The Yeşil Sol Parti [Green Left Party] held a successful rally within the scope of its election campaign this weekend in Yoğurtçu Park in Kadıköy, Istanbul. It is a symbolic place: during the Gezi uprising of 2013, this was one of the parks were so-called ‘forums’ were held: gatherings in which people discussed their criticism of the government and the road towards change. This brought back memories.
I lived and worked in Amed (Diyarbakır) during the Gezi protests. Although I did visit Istanbul briefly to take in the atmosphere of the protests and talk to people, I mainly watched it all unfold from the southeast. The Kurdish perspective was highly interesting. The cities in Kurdistan didn’t really participate in the Gezi uprising and were sometimes criticized for that perceived lack of action. Why didn’t they join this historic resistance for change?
Kurds had been asking the same question for a couple of decades already. Gezi was important and inspiring and brought groups of several political affiliations (and many people who hadn’t been political before at all) together. But the oft-heard framing that it was the ‘biggest popular uprising’ in decades, was an outright untruth. It revealed something about the perspective of (part of) the Gezi demonstrators and of some of the Turkey pundits: they didn’t recognize the Kurdish struggle as a popular uprising.
But of course, many Kurds supported Gezi. I was at a demo in Amed in support of Gezi, and one of the banners that I will never forget read: “The castle of resistance greets Gezi.” Amed as the political heart of the Kurdish struggle, the Castle of Resistance, was looking with approval and encouragement to the ‘newbies’ in political struggle. At the time, a peace process had just started between the state and the PKK, which made it difficult for the police in Kurdish cities to interfere there as ruthlessly as they did in Istanbul and Ankara and other cities. The friend with whom I went to the protest, was exuberant. In my mind I still hear her shouting: “Here we march and the police can’t touch us because of the f* peace process!” (She didn’t have much faith in the process, hence the f-word.)
Kurds had hoped for a very long time that larger sections of the Turkish people would rally behind their vision for the future of Turkey: a decentralized, pluralistic and democratic society. They had been organizing for decades already, they had millions of people fully dedicated to the struggle and they proposed a real alternative to the ‘one flag, one nation, one language, one motherland’ state. Such a grade of organizing and such a solid, realistic alternative are important ingredients for an effort to remove an autocrat from power.
Gezi didn’t have that alternative. The slogan was ‘Hükümet istifa’, ‘Government resign’, there was dedication to the goal of protecting lifestyles that didn’t fit the pious society that Erdoğan envisioned and increasingly imposed, there was resistance against the destruction of green spaces in the city, people stood up for what they believed in and cherished, but there was no real alternative.
And now the Yeşil Sol Parti, under whose banner the is HDP running in the upcoming elections, is rallying in Yoğurtçu Park. I would have loved to have been there, talking to people, ask them about Gezi, if they had been there, and how they feel now being back. At least, I may assume that part of the people who joined Gezi then were present in the park again this weekend, right? I find that inspiring and hopeful.
And interestingly, the Kurds are joining the Gezi demand of getting rid of the government. Jump or you support Erdoğan! It came across as rather superficial back in 2013, and it still does if the goal is just to kick him out of the presidential palace. For the Kurdish movement, voting Erdoğan’s power to smithereens is just the first step. What is that like for the Turkish opposition to Erdoğan they now share a short-term goal with? What will be built as an alternative? Will the opposition against Erdoğan evolve into opposition against the structures of the state, in other words, will they rally behind the long-standing alternative of the Kurdish movement, or not? I hope they will. When the Gezi spirit and the Castle of Resistance come together, the weight might be heavy enough to not just topple the tall man but also the oppressive structures underneath.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.