Urumqi, 2012: after mysterious incomplete news reports of “terrorist activities” hitting small towns in the regions interiors and an unconfirmed gunning at a local police station (The Bachu Incident, A Gentle Comparison) armored vans filled with black-cloaked security personnel supped to the teeth with weapons and bullet-proof (probably bomb-proof) garments became so common across the city we eventually stopped noticing them. There were armored vans at all the downtown bus stops, at our university entrance, and dozens of gun-swaddling security forces surrounding the central mosques during Friday prayers. These were not friendly guys – not government employees you might, for example, walk up to and ask about the bus schedules or directions to the nearest post. In fact, they weren’t people you would walk up to at all – they were there to intimidate, and intimate that they could gun you down at any time.
From the government stance, it was obvious that the state mistrusted the people – and by people here I mean Uyghurs. Uyghurs residing in Xinjiang tend to lump all Han together as suppressive government supporters, but the fact is that most people in China, regardless of ethnicity, don’t like the government. Even most people working in the government don’t like the government – and the security forces are probably it’s least popular arm (after the chenguan – the “city management” bureau whose hooliganesque members regularly smash up street stalls).
Anyway – Chinese security forces in Xinjiang: not exactly going to give anyone warm fuzzy feelings.
In Turkey, on the other hand, the police are actual people.
Since the Ankara Bombing(s) they’ve become rather ubiquitous across the central part of the city – white and blue police vans parked in the middle of traffic (to the curses of everyday drivers), cloth-clad police standing on more of the corners.
Every morning now I pass a police minivan and half-a-dozen automatic gun-toting bullet-proof-vest-wearing police officers at the Demir Tepe Bridge. Usually they’re standing around chatting, joking, catching up on the news. Today one was ‘standing guard’ at the corner cafe, masticating a toothpick, while his companions lounged at a table in the cafe’s side garden, letting their guard [very much] down as they drank cups of tea. Whatever your stance is on the reigning party’s politics (or on the police’s parking practices…) they’re definitely a more friendly, fuzzy bunch. It’s not Xinjiang – and I hope it never will be.