Young And Fighting Taboos In Turkey

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Olga Müstecaplıoğlu and her boyfriend in their protective gear at Gezi Park. Photo Credit: Olga Müstecaplıoğlu

By: Robyn Gee

"I am 22-year-old girl, and I am happy because I was given a gas mask as a present. This pretty much sums up how f***ed up things are here right now," writes Olga Müstecaplıoğlu, a graphic designer and illustrator from Kadiköy, Istanbul in Turkey.

Müstecaplıoğlu shared with Youth Radio what it's like to be young and participating in protests that have turned violent in Turkey.  On May 31, police attacked protesters who were camping in Gezi Park with tear gas and water cannons. Protests continue throughout the country.

Youth Radio: Under Prime Minister Erdoğan's leadership, what is daily life like for young people? 

Müstecaplıoğlu: Right now it is getting worse and worse. Erdoğan is changing every system he can. Like alcohol is banned after 10 p.m, over the counter 'morning after pills' are now only prescribed by doctors, we can't enter any festival sponsored by alcohol brands unless we are 24 years old.... He is imaging one type of youth, one that is very religious. Boys and girls are separated in schools and all we do in pray all day.

A simple example can be that in the suburbias of Turkey, if I wore a short dress or skirt everybody would probably stare at me and think I have 'loose morals.' Even in a lot of parts of Istanbul, a big metropol, this can happen. Also if I had a beer in my hand or if I was kissing my boyfriend. We have so many taboos because of religion and Erdoğan likes it this way. 

(Photo: Olga Müstecaplıoğlu wearing a gas mask that she bought from a man on the street.)

YR: What is your personal reason for protesting?

Müstecaplıoğlu: For 10 years nobody has really made this big of a noise towards Erdoğan and his way of government, so this was our perfect chance to come together and peacefully protest. This started out as a protest towards shopping malls and the decline of green areas, but turned into fighting for our democratic rights. Erdoğan and his government only accept his way of living, which is Muslim and very conservative. I don't want to live this way. I am not Muslim, I support gay marriage, I want art in our schools, I want people to be free and be able to live as who they want to be. That is why I am on the streets protesting.

YR: Do people your age see things differently than people a generation older than you? Do you disagree with your parents over the protests?

Müstecaplıoğlu: Gezi Park protests have really brought people together. I think the youth and parents are agreeing with each other and I haven't heard anybody say that their mother or father is disagreeing with them.

My parents are supporting the protests. At first my mother was scared for me, she didn't want me to go because it was dangerous, but after a while she was like 'GO! represent us!' ... My father was really proud of me when he found out I was an active protestor and gave me a professional gas mask. I was so happy I got a new gas mask. 

YR: What do the protests look like? Can you tell me a story about something that happened to you during the protests?

Müstecaplıoğlu: The protests are just amazing, beautiful and are done with such grace, that most of the time I wanted to cry from joy or start hugging my fellow protestors. After [May 31] we were allowed back into Gezi Park for a while, so a lot of people set up tents again. It turned into such a nice community. Everybody helping each other out, creating workshops in their tents... We had a big kitchen, hospital, museum, library and even prayer room all in a park. By the way, everything was free because everybody brought whatever they could.

But then the police started attacking again. It was the saddest day of my life to see so many people in pain. I don't remember which day it was, but during one of the clashes between the police and protestors (there are so many we can't count), one of the tear gas cannons passed over my head and hit the boy right in front of me. I have never screamed so loud. Thankfully it hit his backpack and bounced of to the street.

I turned around and saw that we were only four people or so in the wide avenue we were standing at. I realized the police where aiming right at our heads, not some place close for us to disperse, but directly at our heads, trying to kill us. I just couldn't understand why someone would do that. We are not at war, we are peaceful protestors fighting for our democratic rights.

YR: What do you hope will change when these protests are over?

Müstecaplıoğlu: I don't know if our government will change or if our Prime Minister Erdoğan will even think about listening to us. But what I do know is that I have so many brothers and sisters who want to fight for their freedom. I do not feel alone anymore, I know people want change, they want to live freely! This is very exciting for our youth who have been called apolitical. We have a general election coming up next year, hopefully these protests will reflect on the votes.

Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

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