What prompted #tamam?
Erdogan recently moved up the country’s parliamentary and presidential elections from November 2019 to June 24 of this year, despite emphatic denials that he would and a previous claim that early elections constitute treason. In addition to preempting a looming economic crisis, Erdogan was likely trying to catch a fragmented opposition off-guard. Disagreements among and within parties about who should run as presidential candidates suggested that he succeeded. Although four parties in Turkey eventually formed an electoral alliance for the parliamentary election, identity red lines — like secularist Republican People’s Party from Islamist Felicity Party, for example — make it difficult to articulate a shared message.
Ironically, Erdogan unwittingly gave his competition the platform they needed by declaring that if the nation says “enough,” he and his party would step aside. While his intention may have been to signal that he was following the rules to his own wavering party base, the result has worked against him. #Tamam generated a swell of enthusiasm among Turkey’s frustrated opposition unseen since Gezi, empowering voters with a platform for venting their vexation.
Using humor and protest strategies honed in 2013
The use of humor can debase, or as political scientist James Scott would say, erode the symbolic power of an entrenched leader like Erdogan. By using his own words against him, protesters employ a repertoire of wit honed during 2013. One Gezi protester referring to restrictions on alcohol sales sardonically spray-painted his reason for protesting: “You banned alcohol, we sobered up.” Another mocked Erdogan’s call that all women have at least three children by holding up a sign reading: “Are you sure you want three children like us?”
#Tamam tweeters similarly turned the president’s words against him. One post depicts the word in the Ottoman Turkish script, pushing back against Erdogan’s call for mandatory Ottoman classes despite disapproval by secularists, who view the order as an obstacle to progress. Another tweeted a meme of “tamam” as the lights strung across mosque minarets during Muslim holy days. Instead of wishing a holy Ramadan, this post seems to criticize the flurry of mosque-building under Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule.
Memes, pop culture and opposition
Also as in Gezi, witty #tamam riffs on pop culture are widely shared. “Game of Thrones” references playing on the theme “Winter is coming” have suggested Erdogan’s end is near in both Gezi and #tamam.
Those opposed to Erdogan’s presidency have tweeted musical references ranging from iconic Turkish crooner Ibrahim Tatlises to Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand’s “Enough Is Enough” — as well as quite a few songs conveniently titled “Tamam.” Staples of national food and drink culture also get a nod, with “tamam” appearing in the grounds of a Turkish coffee cup, and a chef arranging biber dolmasi (stuffed peppers) to form the word on a prep table. Notoriously witty Selahattin Demirtas, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party candidate running a campaign from prison, joked that a problem with a kettle inmates were using to make tea made him late to the #tamam party. As I examine in my current research, instantly recognizable cultural references presented in a humorous and defiant manner can prompt otherwise disengaged social media users to “get in on the action.”
By sharing posts they enjoy and “one-upping” others through the creation of cleverer, more subversive content, users are incrementally expanding the campaign. In the process, as political scientists have shown, these users can gain skills needed to articulate political arguments and foster a sense of solidarity that overcome collective action. The simultaneously subversive and inclusive role of humor in social media plays an important role in online mobilization and community-building.
What might #tamam mean for June elections?
The exuberance of the #tamam campaign is particularly noteworthy against a backdrop of increasingly oppressive crackdowns against any perceived dissent. However, given Turkey analysts’ dire predictions about the opposition’s chances on June 24, the spirit of resistance exhibited on Twitter this week could prove as premature as it did in Gezi, at least in the short run. To win in the first round of presidential elections, a candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the vote. Erdogan has been polling below that, causing him to resort to even more extreme tactics than in the 2017 referendum.
Along with changes to electoral law, Turkish citizens will go to the polls under a state of emergency in which government-appointed civil servants are the only observers, unstamped ballots can be accepted and ballot boxes can be transferred to other precincts. Far from free, these elections will also not be fair; the media is overwhelmingly pro-AKP. Erdogan has staked his political career on instituting a presidential system and is set on ensuring that it is his.
Whatever the election outcome, the #tamam campaign is poised to strengthen the opposition in the long run by engaging and transforming otherwise apolitical individuals, particularly youths. After Gezi, and even more so after the sweeping crackdown following a failed coup attempt in July 2016, many view resistance as pointless or dangerous or both. #Tamam provides ample indication that even in a climate of heightened oppression and political intimidation, resistance persists.
This article is one in a series supported by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance that seeks to work collaboratively to increase our understanding of how to design more effective and legitimate democratic institutions using new technologies and new methods. Neither the MacArthur Foundation nor the network is responsible for the article’s specific content. Other posts can be found here.