspects of Gezi Park was that people joined in the struggles that have been part of everyday life for Kurds, Alevis and other minorities in Turkey. People started to understand the struggle. This was not the first and definitely not the last protest. Now people have had the experience of demonstrating, so the barrier of hitting the streets, after this, is much lower.”

Milja Rämö
23 August 2013