The Protests and the Snotty Side of Turkish Politics

Left to Right: Deputy PM Arınç, Former Interior Minister Abdülkadir Aksu, an MP from the ruling party and the PM Erdoğan.

Left to Right: Deputy PM Arınç, Former Interior Minister Abdülkadir Aksu, an MP from the ruling party and PM Erdoğan.

The Mayor of Turkey’s capital Ankara, Melih Gökçek, has always been the crazy man of the town. His tweets full gaffes and misspellings amused many and inspired lots of internet contents mocking him. A few days ago, during an interview at state television TRT, his reaction to Gezi Park protests throughout Turkey went extreme. He got very emotional and cried, after he talked about foreign conspiracies, which he claimed, were behind Turkey’s massive protests against the government. While his tears were dropping, he said god was the greatest game changer, god was protecting them, they feared no one except god… Out of curiosity, I counted. In less than two minutes, he said “god” exactly ten times. This kind of Islamic sensationalism with tears is neither the first nor will it be the last. Much more important names than Gökçek in Turkish politics, did similar things.

The Mayor while at an interview on TRT and a digital art mocking him.

The Mayor on TRT and a digital art mocking him.

Just before the constitutional referendum in 2010, PM Erdoğan, too, made a speech in which he supported his arguments with tears. At that time, especially because of alleged coup attempts, he was presenting himself as a victim (of a coup that never happened). He cried and immediately got resounding applause while reading a letter of a young man who was executed by the military administration that came to power in September 12, 1980. Coincidentally (?), September 12 was decided as the date of constitutional referendum in 2010. The speech was not found sincere by many, but surely it helped the PM win the referendum. There were many other occasions where he cried: Once after seeing a video of the deceased Kurdish singer Ahmet Kaya, a few times while reading poems, and more… His Deputy Bülent Arınç, some of the cabinet ministers, MPs and the PM’s wife Emine Erdoğan, as well, all cried on different occasions while listening to Tayyip Erdoğan.

Perhaps, crying while the leader speaks is a show of loyalty and faith in Middle East. I remember well that Murat Bardakçı who is a journalist stayed a long time in Iran, said on his TV program, that Hashemi Rafsanjani used to cry to even Khomeini’s speeches about oil prices and that it was sort of a tradition there to do so while the Imam speaks. Maybe, it’s not even a necessity to understand the speech to cry for it, in such societies where religion is the determining component of one’s identity. The great Turkish author Falih Rıfkı Atay, tells a story in Zeytindağı (Meaning “Mount of Olives”, it’s his excellent book on Middle Eastern theatre of World War One): An Ottoman Albanian man in a mosque gets very moved and cries as the Imam (preacher) speaks. Someone asks him why he cries like this and he responds: “Look, how deeply he speaks!” The trouble is the Imam speaks in Arabic that the Albanian man doesn’t really understand and he actually explains how to slaughter sheep for sacrifice. The story gives some hints on the mood of today’s “emotional” Turkish politicians and their audience.

When you look at the “crying patterns” of the Turkish politicians, especially of this current administration, you see that they’re all somehow tied to religion. Indeed, it makes sense that emotionalism in politics is more common in societies where people are (totally or as in Turkey’s case partially) bonded through religion. Because religion is something one accepts and retains emotionally, not rationally.

The FM Ahmet Davutoğlu is worth mentioning particularly. In November 2012, he visited a hospital in Gaza, and there cried heavily along with the wounded whose stories he heard. The pro-government media presented his trip with such Islamic romanticism. Some months later, Reyhanlı which is a town of Hatay province on the border with Syria, was attacked by twin car bombs that killed more than 50. The incident was recorded as the bloodiest terrorist attack ever happened within borders of Republic of Turkey. The day the town was hit, Davutoğlu made a press conference, talked a lot but said really nothing, and he showed no such sadness as he did with the wounded Gazans. Just two days after the horrible attack, the Minister didn’t see any necessity to cancel his visit to Germany where pictures of him smiling with the kids were taken and released on the Ministry’s Facebook account. His asymmetric reactions to the wounded Gazans and dead Turks, enraged many. In disgust, people kept circulating his smiling pictures taken just after Reyhanlı attacks and the pictures where he cries in Gaza, in social media for days.

Fist picture: FM Davutoğlu visiting a hospital in Gaza.  Second one: Visiting Germany two days after Reyhanlı attacks.

Fist picture: FM Davutoğlu visiting a hospital in Gaza.
Second one: Visiting Germany two days after Reyhanlı attacks.

And what turns so many stomachs is that the tears that politicians of Turkey shed, as I tried to show by the examples I mentioned above, usually seem to be full of political motives. To find dead people, injustice, brutality and violence to cry for, they don’t have to look beyond our decade, to 33 years ago when there was military rule in Turkey. They don’t have to look beyond Turkey’s borders, to Gaza or to Arakan in Myanmar or elsewhere, either… During Gezi Park protests, 4 people died, many lost their eyes and got beaten by their own police, here in Turkey, right in middle of İstanbul and Ankara! In Hatay, more than 50 citizens lost their lives, because of the monumental failure of the government’s security and Syria policies. It’s time to cry for them. It’s time to take responsibility and feel remorse for what happened to them. It’s time, for the PM and his government, to atone. Tears aren’t necessary, but sincerity is.

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