Eighteen business students from Indiana University Kokomo sat by the windows in their Turkish hotel rooms recently and watched history unfold before their eyes.
Several city blocks away, 200,000 people protested in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. They were doctors and lawyers and students who were concerned about several new laws that had increasingly religious overtones. After all, Turkey was a secular state.
But while the IU Kokomo students were in Istanbul, the Turkish parliament passed a law prohibiting the sale of alcohol from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Another law barred companies from advertising their alcohol in social media.
Companies already were barred from advertising alcohol in print media — making the new laws even more devastating.
IU Kokomo professor of business law Linda Ficht spoke to the CEO of a beer company in Turkey who was reeling after the law passed. The woman had no idea what she was going to do. She made it clear the government had closed nearly every avenue for marketing her products.
The protesters recognized this. So they peacefully gathered to let the government know they didn’t support this new agenda.
“They have rights they’re desperately trying to hold onto,” Ficht said. “They can feel things shifting back to an Islamic way of doing things.”
Ficht said the people in Turkey don’t have the same right to protest as Americans do. So as the protest grew, the government tried to stop it.
Police units donning riot gear stepped in and started gassing protesters and using force, Ficht said. By the end of the protest, 4,000 people had been injured, three had died and four or five people were blinded by the gas.
Ficht said she was worried the protests would ruin the students’ trip, but in the end, it was an important lesson for them. If you’re going to study business, you need to understand the environment you’re working in, she said.