Monday, 10 June 2013

Do Not Forget Gazi!

Taksim and Gezi Park have been in the media all the time. It serves several narratives: it serves the narrative to forget about the police violence and the clashes that still take place in other districts of Istanbul and in other cities and it serves the narrative that the revolt is a revolt of the educated, mostly secular, bourgeois youth. Yet, all the while there have been massive clashes and huge demonstrations in other neighbourhoods as well, poor, working class, with a large Kurdish and Alevi population. The most notorious of these districts is Gazi, because of the so-called Gazi massacre that took place in 1995. Ezgi Başaran was among the few journalists to go to Gazi and show some actual interest in what is going on there. About her experiences she published a remarkable text in the liberal newspaper Radikal (here is the link to the original: which we have translated to a large extent (with only a few omissions):

We know Gezi Park by now. The police retreated from there. We read in the newspapers that a communal life is being created.
And there is Gazi, from where the police has yet to retreat. Every evening about 9 p.m. some 15 thousand people gather there. Every night ends with quite a bit of tear gas. And we still cannot read anything about Gazi - maybe because we have recognized it as the district where the plunderers and terrorists live, and to which there is no entrance.

Yet, this is an opportunity. The government proclaimed that all demonstrators are 'çapulcu', plunderers, extremists, marionettes of external forces. Now we know that not everyone labeled that way by the government is really what they say. Thus, we can also question our assumed knowledge about these people.

Yesterday afternoon I met young people, salesmen, and Veli Gülsoy, the dede [ the socio-religious leader in an Alevi community] of the Gazi district. Some of these young people are members of legal, some of illegal political parties. Here are some common points underscored by all of them:

They all say that they were at the barricades from the very beginning of Gezi Park. But once again, they were the first ones that were isolated and forgotten even if the police uses the most excessive force in Gazi.

They all get angry because the people in Gezi Park do not explicitly demand that the name of the third bridge to the Bosphorus should be changed. The government announced two weeks ago that the new bridge will be named after Yavuz Sultan Selim, the sultan who is responsible for the massacre of thousands of Alevi people living under Ottoman rule.

They all ask whether it is necessary that somebody dies in Gazi in order for the media (which was late in reporting even from Gezi) to be interested in what is going on there.

Although the demonstrations gained pace after the Gezi struggle, the first spark was the decision of the government to name the third bridge ''Yavuz Sultan Selim''. This is the point where the whole repression, unrest and resistance became concrete. Just as the military barracks depict the symbolic center of Gezi, the name of the third bridge is vital in Gazi.

Deniz - 32 years old / Member of a left-wing party

The prime minister claims that the Gezi resistence is organised by extremists, 'terrorists'. Let me tell you something. According to the mainstream media Gazi district is the home of these 'extremist' groups, isn't it? In this last issue that we call 'Gezi resistence', the 'extremists' are well behind the people. They cannot lead the masses even if they want to because this is an extraordinary case where unorganised, ordinary people march patiently every day, bang their pots and pans and so on. The 'extremists' have a lack of authority here. An illegal left-wing organisation was announcing by megaphone yesterday late at night: "We are not marching towards the end of İsmetpaşa Street, we stay here." I don't know whom they tried to reach with that announcement, but nobody listened to it. Members of those 'extreme' organisations obey the calls from above and behave in an organised way. This is not the case in these demonstrations. People do whatever they want to. We cannot make old women do what we say. They bang their pots and pans, and keep marching. On saturday evening all left organisations met at the cemevi and decided that we are not going to march to Ismetpaşa Street - towards the police station. At 9 p.m. people reached the police station. I had never seen something like this. The 'extremists' are not even in the dynamic of this movement, let alone being its leader. They are only a part of the mass.

Hasan - 27 years old / Member of a political party

The Alevis in this district have been oppressed by the state for a long time. While the doors of Alevi people were being branded by fascists in Malatya and Adıyaman, we were shocked as we learned that the third bridge will be named ''Yavuz Sultan Selim''. Even if the resistance stops in the whole country, Gazi will keep resisting as long as this name remains the same. We are not subjected to police violence for the first time. It began for us as we were born in Gazi. The young people here had learned to cope with gas bombs long before those in Gezi. The state uses many different methods to oppress this district - maybe because it is the most politicized district in Turkey. Not the riot police, but the special operation teams intervene when we demonstrate. You know, we are all ''terrorists''. The police that fights against us every night does not bother to interfere with the selling of drugs and the forced prostitution. We are not stupid. Of course we ask who is responsible for all these drugs and the forced prostitution. They think they can keep us under control with drugs and prostitutes. I have two elder sisters. They come home from work every evening, take one of the four pots that lie in front of the door and start demonstrating. Nobody tells them to participate. They have not been politically active except for voting. They have nothing to do even with the Republican People's Party (the CHP, mainstream party of Atatürk, the founder of the republic). Why do they participate? Because they are tired of being humiliated. Egemen Bağış (Minister for EU Affairs) said "horses do not die because dogs wish they would do so". We do not forgive minister Bağış ["bağışlamak" means in Turkish to forgive]. We reply to this excessive use of force through our use of excessive intelligence. But I have to say that many of us go no longer to Gezi/Taksim because people started celebrating there without gaining anything. I do not feel like going to Gezi.

İnan - 17 years old, high school student

Here we follow only the local press, Twitter and Facebook. Our newspaper is Twitter. We also know you [Ezgi Başaran, the journalist who made these interviews]. We would be glad if you could retweet news considering Gazi. Do this please, at least that. Many friends of us were directly shot by gas bombs. These floors were full of blood. One friend is still struggling for his life at the hospital. No one talks about Gazi. If RedHack would not have helped, there wouldn't even be a #direngazi TT. No one sees us. Thus, we do not look at the mainstream press.
Chairman and Alevi Dede of the Gazi Cemevi, Veli Gülsoy

There is a popular movement in Gezi. What is going on is now very clear since the police  has retreated. One cuts his bread and gives a half of it to the other. We went to Taksim too, and offered people fried cake. People do not know each other, but they know that they are brothers and sisters. Everyone has one demand: real democracy, freedom and the absence of oppression and tyranny. People from all layers want this. We support these people. But as an Alevi dede I must say that there is no place of violence and compulsion in our belief. Thus we beg young people not to dilapidate bus stations. Justifiable demands should be expressed by using democratic means. Gazi district has been excluded, insulted and seen as a place of 'çapulcu' (plunderers) for years. However, it is a district of low-income, but honest people. I hope that people will see the truth since we are all 'çapulcu's from now on. In our country things are happening that enrage the young people here. In comparison to Gezi Park our problems are much older. We cannot accept that the government wants to name the third bridge after Yavuz Sultan Selim, who is responsible for massacres against the Alevi people.

We do not just feel angry about this. We are deeply wounded in our heart, soul. We cannot accept this. We cannot sleep at nights. We will resist until the end. For us Yavuz Sultan Selim is as cruel as Muawiyah, Yazid and Marwan [caliphs of the Umayyad dynasty]. Is it possible that the state does not know this? No! They do this on purpose. This is why people have been demonstrating in Gazi for weeks. People call me every day and ask: "Dede, you stay there silently. Are you going to keep calm when they name another public property 'Yezid' in the future?" I call the intellectual Sunnis of this country to solidarize and struggle with us for changing this name. This is necessary for the sake of the whole country, my brothers and sisters!

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