The recent riots and looting in the UK have made me think a lot about crime in Turkey. I was mainly spurred on by listening to all the comments flowing from the lips of irate British ex-pats and holiday makers who were watching television to see their home towns descend into anarchy and chaos. I heard the following comments more than once…
“The Turkish police would not put up with that nonsense”
“I can tell you now that the Turkish police would beat the s*** out of them”
Now it would be a mistake to think that rioting does not happen here in Turkey because it does. Occasionally, peaceful demonstrations in large cities get out of hand and there are many occasions when I have picked up the newspaper to read stories of rioting in towns like Diyarbakir.
However the major difference is there is an unwritten rule that you do not s*** on your own doorstep. Yes, riots in Turkey are so dignified that you aim for the police, their vehicles and nothing else. If you start damaging and looting people’s homes or business, you better have a miraculous ability to wake up the next morning with a new face and identity.
Crime in Turkey and the Turkish Police
The main conversations in the ex-pat community were comparing the Turkish police with the British. In these conversations, the Turkish police were suddenly elevated to this status of super gods and anyone would think that crime in Turkey did not exist. Now, I have to admit that I have never been a hard core supporter of the Turkish police. This would date back to memories of overinflated speeding tickets, domestic violence against women that was ignored and a general attitude of “do as I say and not as I do”.
The Turkish police however do live up to the typical stereotyped role and not many people would like to cross swords with them. Crime in Turkey overall is relatively low however in the big cities like Istanbul; pickpocketing of tourists is rife and in my own town of Altinkum, burglaries stats have gone through the roof. Criminals will struck when opportunity lets them and no “Rambo” stereotyping of the police force can prevent that.
It would be a mistake to think that the low crime in Turkey is purely down to the police force because it is not. The low crime is because of culture and society. Generally, there are three things that are at the heart of every Turkish community. Pride, Families and Livelihood
If you try to threaten any of the above, then you are forewarned that you have made enemies for life. I do not know many Turkish people who would call the police if they felt an intrusion into their lives by someone intent on damaging and destroying any three of the above key elements. They would deal with it in their own way.
In the case of the Turkish shopkeepers in Hackney who defended their shops against looters, their livelihoods were threatened and this would have a knock on effect on their family’s well-being and ultimately their pride.
The Fine Line Between Defending Your Property and Vigilante Action
In my first year of living in Turkey, I learned harshly that the police do not rule the streets and sometimes defending your property can develop into an incident much worse. I had settled in the tourist, coastal resort of Marmaris and was a witness to an incident that has stayed with me to this day. A man had lifted an item from a shop without paying for it. Five shopkeepers were chasing him down the street; they caught him and gave him the kicking of his life. You might say “Bravo” because after all, he was a thief.
I say different because I looked at the soles of that man’s shoes as they were hanging off. I saw his unwashed skin and his tattered and old clothing. The man was on the poverty line and for all I know was stealing to provide for his family. The loud cracking sound that I heard was explained to me as the sound of his skull cracking. That is one memory that I have from my time in Marmaris and eleven years later, I still cannot get it out of my head.
So What is The Answer to the UK Riots?
There isn’t one particular answer. As an expat in Turkey, it is easy to sit in a bar, drink ice cold beer and declare the answer to the UK riots as bad policing and not enough power. However when people are in power, there is always a small element that will abuse that power for their own means. Be careful what you wish for.
While ordering your second ice cold beer, it is easy to suggest that people need to start becoming vigilantes. Vigilante action is often powered by anger and the need for revenge which can sometimes leads to actions that are far much harsher than the crime that has been committed.
Can an honest decent citizen who has performed an act of horrific violence because of rage honestly look back in later years and express no remorse? Yes, by all means defend your property and your family, but do not be under the illusion that you won’t unconsciously cross that fine line in the heat of the moment.
Crime in Turkey
I am not under the illusion that Turkey is sown up lock, stock and barrel when it comes to crime, but I do know that I feel a lot safer on the streets of Turkey than I ever felt in the UK. You will never see looting and crime in Turkey on the grand scale that we have just seen in the UK, because there are unwritten rules firmly engrained into society and communities and these rules revolve around pride, families and livelihoods. Throw a little bit of respect into the mixture along with a sense of community spirit and everyone is prepared to deal with the tough times without turning on their own.