Civil Disobedience in Istanbul

Translated from Turkish by Translators for Justice

Civil Disobedience in Istanbul: As the Center of the Movement Shifts from Beyoğlu to Beşiktaş

Ömer Faruk Kurhan

The public statement of BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) Chairman Selahattin Demirtaş, regarding the events triggered by the green resistance in Taksim Gezi Park has clearly exposed the estrangement of his party from the ongoing protests. He objected justifiably to the CHP’s (Republican People Party) and MHP’s (Nationalist Movement Party) misappropriation of the acts of civil disobedience (and they are called neither insurrection nor serhildan in Kurdish) on the part of the masses sick and tired of the AKP government for anti-peace ends. But the point which cannot be apprehended is the following: CHP and MHP are just as alienated from the acts of civil disobedience encompassing millions of people in Istanbul as BDP.

This time it is the politicians who are dragged behind the masses, and not the masses that are dragged behind the politicians. It is difficult to describe the state of affairs in Istanbul these days as the “Friendship of the Peoples.” But as I have tried to underline in a previous piece based on my observations, witnessing, and lived experiences, it is necessary to acknowledge the formation of a very strong friendship of the people in Istanbul.

Not unlike a natural catastrophe, this is an event where people stop clinging to their personal possessions and succeed in uniting together or at least standing by and helping each other. Gas terror of the police has displayed the impasse not only of the government but also the politician class that claims to represent the people and to oppose the government along with large and small intellectual circles. BDP MP Ertuğrul Kürkçü who has tried to interpret the events stated that we were faced with an event that could not be explained away by deep-seated ideological templates. As far as opening a door to reality, this is a correct identification of the issue at hand. But it is at the same time an admission of the frailty of the links with the people.

People of Istanbul have committed a mass act of civil disobedience for the first time in the history of Turkey. It could perhaps be compared with the reaction that took place in the aftermath of the Susurluk incident in 1996, but this would be an erroneous comparison. “A Minute of Darkness for Perpetual Enlightenment” acts were directed by mainstream media from the very beginning, and people did not object to this stewardship. Later, these acts provided an excuse for the February 28 coup. But in the events taking place today, mainstream media in the mire of self-censorship lost its credibility and became a target of the masses in action.

It may be said that what could not be accomplished on May 1 was accomplished in GeziPark as a result of the tension around the official decision to uproot the trees, which escalated with the ensuing use of gas terror. It could not have been accomplished on May 1 because the resistance which takes the form of civil disobedience cannot appeal to the worldview and tactics of labor unions and political parties that participate in May 1 to establish their own leadership over the demonstrations. They are after an imaginary people, one whose existence is in question.

Can people who make a grey wolf sign, or raise their left fists, or raise the index finger of their right hand, or make a V shape with their fingers stand next to each other? It is witnessed that they indeed can. But one should not be misguided: This is neither a cohesion nor an agreement between different political identities and symbols. It is a one or two-day period of temporary people’s anarchism where the Kurdish color has remained notably pale. This experience has practically ended and the resistance devolved into a spectacle of festivities and celebrations after the surrender of the TaksimGeziPark to the protestors.

On the other hand, just as the GeziPark crisis was believed to be overcome, another unexpected incident burst out on the scene. As the center of the acts moved from Beyoğlu to Beşiktaş, a leftist movement, which CHP provoked at the beginning and which it hesitates now to embrace, took form. While CHP asked for a public apology from PM Erdoğan, the protestors in Beşiktaş demanded his resignation and wanted to walk toward the PM Residence. Hence, a leftist movement which aimed at toppling over the government in power was constituted. It is necessary not to confound this incident with the acts of civil disobedience centered in Taksim Gezi Park.

MHP which desisted from clashing with the police and even blaming the police—both of which it deemed as unacceptable—has completely abandoned the GeziPark to CHP. On the other hand, CHP which appeared to function as the protectors of the protestors has left the square to the protestors themselves. CHP is truly frightened about the prospect of acts of civil disobedience turning into an insurrection, and it is probably concerned about having created a “monster” in its efforts to oppose AKP. The reaction of AKP to the acts of civil disobedience which gave the appearance of an insurrection was especially harsh outside Istanbul for undercover police officers with clubs in their hands have also stepped in to become part of the brutal efforts of repression. The streets saw a clash between AKP and CHP (between their base voters).

In the meantime, criticism of AKP staff on the inside and criticism of international powers headed by the United States was rising, and PM Erdoğan had to resort to a discourse which tried to re-establish bridges with liberals after many years. The demand for the displacement of PM Erdoğan with President Gül, which had come to be widely voiced in liberal circles, began to be reciprocated. The Prime Minister was indeed going through very difficult times.

It is impossible for Turkey to enter the peace process with a politics defined by Turkish-Islamist fascism. The resilient Turkish-Islamist fascism of the AKP government which was embodied in the Prime Minister has been crushed with the withdrawal of the police and their surrender of TaksimGeziPark to the protestors. Accordingly, the ruling party had to revert from the position of “aggressive Islam” to that of “moderate Islam.”

But one question still remains in suspense:

What will be the fate of the protests whose center shifted from TaksimGeziPark to Beşiktaş, spreading to certain cities outside Istanbul? What will be the fate of these protests which CHP has already abandoned and waits anxiously for them to come to an end?

These acts betray the crisis of Turkish Left at the level of high politics. A civil movement which has stopped relying upon a military coup and which has gradually gained experience in self-government is arising. This transformation at the popular base of CHP which has functioned as a political and social stopper until now gives strong clues as to the possible forms people’s opposition might take outside conditions of war.

It is not easy for this movement to accelerate a possible peace process together with the Kurdish people. The declaration of MHP against any alliance with this type (one which could take the risk of clashing with the state) of leftist movement may be deemed as a positive development. The alienation of BDP from the recent developments is a major problem which demands the serious attention of the Kurdish movement.

If only BDP had examined seriously the publicized reports of the “prudent people,” they would have treated their relations with the base voters of CHP as an important matter. Instead of wasting their time with various conferences, they would have organized people’s meetings and shaped their conferences on these meetings.

It is not compelling to join the celebrations out of the blue with Apo (Abdullah Öcalan) posters and the slogan “PKK is the people, the people is here” after the surrender of the GeziPark to the protestors. It does not help the struggle of the people for BDP to engage in a fight with CHP over political capital by claiming to have instigated the protests with the GeziPark performance of their Istanbul MP Sırrı Süreyya Önder who ended up in the hospital like many other protestors. It does not help the struggle of the people for Kurds to vaunt their resistance by measuring their past sufferings against the suffering of the protestors.

Can the BDP elite pay strict attention not to confound the people councils with the Turkish Great National Assembly, the people meetings with conferences? In view of the contemporary events, it is not easy to respond positively to this question.

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