Early presidential and parliamentary elections are planned for 24 June 2018 in Turkey, which will also mark the transition from the previous parliamentary system to the autocratic presidential system. We asked several activists about the upcoming elections, their impact on national and international policy, the state of left politics in Turkey and its future.
We begin with Burcu from the women’s movement in Istanbul:
On March 8th millions of women all around the world went to the streets to protest for their rights. Also in Turkey, however, even if the protests on international women’s day have been an ongoing thing, this year’ masses and their undeniable power came as a surprise. This is mostly because the Erdogan regime has become even more authoritarian so that resistance has become an almost impossible undertaking. How comes? Who are the women taking the streets? And what are they aiming for?
For the last few years here in Turkey, the motto, as I always say, has been “If there is oppression, there is resistance”. After May 2013 and our experiences around Gezi Part, it seems that the world just started to look at the authority of the Erdogan Regime. But in fact, the internal conflict and the challenge of women within the scope of the official rights have been going on since the birth of the country, just like almost anywhere else. We can clearly observe increasing violence against women in these last years in Turkey, just like almost anywhere else. As scholars use to say, in times in which militarism rises, violence against women does so, too. We can see such tension in the US, in France and in Syria. Just as we feel this violence by the guns of the army taking the streets of Paris, we feel it by the speeches of Erdogan in the Turkish media. Therefore, I can imagine, you are also under effects of mainstream media as we are!
In Turkey, we are exposed to the voices on television that try to teach us how we as women should behave, how we should react, what we should wear, how many children we should have! And let me tell you, it’s not easy to hear the soft voices of the struggles among all this noise. But it’s a choice, you can whether expose yourself to it, as the authorities force you to, or you can just shut down the TV and go to live your life. A lot of women try to do that! We can see that in the modest women organisations in universities, in rural areas, in occupation organisations, in our neighbourhoods – we can see that there are a lot of women who chose themselves how to live!
The women taking the streets are from different economic, cultural and social backgrounds. They are the women who can’t tolerate mansplaining anymore, who don’t want to have children under the state’s demand, who want to wear what they want to wear, who care about the safety of their lives or their friends, family or children as well, who are against the oppression of the state and against its state of emergency, who ask for the freedom of expression and who stand up to men’s violence! The protest on March 8th is somehow part of our daily life – and I think that the practice of daily life in a patriarchal and heteronormative society can already be a political act. For me it is a certain way of living, but it can just as well be understood as resistance.
You yourself are active in the feminist movement in Turkey; can you elaborate further on your work and your involvement in the protests as well as what being a feminist means to you?
I was part of a feminist group in a socialist co-organisation for three years until the Gezi protests. In that period, I was one of the organisers of the March 8th protests. Here in Turkey, feminist praxis grows with open calls by initiatives, if it’s by organised women or by single persons. Therefore, I was active in a couple of these alliances, like ‘Kürtaj Haktır, Karar Kadınların’. After Gezi, some women of our former organisation founded a blog called ‘Mor Masa Ritüeli’ to establish a platform to share articles, news and inspirational stories of women. One year ago, we joined forces with more women to found an international collective called ‘Atina’ – and we’re up to expand!
From my part, being a feminist means how I produce and reproduce my life in a political way, how I become a subject of my own life and how I can create a model of solidarity with women beyond power relations. I did have a dream to change the world as a feminist; however, after a while I realized that it needs to start with me, with you, with our little circles. If we continue these hierarchical structures, if we’re not able to speak face to face, to my mom, my sister, my friend, the struggle will go on. If I don’t start to ask myself how I reproduce the power relations in my life and how I have become a masculine gender, it can’t be a feminist surrounding that I live in. That’s why I try to discover the ways of being a feminist starting from my daily life; I try to keep discussing the methods and tactics to elaborate all my identities. Also, as an architect I question how to incorporate feminist strategies, if it’s in the construction of architectural models or research discussions, it’s very important to me to elaborate solidarity between women with the help of feminist tools.
Considering the strengthening of Erdogan’s politics, the protests on March 8th immediately gain greater significance. Women are taking the streets, not afraid to present their vulnerable and precarious bodies to the world – bodies that are subject to patriarchal, capitalist and authoritarian forms of repression which leave them in the invisible in most cases. But by reversing the repressive order, they use the power of their bodies as a tool of resistance and – as one could conclude – turning the protest into an anti-capitalist and antiauthoritarian movement. Do you think the women’s protest does have the potential to do so?
Sure, I do! As you mentioned and as I explained above: the presence of female bodies in the public is already a potential danger for the authorities. So often, Erdogan gives speeches directly to women, mostly to reprimand them or to give advices as if he were our dad. Clearly, the Turkish authorities aim to control women’s bodies. They are angry men! Last year, violence towards female bodies increased. It doesn’t matter which political or religious background you have, masculine gender power knows that if you are in the public, you are political. We don’t need to make a big movement. We, as women, don’t just stand around! When we just start to walk, it seems we run! Whatever women do, suddenly, it has a huge effect.
On March 8th, so many people were watching our togetherness! That’s exactly what we’ve needed for a long time, to see joyful women on the streets and to feel the energy of the revolution. At the same time, ‘revolution’ is not a meaningful word to me. As Ursula K. Le Guin said: “You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.” Let me tell you a story about it; two years ago during Ramadan, a woman who was wearing shorts was kicked by a man in a bus – and she reacted! She ran after him, as we could see through the camera on the bus later. And she didn’t let go! She directly went to court. She was on TV all around the country with her demands. Finally, authorities had to respond publicly. The former Prime minister stated: ‘He was not a normal person. You may not like what kind of clothing she wears, but in that case, you can talk to her quietly!’ You can see, it was a wonderful act to refuse to listen to him. To be revolution means to create a feminist way of living and to consciously disregard the talk of dad’s, husband’s or authorities.
Seemingly, there is a connection between the women’s struggles in Turkey and the revolutionary concept of feminism by the Kurdish women’s forces that serve as a role model for an antiauthoritarian feminism worldwide. Can you give some examples for that and explain the relations as well as the reactions towards the fascist politics of the Erdogan regime that threatens not only the Kurds in Turkey, but also the idea of Rojava in Northern Syria?
Since the beginning of the historical feminist movement in Turkey in the late 80’s, women have always declared their solidarity with the Kurdish struggle. In each of meeting, conference, panel, declarations, all the statements or discussions are in Turkish and in Kurdish as well. It started like that in order to situate the Kurdish struggle within the feminist movement. As a matter of fact, we cannot divide these two strands of resistance; they are clearly interlaced! Their relation was even highlighted by Erdogan who once drew a horrible analogy between the Roboski massacre and the abortion of a child. He stated that “every abortion is an Uludere”, meaning that abortion is comparable to the brutal murder of 34 Kurds in 2011. This is the moment when we should come together and shout out loud ‘Abortion is a right, Roboski was a carnage!’
We observe very precisely what happens in the Kobane region and have very lively discussions on that; we agree that what we can see there is how resistance can become a way of living – and we can learn so much from it! Just the possibility to settle an alternative system that counts on ecologic, gender questioned and anti-capitalist matters… I mean, there are still some problematic issues that need to be discussed further, but it’s a process, it’s a road and not a target for the Kurdish fighters. Their philosophy gives us the strong feeling that we can also be part of it, not only in their region, but everywhere; it’s a role model for us to see how we can unite mutual/collective/common struggles in order to understand that another world is possible.
The 8th of March is only one day of the year and as many feminist’s demand, the 8th of March should consequently be turned into an everyday matter. What are the aftermaths of the protests in Turkey? Will the movement continue after this unique day? What can we expect? Will the Turkish revolution be a feminist one?
It’s already an everyday matter, I can say. It doesn’t start with the 8th of March and it doesn’t stop afterwards. However, 8th of March is an important day because it brings us together and makes us take the streets. It evokes a common feeling and reminds us that we are together (which is not so obvious all the time). But we also connect in the bus, at the workspace and in our families. These may be small wiggles, but they together lead to the annual 8th of March protests! After this day and after this reminder of our strength, it becomes less frightening and more comfortable to be politically active.
As I can elaborate more openly, we have the example of Çilem Doğan who killed her brutal husband while he was trying to kill her. So, Çilem was only defending herself, and he subsequently died. She was a woman who was trying to live, just live! What happened then? She was jailed. When she was taken by police, she was wearing a t-shirt that said ”Dear Past: Thanks for all the lessons. Dear Future: I am ready” – by coincidence. With the help of feminist solidarity, she was advocated well! And she is free now. When she got out of prison, she thanked the women’s solidarity! She confessed that she had no idea about feminist solidarity or sisterhood before a big group of women saved her life. She was with us on the 8th of March this year, too. She is now more involved, more active, politically… So it’s growing, it’s continuing with experiences. I cannot prescribe for the Turkish revolution, but I know from Gezi also, any small or big change in the world should progress with a gender perspective, and it will be with the help of these little shakes.
In June, Turkey’s next election will take place. What can be expected? And to what extent will the elections affect the women’s movement?
I can’t predict anything from now. Everything changes so quickly. I don’t believe in the idea of representational democracy. Besides, it’s not our choice how the current parliament is constituted, in particular since it’s way more centralised ever after the last elections. Despite of that, I think it’s important to have more women in Parliament who defend our rights. Together, we need to step up against violence, inequality of working conditions and for better rights for LGBTİ-Q.
But to be clear, we don’t and we won’t let the parliamentary system push our agenda back. We’ll see what our next steps will be after the election. It’s obvious to us that we need to organise ourselves even more and even better. It won’t be easy, but it also won’t stop our dances and our joy, just like Emma said: “If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.”