“Don't Interfere in Our Bedrooms”: Offended Turkish Citizens and Gezi Protests in 2013

Based on author’s interviews with Gezi protesters and observations of Beyoglu district during protests in June, 2013, paper deals with discourses and arguments against politics of Turkish government and Recep Erdogan personally. In 20th century Kemalist politics divided Turkish society into two big groups. Educated secular elite was Sunni Muslim only in identity, and all practicing Muslims were seen as people of second sort. In late 90s and in the beginning of 21st century resentment of this group was one of factors that brought to power Islamists (Refah Party) and post-Islamists (AKP). First years of AKP rule were quite democratic, aimed at fulfilling Copenhagen criteria in order to enter European Union. Significant changes in law were made and public sphere was opened for Muslim voices. Many liberals and democrats supported these changes. But after 2007 position of Erdogan began to change towards getting more personal power. He needed to consolidate his electorate so he chose the way of presenting secular-minded people, opposing to AKP, like enemies and people of second sort in “New Turkey”. This mirroring of Kemalist politics, especially the manner in which it was done, resulted in next wave of resentment, now from secularist and liberal groups, including some moderate Muslim intellectuals (and, eventually, whole social movements). In late May, 2013 some trees in Gezi park in central part of Istanbul were cut to begin the construction of old Ottoman barracks-style building, which supposedly was going to be trade center. Several dozens of ecology activists tried to defend the park but municipal police severely attacked them. After this small protest grew into nation-wide campaign on completely other level. I argue that one of the main motives of protesters was their feeling of being offended by Recep Erdogan and AKP politics. On one hand, many people, in general, felt uncomfortable with dividing society into “good” pro-AKP and “bad” opposition, on the other — Erdogan insulted protesters directly, using words like “çapulcu” (looter) or “ayyaş” (alcoholic). Gezi events bursted the dam of accumulated offence and millions of people went to streets of numerous Turkish cities demanding resignation of Erdogan. Protesters used different discourses to support their stance — from antifascist and anti-terrorist to liberal and even socialist-Islamic. I interviewed 10 people who lived in Gezi camp, and many of them were strongly against Erdogan personally. He was perceived as despot in patrimonial terms, like father, who wants to interfere in private issues and dictate the style of life people should obey, the way of thinking they should go along with. “Erdogan wants to enter our bedrooms”, — said one of the interviewees. As well interviewed people told me that they were against ‘Islamization’, but couldn’t answer what they mean exactly. For example, the fact of alcohol selling time restriction in context of pro-Islamic rhetoric of AKP was perceived exactly as Islamization, though it’s a common thing in many non-Muslim countries. It’s rather a reaction to legalization of Islamic discourses in public sphere after long period of aggressive laicite policy.