FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Flags

Istanbul, Turkey

A couple of weeks ago as I entered my morning English class at the private university where I teach in Istanbul, I found the fifth floor room bathed in a beautiful shade of rosy red. I stopped in the doorway, surprised and delighted by the effect, wondering how it had come about.

“Flag,” said one of the late-teen students, a little more awake than his slouching bleary-eyed classmates, pointing to one of the windows. After putting my books on the desk, I looked out and discovered that a gigantic crimson Turkish flag with its white star and crescent moon was hanging down from the top of the building, covering many of the classroom windows several floors down.

“Pretty,” I said. “It’s like we’re in a womb! Is it for some special Turkish Public Holiday?” (The Turks have quite a lot, and we usually get the day off — which is nice!)

“No,” said the student. “Haven’t you noticed many flags everywhere recently?”

Come to think of it I had. Huge ones like this covering the fronts of banks and offices; smaller ones hanging from apartment balconies, spread over the back windows of buses and taxis, peddlers strolling the streets with armfuls of fluttering red flags on sticks for sale. And in the top corner of most TV channels there’d been a mini replica.

“It is answer to burning of flag. Did not you read in newspaper?” asked the student.

I confessed my ignorance. He enlightened me.

It turned out that Turkish feelings had been outraged by an incident which happened in the town of Mersin in the south of Turkey on 21st March.

That’s the day when 35 million Kurds, the largest people in the world without a state of their own, celebrate with singing, dancing and fire ceremonies, their New Year Spring festival, Newroz, which dates back to 612 BC. Kurdish legends say that Newroz celebrates the successful revolt led by a blacksmith, Kawa, who overthrew the tyrant Zuhak and freed his people. Over the years the festival has come to represent the struggle of the Kurds for freedom from the various enemies which subdue them.

Celebrating Newroz was illegal in Turkey until 1995, and recently a ban on the language was lifted, so things seem to be improving; but many Kurds still chafe at the bit, and during the Newroz fetivities in Mersin this year a group of teenage Kurdish boys was arrested by a plain clothes policeman for attempting to burn a Turkish flag in front of TV news cameras.

Setting fire to the Turkish flag is a criminal act, with a prison penalty of up to three months.

In retaliation to the incident, an indignant outpouring of patriotic fervor in support of the flag swept the country, with rallies and protests, and an announcement by Prime Minister Erdogan that the flag is a sacred symbol for Turks.

The general staff of the Turkish Armed Forces issued a statement of condemnation: “Such a treatment of the flag of a nation… in its own land by its own so-called citizens is inexplicable and unacceptable. This is treasonous behavior,” adding: “We advise those who would attempt to test the Turkish Armed Forces’ love for the motherland and its flag to look into the pages of history.”

Turks still take their symbol of salutation very seriously. You can be fined or jailed for wearing a Turkish flag-printed T shirt, to sit on one, insult it, tear it, or throw it to the ground. (And there was me thinking of using one for a bedspread!)

On Monday morning in every schoolyard throughout the country, students stand in line and sing the national anthem as the flag shunts up the pole, and on Friday afternoon they do the same as it’s slowly jerked down, reverentially folded and stored away for next week.

To me, it seems a kind of brainwashing, not dissimilar to the memorized malarkey that the kids in America have to go through, hands on hearts pledging allegiance to their flag — Old Gory’.

I’m glad to be a modern Brit in this respect, with no childhood recollection of ever having saluted the red white and blue’, although I still remember having to stand automatically for the national anthem played before and after films at the cinema:

“God save the Queen
And Her Fascist regime”

Oops! I forgot the words.

But one night when youngish, at the beginning of a film, as the anthem began, my evil influence said “I’m not standing.” So I said: “I won’t either then.”

And we sat throughout the anthem, my heart beating wildly at the revolt, my ears burning, listening to the disapproving clucks from our righteously erect fellow citizens around us.

Now, thirty years later, thank god, most sane English people wouldn’t dream of standing up for their national anthem, bowing to royalty, or saluting the rag. There’s progress for you.

We Western iconoclasts are now allowed to burn our flags left right and centre without retribution — and I witnessed Turks burning the American flag several times at demonstrations against the war in Iraq – but burning your own in some places is a definite no-no that could lose you your freedom — or even your life.

Talking of Iraq, after the initial debacle, while watching on TV what arose from the chaos, my heart leapt excitedly to see several groups of citizens marching behind black banners. At first I thought they were Anarchists finally getting their act together and making their presence felt, but unfortunately I later learned that the black flag is not only an anarchist symbol, but also claimed by another fanatic Muslim faction.

Flags. Who needs ’em? Limp or fluttering pieces of colored cloth that people solemnly stick out their arms for; shed tears for, (anthems aid lachrymosity) and give their lives for? They bring out the worst in people, turning them into nationalistic xenophobic zombies.

The flag is a drag. But woe-betide you if, when called in wartime, you respond with recoil and quote the words of e.e. cummings’ big glad Olaf —

“I will not kiss your fucking flag.”

Read the poem and find out why.

MICHAEL DICKINSON is a writer and artist who works as an English teacher in Istanbul, Turkey. He designed the cover art for two CounterPunch books, Serpents in the Garden and Dime’s Worth of Difference, as well as Grand Theft Pentagon, forthcoming from Common Courage Press. He can be contacted through his website of collage pictures at http://CARNIVAL_OF_CHAOS.TRIPOD.COM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Michael Dickinson can be contacted at michaelyabanji@gmail.com.

December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail