Earlier this year I witnessed the Turkish police suppress protests in Taksim Square in Istanbul. I blogged about that experience here. At the time it was shocking to see a police force prevent any attempt to express dissent. Any attempt. At all. When I left Istanbul I wondered how long a government would be able to suppress popular protest in the the ways I had witnessed. Of course there are many places where dissent is routinely suppressed – and has been for a very a long time. But somehow, in Turkey, what I witnessed looked and felt like something that could not, and would not, be contained for much longer. I have nothing of substance on which to base that assessment – other than the protesters I saw in Istanbul, the academic colleagues I met and spoke with there, and an optimism that the ideas and values of democracy must triumph over tear gas and rubber bullets.
As I write now, just before the start of a new year, protesters in Turkey are once again taking to the streets. In Turkey, such actions require extraordinary courage. Police tactics are intentionally aggressive and frightening. They are also dangerous – there have been deaths in previous demonstrations.
At this point I am not sure what to do to demonstrate practical support – maybe that will emerge in the next few days. In the meantime my simple gesture of solidarity is to post this poem. It was written by Nazim Hikmet – a radical Turkish poet and author/playwright. I was sent the poem a few days ago by a Turkish teacher and teacher trade unionist. The message was sent as a New Year’s greeting, and expressed her hope for the coming year. It maybe that the current protests bring her hopes a step closer to realisation. I certainly hope so.
THE GREAT HUMANITY
The great humanity is the deck-passenger on the ship
third class on the train
on foot on the causeway
the great humanity.
The great humanity goes to work at eight
marries at twenty
dies at forty
the great humanity.
Bread is enough for all except the great humanity
rice the same
sugar the same
cloth the same
books the same
are enough for all except the great humanity.
The great humanity has no shade on his soil
no lamp on his road
no glass on his window
but the great humanity has hope
you can’t live without hope.