Turks don’t like radical changes; they don’t like revolutions. Ruled by one family for nearly 800 hundred years under Ottoman rule, Turks only changed the way they were governed after a world war.
Turks don’t often take to the streets; the conservative vein in Turkey tends to perceive peaceful protest as a source of trouble and discomfort. People chanting on the streets are not usually welcome.
I always remember what a policeman once told me once: I was reporting from a protest of union members, most of whom were over age 50. The police blocked the union members very harshly, and some of them got hurt. I asked the policeman why they were clamping down on these older union members who were simply voicing their concerns, and the policeman answered: “The state is telling them not to do this protest. When the state tells you something, you have to abide by it.”
This pretty much sums up the conservative way of thinking in Turkey: the state is sacred and rising up against it is not welcome, even if those protesting may be right.
The Gezi protests were a benchmark in contemporary Turkey. For the first time, middle class Turks went out on the streets all over Turkey to protest. Their demand was for more rights and more freedom. For everyone, this was unexpected.
However, the Gezi protests turned out to be another dividend in today’s Turkey. For the AKP government and its supporters, Gezi was an evil, orchestrated move to topple the government. They hated the way Gezi protesters existed, dressed, and behaved, as well as the support they got.
During the protests, one shopkeeper attacked protesters with a knife; most shopkeepers denied having given access to protesters, and most of them complained about the protests. One protester who was active during Gezi was later stabbed and killed by a shopkeeper. Small business owners are the grassroots supporters of the AKP. They are the ones who vote for AKP and usually give unconditional support for AKP policies.
While the big businesses were helping the protesters, sending food and aid, the owners of local small businesses stayed home and waited for the protests to be over, and most of them were very unhappy and uneasy about the situation. One unforgettable moment during the Gezi protests was the moment when then the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said, “We are barely back our 50 percent within their homes.” He was referring to his voters, who hated the protests and protesters. He basically threatened people with a civil war. And the scariest part was, he really had 50 percent of the population ready to grab their sticks and guns and stop the protesters.
The protesters back then rose up against the authoritarian measures taken by Erdoğan; the ones who stayed at home thought those measures were good and necessary.
Turkey is still divided by the Gezi protests. Some see them as a struggle for freedom that has never happened before in Turkey, and remember it with pride, while others detest the memory of the protests. For Erdoğan’s 50 percent, when the state tells you not to do something, you ought not to do it.