No, it’s not a civil war. Newspapers in Turkey like to use those words these days, refining them with such expressions as ‘looks like’, or ‘could lead to’, or ‘reminds of’. But it’s definitely also more than just a few demonstrations getting out of hand.
Ever since the Constitutional Court closed down the pro-Kurdish DTP last Friday, there have been demonstrations and riots all over the country, but especially in the south east. Usually it starts with Kurdish demonstrators throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the police, at buildings that represent the state or occasionally even statues of Atatürk, which is considered quite unthinkable in this country. The police react with water cannons or tear gas. But sometimes, it goes further than that. Last Sunday in Istanbul, shop owners who felt threatened by the violence of Kurdish protesters chased them with kebab knives, guns and axes, but luckily nobody was killed. Yesterday something similar happened in the south east, but with a different outcome: two Kurds were killed by a shop owner.
It’s not always fair to call the people who react to the protesters ‘nationalists’, as many (foreign) newspapers do. They must often be ordinary hard-working people trying to defend their property and their livelihood. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that I approve of any violence. There are also ordinary people who don’t react violently. There is always a choice.
However, I can understand why emotions are so enflamed. There is a desperate power struggle going on that involves more than the Kurdish question, a struggle being fought in parliament and even more so in the highest courts of this country, but affecting the lives of ordinary people, who feel insecure. For some people it affects their basic livelihoods, like small businessmen who get a Molotov cocktail thrown into their shop. For others, it affects their identity, like Kurds who are once again no longer represented in the parliament of a country that calls itself democratic. And for still again others, the power struggle makes them question (or hold on stronger than ever to) the truths about Turkey they have always believed in: is the unity of the state no longer sacred? Did the Kurdish opening in the end lead to more violence by the PKK, and will it lead to more deaths?
The violence is exaggerated in the media, with inciting music accompanying reports of the violence and endless repeats of the same violent images. It stirs people up even more. What I don’t see are politicians asking people to calm down. Somebody has to show some unity and set a good example. I know it’s way too much to ask for, but I dream of a video of President Gül, Prime Minister Erdogan, opposition leaders Bahceli and Baykal and banned politician Türk as a group asking everybody in the country to refrain from violence. In real life, unfortunately, Baykal doesn’t speak to Erdogan, Bahceli and Türk once shook hands but that was it for friendly gestures, and any constructive talk about the state and the future of the country is out of the question. When politicians who speak with such dedication about the unity of the state show such a total lack of unity themselves, how can you expect any better behaviour from the citizens?