Occupy Wall Street has some questions for Taksim Square

In interview, Müştereklerimiz, “The Network for Our Commons” argues that the really invisible flag, here in Taksim Square, is that of “our resistance, and the power we can have when we get together on a common ground to reclaim a different way to live together.” 

8 June 2013

OWS: How did this begin and what were the intentions of your group?  Did you foresee the current upheaval and was this considered a potential outcome of your struggle to hold the park?

Müştereklerimiz: As is known, we all wanted to stop in its tracks a planned "requalification" of Taksim Square which would have erased Gezi Park and its trees, leaving only a green roundabout, a new shopping mall, a Mosque and a ring of pedestrian passages – so basically no public space as such - and definitely no way for people to gather as a crowd.

Honestly, no one could have expected what came next in the rest of the country. Gezi Park did not burst out of the blue; in fact, it is highly symbolic that we finally broke into Taksim Square exactly one month after the First of May, a day when hundreds of citizens trying to gather and march around the Beyoglu area had been brutally attacked and gassed just for the attempt to reach the square. Since that day, after we were humiliated and chased away on the excuse of the construction works going on in Taksim, there was never any let-up to the unrest. Any small group trying to gather in the streets around Taksim with any political demand would be systematically gassed on a daily basis. The area was completely militarized right in our faces.

The Taksim Solidarity Platform and the many groups it assembled had been active for months in its struggle to stop Erdogan's pharaonic plan to turn Gezi into a shopping-mall-cum-mosque-roundabout, as well as fighting against other gentrification processes going on. In this sense you can see what happened on May 1 as a first convergence of two streams:  the unions fighting against Erdogan's assertive capitalist depauperization of the working class, and the citizens' movements struggling for Taksim, Emek Cinemasi, and against a capitalist understanding of urban goods. Our network for the struggle to reclaim the commons, Mustereklerimiz, was actively working in this direction, sitting all these realities together around a table for quite a few months. May 1 was actually the day when we first tried to march together under a common flag.

What Gezi Park had given us was this powerfully symbolic chance to get together.

Uprooting five trees touched some sensitive emotional chords inside Istanbouli citizens. But seriously, in the first three days we were only a few thousand people trying to stop bulldozers, and expecting to do it outside mainstream media attention.

The reality is that we continued our action despite the escalating brutality of police, day after day. With our resistance we exposed a simple fact: state violence against all political gatherings had already gone too far. To the point that people spontaneously decided to take the streets, even more, reclaim their ownership of the streets, liberate the city from police, and set their own rules. And to do this even without any previous political involvement, and without knowing who this fight would be fought against. The rest is a miracle of solidarity and the power of the many. 

Q: How do you contextualize the current conflict in the larger political processes in Istanbul and Turkey?

A: The fight against AKP's attempts to capitalize on the urban spaces of Istanbul - but also on the water resources of the Tigris and Euphrates valley and turn them into profit for the famous 1% of  Erdogan's business partners - was an ongoing one. It was a stance taken against an assertive system of values which simply saw no use in public goods or even the historical memory of them. Therefore centennial neighbourhoods like Tarlabashi of Fener/Balat were threatened with evacuation of all their inhabitants just because it would be more profitable to turn them into luxury business areas; the communities in the South East were evacuated by force from their villages because big construction companies won lucrative contracts to build massive infrastructures; and old symbols - like Emek Cinemasi in Istanbul - had to be turned into shopping malls.

Such was the city according to Erdogan: a home-work-buy-reproduce container for families of spenders. Squares like Taksim not only were re-evaluated as dormant capitals waiting to be turned into money, they were also seen as a threat to the authority of profit. Taksim is the main central square of Istanbul and definitely a political symbol of defiance and workers' struggle. And workers have been the main target of Erdogan's other privatizing campaign, that of enterprises; with state factories being turned into stocks and long term employment vanquished into temporary, underpaid jobs. Thousands of families fell behind the wheel of Erdogan's famous 8% GDP growth in these years. All this while journalists, students and activists kept on being persecuted, tortured and beaten while the media turned a blind eye. 

In a word, it is now clear to us and the world that in AKP's “happy Turkey” no one was really happy. But had we not found ourselves fighting all together for the same patch of park, we would never have met each other. Had we not seen our neighbours smashing their pots outside the windows all night in our neighbourhoods, we would never have even guessed that everybody in this country was sorely miserable. But it was just a matter of raising our voices till we could hear each other. 

Q: As with all occupations and upheavals globally, including here in New York, we can imagine that with the growth of participants in this disagreement, the groups that compose the struggle have also grown in number. What is your sense of the compositional make-up or assemblage which has now come together to revolt? 

A: It is tricky, and sometimes it is scary. The joke is that for the first time you have soccer support groups fighting together. You have Kemalists shouting anti-fascist slogans for the first time, you have nationalists looking Kurdish groups in the eyes and sharing slogans, and they have both remained in the square for this all week.  They know they have to stay. And we bet they will remain till the end. It's a work in progress: something completely new is happening. It's a square in the heart of a country cleansing itself of decades of systematic burial of whatever contradicted the ideologies it was built on - a practice which denied the many traditions, languages, religions, cultures and histories which have nurtured this soil. Lately, some progress has been made by this government, true; there have been some seminal discussions about the Armenian genocide, some promise of a peace process with the Kurds.  But this was top-to-bottom puppeteering for the sake of public image. It is in Gezi that the country is finally getting together for the first time.

We are here and we are meeting each other. We now share common memories and a real, tangible common history as we struggle to find ways to live together in Gezi. And as we sit here together we hear about our resisting brothers under attack in other cities and we know we have to remain here with our differences - this is our future together. If it works in Gezi, it will work everywhere.

Q: Here in New York, as well as in images of the revolt, the use of the Turkish flag and the image of Ataturk give pause to many, the same way liberals or Islamists might raise similar concerns in other contexts. Does this current conflict have a chance to confront neoliberalism, Islamism, as well as the patriarchal ethnocidal state or are we (globally) perennially caught between these three facets of capitalist expansion?

A: There are so many groups, individuals, flags, adrenaline, hopes, balances - again, who knows where this is heading? There are people whose main protest is to drink against Erdogan's alcohol ban, there are people who are here for the trees, there are people who come here for a revolution, there are people who just come here to help distributing the food.

It is an open square we are surfing on. For sure, we all have an enemy: the capitalist policies of Erdogan, because his religion of profit is what unleashed police in the streets to protect his interests, it is what took the rights of the workers who came here with their unions, it's what wanted to deny a park to hundreds of families and a house to hundreds of inhabitants of these gentrified neighbourhoods.

So there are Turkish flags, ok. But there are Kurdish ones too. And balloons, and drawings, and burnt buses. There are the republicans shouting for the resignation of Erdogan, and there are the Kurdish groups who in sixty years have been promised a peace process for the first time only, by Erdogan. They have real interests at stake in that Government initiative working, but still they came here because they know what it means to be attacked by a state when you ask for justice and democracy. There is everything here. Does this stand a chance of confronting our many enemies? Who knows? It probably depends on how much we will let Gezi change us. So that those Turkish flags for example, whatever they meant before, might be taken back home one day as a symbol of something else. Because after all, the really invisible flag, here, is that of our resistance, and the power we can have when we get together on a common ground to reclaim a different way to live together.


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