He rolls out of bed in the morning inside the midtown Omaha house he shares with three other students. He rubs his eyes open. He grabs his laptop.
The Hürriyet Daily News website is first. Then Radikal, a left-leaning newspaper. Then Zaman, which leans right.
Have the protests grown larger inside Taksim Square in Istanbul? Are they spreading throughout the country?
How many more people got hurt?
He gobbles up the news of the day, then moves to Facebook.
What are his friends saying about the protesters' latest demands? What does his family think about the police crackdown?
Do any of them know someone who got arrested?
The 27-year-old closes his laptop, leaves his room and he goes about his business in Omaha. The truth, though, is that Serdar Guruzumcu is very much in Turkey.
His country is roiled by protests. Young people — people his age — have taken to the streets to oppose the country's prime minister, who they see as iron-fisted and unwilling to listen.
There have been clashes with police. A photo taken of a woman in a red dress getting sprayed with tear gas has gone viral. Teenagers have gone to jail for spreading on Twitter what the government says is misinformation.
This is all Serdar can think about. It is all he wants to talk about.
Except most of the Omahans around him don't know about the protests. Or they do, vaguely, and don't really care.
This is the fascinating and frustrating thing about the melting pot. What happens if the place you love is boiling, and no one else notices?
“This is a huge conflict! I have friends facing the police!” Serdar says. “And many people (here) ask me 'So, what's going on in Turkey?' And I try to tell them, but it is difficult.”
Americans are quick to assume that the Turkish protests are like the protests that toppled dictators in Egypt and elsewhere during the Arab Spring. Except Turkey is a democracy, has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is well-liked by large swaths of voters.
The American news media assume that the protesters are one group, and tend to portray them as defenders of democracy.
That is partly true, Serdar thinks. Some protesters, the peaceful ones, are people who feel that they don't have a voice in government.
“Young people are trying to represent themselves, but they cannot do anything. They are getting crazy, you know? And then they explode.”
Except there are also protesters, well-known leftists in Turkey, who tend to be more violent and are trying to co-opt the protest movement to advance a Marxist agenda.
This second group “doesn't want to talk, they want to destroy everything,” Serdar says. “The foreign media can't see the difference between these groups.”
This is frustrating to Serdar, but not nearly as frustrating as sitting in Omaha and watching as his home country boils.
So he calls his old professors from Gazi University in Ankara, Turkey's capital city. He instant-messages with friends, some of whom support the protests and some of whom support the prime minister. He talks and messages and reads four hours a day. Five hours a day. Maybe six.
And then he sits in his little bedroom in a rented house in midtown Omaha and he worries.
Serdar just graduated with a master's degree from Creighton University. His degree is in negotiation and dispute resolution.
He would like to go back to Turkey and get the sides around a table.
He would like to tell the prime minister that power has made him spoiled. He needs to stop ramrodding development projects and laws into existence without considering how those things affect young Turkish residents. He needs to listen more.
He would like to tell the protesters to put down their rocks. Do not ignore the country's great economic leaps in the past decade, or the fact that the prime minister has the support of many well-meaning people.
“In almost any conflict, every person is right, and every person is also not right,” he says in his second language.
“They are focusing only on their own interests. And it makes the conflict worse. It makes everything worse.
“If you don't acknowledge what the other side has to say, you cannot do anything. That's why you use police. That's why you throw rocks. Because you cannot communicate.”
Serdar cannot go back to Turkey just now. So he will stay for several more months in Omaha. He will spend five or six hours a day online. He will spend almost the entire time thinking about his home country.
He will try to keep explaining it to Omaha, so that we understand.
Not the same as the Arab Spring
We asked Ramazan Kilinc, a University of Nebraska at Omaha political science professor and Turkish-American, for his thoughts on the protests. By happenstance, Kilinc had to respond by email because he's in a city in southeast Turkey for a research project related to Turkish education. Here's an abridged version of the interview.
Q: How do you compare and contrast what's happening in Turkey now with the Arab Spring?
A: I think they are very different. Turkey has democratic political systems. Even though the military intervened in politics four times, elections have been implemented in Turkey since 1950. Despite its drawbacks, there are democratic mechanisms through which people can voice their opposition. Turkey is a democracy even though its leaders are not fully democratic.
Q: The protests in Turkey aren't front-page news here. I'm sure many Americans aren't aware that they are happening. I'm interested in how important this current moment in Turkey is to you as compared with other Omahans.
A: I am a deep believer in democracy and I want Turkey to turn into a well-functioning democracy. I think the current government contributed to Turkey a lot in this regard. They weakened military influence over politics, they recognized Kurdish identity (the Kurds are an ethnic minority in Turkey). ... However, the (government), after winning three consecutive elections, has an excessive power. ... Deliberative democracy is still lacking in Turkey. I hope these protests lead the government to contemplate this.
Q: What if anything do you want to see change in Turkey as a result of these protests?
A: I hope the protests increase the participatory elements of Turkish democracy. But there are two conditions for this to happen. First, the government needs self-reflection. Blaming outside powers or fringe groups for the protests is easier. Second, among the protesters there are those who want to escalate violence to topple the government. That's even more dangerous, because Turkey is already a parliamentary democracy and chaos can only increase military power and feed authoritarianism. The protesters should keep their protests peaceful.
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