New Texts Out Now: “Resistance Everywhere”: The Gezi Protests and Dissident Visions of Turkey
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Anthony Alessandrini, Nazan Üstündag, and Emrah Yildiz, editors,“Resistance Everywhere”: The Gezi Protests and Dissident Visions of Turkey. Special issue of JadMag (February 2014).
Tadween (T): What made you create this pedagogical publication?
Anthony Alessandrini, Nazan Üstündag, and Emrah Yildiz (AA/NÜ/EY): On 20 June 2013, Jadaliyya launched the Turkey Page; the majority of the articles published in “Resistance Everywhere”: The Gezi Protests and Dissident Visions of Turkey were published either in the few weeks before or just after the page was launched. So in one sense, this collection can be seen as the culmination of the launch of Jadaliyya’s coverage of Turkey, and as an attempt to bring together some of the most important themes in the coverage of the Gezi Protests, their precursors, and their aftermath by Jadaliyya contributors.
Beyond that, this publication continues the work that the editors of the Turkey Page set out when we first launched the page in 2013. At the time of the unprecedented moment of the Gezi Protests, when more and more readers throughout the world found themselves asking, “what is happening in Istanbul?” we noted that much of what was being written about Turkey, especially in English-language publications, tended to fall back on simplistic frameworks and predictable forms of analysis. We saw the launch of this page, and Jadaliyya’s continuing analysis of Turkey more generally, as an opportunity to enrich the coverage of Turkey throughout the English-language media, to generate new critical conversations, and to translate work being published in Turkish for an English-language audience. Even before the page was officially launched, we found ourselves attacked by a pro-government newspaper in Turkey, so we figured we must be doing something right!
T: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does this JADMAG address?
AA/NÜ/EY: The collection is divided into five sections. The first section is intended to provide material that could serve as a background to discussing and analyzing the Gezi Protests, while the subsequent sections provide analyses of the protests from a variety of thematic and disciplinary perspectives.
As we note in our introduction, the sudden explosion of the Gezi Protests in late May 2013 to some extent obscured another crucial set of political events in Turkey, which received much less international attention: the peace process initiated in early 2013 between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the potential end to the thirty-year war that has been waged in Turkey. While this is certainly not the only recent political development that needs to be understood in order to provide some context for discussing the Gezi Protests, it is certainly a massively significant and under-discussed topic. Furthermore, as many activists in Turkey have argued, the tactics deployed by the government against the protestors in Gezi Park were invented in the state’s struggle against the Kurdish resistance. Accordingly, three of the articles in the first section of the collection focus on the Kurdish question. Selin Pelek and Foti Benlisoy discuss the Turkish state’s mass arrest and incarceration of Kurdish politicians and activists, which reached ten thousand in 2012, a process that Pelek and Benlisoy describe as “politicide.” Ayça Çubukçu focuses on the December 2011 Roboski massacre, in which bombing by Turkish military planes killed thirty-four young villagers. In her contribution, Sebahat Tuncel notes the role that has been played by various forms of resistance by the Kurdish people; many of these same forms of resistance came to play a major role in the Gezi Protests. Additionally, in order to put Turkey in the context of the region and to discuss its much-discussed “model” role, the first section also includes an interview with Aslı Bali, who discusses Turkey’s foreign policy and how the current government has adopted a policy of engagement in relation to the Middle East. Her insights challenge taken for granted interpretations of the AKP, revealing continuity with former Turkish governments in more than one way, including the current government’s relation to the Kurds.
The second section, “The Nature of the Gezi Resistance,” provides a comprehensive analysis of the nature of the protests. Emrah Yıldız engages with the question of whether the protests can be categorized as secularist and hence anti-Islamic, demonstrating that such categorization does not provide a proper framework of analysis. Instead, he sketches out the multitude of political and social worlds that came together under the banner of “resistance” in Turkey and discusses their plural subjectivities and practices as “areligious” political formations. In her contribution, Nazan Üstündağ responds to a much-debated question during the Gezi Protests: Can those who participated in the protests be divided into well-intentioned but naïve youth, on the one hand, and the sorts of “marginal” political groups decried in inflammatory terms by Istanbul governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu and Prime Minister Erdoğan, on the other hand? The final article in this section is a photo essay by Christiane Gruber, chronicling the fifteen days of Gezi Park and Taksim Square and revealing the protestors’ powerful use of visual culture.
The third section, “Sexing and Bodying the Resistance,” focuses on how sexed and gendered discourses were deployed throughout the Gezi Protests, both by those carrying out the protests and by those members of the government who worked to suppress them. Zeynep Kurtuluş Korkman and Salih Can Aciksoz elaborate on the masculinist nature of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s rhetoric, and describe how Gezi protestors responded to him by inverting the very same patriarchal idiom that Erdoğan has exploited with such skill. HikmetKocamaner looks at the deployment of patriarchal notions of the family by government officials eager to quash the protests, and also at how the Gezi resistance has subverted patriarchal notions of the family and motherhood. Meanwhile, Zeynep Gambetti analyzes the bodying of the resistance in Gezi Park, comparing the apparatuses of the state and the “vehicles of death” deployed by the government with the bodily politics created in Gezi Park.
Part four, “Resistance to Neoliberalism,” works to connect the Gezi Protests to anti-capitalist protests throughout the world, including the “Occupy” movements in Spain, Greece, the US, and Brazil, among other places. Cihan Tuğal shows how the Gezi Protests revealed the limits of Turkey’s neoliberal success and argues that for this reason, among others, a Marxist interpretation of the events is long overdue. Aslı Iğsız describes how the AKP has drastically transformed Turkey’s fundamental legal framework, and elaborates on how such changes have allowed the government to restrict any opposition to the institutionalization of neoliberalism. Finally, Erdem Yörük compares Brazil and Turkey in terms of their economies and their respective governments’ responses to protests, as well as connecting the demands of the protesters to the analytical purchase and political mobility of “social class” in both countries.
The final section, “The Struggle for the City,” investigates how the Gezi Protests have targeted the neoliberal policies of the AKP and carried forward the struggle around what David Harvey has called “the right to the city.” Jay Cassano discusses how the Gezi Resistance can be seen as the culmination of an ongoing struggle for public space in Istanbul, linking it to earlier mass protests, such as those that attempted to save the historic Emek Cinema off Taksim Square. Ufuk Adak discusses how the political agenda and rhetoric of the AKP has been fed by what he calls “Ottomanalgia”: a carefully constructed nostalgia for the “glorious” Ottoman past.Sarah El-Kazzaz challenges the common tendency to claim that the Gezi Protests are about “so much more than just the park,” arguing that the struggle for Gezi Park needs to be understood in the context of the AKP’s larger politics of space: its urban reconstruction projects, its housing policies, and its production of markedly Islamic aesthetics. Finally, Timur Hammond and Elizabeth Angell discuss the politics of space that emerged during the protests and how multiple subjectivities, imaginations, and publics played themselves out in and beyond the park and the square. They also issue an important note of caution, arguing that “rather than reading these protests simply as struggles over a single generic ‘public space,’ we might more productively ask about the kinds of spaces that are involved and about the publics that are organized in and through them.”
We conclude the volume with a list of resources for further reading and research: not only a bibliography of books and articles of interest, but also a list of films and documentaries, maps, and social media resources.
T: What is the significance of focusing on the Gezi protests in Turkey?
AA/NÜ/EY: Besides the fact that the Gezi Protests, unlike many political developments in Turkey, received global attention, focusing on them provides students with a critical angle to understand many of the problems facing Turkey and the region, such as armed conflict, neoliberalism, and gender. The Gezi Protests have been unique in catching the attention of international audiences. But there is an important political and sociological background to it, which we think the collection successfully communicates. Also, since there are movements in so many parts of the world that are creating protests like those of the Gezi resistance, it gives the researcher the opportunity to compare and contrast.
T: What do students and educators have to gain from this compilation?
AA/NÜ/EY: We would love it if this publication was read by a wide audience. But first and foremost, we envisioned this publication, like the other JadMag pedagogical publications dealing with the Arabian Peninsula, Western Sahara, Gaza, and Algeria, as a tool for students and instructors, something that could be used very concretely in classrooms and for teaching and research projects. The individual pieces, together with a list of resources (compiled by Elif Sarı) and a pedagogical guide, will hopefully prove to be of use to educators and students working at many different levels, both those who are looking for a solid introductory guide to contemporary political developments in Turkey, as well as specialists seeking deeper analyses of the Gezi Protests and their aftermath.
T: How does this work connect to and/or depart from your previous research and writing?
AA: My work as a co-editor of this volume (and, more generally, as a co-editor of the Turkey Page) is a bit of a departure, in that my overall work has not often focused directly on politics and culture in Turkey. I have learned a huge amount through working with my fellow Turkey Page co-editors, all of whom deserve credit for the work contained in this volume. However, this collection definitely relates to my previous work dealing with connections between popular resistance movements in different locations—for example, connections between popular movements in Egypt and Palestine and the Occupy movement in the United States—as a way of raising questions about the nature of solidarity in our current context. So I hope to work to make further connections between the forms of resistance that we might discuss under the heading of “the Gezi Protests” and those that I have already been writing about in my ongoing work.
NÜ: I write on the Kurdish conflict and the peace process a lot. The Gezi events were the first time since my dissertation thesis that I focused on Istanbul or anywhere else other than Kurdistan. In that sense, it is a departure. However, I am a sociologist of violence and the state. In that sense, it connects well with my previous research.
EY: As a student of social anthropology and transnational flows across and beyond the borders of contemporary Turkey, this work ties intimately with my ongoing scholarly work. My work as a co-editor of the Turkey Page and the process of co-producing this volume have in tandem provided me with an invaluable opportunity to bring together my scholarly training and political thinking in real-time analysis—an assemblage which I had not explored in writing prior to the Gezi Protests. The seemingly strange alignments of dissident political action that laid the groundwork for the Gezi protests also provided vital social grounds through which I could rethink and refine my research interests in the anthropology of Islam and secularism as well as that of political economy and citizenship. That said, as both the culmination of our collective editorial work on the Turkey Page and the consolidation an important archive on one of the most important episodes in the history of modern Turkey, the volume is also much bigger and dearer to my heart than any of my research to date.
T: Who do you hope will read this JADMAG, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?
AA/NÜ/EY: We hope to reach a wide audience—first of all, teachers and students, but also anyone who is interested in reading about contemporary developments in Turkey. We hope that this volume can give them clues on how to approach the workings of the contemporary state and its oppressive mechanisms, as well as how resistance unfolds. We want to open up a debate on thinking about Turkey and the Middle East in general in a way that would question traditional binaries like secularism and religion, or development and underdevelopment, or gender oppression and women’s emancipation.
T: What other projects are you working on now?
AA: I have just published a book called Frantz Fanon and the Future of Cultural Politics: Finding Something Different, which revisits Fanon’s work as a way to ask some questions about the potential role of cultural politics in a number of contemporary political struggles, as well as to think through the question of what solidarity might mean in our current political context. While it was completed too late for the book to consider the Gezi Protests in any real way, the work I try to do in this book is, I hope, relevant to a consideration of these protests and other forms of resistance in Turkey. I also have a chapter coming out in a collection dealing with the Egyptian Revolution—my chapter focuses specifically on attempts (and failures) towards establishing solidarity between New York and Cairo—edited by my Jadaliyya colleague Reem Abou-El-Fadl, and another chapter in a forthcoming collection that is due out this fall, Retrieving the Human: Reading Paul Gilroy. I hope to get underway on a new book this summer.
NÜ: I have been writing a column in the newspaper Özgür Gündem and am a member of many peace organizations in Turkey. So most of my time is dedicated to researching, thinking about, and actively being involved in the peace process and in struggles for more democracy in Turkey and the wider region. Besides that, my article “The General Economy of Kurdish Male Bodies and State Pornography” was recently published in Erkek Millet Asker Millet (Male Nation, Soldier Nation) and another article of mine on the Gezi events and the various ways in which difference was dealt with was published in Sıcak Haziran (Hot June). I have also written two articles on gender and the peace process in the journal Feminist Yaklaşımlar (Feminist Approaches). Currently, I am in the process of turning some of my longer political pieces on Gezi, on the AKP, on hunger strikes, and on the peace negotiations into academic articles and eventually into a book that will be called The Longest Year of Turkey. My other book project is a theoretical one on violence and the state.
EY: In addition to co-editing this volume along with Tony and Nazan, I have recently published an article titled “Cruising Politics: Sexuality, Solidarity, and Modularity after Gezi” in The Making of Protest Movement in Turkey: #occupygezi—edited by Umut Ozkirimli. (The volume features expanded versions of several articles that first appeared on the Jadaliyya Turkey Page.) My contribution to the volume places the LGBTI and queer individuals at and after the Gezi Protests, and their remarkable collective action, at the center of my analysis, with a view to explicating the connections between sexuality and solidarity. This piece examines the emancipatory potential of Gezi Park’s expressive and explosive political momentum and its contribution to the ways in which queer politics could be imagined and practiced anew. I also have an article coming out in Turkish in the “borders” special issue of Toplum & Bilim on cross-border contraband commerce across the Turkey-Syria border. Another piece that focuses on constructions of market integrity and state sovereignty vis-à-vis trans-border informality in Gaziantep’s Iranian Bazaar will appear in a forthcoming collection this fall, Informal Market Worlds: An Atlas. Meanwhile, I continue writing my dissertation, tentatively entitled “Zainab’s Ways: Pilgrimage, Contraband Commerce, and Borders across the Iran-Turkey-Syria Triangle.”
Excerpts from “Resistance Everywhere”: The Gezi Protests and Dissident Visions of Turkey
From Anthony Alessandrini, Nazan Üstündağ, and Emrah Yildiz, “A Brief Introduction to ‘Resistance Everywhere’: The Gezi Protests and Dissident Visions of Turkey”
On 20 June 2013, Jadaliyya launched the Turkey Page; the majority of the pieces in this collection first appeared on Jadaliyya in the weeks just before or just after the page was launched. In a sense, “Resistance Everywhere”: The Gezi Protests and Dissident Visions of Turkey is the culmination of Jadaliyya’s coverage of this summer’s events in Turkey.
The Turkey Page appeared in the midst of the ongoing violence unleashed by Turkey’s municipal and state authorities against the biggest protests Istanbul has witnessed since the 1970s. These protests first erupted in late May, in response to the government’s plans to demolish Gezi Park and replace it with a shopping mall in Taksim Square, at the heart of Istanbul. The “Gezi Protests”—as they came to be known—soon spread to Ankara, Izmir, and the rest of the country, attracting tens of thousands who were dissatisfied with the majority government of the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP), under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
As is now all too well known, the government responded to these protests with gas bombs, rubber bullets, and arrests, which resulted in five deaths and thousands injured. In June, when the protests were at their peak, Gezi Park and Taksim Square were completely occupied by the protestors (some have taken to referring to the protests as “Occupy Gezi”); an estimated two and a half million people came to the Square at least once. Even when the police took the Square back using extreme violence, and subsequently banned people from entering Gezi Park itself, people did not go back home. Instead, they invented new forms of resistance. The slogan “her yer Taksim, her yer direniş” ["everywhere is Taksim, resistance everywhere"] found its most concrete footing, as people’s forums continue to be held in parks and neighborhoods throughout the country. The experiment with direct participatory democracy that began in Gezi Park continues today in many places throughout Turkey.
In the months leading up to the Gezi Protests, there was another crucial development in Turkey that remains ongoing, underreported, and underanalyzed today: the peace process initiated between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the potential end to the thirty-year war that has been waged in Turkey. As Sebahat Tuncel suggested in her May 2013 article “The Process in Turkey,” included in this collection, this peace process could not have been imagined without the ongoing public acts of resistance by the Kurdish people, including a sixty-eight day hunger strike initiated by incarcerated political prisoners in September 2012 that received broad support both in Kurdistan and in Turkey.
While the peace process is an ongoing and delicate one, an opening has been created, and as Nazan Üstündağ has put it in relation to the Gezi Protests:
it is the people and not the state that have taken up that chance. Turks had for a long time accumulated anger, insecurity, and mourning in their abdomens, while resorting to racism, indifference, and fear to suppress these feelings. The gas of the police, while clouding their vision, has also caused them to face their truth: while they were being manipulated by a meaningless war against Kurds, an ever growing alliance of capitalism and state was denying them their life spaces, their past, their reality, as well as their freedom of expression and association.
The opening provided by the peace process, if it can be taken up, has the potential to transform, not just Turkey, but the whole region.
Protests by the Kurdish people against state repression and violence in Turkey, although frequent, barely make the news, in Turkey or elsewhere. The Gezi Protests, on the other hand, received, for a brief period of time, worldwide media coverage. The fact that millions of people from all walks of life, including women, youth, secularists, leftists, “anti-capitalist Muslims,” LGBT and queer folks, and even soccer fans would take to the streets, resist the police, and continue to find new forms of resistance was unprecedented, receiving enormous public attention and astonishing lay people and experts alike. The subsequent democratic experiments carried out through people’s forums and other forms of ongoing resistance throughout Turkey have received much less attention; nevertheless, the Gezi Protests, and the continuing resistance they have inspired, have the potential to call attention to the many forms of resistance throughout Turkey, not just against the policies of the AKP, but also against various sets of local and global forces of repression.
This volume aims at providing a basic introduction to these interrelated sets of events in Turkey, which have already made history. It also works to situate these events in their global and local contexts and strives to contribute to ongoing debates about state-citizen relations, regimes of state control, and forms of dissident and collective political action that continue to generate tectonic transformations in the region that is commonly referred to as “the Middle East.”
The Gezi Protests are frequently discussed in comparison with the so-called Arab Spring. This comparison has something to do with the simple fact of Turkey’s geographical location. But it is also related to the fact that the protests addressed large questions about the nature of governance in Turkey, rather than focusing on specific issues. The protesters’ demands centered on limiting the ever-increasing power of the AKP government, which has shown an utter disregard for—and, increasingly, an open hostility and belittlement towards—those who do not belong to the electoral majority that brought the AKP to power. In an era when Turkey is continuously referred to as a positive model for other states in the Middle East (as Hesham Sallam has noted), the Gezi Protests and the Kurdish resistance have shown that Turkey might actually have more in common with the most repressive governments being resisted throughout the region.
Of course, the essays here only begin to touch on the many issues and multiple possibilities opened up by the dissident visions that have begun to make themselves known throughout Turkey. We hope that this collection will provide a background for understanding the ongoing events in Turkey, and will inspire and generate further investigation, analysis, and solidarity. We also hope that these essays, which present their own dissident visions, will carry something of the spirit that has illuminated the Kurdish struggle for peace and justice and the joyful struggle towards a new and better world that emerged in Gezi Park and Taksim Square alike, and all the other forms of resistance that hold the possibility of making Turkey a democratic “model” of a very different kind.