Turks begin to mobilize against war
February 1, 2003
Report From Istanbul
We Won't Be US Soldiers: Turkish Citizens Say No to the War on Iraq
by BEHZAD YAGHAMAIAN
The opposition to war has been slowly building up in Turkey. There have
been many demonstrations and anti-war meetings across the country. Turks
oppose the war and the presence of U.S. forces in their country. War is a
subject of conversation in private and public gatherings. Students and
academicians, journalists and publishers, artists, and ordinary people show
their resentment of the war in different forms: petitions, public
declarations, peace forums, and anti-war rallies. The United States has
requested/demanded the use of Turkey's land and air bases, the stationing
of 80,000 soldiers-according to some reports-in Turkey, and access to the
country's naval bases in the Black Sea! For many, this is a near occupation
of the country by the United States.
For many ordinary people, the U.S. attack on Iraq is an attack on Islam and
Mulsims. A taxi driver, and a father of three told me that the war was
about oil and money, a ploy by Bush to get richer from resources owned by
the Mulsims. Another cabby called for a union of Mulsim nations to defeat
the U.S. and Israel. As an alternative to joining the EU, he proposed the
formation of an Islamic Union between Turkey and its neighbors: Iraq, Iraq,
and Syria. An older driver called George Bush the "Satan." Many in Turkey
share these sentiments. They feel assaulted, pushed around and
disrespected, and violated by the United States. Anger towards the U.S. is
growing in the country.
Nearly a month ago, more than one thousand Turks-mainly intellectuals,
students, and unionists-came together at a peace forum to listen to
speeches by Noam Chomsky, Tarik Ali, and others. They cheered, and burst
into clapping every few minutes with Tarik Ali's criticisms of the close
alliance between Turkey and the U.S., his attack on the history of the U.S.
involvement in the region, and his call for a broad and inclusive anti-war
movement in Turkey. A young person from the audience, a member of "an
anti-capitalist organization," asked Tarik Ali for guidance in forming an
anti-war movement. Ali's response and his call for action by labor unions
created a thunder of excitement and clapping in the auditorium.
January was a month of intensified anti-war activities by the Turks. On
January 26, a large and diverse crowd gathered outside Istanbul University
to demonstrate against the war. They came in the thousands-middle class men
and women in their western outfit, and those from poor quarters of
Istanbul; women under the Islamic headscarf; children on the shoulders of
their parents; workers and unionists, and student; and Arab women in their
traditional garbs. They came from all walks of life, all smiled, all looked
defiant and jubilant.
This was a postmodern protest against the war-an unlikely block of the
seculars, Mulsims, syndicalists, and the socialists-created by the hawkish
U.S. war plans in the region. There were colorful flags and banners,
whistles, drums, the sound of clapping hands, cheering, and chanting. There
were many pictures of Che Guvara wearing the black and white checkered
Palestinian scarf, and others with his landmark cap!
The crowd chanted without stopping for a moment. They linked the Israeli
persecution and killing of the Palestinians with the U.S. war crimes in
Iraq; condemned George Bush and Ariel Sharon, and opposed the "Imperialist
War." Some called for socialism, others cried Allah-o Akbar. The hijabed
women walked in groups of twenty or thirty; some whistled; others jeered,
clapped, and protested with joy. They carried banners; posed before
cameras, and protested outside the university they were barred from
entering with their headscarves.
Peace signs in the air, men and women jumped up and down, danced to the
beat of the drums, and loudly denounced the United States in their
theatrical body movements and words. The message was clear. The U.S. was
not to be welcomed in Turkey, not by its citizens.
Behzad Yaghmaian is the author of Social Change in Iran: An Eyewitness
Account of Dissent, Defiance, and New Movements for Rights (SUNY Press,
He can be reached at: behzad_yaghmaian@....