I have lived and worked in countries where you feel an indefinable threat in the air and you are careful about what you say. Once in the 1990s I taught a couple of classes which consisted of ex- Stasi members from eastern Germany. That was in the UK and I could walk out and decide not to teach them again.
When you live in a country like Pakistan, there are threats to foreigners from the Taliban and other extremist groups. In the 1980s when I was living in Turkey, there were young people whom I taught who told me of horrific experiences they and their friends had suffered at the hands of the police. Once I tried to start a discussion as per a text book, which asked the question “What would you do if you were the President of your country?” My students were very talkative usually, but at that question they clammed up. I had to think quickly to ask other questions so that they could practise the conditionals (If I were…then I would… and so on).
After the class a couple of students cam up to me and explained hat there was a student that they didn’t know in the class. True, he was a new student, and they were afraid that he might be a member of the ‘secret’ police, and so they could not answer any political questions. They did offer to tell me what they would do if they were president though, if I really wanted to know.
As I said in a previous post, Turkey has come a long way since the 1980s and the film “Midnight Express”. Perhaps it is I who am at fault. I am not as honest as I could be when reporting what is happening in some countries because I fear not only for my safety if I return, but also for the safety of friends still in those countries. So, my dear readers, please read between my lines and see the what lies behind them.
What I said about Gezi Park in Istanbul stands, it is part of a process of rebuilding Istanbul. In Birmingham in England and in Glasgow in Scotland, slums were cleared and people were made to live in highrise apartment blocks. These ‘social experiments’ did not work. The ruling party in Turkey may have vested interests in new building developments in Istanbul and I feel that the protesters in Istanbul and Ankara are right to protest. Unfortunately they live in a regime which will allow the police (and later the army) to deal with protesters. I say this because of the evidence from the recent past (1970s and 80s).
Peaceful protests should be allowed in any country which purports to be democratic. The Turkish President, Mr. Erdogan belongs to an Islamist Party, both his family members and the armies have construction businesses. His party would like to see Turkey become a more Islamic state. This would not be welcomed by the majority who still support the tenets laid down by Kemal Ataturk. This reminds me of the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” I hope we don’t!
- A stunning 90-second video of Turkey’s protests (washingtonpost.com)
- Turkey protesters return to Ankara and Istanbul Streets (bbc.co.uk)