by Adnan Yildiz
In order to write about the recent anti-government protests in Turkey, I am occupying this virtual space through which you receive news about selected exhibitions. Exhibitions aim to challenge the way in which we look at the world and so does life itself. Ten days ago, it all started with the excessive use of police force and tear gas against the Gezi Park occupation in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. The police brutally attacked the demonstrators and burned their tents. The photos and updates coming from the demonstrators were clearly documenting the unprecedented cruelty against those who were trying to develop creative tools and peaceful strategies to deal with the demolition of the park such as reading books, camping, etc. The Turkish press was completely blind and mute; the repressive government denied the seriousness of the facts. Thousands of people united to react against this state violence, and the uprising has spread through many cities demanding freedom of speech, resignation of the government and putting an end to the excessive use of tear gas by the police as well as plastic bullets, tanks, tear gas dropping helicopters and physical violence. As far as we know, 3 people were killed, many people have been injured and arrested by the police.
This is neither an Arab Spring against the militarist monarchy, nor is it the Occupy Movement protesting an inequality of % 99 versus 1. It is a combination of many things. In order run an opinionated discussion, we need to consider some recent historical facts.
The vice president of AKP (Justice and Development Party) Mevlut Çavu?o?lu told Christiane Amanpour of CNN that there is no plan to build a shopping mall on the site of the Gezi Park, where thousands of people are united to protect the trees. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an suddenly began to talk about the construction of a museum and an opera house with a reference to his dream of many years about the reconstruction of the old military barracks in Taksim Square.
When the entry to such `public spaces` is restricted, limited and controlled by the neo-liberal transformation and gentrification process, one wonders if there is any difference between a shopping mall and a museum today? The repressive voice of the government has not only declared total control over the public space, but has also increased restrictions on different lifestyle choices and violated freedom of speech. Little space was left for diversity, and many people were judged on the basis of moralist conservatism and references to traditional Turkish-Islamic values.
Towards the end of 2011, 34 civilians of Kurdish origin and Turkish citizenship were killed during the Uludere Airstrike in the South Anatolian border. Out of nowhere, Turkey suddenly started to discuss an abortion ban. A populist approach of playing with the Turkish words for “Kurdish” and “Abortion” (Kürt and Kürtaj) was brought to the table to shift the political agenda of the country. This spring began with the government´s attempt to make peace with the Kurdish resistance organization, PKK. This process was not communicated clearly with the opposition or the public, creating question marks in people’s minds. For some, it was seen as a sort of compromise for Erdo?an to run as president in a new model that he proposed. After the recent bombing near the Syrian border in Reyhanli, that caused the loss of more than fifty people, Turkish media was not allowed to cover the news for a while and a couple of days later, the government put forward laws restricting the sale and the consumption of alcohol. In addition, his party’s proposal to name the 3rd Bridge after Yavuz Sultan Selim, the Ottoman sultan who is known for the persecution of Alevis, received lots of public critique– not to mention other self-centered decisions. One might ask a crucial question: What went wrong with this moderate form of Islamic modernity in Turkey, which had been presented as a model for the entire Middle East?
The prime minister of Turkey was democratically elected three times. He increased his votes, promising solidarity even with those who did not vote for him. His government tripled the national income and sidelined the militarist state tradition towards a democratic transformation with the support of many liberals and left wing intellectuals who, until recently, backed him up. Following the mistaken Uludere Airstrike against Kurdish civilians, his attitude started to change. Some critics explained it as The Deep State in Turkey taking over his ideals, and absorbing his soul. In these recent days of occupations of city squares, one of the biggest failures of the government was to define the protestors as marginal groups and extremists. Many of young people changed their nicknames on social media to, “çapulcu,” or “marginal,” as the prime minister called them. In reality these were mostly young protestors with no engagement in any political party. They have simply been experiencing solidarity, physicality and political consciousness. According to the prime minister, Twitter was a troublemaker and he reminded the public of the fifty percent vote that his party got during the last election, as well as the rule of majority.
It is not only about a park anymore. Whatever it is operates as a point of inspiration. The demonstrators say that they feel much better now that they have turned off their TVs and that the communication amongst them is becoming more creative as it is about moving together in time and space. They are ironically thankful to the government that united them. So, it is not just a park anymore. It is about a young generation of people, who were never given a chance to express themselves except through social media networks, left with the sole option of self-reflection as virtual communication. A generation who never had any hopes in terms of making changes or being part of the decision making process. They don`t want to get glued to LCD screens, but aim to look at the sky in a free world! At this time it appears that none of the opposition’s political parties or provocateurs achieved their goals in terms of mobilizing this occupation towards their agendas. Nationalist Kemalists tried hard to do that and patriots defended the police and their actions. However, their arguments are weak and not convincing enough. The day after Saturday`s big crack down, many of the protestors went back to the park to clean up the mess, plant flowers and set up libraries. The images from the Gezi Park Occupy displays a utopian form of self-organization, reminding me of another park story; the long term resistance of the demonstrators from Stuttgart against the erection of the new train station (Stuttgart 21) that I witnessed during the last years. The trees were also cut down and the police force was very cruel. Now it appears as if the Stuttgarters have lost the battle against the politicians however, the deficit for the construction of the new station increases more and more, plus the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) recently lost the election against the Green Party for the first time since 1972. The city is still covered with stickers and signs for the K21 (Kein (No) Stuttgart 21) resistance movement.
Could this be a bridge between the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement and European democracies, which were all materialized and consumed by the international press and left to their destiny as negotiations between power structures?
Erdo?an came to power through democratic choice and represented the people who were oppressed during the harsh years of Turkish modernity. By creating another elite class and re-capitalizing the city of Istanbul, considering the city as the number one investment tip in the global hot real estate market, he now quarrels with his own bread and butter. This situation cannot be isolated from what is going on in the rest of the world: It is simply that people who are not represented in the current political systems have no voice in the media and no decision in the transformation of public space, react through coming together. Erdo?an or Merkel, it is still about the isolated form of authority and power structures that close their channels to their own public. I am afraid, it is still mainly about the class struggle.
And dear Mousse reader,
What you see below in the links, videos and photos are evidence of a new era. An awakening of our glocal reality. It is not only happening in Istanbul, in Turkey. It is happening everywhere right now.
– Adnan Yildiz
Drawings – Dan Perjovschi, Solidarity with Istanbul, 2013