Fieldwork in Istanbul – What do border-crossing videos do?

The first people I spoke with in Istanbul mentioned the protests outside the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam. This demonstration had followed the Dutch authorities’ decision to disallow Turkish ministers entry into the Netherlands to campaign for the “yes” vote in the Turkish referendum. This didn’t surprise me, since the affair was international news. But what struck me was that a few of them spontaneously referred to one video from the protest, which they had watched online via social media posts. This same video came up in a total of five different conversations I had with people during my one month stay. And remembered having seen it because friends of mine in the Netherlands had also shared it on Facebook while I was still in Amsterdam.

Each time, the video was described to me as a recording of a conversation between two protesters in Rotterdam: one was shouting at the police on horseback; the said to him that he should be quiet or he will be in trouble with those police. The response of the first protester, and the “punchline” of the video, was that he won’t be quiet because, after all, this is not Turkey. The implicit message is that the shouting protester presumes he has the right to demonstrate unharmed by police in the Netherlands, while unwittingly admitting that this same right is denied to those living under the same Turkish regime he is there to support. The video was amusing to those who mentioned it for its illustration of the hypocrisy of Erdogan supporters living in the Netherlands. Needless to say, all of those who referred to this view were not Erdogan supporters.

Since the referendum has come to pass, we know not only that the “yes” vote won by a small margin. But also that just under half of the Turkish citizens eligible to vote in the Netherlands did so. Of that group, percent 70 percent voted “yes,” in support of the change to the constitution that Erdogan had proposed. This placed the Netherlands among the countries with the most supportive vote for the “yes” campaign, which also included Austria, Belgium (also with support percentages in the 70s), and to a lesser extent, Germany, Norway, and Denmark (all in the 60s). In the Dutch news I followed from Istanbul, headlines underplayed how the low turnout meant the votes cast in the Netherlands actually represented a minority, rather than a majority, of the Dutch based Turkish population. Instead the public discussion framed the result in terms of concerns about (a lack of) integration among Turks living in the Netherlands.

Late on the night of the referendum vote in Istanbul, one of my respondents was chatting with me on Facebook about the results. She also mentioned the demonstrations that she was hearing about in some neighborhoods across the city. That night she also updated her Facebook status to ask “so are we all going on the streets?” The next day I went to visit her at her apartment and she told me she had decided not to participate in the spontaneous nearby “no”-camp protests that night because she had heard from others that the police were shutting them down with violence, and she wasn’t up for that. Her fears made the contradiction depicted in the video even more stark. I was reminded of something she had told me in an interview when speaking about the video. Namely, that in the Dutch context she understood the position of Dutch-Turks who were an ethnic minority, enraged by the way local authorities had broken up the protests in Rotterdam with police on horseback and dogs released on the crowd, not to mention the dominant public framing of Turks in the Netherlands as being a problem. But in the Turkish context she couldn’t understand or accept that the same Turkish Dutch people would in all likelihood side with the government against her as a different kind of minority, a leftist and feminist activist who felt unsafe to protest peacefully in the streets.

The episode was interesting to me for what it showed about how a young Turkish woman who had partly grown up in the Netherlands felt about the Turkish-Dutch populace back in the Netherlands. Indeed, most of my respondents had expressed feeling a sense of ambivalence or outright negativity towards this group for various reasons, and the way they spoke about the video had an element of both ridiculing and fearing the views they attributed to this group as a whole. Perhaps even more interestingly, this video seemed to be crossing the online spaces that some of those based both in the Netherlands and Turkey were part of. The video’s apparent path of circulation between the two countries made me wonder what role social media sharing networks might be playing in my Istanbul-based respondents’ ways of seeing and relating to the political sentiments among the Turkish-Dutch community in the Netherlands, particularly at this highly charged moment. How might videos or other images like this one, circulated through social media, be shaping how close or distant Turkish-Dutch viewers in Istanbul feel to the diaspora in the Netherlands?