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Cablegate: Post-Modern Youth Movement Uses New Media In

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DE RUEHIT #0397/01 2110847
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 290847Z JUL 08
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8341
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0079
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
RHMFIUU/EUCOM POLAD VAIHINGEN GE
RHMFIUU/39ABG INCIRLIK AB TU
RUEHAK/USDAO ANKARA TU
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 000397

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OPRC PGOV PREL SCUL TU
SUBJECT: POST-MODERN YOUTH MOVEMENT USES NEW MEDIA IN
CAMPAIGN FOR DEMOCRACY

REF: ANKARA 1168

1. Summary At a time when most Turkish youth are politically
disengaged and apathetic (REF A), the Young Civilians (Genc
Siviller) are an important
indication of emerging social change, helping to organize
recent anti-coup rallies in key cities. The five year old
organization, with 2000 members in Yahoo email groups and
close to 7500 on the Facebook website, opposes what it
characterizes as an "ongoing coup d'etat" by the military and
judiciary. The group's leaders describe themselves as
"democrats of conscience" who are
above the fray of party politics and ideology, although they
are undeniably political activists. End Summary.

----------
Background

2. The Young Civilians NGO has come a long way since their
first protests in 2003 opposing the annual May 19 Youth and
Sports Day holiday as too "Soviet" for modern Turkey. A
diverse group of young people, both religious and secular,
with a variety of political philosophies, the student-run
organization helped organize recent anti-coup rallies,
including a July 26 demonstration in Ankara. As for the
Ankara event, the group occasionally affiliates with the
Common Sense Movement, a pro-democracy campaign generally
regarded as nationalist, conservative and religious, although
Young Civilians members stress they have their own unique
platform: "The only 'common sense' we share is democracy,"
explained one YC leader.

3. Known for its use of humor and irony to leaven potentially
subversive comments, the Young Civilians leaders we met told
us the group relies heavily on so-called New Media (internet,
etc.)to get out their message and attract
members. With only about thirty core members, the group's
sizable following in online forums reflects the success of
this approach. The founders were unable to explain the
organization's leadership structure and decision-making
processes.

--------------------------------------------- -
FEAR, NOT APATHY, KEEPS YOUTH OUT OF POLITICS

5. In contrast to the political apathy and disaffection
characteristic of most Turkish youth (REF A), the Young
Civilian leadership are optimistic about their ability to
affect change and move Turkey away from the "rigid and
exclusionary ideologies of the past." The leaders we met with
rejected our depiction of Turkish youth as politically
apathetic, arguing that most young people are interested in
politics but afraid to join political organizations because
of the country's history of coups and oppression of
opposition groups. Noting their families' opposition to their
activism, Young Civilian leaders admitted they are "risking
their futures" by their activism, but claimed that, as
"democrats of conscience," opposing coups is "an obligation,
not a choice."

----------------
BEYOND IDEOLOGY

6. Members described the state's Kemalist ideology as "a
dress that has grown too small for Turkey." The Young
Civilians consider dialogue the solution, and see value in
their organization's ability to bring together people from
throughout civil society. The group purposefully uses
politically loaded rhetoric borrowed from various ideologies
in order, they say, to avoid association with specific and
exclusionary social labels and to deconstruct the labels. For
instance, in 2007, the Young Civilians ran a campaign for
their own fictitious presidential candidate, Aliye Ozturk.
Ozturk is a part-Kurdish, part-Armenian Alevi Woman, shown on
election posters wearing a traditionally-tied headscarf. In a
more recent campaign called "Let's become a little bit
Kurdish," the group hosted Kurdish language and culture
classes and a celebration in Diyarbakir. "The State can't
make people afraid of Kurds and Communists anymore," said one
member. "Turkey needs an ideology big enough for 'the

ISTANBUL 00000397 002 OF 002


others'," those Turks who do not subscribe to strict Kemalist
orthodoxy. Although the group's emphasis on "dialogue" echoes
that of the Islam-based Fethullah Gulen movement, members
stressed they have no association with the Gulenist movement.

--------------------------------
"WHAT WE WANT IS REAL POLITICS"

7. The Young Civilian members we spoke with advocated liberal
democracy for Turkey. Several voted for the ruling Justice
and Development Party (AKP) in the July 2007, even though
they disagree with the party's social and political views.
They considered a vote for AKP to be a vote against the
military, which interfered in the 2007 presidential election.
One YC leader observed that while the AKP "isn't an ideal
democratic party," it had moved Turkey closer to democracy by
advancing EU membership and the headscarf issue (which the
Young Civilians view as a matter of personal choice).
Conversely, members consider the military and judiciary as
the embodiment of anti-democratic values. "What the military
is protecting are not democratic values, only a specific
interpretation of secularism. Democratic values must be
protected by a fair and independent judiciary and civil
society," According to one YC leader.

8. COMMENT: The Young Civilians represent a progressive
strand of pro-democracy thought at a critical time in
Turkey's political development. The group's ability to
mobilize the country's youth through its use of New Media may
be a hopeful sign that Turkish young people may no longer be
content to observe politics from the sidelines. The lack of a
clear leadership structure may stunt the group's growth and
dilute its pro-democracy message in the mix of its diverse
online memberships' interests. While the group's ambiguous
leadership and decision-making structure may reflect a
grassroots advocacy structure, future growth will likely
require more structured management. Whether or not the Young
Civilians marks the return of Turkey's youth to the political
scene, its message of dialogue, debate and a fresh approach
is a refreshing addition. END COMMENT


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