Those who wanted to march towards the Democratic Solution Tent were intercepted by gas bombs and water cannons. Yet you didn’t see them, although there were kids present in that march. You didn’t see them, because in fact you have been watching penguins every day for the past thirty years.
“Wait a second…We have been watching Diyarbakir from the same media for the past thirty years, have we not?”
On one of those days when the police were busy trying to repel the Gezi Park demonstrators with water cannons and gas bombs, Tuna Kiremitçi asked this very question in his column.
It was not like this was the first time Taksim was confronted with police brutality. Yet this time there were people at the square who came face to face with anti-riot armored vehicles. Some columnists following the events wrote again and again about how they were dumbfounded by the violence unleashed on the demonstrators, and about the indescribable disappointment they felt in the face of this violence.
They were disgruntled.
They were outraged.
They were dumbfounded.
Among them, there were those who had harshly criticized the Peace and Democracy Party [BDP] parliamentarian Sebahat Tuncel for “resorting to violence” when she had slapped a police officer in March 2011. There were also those among these columnists who didn’t even know about the incident.
Remember, three years ago, following the campaign of BDP-supported civil disobedience activism initiated to take a first step towards finding a democratic solution to the “Kurdish problem,” Democratic Solution Tents were erected in various cities across Turkey. The participants in these acts of civil disobedience had voiced three concrete demands: the right to education in their native language; the immediate release of political prisoners—particularly those convicted in conjunction with the Koma Civakên Kurdistan [KCK] (the “urban wing” of the Kurdistan Workers` Party [PKK]); and the cancelation of the ten percent threshold for the national parliamentary elections.
One of those tents was constructed in Silopi, and there were crowds who wanted to march to the tent on Newruz, the day of the Kurdish Spring festival. The politically and culturally charged meanings of Newruz might already be known to many: a celebration that brings together the Kurdish masses. And gathering thousands of Kurdish citizens of Turkey spells out “danger.” It is a celebration that has been banned by the state for decades on “security” grounds—a celebration during which armored vehicles routinely ripped through the crowds indiscriminately in spite of kids or others who might stand on their way. Newruz is a celebration and more; in other words, it is a gathering that has become synonymous with the word “tension” in the years following Abdullah Öcalan’s capture, subsequent trial, and final transfer to the Imrali prison, where he has been held to this day.
You haven’t seen them, but among those who marched toward the tent were the Peace Mothers: women known for their white scarves, who have dedicated their lives to ending the war—mothers who had sacrificed their sons, either as guerillas or as soldiers in the war.
There were old men among the marchers.
There are kids too.
You have not seen them, because you have been watching penguins every day for the past thirty years. You have been reading newspapers with “Good Morning Gezi” headlines.
Sebahat Tuncel was tried because of that slap. She was fined twenty-five thousand Turkish Liras. The court concluded that she had “attacked a state official verbally and physically.”
We have been watching the police brutality unleashed on Gezi Park demonstrators for days now. Since day one, I have been wondering what those Kurds who have had a chance to follow the events have been feeling.
We can of course pick and choose among countless similar incidents of state violence. Simply being Kurdish often suffices as a reason for verbal abuse and physical violence in Turkey. The fact that one is a parliamentarian does not affect this equation.
Take as a case in point Ahmet Türk, a towering and revered figure within the Kurdish movement in Turkey. Following his departure from a trial proceeding conducted in Samsun in 2010, he was brutally assaulted and his nose was broken by an ultra-nationalist citizen. It was obvious that there were serious security gaps in the incident. The security gap was so obvious in this case that, unlike other incidents where the courts routinely abstain from prosecution, two police officers deemed responsible for the incident were suspended. Two years prior to this incident, it was again Ahmet Türk, and again during Newroz celebrations, who was physically assaulted by police officers in Batman.
Or take the BDP Parliamentarian Ayla Akat Ata from Batman, who was shot in the leg with a gas canister during a demonstration in 2011. All attempts to open a full investigation were rejected on the grounds that Ata was not specifically targeted. The court decision read in part, “it has been confirmed in preliminary investigations in the area that (1) gas canister rifles were used at an angle and always directed towards the air based on an approximate distance to the crowd in question, and (2) due to the structural limitations of the tear gas rifles, it is impossible to target a person directly, and (3) canisters might have clashed in the air after release and changed direction due to the weather conditions and the volume of tear gas used…”
The moment one feels most hopeless is when one cannot make her voice heard.
Sometimes even setting yourself on fire, let alone screaming, is not enough to make your grievances understood.
Here, setting yourself on fire is not a metaphor.
We have had kids who set themselves on fire. Kids whose names you have never heard of.
Because sometimes whatever one does, does not suffice.
Then one ponders, “Either I cannot make myself clear, or they do not hear.”
This threshold is the most dangerous threshold there is.
It is threshold of “losing one’s sanity. “
And once a person loses her sanity…
Those whom you label as “having nothing to lose” are precisely those who have long passed that threshold.
Those confronting police brutality for the first time in their lives at Gezi Park struggled to grasp it.
“Why?” they asked.
They couldn’t fathom it: “How could the government in power, the police, and the state possibly do this to its own citizens?”
Young chappulers even wrote song lyrics, “My armored vehicle is spraying me?!”
Imagine villages, cities, and streets, covered in every corner by soldiers and police. Imagine a merciless state that hovers above you from the day you are born. Imagine your father shot in the head, and your mother held by her hair and dragged along the ground. Imagine people who are murdered by armored vehicles ripping through celebratory crowds, or by gas canisters while on their way to the supermarket.
These stories assembled here are anecdotes from the lives of Kurds living in the east of Turkey: real life stories, among which the Turkish media has played the three monkeys for decades. And all of a sudden, seemingly unusual suspects—inhabitants of Istanbul and Ankara—have experienced this violence. The state reacted just as it always has when confronted with a crowd with which it could otherwise “deal.” The state, with all of its might and glamour, landed in the heart of the city!
As I mentioned already, they simply didn’t get it. And Kurds, who have known for a while what state cruelty looked like, remained rather quiet. This is not to say that they did not support the protestors; in fact, they were at the forefront of the resistance in Gezi and beyond. Yet some of them did remain quiet on the sidelines, as if to say “Now, you see.” They were right.
In fact, there are thousands of mass graves under this soil. Now, right now, under your feet.
The state, for years, has been spraying, not water, not gas, not even plastic bullets, but real bullets on thousands of people.
I have acquaintances with whom I prefer not to discuss the “Kurdish problem.” I have seen, among them, ones whose faces turn purple from frustration, as they told stories of Kurds’ ingratitude with the rhetorical question, “They have received millions of dollars of investment, what else do they want?”
Now I hope those “ungrateful” Kurds have been understood even a tiny bit.
In my mind, beyond everything else, the biggest achievement of the Gezi Park demonstrations has been precisely that: being understood even a tiny bit.
[A shorter version of this article, with the same title, was published on 21 June 2013 on BIA ("Independent Communication Network"). The link to that version can be found here. This article was translated from Turkish by Emrah Yildiz.]