politics : culture : economics

A hiatus ends: Istanbul Notes returns

In Gezi and after, Turkey on July 4, 2013 at 2:11 am

It is two years since I have posted with any regularity on this blog and 18 months since I have lived in Istanbul, a city that still fills me with joy and exasperation in more or less equal measure. Distance made it surprisingly easy—necessary perhaps—to detach from the relentless insanity of the Turkish public sphere. But the events of recent weeks make disengagement impossible. On a personal level, too many friends and loved ones have turned their lives upside down to take a stand in—or report to the world about—what has become an increasingly poisonous dispute about Turkey’s future. On a professional or intellectual level, too many of the issues that preoccupied me on this blog—questions about democracy, about party politics, about the nature of opposition in a system dominated by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—have become more pressing than ever.

If Istanbul Notes ever had a point, it was to try to think about the kind of developments we’ve seen since May 31st, when Gezi Park stopped being about Gezi Park and became about the much bigger mess that is Turkish political life. Something entirely unexpected happened that night and in the weeks that followed. There has been too much hyperbole about the significance of the protests, too many assumptions about the inevitability of their having a transformative effect on Turkey. There has been too much warmth and fuzziness about the undeniably infectious creativity and humour that has informed the protests. In important respects, Turkey has moved backwards over the past month, not forwards. And yet.

I think it’s probably fair to say that underpinning most of the writing on Istanbul Notes in its up-to-2011 incarnation was a sense of bewilderment at the passivity with which a nominally democratic country responded to political developments that were feared and loathed by a large minority of the population. The CHP often bore the brunt of any criticism on this blog—and let’s face it, a party that can muster only Deniz Baykal and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in response to a government it views as an existential threat to the republic deserves all the opprobrium it gets. But the abject ineffectiveness of the CHP has always been part of a broader problem, namely the gulf that has separated private conviction and political action on the part of the very many Turks who want to see a change of government (or, perhaps more realistically, a change of direction) in their country. And that’s where something changed on May 31st. I’m not yet convinced that it will prove to have been a lasting change, and it certainly wasn’t a sufficient change in terms of realising the protesters’ often unrealistic objectives. But it was a real change and a necessary one. After years of waiting for a deus ex machina to deliver them from Mr Erdoğan, it seemed to dawn on the prime ministers’ opponents that it fell to them as individuals to take some responsibility for the public articulation and advocacy of the changes they want to see. That is a development both to be welcomed and to be prodded and poked by anyone who cares about Turkey.

So Istanbul Notes returns. It does so from afar, which will inevitably mean that developments are missed, nuances overlooked. From friends and colleagues in Turkey, I would ask for patience in such instances and for corrections in the comments section when needed. Beyond that, it just remains for me to say that it’s nice to be back.

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