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Report on the Turkish Peace Movement

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, 2002).

He can be reached at: behzad_yaghmaian@hotmail.com.