Post-Suruc Turkey

“Today, it is from the collective efforts around the Kurdish movement that we are learning what a society made up of free individuals might look like in Turkey.”

Cagla Aykac
6 August 2015

In the Gazi neighbourhood during the funeral of three of the people who died in Suruc. Several HDP party members and politicians hold the banner with the portraits: Figen Yuksekdag, to her right Sebahat Tuncel, to her left Ertugrul Kurkcu, and on the far left, Pervin Buldan.  Photographer: Ulas Yunus Tosun.

It has been not much more than a couple of weeks since 31 young activists were killed in a suicide bombing in Suruç on the border between Syria and Turkey. On July 20 2015, around noon, our social media was suddenly flooded with uncensored images of torn bodies. It took some time for friends and families to identify those who had died and those who had survived.

In such recurrent moments of trauma in Turkey, it has become habitual to share photographs and information about the lives, the dreams, and the ambitions of the lost ones. Those who died and those who survived had in common a belief in the radical democratic autonomous movement in Kobane and it was a joyful sense of human solidarity.

The inhabitants of Suruç already know how to deal with emergency situations. Over the past year, they have seen waves of men, women and children flooding through their small city. They have seen the building of three refugee camps filled with people waiting to go home, young and old Kurdish and Arab Syrians waiting behind barbed wires at the border after having walked through arid lands for days, fleeing for their lives.

Then there are the visitors – the Italian, Dutch, French,Turkish, Kurdish, American activists and journalists interested in the radical political project which is the making of Rojava; and the jihadist as well as anarchist fighters on their way to fight and possibly die for their cause, whether it is the consolidation of an Islamic State or the creation of autonomous democratic zones.

On July 20, the people of Suruç opened their houses to the wounded and drove them to nearby hospitals in their cars as ambulances were slow to come. Being scrutinized closely by the local Turkish police forces for no comprehensible reason did not stop them from helping their fellow human beings.

The 300 people who had set out on a journey to create a park, set up a theatre, and help with the reconstruction of Kobane were searched many times on their way to Suruç. The man who killed and wounded them were never searched. As in other numerous deadly attacks in Turkey, there is still no attempt to track down responsibility, complicity, or negligence on the part of the local and national security forces. 

This culture of impunity is not new to Turkey. Right before the elections, the explosion that took place during the Diyarbakir meeting of the HDP was only the most recent of a long series of politically motivated crimes that remain unaccounted for. Dead people became a convenient cause for the immediate illegitimate military action. The victims suffered the attack while the perpetrators went unremarked.  

Violence in the region is multi-faced. In the days before and after the attacks, forests and mountains were set on fire in Kurdistan. Local people with no resources tried to rescue animals and stop villages from burning down. The state helicopters omnipresent in the region were nowhere to be  seen as the fires continue to rage. Once again, the Turkish state was involved in destroying its own human and natural resources and failed to protect its people, simply because it sees some of its citizens as threats and targets.

 In this unbearably raw tiny stretch of time we have seen Turkish warplanes take off to bomb obviously pre-determined locations that had no logical relation to the suicide bombing. Meanwhile, since the Suruc massacre, more than a thousand people have been arrested, and every day, we see more people arrested, wounded, and found dead. Particular neighbourhoods have been subjected to heavy military operations; all of them created as a result of the mass internal migrations of the 1990’s, when Kurdish villages were burned and emptied of their population by the Turkish state.

Today, as forests continue to burn, we know that anyone might be beaten up or arrested at any time and we are told that there are potential bombs that might kill more of us as we go about our daily lives. 

All this is no surprise; since February 2015, the setting up of the Internal Security Law had been paving the way to restrictions on the right to assemble and manifest opposition, while extending the rights of the security forces to detain, search, and harass the population. Just like it was in the case of the gag law enforced in Spain in June 2015, civil society actors and lawyers have written reports about the undemocratic aspects of the law, protests have been held in the streets, and independent members of opposition in parliament - mostly future HDP members – have occupied the assembly with their faces covered, all trying to stop the disaster that we knew was coming.

War talk has invaded our lives in the past fortnight. Suddenly we found ourselves closer to war than to peace. The narrative of war came along with questionable quantitative data about the AKP government’s alleged tracking and extradition of ISIS members. The claim that the AKP now considers ISIS a terrorist organization came as a surprise to many of us. It did not make much sense, since we had seen photographs of Turkish military officials hanging around happily with ISIS members on the border, and AKP representatives arguing that since there was no discrimination in Turkey, wounded ISIS members had, as Turkish citizens, the right to be treated in Turkish hospitals. 

The journalists that had unveiled information and photographs of trucks full of arms going from Turkey to Syria were fired from their jobs and put on trial. While the military power of Turkey has been set in motion without going through the procedures laid down in the Constitution, the motives and actors of this war are still unverified.  

The killing of young activists was condemned by AKP representatives in passing; but the focus on self-defense and the mention of ISIS procured them a rapid international blessing. Then, PKK strongholds were bombed and people were arrested all around the country.

Yes, there is a missing link. International relations experts will tell you that the aim is to create a safe ‘buffer zone’ between Turkey and Syria, erasing once more all the Kurdish people living in the border region. But what this truly exposes is a total lack of interest in trying to stop a conflict that has been raging in Syria for years. 

Yes, there are many other missing links, but after all, Tayyip Erdogan wants to be president, and it is the success of the HDP in the June elections that has stopped him in his tracks. The AKP and the President of the Republic, Tayyip Erdogan, are making it clear that more people will be arrested and punished. Those who are directly and openly targeted in public speeches are not ISIS members or whoever it is who killed all those people in Suruc. The targets of their ire are civil society actors, journalists, intellectuals, and members or supporters of the HDP. The Turkish state has already started waging a war against its own people.

Peace walks are being organized in many cities in Turkey. Security forces, silent and absent during fires and attacks, were everywhere once this began. Men and women were hurled aside on pavements, handcuffed, and kicked in the back and in the face. In a new performative twist, 10 to15 heavily armed police officers (along with non-matriculated civil police and their unidentified friends) isolated 1 to 5 protesters, beating them up in public, stopping onlookers from intervening while making them watch. These images, in social media, circulate together with those of a few ISIS members being respectfully escorted to police stations on foot, without handcuffs. These juxtapositions are reminiscent of images circulated by media activists in America in the past year. We too have seen the images of black people being thrown to the ground, getting beaten and dying for minor offenses, while the young man who killed 9 Black people in the Charleston Church Shooting was politely escorted by the security forces.

Before all this happened, a week ago, we were on the brink of a real peace. Many people, particularly politicians, researchers, and lawyers involved in the larger Kurdish movement for rights and freedoms have been working hard for peace for years. They have studied peace processes around the world, trained themselves, established timelines, developed strategies and a new language for negotiation.

All those involved in the movement never stopped working diligently even though their children have continued to be beaten and killed, their offices burned and attacked, their political representatives physically assaulted and lynched in the media.

Many Kurds have been supporting the AKP since it came to power, attracted by its religious discourse and its courage in officially starting the peace process. However the politics of the AKP in Kobane, and its insistence on continuing to build military facilities in the region have motivated many Kurds to turn towards the HDP in the latest elections. The Kurdish armed struggle started in the 1980’s with a Kurdish nationalist discourse aimed at the creation of an independent state and inspired by Marxist ideals. But today the actors in the movement have diversified and are defending a post-national project made up of democratic autonomous zones that would be multicultural, multilingual and community based, environmentally friendly, post-capitalist and feminist. 

All the actors involved in the Kurdish movement do not always agree on methods and strategies. Although this creates tensions within the movement, not agreeing and developing multifaceted strategies to solve societal, political, and military issues seems to strengthen rather than weaken the movement; all the actors insist that they are collaborating with each other but that they take their decisions autonomously. Abdullah Ocalan, from his prison cell with irregular access to visitors and lawyers, continues to be the much loved and respected leader of the people.

After the June 7 elections, during a meeting organized in Bakirkoy to celebrate the electoral success.

After the June 7 elections, during a meeting organized in Bakirkoy to celebrate the electoral success. Ulas Yunus Tosun.Meanwhile, the HDP has been leading the efforts to participate in party politics. They have successfully overcome the 10% threshold to enter parliament in the June elections, after seeing their political parties being closed down and their politicians jailed for years. Civil society actors, journalists, mothers, filmmakers, writers, musicians, poets continue to work as they have always done, despite threats to their lives. As more and more people from all walks joined the Kurds in their efforts to built up theoretical knowledge and democratic practices, the HDP made us see for the first time the potential for a country based on a culture of debate, critical thinking and reflexivity.

There was a lot of hope and fear before the elections in June 2015. The lack of trust in the electoral system led to massive civic engagements to monitor the elections. We knew that there could be fraud, corruption and bullying during the elections, but we did not how much of it there would be. There was a gigantic disparity in the financial and material resources available for the electoral campaign. HDP representatives were harassed and lynched in the media, some of their members went around on bicycles distributing pamphlets that might have cost them their lives while the AKP representatives monopolized municipal buses and television channels, their big cars taking them from massive meetings to the big illegal palace of the President of the Republic. 

Despite all there was hope. The HDP allowed us to imagine the possibility of having a parliament with representatives of all sexual, ethnic, and religious minorities and large numbers of women. Throughout the years, the Kurds in Turkey have gained the support of a limited range of civil society actors and individuals bit by bit. Small bits of the history of oppression and humiliation of minority peoples in Turkey have begun to be discussed, with the dates and places where massacres and tortures took place and the names of those who had been killed.

There was hope that we could finally recognize catastrophic events in our history and that we could finally start a collective process of healing and reconciliation. Moments of empathy multiplied in small sections of society, and individuals from all walks of life had to deal with the reality that they had not known, not seen, or not wanted to see - the racism that fellow citizens had been subjected to.

Today it is from the collective efforts progressively built around and with the actors of the Kurdish movement that we are learning what a society made of free individuals might look like in Turkey. We never came this close to seeing democracy at work. The old secular Turkey with only Turks is gone, and we do not yet agree on what we want the new Turkey to be. But we have all been unleashed, all together, in this terrifying space.

In Bakirkoy, celebrating the electoral success.

In Bakirkoy, celebrating the electoral success. Ulas Yunus Tosun.

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