World

State hits out with kicks and a slap

Elif Shafak

Many Turks view the prime minister’s attack on a shopper as an acceptable part of Turkish culture

Footloose: Yusuf Yerkel, adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, kicks a protester. He later apologised and is now nursing a sore leg. (AFP)

Christos Tsiolkas set his novel The Slap at a ­braaivleis in suburban Melbourne. But a ­version of his story of patriarchal violence has been played out in the Turkish village of Soma, scene of the mining disaster last week that killed more than 300.

The country is abuzz about suggestions that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, followed a protester into a supermarket and slapped him.

True or not, it is telling that not even Erdogan’s advocates find it implausible. There is a sense that, given his mercurial personality, such a thing could well have happened. In a video recorded on the same day, Erdogan is heard warning: “If you boo this country’s prime minister, you get a slap.”

Taner Kuruca, the Soma man said to have been the victim, made a timid statement, sounding quite fearful. He explained that he was not a protester but someone who happened to be shopping.

“When his bodyguards started to push, the prime minister unfortunately did something involuntarily and slapped me because he was angry at the crowd.” Since then he has changed his story twice – first saying it was a bodyguard, rather than Erdogan, who hit him. Now he says it was Erdogan, but he was too afraid to speak the truth.

Had this happened in another country, the entire government would be shaken to the core. Not in Turkey. As a nation we are used to finding excuses for the slaps we are subject to from childhood.

In the typical, patriarchal Turkish household, verbal and physical violence is not uncommon. If children misbehave, fathers slap them. Should wives misbehave, they can expect the same.

Provocations
On the same day in Soma, Yusuf Yerkel, a close aide to the prime minister, was filmed kicking a protester. Later Yerkel issued a statement saying he was sorry “for not being able to remain calm, despite all the provocations, insults and attacks I was subjected to”. He has now reportedly gone on sick leave for injuries to his kicking leg.

Meanwhile, on the streets of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, riot police were busy firing teargas at young people protesting about the conditions that led to the miners’ deaths and at the government’s tardy response. At the Middle East Technical University, famous for its leftist spirit, plastic bullets were fired at about a thousand students who wanted to march on the ministry of energy after they had first been harangued by police chiefs.

Western media found it mind-boggling that Erdogan mentioned accidents in 19th-century England at his press conference as evidence that mining has always come with risks.

But to the ears of the common man in Turkey, this makes sense: life is unfair everywhere, and in the end it is all in Allah’s hands.

Yet at the same time there is a very strong awareness in Turkey that this tragedy could have been avoided if the necessary precautions had been taken.

Comparisons are also frequently made with the case of the Chilean miners rescued in 2010. Social media is awash with photos that contrast how the rescue operation was handled in Chile and how the president was welcomed by miners there, and how Erdogan was heckled in Soma.

The slap is part of our culture, and it surfaces at the slightest provocation. Provocation is the key word, the golden excuse.

The husband who beats his wife at home or stabs her on the street in front of their children bases his defence in court on the same argument: “She provoked me by dressing salaciously, your honour.”

And now the adviser to the prime minister claims he was provoked by a protester who kicked his car and swore at him.

The state has all the power in Turkey. Citizens do not. We as a nation are used to being slapped by those in positions of higher authority. In family, in school, in the army, in the street, in the supermarket … the slap is everywhere. And, as recent days have taught, Turkish masculinity is far too easily provoked. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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