Turkish diaspora and the Gezi protests in the Netherlands

As a Turkish citizen living abroad, I have never thought of myself particularly as a member of the ‘Turkish diaspora’. This is mainly due to the fact that I associate the concept ‘diaspora’ with a more or less homogeneous ethnic group that represents or defends the interests of the country of origin. In my eyes, the Turkish diaspora, as any other diaspora, is too diverse to classify or organize as one single group. The recent Gezi events are a case in the point.

To the extent that I have been able to observe the Turkish diaspora in the Netherlands, I have roughly identified three points of view with regard to the Gezi protests: the opponents, the indifferent, and the supporters. Whereas the first two groups form the majority, the latter group is a small minority, which explains why there have been no sizable protests in Netherlands (e.g. in contrast to Germany). The few protests in Amsterdam and Rotterdam were mainly organized by the small minority of supporters, who were joined by some seasoned Dutch activists and international students. I was there at the small protest across the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam. The Dutch security forces were clearly expecting a larger group to gather as there were quite a few police officers in duty. The area which was reserved for the protests was twice as big as the group which finally showed up.
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While the protest in front of the Turkish consulate was taking place, the people who happened to go to the consulate for their consular affairs on that day did not seem that enthusiastic about the group of protesters. They were mainly watching the protesters out of curiosity. Some were making comments as they were passing by: ‘Do they think that this has any use? Erdoğan will not listen anyway.’ None of them joined the small group of protesters chanting the slogans of the Gezi movement.

That the majority of Turks living in the Netherlands were not particularly approving of the Gezi protests became even clearer to me during a fleeting conversation with a Turkish secretary who did not know I was Turkish. She told me that I should not believe in the images in the international media was showing, and that the protests are not as big as they are projected. When I replied ‘But I think what is happening in Turkey now is positive ,’ she then said ‘It’s only a small group of people. Millions stand behind Erdoğan, and the international media does not show that.’ She was echoing the discourse of Erdoğan.

I was not that surprised to see that there was not so much support for the Gezi protests. The majority of the Turkish diaspora are supporters of the governing AKP: According to official statistics, 62% of Turkish citizens living abroad have voted for AKP in 2011 (TUIK 2013). The supporters who have remained loyal to the AKP throughout the Gezi events were diaspora opponents dismissing the protests as the making of some marginal leftist groups. As the AKP itself, they are proud of the economic and political developments that have taken place in the past decade. In their eyes, Erdoğan has put Turkey in the international limelight. While the economic crisis has started to hit the Netherlands, the economy has been booming in Turkey. For some, this meant either planning to or hoping to move to live in Turkey. For others, it meant that they could be even more proud of Turkey than before: Istanbul was now a trendy city, and holidaymakers to the Turkish Riviera returned with pleasant memories. When the Gezi protests made Istanbul headline news in international media as a city that now looked like a battlefield, it was this image that has been undermined. For the opponents, the Turkish image before Gezi was an image to hold on to. Now, the Dutch were asking about the political situation in Turkey again and making comments about democracy and human rights.

For the indifferent of the diaspora, the news on Gezi is supposedly slightly more interesting than average news. They may even feel obliged to follow the news so as to be able to answer questions about them, even though they may not be particularly interested in them personally. This group is rather focused on life and news in the Netherlands. Turkey is the place where they go for holidays and visit family. When they talk about the events, they are likely to use the Dutch/European standards as their frame of reference. They are proud to be a Dutch citizen. They may take an aloof attitude to Gezi as they are not that concerned with Turkish politics. For them, the developments in the Netherlands are much more important as they envision their future there.

The small minority of diaspora supporters would have actually taken part in the protests themselves if they had been in Turkey. They follow the events in both their countries closely. The majority does not support the AKP and especially disapproves of the undemocratic approach and policies of Erdoğan. The protests have given them a new hope in the democratic future of Turkey. Unlike the opponents, they are actually proud of the protests: Finally, there is a large democratic movement in Turkey emanating from the people. On the contrary, they are not proud of how the AKP government has responded. The aftermath of the events is crucial as whether they see their future in the Netherlands or Turkey may partly depend on the political situation in Turkey. For them, Turkey should not only be an economic power, but also a mature democracy with adult freedoms to which they have become accustomed to in the Netherlands.

Belonging to the last group, I have found myself becoming interested in Turkish politics and history more than ever. I have realized that I am too involved to remain indifferent to the developments. Nor can I dismiss Gezi as a marginal political protest. I really feel and hope that Gezi marks the beginning of a new era in Turkish politics.