Last month, I told you I was heading to Turkey in a few days, where demonstrations were ongoing. This month, I thought you might like to know how it went.
First, Turkey is far from the image many people have of it. It is less exotic, and quite modern. Many think it is an Arab country; it is not. It is one of the oldest permanently settled regions in the world. The people are well-educated and their economy is strong. The rich history is too complex to go into here, but, in 1923, the Republic of Turkey was formed. Although it is a Muslim country, since the forming of the Republic, they have enjoyed a very open society, accepting of all religions and lifestyles. This is important to know because it helps to explain why the demonstrations took place in June.
After ten years in power, the current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is becoming more and more fundamentalist. Laws regarding how much and when alcohol can be sold, restricting public displays of affection, and telling couples how many children they may have are being passed. This especially concerns the young people, who were the primary demonstrators.
When we arrived and were met by our guide on June 14th, he had barely slept the previous 17 days. The demonstrators were in Taksim Square in Istanbul at night, and at their jobs during the day. He helped us understand why they were demonstrating. Sympathetic and moved by his passion, we realized we were not simply ‘seeing’ Istanbul, we were ‘experiencing’ it.
On our second day, he was very excited to tell us the demonstrations were over. Erdogan had made a statement the day before, saying “Mothers, come get your children.” Instead, the mothers had come to join their children. It was very moving, and he was convinced this would stop the aggression of the police. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end…yet.
As expected, our activities in Istanbul had not been impacted in any way. In Capadoccia and Ephesus, you wouldn’t know anything was happening. We were so glad to have made the decision to go, so that we could be witness to history in the making. We never once felt unsafe, and fell in love with Turkey and her charming and passionate people.