Social media swells ranks of protesters in Turkey

Turkish government softens tone as protesters continue anti-government demos; 1 man dies

A protester looks inside a destroyed TV van in Istanbul. With traditional media seemingly ignoring the unrest, many of Turkey’s youths are turning to Twitter.
A protester looks inside a destroyed TV van in Istanbul. With traditional media seemingly ignoring the unrest, many of Turkey’s youths are turning to Twitter.

ISTANBUL — Miray was in the midst of her first week of exams at Bogazici University when small protests began at Istanbul’s Gezi Park on May 28. She followed the activity on Twitter, and on Friday, when demonstrations escalated, she and some friends decided to join in.

“I have never attended any other protests in my life,” Miray said.

But the novice protester quickly became a veteran when police began aiming water cannons at her and a large group near Taksim Square, in the city’s center. After she and others escaped into the Divan Hotel, officers repeatedly threw tear gas into the lobby.

“We couldn’t run away,” she said, adding, “Inside, everybody was panicked.”

It’s a cliche as old as Istanbul itself: It is the city where east meets west, and old meets new. Turkey is home to Roman ruins at Ephesus and caves of early Christians in Cappadocia.

But as protests continue this week, youths have largely provided the pulse of the demonstrations.

What started as a small sit-in to oppose the development of a mall over Gezi Park has turned into protests across the country, against what many see as needless police violence and the increasing authoritarianism of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist government.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, speaking for Mr. Erdogan, apologized Tuesday for the police crackdown, but the protests showed no signs of abating.

From Istanbul to Izmir and Antalya to Adana, protesters have come out in the thousands, facing off against police brutality and widespread arrests. More than 3,000 people were injured on Sunday and Monday, according to the Turkish Medical Association, as reported by CNN. While observers note that violence has decreased in areas, the protests remain strong.

Because the Turkish media is notoriously censored — CNN Turk was broadcasting a documentary about penguins while violence erupted — news of the protests spread largely through social media, a trend that, in the early stages of the protests, likely encouraged a younger demographic to participate. Sixteen people have been detained in Turkey for social media-related activity, according to CNN Turk.

About 90 percent of tweets about the protests came from within Turkey, according to research conducted at New York University’s Social Media and Political Participation Laboratory and published on the political science blog The Monkey Cage. In contrast, just 30 percent of tweets about the Egyptian uprisings came from Egypt.

“When I [logged] into Facebook, I saw everybody talking and sharing photos about this. In that way I learned about the violence,” said Emre, a student at Bogazici University, who said he was kicked by four police officers and struck by their batons after participating in protests in Izmir.

Universities too have allowed younger people to organize. Some universities, Miray said, have postponed exams and allowed students to schedule makeup times.

Still, many pointed out that the protests were attended by a variety of demonstrators, and did not observe a gender disparity.

“I saw a child who I think was 2 years old. I saw a woman who was head-scarved, who was maybe 70 years old,” said Setenay, a high school senior who was tear-gassed in protests in Izmit.

“I think young people started with protest, but I think everyone is involved,” Setenay added.

And perhaps these young Turks are optimistic.

“Maybe young people are just more hopeful, maybe that much better people can lead,” Miray said.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Elizabeth Bloom is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

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