Gezi and Ferguson: American historian Louis Fishman’s Reply to pro-AKP columnist Ceren Kenar

Ever since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Turkish pro-government press has been quick to highlight injustices carried out by that city’s police department and lack of due process in the case. Sounds well intentioned, right? Unfortunately, not like much of the international press covering the events, the Turkish pro-government press, such as its state mouthpiece, Anadolu Agency, and the English daily Sabah, have seem set on one aim: to highlight injustices in the United States in order to downplay those carried out against last year’s Gezi protesters.

Following the non-indictment of the officer who killed Michael Brown, a new round of protests broke out, which once again was seized by the Turkey’s pro-government press. One Turkish writer, Ceren Kenar, who writes for the staunchly pro-government paper, Türkiye, published an article entitled "Ferguson and Gezi..."(December 2, 2014). This caught my attention days later, especially since Kenar, despite her often apologetic stance to the Turkish government, does try to maintain a safe distance from the usual propaganda machine.

(A protester kicks a tear gas canister back towards police after protests in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown turned violent near Ferguson, Missouri August 17, 2014. Reuters)

It is important to state that Kenar’s article was published a day before New York state’s non-indictment of Eric Garner, who was filmed suffocating in the hands of the NYPD, left to die on the street. However, it seems that this non-indicment would only strengthen her main argument: that Turkey, and Erdogan, are being held to a higher standard than the United States and Obama. She reaches this conclusion after a long detailed description of the Ferguson events from its first days until the non-indicment, which is strikingly similar (in order and detail) to the Wikipedia entry, entitled "2014 Ferguson Events."

Gezi Park protests; (no credit mentioned in link, please contact me if this is your property)

I will let the the reader decide whether or not Kenar essentially plagiarized most of her article from Wikipedia (if this had been a student paper, I would have pursued a plagiarism case); but if she did plagiarize, she did so selectively, omitting parts that would debunk her main argument. For example, while she highlights voices critical of the United States, such as the French Justice Minister and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, she omits the numerous references to President Obama’s rather conciliatory stance towards Ferguson. This is misleading since Erdogan was the sole source of the Gezi Park uprising and greatly shaped the reactions and perceptions. For examples she rhetorically states that:

"As all this (the Ferguson events) was happening the American intellectuals did not declare the Obama government illegitimate" and the "American president was not called a murderer."

Well Ms. Kenar, did you forget that it was Erdogan who boldly stated that it was he who gave the police the order to shoot the protesters? Did you forget that it is was Erdogan who cursed the mother of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan on the day of his funeral after he laid months in a coma from a head injury sustained by a teargas canister that struck him as he went to buy bread in the morning?

Ah, Could this be the reason that some in Turkey declared Erdogan’s government illegitimate and called him a murderer? And, don’t you imagine if Obama had taken such a harsh stance that the reactions would have been similar?

I have to admit, Ms. Kenar, I was surprised also to find that you felt a strong urge to attack Turkish academics who supported their students in the Gezi protests, by stating that "Harvard professors did not give A+s to students who missed the finals due to their participation in protests."

True, during the Gezi protests, many professors did facilitate special times for their protesting students to complete their exams, just as many American professors would have done. And, rightly so! What more can a professor want than students taking their future in their own hands! But to insinuate that all professors sympathetic to the Gezi protests gave A+s to their students is a gross exaggeration. Perhaps, ask your friend, Professor Halil Berktay, if he had the same policy. I highly doubt it.

Well, towards the end of the article, Kenar comes to her main argument, which was the reason she dedicated almost 80 percent of her article to injustices at Ferguson without naming one fact (good or bad) about Gezi, but making clear that Erdogan and Turkey, as a whole, were wrongly judged by both Turkish citizens and the world:

Kenar states, "I am not writing this to legitimate the [Turkish] government’s wrong strategy, which was dealt a bad hand during Gezi,"…or, "to claim that the US is a actually an authoritarian regime,"rather, I am writing this to stress that the Gezi events transformed from a democratic protest and turned into a strategy to overthrow the government, which was democratically elected, all the while intellectuals were giving it credit."

She continues "such events like Gezi and Ferguson, can happen in many of the world’s democracies. Police violence can be applied, some even might support this violence. No doubt that these are unwanted, reprehensible, and sad events…and "peacefully protesting such events in order to increase awareness is both legitimate and even praiseworthy." And, "….just as you can still rightly consider the US a democracy even in light of these events (Ferguson), Gezi needs to be assessed in a level-headed way, removed from exaggerations and prejudices."

So, Ms. Kenar, if you get the chance, perhaps you might want to consider the following questions?

1. Did you attend the Gezi protests? I was there from the first day and no one was calling to overthrow the government, rather hundreds of thousands of them were shouting in unison, Resign Erdogan! And, it was peaceful protesters attacked, not vice versa. Also, do you support police violence if it is perceived by the government as a coup attempt. If so, Egyptian President Sisi will appreciate your analysis!

2. You support peacefully protesting to increase awareness. Well, why then were the protesters at Berkin Elvan’s funeral attacked. Here is a link to see how violent the police force was. Could such police violence be tolerated in any democracy? Of course, this alone cannot deny a state of being a democracy, but it certainly should cause immense worry!

3. Do people injured and killed in the Gezi protests have the right to sue the government for damages? The first day of the Gezi protest, innocent and peaceful protester Lobna Allami was shot at close range by a teargas canister, placed in a coma, and is still undergoing rehabilitation. Does she have legal recourse?

4. What about cases such as the killing of Kader Ortakaya, who was recently shot and killed while peacefully protesting on the Turkish-Syrian border. Where does her killing fit into your rigid understanding of protests? Is it normal in a democracy to have 46 people killed (October 6-7 2014) without a state sponsored independent inquiry to investigate the events? As far as I know, this deaths are as good as gone.

5. Should a journalist really be writing about a situation that s/he knows nothing more (or contributes nothing more) than what is available in a Wikipedia article?

In conclusion, let it be clear that there is no doubt that both Gezi and Ferugson deserve great attention, especially in relation to their blatant human rights violations. However, comparing the two events is like comparing apples and oranges. America is a federal system, with great autonomy allotted to local and state police forces. On the other hand, with the case of Gezi, the governor of Istanbul is appointed by Erdogan, who undoubtedly takes orders from above.

In any case, it seems that this article was written for one purpose and one purpose only: for Kenar to give her blanket support for the government and to provide a more sophisticated analysis to the government’s claim (without no proof whatsoever) that the Gezi protesters aimed to overthrow a democratically elected government; i.e., that Gezi was a coup attempt.

The Ferguson events have serious implications for the United States, as I stated in a recent blog, and need to be placed within the greater context of "of overall racism in the United States. From slavery to the Jim Crow laws, the history of racism against the African-American population runs deep and did not end with the civil rights movement or the election of President Obama."

Certainly, the events in the United States should not be manipulated to suit one’s political agenda in a completely unrelated arena. In short, it is unfortunate that this seems to be the case here.

Louis Fishman

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