Ramazan 2013

They pulled it off!  Yesterday afternoon our Turkish tutor told us that çapulcular (bums, looters) planned to create an Iftar (feast at end of daily fast at sundown) table for the first dinner of Ramazan.  She said it was planned to span from Galatasaray Lisesi (high school) to Taksim Meydan (square). The feast was organized by Anti-Capitalist Muslims, a religious group that was part of the Gezi Park protests. There is a tradition of public Iftar feasts in Istanbul.

The planned site of the Iftar.  Google has pinned a mall unpopular with the protesters, ironic given the purpose of this map.

The planned site of the Iftar. Google has pinned a mall unpopular with the protesters, ironic given the purpose of this map.

I would love to have been there and am glad it was allowed to occur.  We stay away from the protest events, because being in the wrong place at the wrong time and getting our resident visas revoked would be highly inconvenient.

The Iftar on the street.

The Iftar on the street.

Instead, we were at a lecture at American Research Institute Turkey (ARIT) http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/ARIT/IstanbulCenter.html .  Prof. Jenny White, anthropologist at Boston University, was discussing the findings in her latest book, Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks.  She put the Gezi protests, and government response into context.

I'm sure the police were invited to join...at least the TOMA- water cannon was dry.

I’m sure the police were invited to join…at least the TOMA- water cannon was dry.

Knowledge comforts.  Watching the recent events, I was aghast at the government response.  Ongoing brutal violent police action against peacefully protesting citizens, naming the protesters marauders “çapulcular”, seeming to incite civil war…all would have been career killers in the US.  But, basically, the response to challenge and protest by this party, in power since 2002, is the same as the preceding Kemalists’.  Turks understand it differently than I do.


Tables for the municipal dinner in Taksim Square. These people are there early. In the past Hurriyet News reported that big Iftar tents were set up in Gezi Park.

According to White, current tension comes from a revision of what it means to be Turkish.  Kemalist ideology and language reflect a fear of loss of racial and national unity.  Enemies outside, and within, are a threat.  Outsiders include countries that broke the Ottoman Empire; threatening insiders include non-Muslims, liberals, foreigners, Jews, homosexuals, Alevis, atheists, etc. – all those who are not linked by blood or race.


This helps explain the “us vs. them” language that we heard from the government.  One academic opinion piece said the prime minister had become a Kemalist (not literally).  White’s position is he’s reverted to “type”, based on what he learned growing up.

As we have also seen with Egypt, unfortunately, both systems lack checks and balances on power.   The ruling party consolidates its power and is majoritarian and intolerant of non conformance.  If they get ½ the vote, their half is the only one that matters.

White’s research showed Turkish society as patriarchal and the government response echoes traditional Turkish family structure, where the father is all powerful and protecting. Now, however more than ½ the Turkish population is under 30, and the state is having a hard time controlling the definition of Turkishness.  Gezi youth are the product of changes in society — they are global, playful and consumerist.  They represent themselves…but the current power structure is still playing by 20th century rules.

Jim and I have been trying to understand the unrest in the region around us.  He had uncovered research that was more fully explained by White’s lecture.  (http://geert-hofstede.com/turkey.html)

See bottom of post for explanation.  Egypt and Turkey are similar, and very different from US.

PDI=Power Distance, IDV=Individualism,  MAS=Masculinity/Femininity, UAI=Uncertainty Avoidance, LTO=Long Term Orientation.                             Egypt and Turkey are similar, and very different from US. (see study, http://geert-hofstede.com/turkey.html for more information.)

Briefly, this chart shows Turkish society as dependent and hierarchical. (PDI) Power is centralized, communication indirect, information flow selective, within both society and family structure.  (IDV) Not individualistic, people belong to in-groups who help each other in reward for loyalty. Open conflict is avoided, nepotism is common. (MAS) A society with somewhat “feminine” values, means leveling with others, consensus, and sympathy for the underdog are valued.  Leisure time is important for Turks, status is shown, but as a result of the high power score. (UAI) a desire to avoid uncertainty promotes the need for laws and rules. Social rituals help minimize anxiety and tension.  (The interactive site of the Hofstede Centre is interesting to explore.  Check out the similarities of countries you are curious about. http://geert-hofstede.com/countries.html )

So, we have a ringside seat during interesting times.  I admit to buying the PR of the new modern Turkey, the rising power of the Middle East.  It sounded good. On the surface it looks like its reputation.  Some of our visiting friends expressed surprise at Istanbul, saying…”it is modern, clean”.  “Everyone is at work, it is prosperous”.  Moda is a diverse and affluent bubble.  Walking around within in our neighborhood it is easy to miss the larger picture of Istanbul.  Yet, even here çapulcular bang pots every evening at 9 pm.