Turkish riots and afterthoughts as a tourist

Istanbul's Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque in Istanbul
Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Mom and I were in Cappadocia when the riots in Istanbul erupted. We were in our blissful bubble which popped when Mom received a Whatsapp text from her friend with a short sentence in Chinese, “There are riots in Turkey.”

We both tried to guess what it might be related. Mom thought it might be because of arguments over land ownership while I couldn’t think of anything.

So mom sent a question back to her friend and to test her theory while I checked the Internet. (Mom’s friend replied, ‘I don’t think it’s about land ownership.”

I scanned a few headlines about the riots. Reports said the riots broke out because of Gezi Park, and how the government wanted to turn the greenland into a shopping mall.

I remember being selfish and thinking, “I hope this doesn’t affect our trip. Maybe it would all die down when we get back to Istanbul.”

It wasn’t until days later on our Pamukkale tour that I realized how serious the situation was.

I was having lunch and scanned through my Twitter stream for random reads. Our tour guide saw me and said, “Are you reading the news?”

“Just Twitter,” I said.

“Ah, you should know about what is happening in Istanbul,” she said in a serious tone. Our guide, Rayu, was only 25 years old, with a ponytail and kohled eyes.

The other tourists were curious about what was happening. The guide said, “There are riots and some people died.”

Back in the mini van, Rayu elaborated. She said the protest was not just about Gezi Park but about the government. The president wasn’t listening to the people so they have had enough and found the reason to fight.

She showed us a grainy photo on her phone of people occupying the bridge that connects the Asian and European sides of Istanbul.

She shared that a few of her friends are participating in protests and that she was worried about them so she did not get much sleep.

Rayu was passionate. She wanted to join the others in the protest. She said that Turkey needs a new hero like Ataturk and joked that maybe she could be the next hero.

Same thoughts, different person

Our other tour guide for the Troy tour had similar thoughts. I forgot what her name was but she had very curly hair that was tied into a bun. Since it was a Troy tour, let’s call her Helen.

She said we tourists should know what was going on in the country. I don’t think she meant that we should know about the news so we can stay safe. The undertone was that since we are in this country, we should not be in a bubble.

Helen said the protests were not limited to Istanbul anymore. Other cities, including her hometown in Antalya, had similar protests.

She was also angry about the president. She called him a dictator and said he wanted to turn Turkey into an Islamic nation. Although most of the citizens are Muslims, they do not see why their country should become Islamic, she said.

Tourist sights not impacted by Taksim protests

I remember thinking, selfishly, that I was glad that we didn’t choose to live in Taksim Square. (I was very close to booking a hotel there.)

When we were back in Istanbul, the Sultanahmet area where most historical sites are at was business as usual.

Mom and I took the tram to the end of the west side. It was one funicular ride away from Taksim Square. Of course we were sensible enough not to get involve or gawk.

When I checked Foursquare, I saw that Gezi Park was trending. Looking at the photos of the location, I saw people in selfies with handkerchief as facemasks.

Would the same happen in Malaysia, Singapore?

I was surprised by passionate both young tour guides were about the protests. They wanted to join their fellow country people, to show support.

I tried to imagine something like this happening in Malaysia. Sure, the young people were very vocal in showing support to whom they believe should lead.

Despite the phantom voters and blackout incident, Malaysians didn’t break out into riots. The police did not have to subdue crowds with tear gas. I’m very glad that everything was peaceful.

How about in Singapore? I know that Singaporeans are a peaceful bunch and probably something as violent as riots would not happen now.

Still, we have to remember that riots had happened in the past in Malaysia and Singapore so there’s no guarantee that they wouldn’t happen again. What is the tipping point for riots to happen?

For me, as someone who has a stake in both countries, I hope no riots happen because it causes devastation to all involved.

To the people in Turkey, stay safe.

PS I have very little knowledge about politics and only know bits and pieces from reading. If anything of what I wrote was wrong, please give feedback in the comments.