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Interview: Solidarity with the Turkish rebellion


June 11, 2013

Socialist.ca caught up with Ezgi Dogru, an activist with Canada Student Collective in Solidarity with Protesters in Turkey, to discuss the revolt that has spread from Gezi Park to the rest of Turkey. 
 
What caused the movement to erupt so quickly and forcefully in the last two weeks?
 
Before we begin, we should note that this movement did not just appear on one day, though it may look like that. Here, we do not refer only to very historical events that caused this “eruption”; we need to draw attention to the long struggle of the TAKSIM GEZI PARK that came to the fore after the government’s proposal of gentrification of public spaces, which goes back to the last election. 
 
It seems to be important to give a brief account of Gezi Park, which became the symbol of the movement that has spread all over the country. Gezi Park is located in Taksim, downtown Istanbul, which has been one of the most gentrified neighbourhoods of Istanbul. People in this neighbourhood have been forced to leave their houses. Due to the force of government projects, a big part of this neighbourhood had to sell their houses to corporations, as has happened in many other poor neighbourhoods of Istanbul. All gentrification projects have been implemented through dispossessing people. Many Roma, Kurdish and Turkish people have been forced to leave their neighborhoods. This has caused many serious problems for those people and created discontent among other people in Turkey, as well. This attitude of the government, AKP – which has been in power for 11 years in Turkey – has a profound effect on many aspects of people’s lives.  For example, the government started to intervene in alcohol consumption and has restricted women’s rights by banning abortion.
 
The government thinks that they can do whatever they want and they do not feel responsible or find fault in any crime of theirs. The Turkish air force killed 35 Kurdish citizens and there has not been even an apology for that massacre, known as the Roboski Massacre (December 2011). Reyhanli Massacre, on other hand, took place few months ago, where at least 52 people died. Again, there has not been any apology for this massacre. This government has continued to oppress Alevi citizens. To give a very recent example, the AKP government has named the third bridge or Istanbul as Yavuz Sultan Selim, a Sultan of the Ottoman Empire who is known for the Massacre of Alevi people.  These authoritative, self-righteous and conservative impositions are only a few examples of this government.  This government has not been open to dialogue with any of its people. The last uprising follows upon these incidents. I think we can go back to the question now.
 
There are many projects being implemented to build hotels and condos in that neighborhood of Istanbul. The Occupy Gezi movement started with an activist group’s campaign with the same intentions against this gentrification process. One part of this gentrification project is to build a shopping mall in the only park in that neighborhood by tearing down the park and, with it all its trees.  Gezi Parki is the only park in the district, which has 246,000 inhabitants and hits a million people on the weekends with its visitors. This activist group tried to get attention to stop this unlawful gentrification. They have contacted the deputies of Istanbul to get support and attention to this unlawful project. On the morning of the demolition there were few people to stop this project and the police forces used pepper gas against the people. Sirri Sureyya Onder, a deputy of the Kurdish Party, went to act in solidarity with this initiative and stood on the earth digger. Soon after, he called for solidarity from everyone in Istanbul to stop that project (via social media). In a few hours, hundreds came to guard the trees in the park. As this group has been announcing, this project was unlawful. So, the demolition couldn’t go on that day. People kept arriving all day and the government used a disproportionate amount of force on these people.
 
Since the protest of people against such an unlawful demolition of the park were so right, people came together just to say “enough”:  enough to the use of disproportionate police force, to tear gassing people who peacefully demand their rights, demand their spaces to breathe. As people come together, as their number has increased day and day, we started to hear other demands.

What are the demands of the protestors?
 
Summarizing the demands of protesters may be impossible, considering the heterogeneity of people resisting. Yet, as "chapuller", a neologism originating during the protests (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapulling), shows that people come together to resist force, demand justice and seek their rights. We do not want to underline our own reading of the resistance here, as it would be too early to do so. We want to use this space to state again the demands put forward by TAKSIM RESISTANCE, which point out the terms of the struggle: 
 
• Gezi Park should remain a park. There should be no construction on the park under the name of TopcuKislasi or under any other name. An official statement should be made announcing the cancellation of the project. The attempts at the demolition of Ataturk KulturMerkezi should be stopped.

• Starting with the Governors and Chief of Police of Istanbul, Ankara and Hatay, all responsible persons who have stood in the way of people’s right of expression in the resistance at Taksim and other places; persons who ordered the use of violence; and persons who supervised and carried out these orders should be removed from office. The use of tear gas bombs and similar devices should be banned.

• The citizens who have been detained all around the country for supporting the resistance should be freed immediately. There should be a statement announcing that no further investigation will be pursued against these individuals.

• The prohibition and de-facto obstruction of meetings, protests and demonstrations in our squares and public places should end, starting with Taksim and Kiziliay Squares, the sights of May 1 celebrations. Barriers to freedom of expression should be lifted.

Furthermore, we think that the authorities should understand the content, spirit, hopes and demands of the reaction that came from the streets and all kinds of public places since May 27, 10pm. Trying to explain away what happened by referring to “marginality” would be the same as ignoring these events. We can see that citizens interpret the intervention in Gezi Park, which symbolizes the government’s general thinking, as “an intervention in their beliefs and lifestyles and a sign of condescension,” eliciting a cry of “we are here and we have demands“ and a public outrage from all kinds of people, whether they be women, men, young or old. 
 
We would like the ruling authorities to realize that the reaction of the citizens is also about the Proposed Law on The Protection of Nature and Biodiversity that came into National Assembly’s agenda and the projects that plunder our ecological riches, starting with the third airport in Istanbul, the third bridge over The Bosporus, the construction on AOC, and the hydro-electric power plants (HEPP). The reaction is also an expression of “the wish for peace, and resistance to the war politics being played in our country and in the region; the sensitivities of Alevi citizens; the rightful demands of the victims of urban transformation projects; the voices raised against the conservative male politics that control women’s bodies; the resistance to the coercion against universities, the judicial branch and artists; the demands of all workers, starting with the employees of Turkish Airlines, against the appropriation of their rights; the struggle against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and the demands for the clearing of the way for citizen’s right of access to education and healthcare. (http://taksimdayanisma.org/?lang=en)
 
What has the level of repression been like?
 
Turkish police attacked protestors violently with tear gas and water canons. They directly targeted protestors’ bodies and faces. In fact, this police brutality is the source of the spread of the demonstrations over Turkey. Despite the peaceful nature of the demonstrations, the Turkish police intensified the extensive violence through gas canisters into houses, shopping malls and mosques. As far as we know, three people were murdered: Abdullah Comert (22 years old), Mehmet Ayvalitas (20), Ethem Sarisusluk (26). 48 people are seriously injured. 10 people became blind because police fired tear gas directly at the eyes of protestors. In total, 4,117 people were injured. 

How are Turkish people outside of Turkey reacting to the protests? What are their hopes?
 
Turkish media has been in a death silence throughout the demonstrations. We are quite sure that the government has direct control over the media. This is why international awareness and international media is vital for this uprising. People from Turkey who live outside of the country are following the events through international media with a close scrutiny. In Amsterdam, New York, Berlin, Toronto, Cizre, and Cairo, and in many other different cities, people are demonstrating against Turkish police brutality and the neoliberal and authoritarian AKP government. They try to raise public consciousness about what is happening in Turkey. These people want to raise international awareness to reveal and stop police violence and authoritarian policies of government. And, actually, they are doing a great job so far.
 

What do these protests mean for the current regime? Is the AKP in trouble? What are people's criticisms of the AKP?
 
It is quite obvious that the AKP government doesn’t take the responsibility for issues raised through the demonstrations. The government tries to marginalize protestors and label them as terrorists, looter and marauders. In fact, the demonstrators are “the people” who come from different economic, social and political backgrounds. The AKP is in a great trouble right now since people from all over Turkey shout the following chant: “Resign Erdogan, Resign AKP”. People clearly say that they will not take the conservative, neoliberal and violent oppression of the Turkish government anymore.
 
What can people do to support the protests?
 
Creating international public awareness is very crucial at this moment. People, individually, can use social media to spread the news. Police violence and other authoritarian and discriminatory practices have to be condemned, and any authority, people, institution or organization that is part of violence, discrimination and exploitation have to be condemned immediately.
 
For example, a national media called NTV has a partnership with BBC. This is one of the media channels in Turkey that censors the protests by publicizing events with pro-governments motivations. I mean that people outside Turkey can call on the BBC, for example, and demand the cancellation of this partnership. There are many ways to support the protests in Turkey, but I guess the most important support would be keeping in solidarity and following closely what is happening in Turkey in the following days. Things have become worse in the last few days, especially after PM Erdogan’s speech right after his visit to Africa. Pro-government people were chanting “let us go, let’s crush Taksim!” Against these chants, the protestors in Gezi Parki say, “let them come, let them show humanity!” It is important to note that while the government continues its provocative attitude rather than apologizing and engaging in negotiation, protestors try to keep calm and work hard to build a breathing environment in the Park. From concerts and dance shows to the construction of a library, garden, and even solar energy systems, occupy by Taksim Gezi Parki, rather than hate speeches, violence, discrimination and exploitation. Surely, nothing is over and there is not a peaceful environment in Turkey right now. People still fight against police forces in a number of cities in Turkey, like Ankara and Izmir. In short, we can say that the best support is staying in solidarity, and spreading news around the world without forgetting that this is not the fight of people in Turkey for their rights, but it is a fight against all forms/modes of authoritarian, discriminative and exploitative neo-liberal and capitalist structures, relations and practices.
 
 
What are the future plans for solidarity from Canada?
 
Our friends are organizing new public protests to send their solidarity as well as to draw international attention to the protests. We, as an independent community, actually, do what we can do: for example, we support the protests by making translations, by preparing videos, publishing documents etc. We also build new relations with different communities in Canada, and try to expand collaborations with the desire of ending all forms of discrimination, exploitation, and oppression.
 

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