Secular Resistance in Turkey: Challenge of Building a Movement

Published on ZNet, by Ali Saysel, July 28, 2013.

In a previous ZNet article summarizing the events between 31st of May (the date of street anarchy) and 17th of June (the date of police conquest of Taksim Square), I expressed that the defeat was the start of a third phase in mass mobilization, launched in several public parks in Istanbul. Also, quoting a commentator in dissident internet media in Turkish, I referred to the movement as “secular resistance”, because it had a mixed class character dominated by young middle classes, fundamentally arising from their discontent towards ruling AKP’s shift from its conservative Islamism towards arrogant Turk-Islamism. (See: … short restrospective Look …).  

Right now, an internet blog irregularly publishing minutes from park forums reveal that there are around 80 forums in Turkey, almost half of them in Istanbul, and a few more forums abroad in major western cities where sizeable Turkey originated students and professionals live. Public participation in forums has been declining throughout the month (except in major protests that I will be outlining below) and we cannot hold an accurate account on the current level of activity all around these forums.

In this article, I will be focusing on the developments in two relatively large public parks in Istanbul, Abbasaga on the European side, and Yogurtcu on the Asian side of the city, which I think both play a central role in secular resistance. Abbasaga is located in Besiktas, a secular large district on the Bosphorus close to Marmara Sea, also famous with its fan group Carsi (meaning “the bazaar”, indeed a group reflecting now disappearing neighborhood solidarity, something more than a mere fan group), who had been actively involved in the previous phases of the resistance. Then one can cross the Bosphorus by a 25 minutes boat ride and reach in Kadikoy on the other side, another large secular district which hosts Yogurtcu park … //

… After all, majority in the resistance condemns militarism, but it is not difficult to observe that there are several reservations against the peace process that has been launched on 21st March between Turkey and PKK. Apart from the “secession syndrome” of right and left wing nationalists, many seculars are skeptic against the role of “American imperialism”, “Turkish-Kurdish Islamism” and some have resentments towards Kurds for they did not become an active component of the resistance. Very few people observe that, a true struggle for earning democracy is only possible with peace, which is fragile if not truly embraced by the public at large. Similarly, few people are ready to observe that even the events after 31st of May became possible with the truce that avoided familiar chauvinist funerals which has been poisoning the country’s social atmosphere for decades.

Indeed, right-wing civil fascism is a potential threat against park democracy, in a country like Turkey where civil paramilitary groups had been conventionally mobilized against democratic forces for over decades, so as to strengthen the state control and legitimacy over diverse groups who might potentially fall in conflict. In a relatively small district in Istanbul, in Yenikoy for example, the park forum was intimidated by civil groups carrying sticks, choppers and machetes. Next week, the same happened in a small forum in Kocamustafapasa and was responded the next day at the same park area with an “earth iftaree” of the forum activists joining from other districts of Istanbul. If the fighting in Kurdistan resumes, it is also likely that fascistic harassments can be intensified and can create a profound dispersive impact on the resistance’s course of action.

Another observation is on the Alawites, a very large religious minority in Turkey, who had been largely involved in the resistance. On 2nd of June, there was the annual memorial parade and public meeting for the 33 Alawite intellectuals who have been killed in Sivas in 1993, when a hotel was set to fire by Islamists mobilized by unidentified groups. This event is used to be the largest Alawite meeting, traditionally voicing genuine Alawite demands on their civil rights. There was a parade to the meeting platform from Yogurtcu, as well. This years meeting had relatively low participation, most of the demands uttered on the stage and chanted by the people repeated those in Taksim rather than touching on genuine Alawite issues. Alawite involvement in the resistance and the movement’s demands towards Alawites’ rights is not articulate either.

Secular resistance is faced with the challenge of building a movement. Park activists work to create activities that will help educate participants and create mechanisms to keep resistance on. On the other hand, ignorance or hesitance in building bottom-up assemblies with a capacity to formulate the demands and strategy of the movement is crucially delaying this process. The position of the resistance towards peace, political democracy, civil rights and the neo-liberal economic policies assaulting the commons nation-wide needs to be clarified from the bottom. A park activist says “we do not really know how we can discuss regional-national demands other than local problems in the neighborhood assemblies, because people are yet trying to evaluate each others’ position and are quite guarded against each others.”
(full text).

Link: Make your Master of Social Work MSW at the USC Vitual Academic Center, on University of Southern California USC: /Homepage USC, /Vitual Academic Center online – Start Now, MSW@USC Technology Video, 4.05 min, /Contact.

Comments are closed.