[This statement was released by Emek ve Adalet Platformu (the Labor and Justice Coalition) on 14 June. For the Turkish version of this statement, click here; for the Arabic version, click here.]
The intention behind transforming Taksim Gezi Park, replacing it with malls and hotels, springs out of a particular way of thinking that regards city space as property for rent. In every location undergoing gentrification, attempts are being made to clear the path for a new and elite style of life—partly modern, and partly conservative. We are witnesses to the fact that urban renewal projects in Ayazma, Sulukule, Tarlabaşı, or Taksim did not improve life standards of the poor and citizens at large; rather, they infuriated people.
Those opposing the rapaciousness of urban gentrification had been silenced before. They cannot sweep a similar act of silencing under the rug this time, as they are faced with an opposition that broke the wall of silence, an opposition that speaks louder in voice and is claimed by the people unlike ever before. People who fought for trees harboring the poor and homeless faced the harshest form of State’s hubris for protesting the top-down decision to transfer this park into capital. Desecrated by the police, protestors were forced to leave the park. Previously, they attempted to voice their reasonable demands through legitimate channels. However, assimilated in the tradition of Republican Sovereignty that was wayward and confrontational, the conservative ruling party closed its ears to these criticisms. Suppression of each and every reasonable and legitimate protest turned into a habit, throttled people, and led them to a politics of resentment. An opposition block that is unprecedented in its diversity conjured up spontaneously and came to light with a new style of opposition.
Wrongs done by the coup of 1998 are still in the memories of people; those atrocities remain unaccounted for. The party that claimed to be the voice of oppressed mirrors the barbarity of the tyranny it fell victim to. Though now possessed by other hands, unlawfulness still reigns. Thus, tensions that took over the streets this week were triggered by those who wanted to gentrify the city, while ignoring the opinions of its citizens, and last but not least by those who ordered the police to violently suppress the demonstrators.
We declare that it is a non-contestable right to make politics about decisions affecting one’s life. Ruling parties that came to power by elections are responsible for listening to and consulting its citizens. Politics of the people cannot be reduced to voting every four years. The government should stop blocking legitimate protests and terrorizing the opposition.
Meanwhile, we are aware of the fact that Kemalists of the ancien regime, who have been trying to delegitimize the elected government and daydream about bringing down the government by manipulating the rightful protests, are ill-intentioned. We condemn in the strongest terms the enhancement of the secular-religious conflict in hopeful or fearful anticipation of a coup. We invite everyone involved in the making of these collisions to calm down. We reprobate attacks made against hijabis; misappropriation of these acts of harassment by politicians is also despicable.
Ignoring the Gezi Park protestors’ demands, and subsequently labeling them as “plunderers,” reflects the arrogance of a political power that mistakes itself to be the country’s landlord. Ravaging of the environment, cars, and stores was triggered by the rough treatment by the police; whenever police violence stopped, protests took a peaceful turn.
Independent of the personalities occupying the government, we reprove the use of police violence against people. Legal arrangements to stop violent suppression of the right to protest must be made immediately. This country has not made justice to Kurds yet; neither have Alevites found peace, nor workers and the poor are taken care of; people are still dying in labor accidents; a small minority is getting more and more rich with the support of the State’s invisible hand; millions are growing poorer. A political grammar in which capital and domination sets the scene, which sanctifies political power and economic growth, does not reflect Islamic ethics.
In opposition to the arbitrary interventions into the city space, we cry out the priority of the poor. One way or another, pauperized ones exiled to the urban fringe will return to the center one day for their rights. Destruction, Derision, Expulsion: this cannot and should not be the only path for regenerating the city. Transformations can be legitimate and persistent only when people are empowered by processes that better his life world—not by coercion.
We declare that our sole criteria is justice from tyranny, our primary interlocutors are Muslims. We declare:
Our lives are changing. We will be leaving a different world to our children. We are constituting a new generation that finds its value in what it consumes. A way of life that is ignorant of ethics and altruism, that is arrogant and cruel, leads to a society that values power, status, and money. This path must be abandoned. Our neighborhood is dying out. We almost turned into a society whose poor and rich are praying in different mosques. Don’t you want our kids to be neighbors the poor, and befriend them? Consumption culture that finds its expression in malls is leading us all into a future from which we cannot return.
We are thankful to the protestors, who curbed the prime minister’s spoiled fantasies about building a barracks/mall/residence. At least everyone should be a good judge of the protests.
We, as Muslims, have not forgotten how media abused the whole country, and sullied the innocent fifteen years ago. Today, the conservative and mainstream media is using the same language to terrorize a certain part of the population—what has changed then? Did we forget what police forces have done to our kids? Why should police be rightful in persecuting others who are not like us? Is not justice a divine command that has to be kept alive against every form of hatred?
Did we forget our responsibilities before our—Muslim or not—neighbors? Are not we entrusted with the rights of others who do not resemble and think like us? Are not we obliged to defend the rights of those who want to execrably tyrannize over us with power and force?
If we want to regenerate the city, our method should not be destruction, expulsion, and derision; we should share our meals with others, we should keep up the justice, we should respect their lifestyles and keep in mind that we are responsible for calling them to the rightful path. Remember that prophets spoke softly to everyone. If we do not respect others’ rights, there is no way we can hold on to the rope of God.
If we are inclined to find governors who are unjust justified because we fear for our religious rights and holy spaces, we should know that our religion cannot be protected by a state or a party. By the will of God, our only guarantee is our belief and the sense of justice.
Being victimized in the past neither requires us to turn into tyrants nor to take the side of tyranny. Quite the contrary, it is our responsibility to appreciate others’ pain, fear, and demands. Suffering belongs to all. May God rest the souls of the ones who died in the events: Abdullah Cömert, Mehmet Ayvalıtaş, Mustafa Sarı, and Ethem Sarısülük. We are sorry for each and every nameless person who has been injured.
We find the following five demands made by Gezi Park protestors, and ask for the government to negotiate with the representatives of the Taksim Solidarity Coalition: 1) Gezi Park must stay as a park; 2) governors and the police chiefs, and everyone who gave orders for, enforced, or implemented violent repression, must resign; 3) tear gas, bombs, and other similar materials must be prohibited; 4) detained citizens must be immediately released; 5) all the meeting and demonstration bans affecting all squares and public areas must be abolished and stopped.
The protests we are witnessing show that a politics that closes its ears to the legitimate demands of society and ignores different opinions continues to produce problems. After all, and in spite of everything, if we learn to appreciate people’s right to the city and the ways in which they express this demand as legitimate protest and not a threat, this process will contribute to the transition to a more democratic and free Turkey.
Labor and Justice Coalition
Fatma Akdokur – Cihan Aktaş – Ümit Aktaş – Hilal Alkan – Nurten Ceceli Alkan – Kamile Batur – Mehmet Bekaroğlu – Ayhan Bilgen - Osman Bostan – Ali Bulaç – Sadi Celil Cengiz – Fatma Çiftçi – Yasemin Çoban – Mehmet Bülent Deniz – Mehmet Efe – Hikmet Eren – Alper Gencer – Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu – Cihangir İslam – Gülnur Kara – Gülsüm Kavuncu – Mualla Kavuncu – Hüda Kaya – Kadrican Mendi – Beytullah Emrah Önce – Ali Öner – Ahmet Örs – Yıldız Ramazanoğlu – Reha Ruhavioğlu - Cüneyt Sarıyaşar – Özkan Şahin – Abdülaziz Tantik – Mehtap Toruntay – Sabiha Ünlü – Ahmet Faruk Ünsal – Fatma Bostan Ünsal – Halil İbrahim Yenigün