Figen Yüksekdağ, jailed former co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), discusses the Gezi trial, the Kobanê case, and the need for Turkey’s disparate social movements to come together, in an article she penned for Yeni Yaşam newspaper.
We were struggling with the politicised judiciary once again at a hearing for the Kobanê case when the Gezi Park verdict came out. We were furious, but I cannot say that we were at all surprised. This outcome was inevitable, when the Gezi Park trial did not see as strong support as the Gezi Park protests did.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its coalition partner the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) wage their fight to stay in power over two lawsuits, the Gezi and Kobanê cases. Harsh sentences issued in these cases are President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s and his ‘Palace Government’s’ display to attain political victory and hegemony. However, these are also Pyrrhic victories. They fear the fury of millions, and they take it out on the activists and politicians they imprison on trumped-up charges.
This time, those on the receiving end of lengthy prison sentences were philanthropist Osman Kavala, architect and urban rights advocate Mücella Yapıcı, lawyer Can Atalay, journalist Çiğdem Mater – eight people in total who were part of the solidarity in the Gezi Park protests. This serves to intimidate the masses who took to the streets in 2013 against the demolition of the namesake park.
And what did that achieve? Were they able to erase the close to five million women and men who liberated the streets and the squares in the spring of 2013, their history, experience, consciousness, and their potential for uprisings growing in hidden gardens? Did the people who came to understand via direct action that peaceful protest and democratic resistance are rights, just go away?
Surely that is the desire of the people who consider the Gezi protests and the June Movement it bore to be an enemy invasion. For the last nine years, every time they lay their heads down to sleep they see a nightmare that is Gezi. And they think they can get rid of it in this way.
What struck so much fear was not that Gezi would turn into a deliberate, organised attempt to take down the government like they claimed. It was the great leap that those who felt hopeless and distrustful of their own power, who were desperate in the face of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) taking over the very rooms of our homes, and that this leap developed in a space of mere hours.
Speed and clarity developed simultaneously in Gezi Park. Hundreds of thousands of people who did not know each other beforehand found a fountain of organisation capability, a brilliant mind for collective creativity, and the grace to protect each other and show solidarity. In the span of 15 days, this spontaneous movement created a definitive aesthetic, communal living areas, and ethics that emerged from the barricades. So much so that the AKP and Erdoğan are crumbling under its moral weight.
The ruled overcame the rulers by the content of their actions, even though they could not take power. It is society’s power that lets the government know that its invincible armour has been pierced by rebellion. That is why Erdoğan cannot let go of his hatred for Gezi.
The government is hoping we will forget that in their 20 years in power, they failed to build themselves up even half as well as the Gezi praxis and half as deep. This is the psychological trauma that they hide behind the harshest of sentences they imposed on eight people. They would really love it if “this job” was “done” when they finalised the lawsuit, as Erdoğan said it would.
There is one thing the omnipotent palace has not been able to comprehend in the last 20 years: The people’s barricade.
The people’s barricades cannot fit inside case files. The right to democratic protest and resistance cannot be put on trial by any court. The reality of the people is an extensive, complex and multifaceted concept, but it is not abstract or dull. Those who issued these “shocking” sentences to eight rights defenders in the Gezi trial know very well that there is no individual responsible for the people’s resistance, that there were no “organisers”. But the very goal is to dole out punishment to the chosen enemy, in order to shock the masses.
They want to discourage society from taking on grand protests for their most fundamental humane demands using shockwaves that spread through the consciousness of millions. They wanted to pulverise social movements, make most opposition subjects fear their own shadows over a pressure of terrorism and provocation, and crush the right to take to the streets in a vise of enemy law. This order has long been implemented.
Are the politicians and women’s rights defenders facing trial in the Kobanê case not targeted by the same order? The democratic reflex in society and the self-defence and solidarity movement that developed against the monster that is the Islamic State (ISIS) are subject to attacks and punishment. The prosecutors demand 38 counts of life in prison. As they protected the perpetrators of the murders that took place during Gezi by police bullets, gas canisters and fascist lynching, they now want to implement the same order for the Kobanê case.
Of course when the case is against Kurds and the resistance is carried out by Kurds, the conspiracy grows exponentially. The Kobanê solidarity movement, just like Gezi, moved the honour and conscience of millions, and up to the point that the government gave death orders, it was a popular family event.
In the 6 to 8 October process, the government and paramilitary gangs carried out a massacre of more than 30 people. That must not have been enough, as they now seek to punish the people’s will via the lawsuit. This is an aggression that targets the very existence of Kurds, and their democratic actions, and their representative political will, leaving no space to breathe.
But, however hard they try, whatever angle they attack from, they cannot touch the essence of society’s movements. That can only be understood by history. The Gezi and Kobanê resistances, centred in the West and the East respectively, are social movements where the ruled classes took direct action on the political arena and changed the course of history, without waiting to be recruited. The ruler class could try anything it wants, tear down everything, but they cannot change this fact. History changes reality and shapes the future.
Gezi was the first breaking point for Islamist fascism that surrounded the people and squeezed it ever tighter. The spell was broken for the AKP and Erdoğan, who thought they were immune. Their story started to go backwards at that crossroads.
Gezi emerged during the peace process that started in March 2013, seeking an end to the four decade long conflict between the state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Certain opposition groups today do not see an affiliation between the two, nor a joint fate. That failure is why Erdoğan’s rule continued as long as it has.
But the political and psychological limits had been superseded when the Gezi resistance crossed the Euphrates River, and grew to include objections to the culling of forests in Lice, Diyarbakır (Amed) and the construction of fortress-like military outposts. Crowds that chanted “Resist Lice” for days in Taksim were a sign that a historic bridge was in the process of being built.
At this critical junction, the Gezi Resistance saw a severe attack and later disbanded in stages throughout Turkey. The 2014 movement by the people of Kobanê in northern Syria also developed in the middle of the solution process, and while it was seen more for its Kurdish aspect, it carried the spirit of Gezi. Because the Gezi and Kobanê movements were both products of intertwined issues, demands and sediment, and a time that people were extremely open for interaction with each other.
This is called a revolutionary situation.
The government crackdown on this shift in the revolutionary situation that started in June 2013 and lasted until June 2015 was harsh, and bloody. They attacked the will of the people that manifested itself in Gezi and Kobanê. It has been years since, but their hatred has not died down.
Because they fear to the death the collective courage of peoples, the periphery taking over the centre in politics – as Erdoğan puts it, the possibility of “the feet becoming the head”. Peoples, women, the youth… As they discovered the right to resist in all its glory, they defended its legitimacy with great daring. They also learned how to prevail as they resisted. The Gezi and Kobanê movements have left behind a legacy of gains that the whole society can hold on to.
Today, more than the unrelenting and stark vengeance attacks, we must focus on our gains and how we can develop them further. Any and all people who are not happy with the current order should come together around the values and gains of both Gezi and Kobanê. Should they fail, no development could take place. And no emancipation.
I am talking about defending the right to democratic resistance with a consciousness to bring together the two ends of the country. The flow of history and the tyrants force all of society and all those who have a claim to be the political vanguard to come together. Without understanding this obligation, nobody can have their own corner of a peaceful garden.
Raising the struggle with an understanding that our cause is for political freedom, in the face of the Gezi and Kobanê trials, as well as the lawsuit to shut down the HDP, will inform the future. It will be a mistake to not defend the political dynamics of society that are represented in these cases, what society has accumulated, and society’s potential for change. This will damage today and delay tomorrow.
But still, a joint line of defence could turn the Gezi slogan, that still resonants in our minds, into a reality. It could lead to a new and stronger beginning. Those defeated by fascism as they were fragmented could come together for, this time, victory.
Kandıra Type F Prison