Mahmut Bozarslan/AP/Press Association. All rights reserved.I am sitting in a café, and for the first time in my experience here, I am uneasy. Almost four weeks ago, there was a bombing in Ankara. Two weeks ago, another one in Taksim, the heart of Istanbul’s European side.
By now both of these events are old news for everyone outside of Turkey – something faintly recalled as a blip on your newsfeed. But here, it is difficult to put into words the pain that this country has endured throughout the past few months. And, as social media has now become the platform by which online activists can affirm whether communities deserve sympathy and righteous outrage or not, there has been a justified anger here at the total absence of international sympathy for our pain.
One particular post that garnered a great deal of attention and support was written by a British expat living in Turkey. He described the outrage he felt at the seemingly total apathy expressed by the international community. In his post, he eloquently outlined the hypocrisy of those who “were” Charlie Hebdo, and who changed their profile pictures to the French flag when Paris was hit with simultaneous, horrific attacks earlier this year, yet were nowhere to be seen when we needed support. He perfectly exemplified the outrage, frustration, and humiliation experienced here in reaction to this internet version of a callous shrug. And in his statement, he supposed that perhaps the reason for the lack of western empathy in particular was because the west sees Turkey as being part of the Middle East, a categorisation he is quick to dismiss. We are not the Middle East, we are Europe, and therefore it is an outrage that we are being treated as though violence is normal or permissible here.
This is a line of argument that has been common here for years, arguably since the foundation of the modern state of Turkey, and it is only becoming more prominent as the chaos escalates: 'we' are not the Middle East, we are Europe, therefore things like this do not and should not happen here. We are modern, westernised, and any suggestion otherwise is an insulting mistake.
No one deserves a normalisation of violence, no one deserves to have their communities ripped apart by bombs. The time has now come to form alliances with others who feel the same.
Before I go too far, I would like to comment on my choice of the word 'we'. I am not Turkish, nor am I a Turkish citizen. I am an American living as a guest in Turkey, a position that allows me an almost ridiculous status of privilege. I can stay here for as long as I like, exist more or less above the realm of politics, and leave whenever it suits me to do so. I have only been here for a year, and have not experienced the pain and the struggles that the vast majority of Turkish citizens have experienced in the past years. When I talk with other expats about if and when we will leave, I feel a deep pang of guilt. I can leave. Many of my friends, including my partner, do not have this option.
Thus, when I use the word 'we', it is in no way intended to claim authority or rightful ownership over any of the battles being fought here. It is, rather, a call to action for those of us western expats and foreigners who are living here and intend to continue to do so, for better or for worse. The time for being blissfully blind to the unfolding crises here has passed. To live in a place and enjoy the best of its benefits while ignoring the struggles of our friends, families and coworkers is untenable. I say 'we', because I believe that 'we' foreigners are implicated in the politics of here, in the situation that the governments in many of our home countries have helped to create here, and thus we have a responsibility to give our support and our voices, in whatever way we can.
With that said, here is my voice: it is time for Turks and non-Turks alike who live here to stop defending Turkey based on its non-Middle Eastern-ness. The Middle East itself is an idea, an imaginary borderline drawn around a group of arbitrarily drawn states deemed to have similar qualities. And whether we like it or not, the world has decided that we, too, belong in this group.
The time for arguing that we do not 'deserve' violence of the same type that the Middle East 'deserves' because we presume ourselves to be better (non-Arab? More secular? Democratic?) has passed. It is a self-destructive and pointless tactic to continue to support the western assumption that some places simply have violence as a normal state of being, and others don’t. It has already been decided that we are in the former group. The time now is to challenge the very core of this assumption, not to try to claw our way into the group that we see ourselves as righteously belonging to.
No one deserves a normalisation of violence, no one deserves to have their communities ripped apart by bombs or by the corrupt political parties that so often accompany them. The time has now come to form alliances with others who feel the same, who are physically sickened by the calamitous events of the past few years, and by an international community that feels only a fleeting sense of pity for 'those countries' before moving on with their days. And yes, this means forming alliances with others in the Middle East, that dreaded category that we so deeply disavow. Our pain is now identical with their pain. The sooner we recognise this, the sooner we can move forward.
It is in our best interest to form cross-border and cross-cultural alliances of resistance. Leftist student groups, feminist collectives, academic faculties, workers’ unions, anti-government protesters, progressive religious organisations, support groups for those who have lost loved ones, and anyone who stands against the creeping normalisation of extremism and bloodshed in our communities. When we fight alone, we fight silently. And, as my partner recently pointed out, there was a great deal of outrage in Turkey aimed towards western apathy, but where was the east?
We are facing remarkably similar breakdowns, yet we continue to eye each other warily, vaguely aware that there are people and communities in other eastern countries who are facing the same difficulties, but unable or unwilling to reach across our preexisting biases to unite with them. The world is closer together than ever, conflicts spilling over state borders and challenging their very existence. It is time for resistance and solidarity to travel across borders with the same fluidity.