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Turkey protests: Strangely festive mood as violence, tear gas loom

Originally posted June, 2013.

ISTANBUL (BP) — Taksim Square in the heart of Istanbul seems like ground zero of the biggest party in Turkey. Groups of students dance hand-in-hand. Local musicians gather for impromptu open-air performances. Women hand out sesame-covered biscuits to anyone in arm’s reach.

The mood is strangely festive, but the tens of thousands of people assembled are not revelers — they are protesters.

On May 31, a peaceful protest over the destruction of a city park turned violent as riot police attempted to drive protesters from the area. The air in Taksim, recently saturated with pepper spray and tear gas, is now charged with hope and energy, but there is an undercurrent of danger.

Street vendors sell a bizarre mix of Turkish flags, surgical masks and swim goggles. The flags signal nationalistic pride, while the masks and goggles are intended to deflect gas used by riot police to disperse crowds. One vendor darkly quips, “The tear gas is coming to Taksim; you’ll need these.”

Some protesters wear badges, sarcastically claiming they are looters. Others more ominously don “Guy Fawkes” masks, often the symbols of political activism. Spontaneous chants for the resignation of Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan erupt from every corner of the square.

But a question lingers, “What happens after the party is over?”

When asked what they hope the protests will achieve, Turkish demonstrators provide a range of responses.

A well-educated elderly couple — a university professor and a doctor — replied simply, “We want freedom and peace.”

A young woman who was in the park when police confronted the protesters enthusiastically stated, “Erdogan should publicly apologize.” She then admitted an apology is unlikely and darker days are probably coming to Turkey.

The exuberance on display in Taksim seems to mask a deeper uncertainty about the future of a country with a staunchly secular political system and a deeply religious Muslim majority population.

The size and scope of the protests have surprised many, but they have not shaken the faith of Turkish believers.

Amir*, a Turkish pastor, said he had never seen anything like the recent demonstrations. He is confident that even if things turn out badly, God will prevail. He prays that human rights will be protected and that democracy will lead to an acceptance of others — specifically believers so they can share their reason for hope.

Mehmet*, a Turkish believer, said, “Jesus had similar experiences. He lived under oppressive leadership, but He walked among the citizens of Israel and addressed the real issue. The real issue isn’t about the government — it’s about salvation.”

Mehmet said he hopes discussions about freedom will open doors to share about the freedom that can only be found in Jesus Christ. He said he recognizes it is easy to get caught up in the frenzy of protests. He prays Turkish believers will have wisdom to discern the spiritual needs of their fellow citizens.

Join with Turkish Christians as they pray for the future of their country. Pray for Turkey Cities is a prayer guide that encourages in-depth prayer for the cities and peoples of Turkey. Order online from the Resource Center of the International Mission Board here: http://imbresources.org/index.cfm/product/detail/prodID/4100/page/1.
*Names changed for security reasons. Compiled by International Mission Board communications staff. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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