Browsing the depths of social media for alternative and local takes on politics is not merely a form of procrastination but also, and more so, a great way to learn about unpublished concerns, rumors, and disappointments. And the fact that they are all untamed by political correctness is surely a big plus. Since the 7 June elections that ended the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) thirteen-year-long single party rule in Turkey, I have been heavily involved in such social media digging, mostly on Facebook, which offers more room for local-scale interaction.
Following the election, as was the rule for the last couple of elections, my newsfeed and the activist discussion groups I engage in have been filled with frustrated and bitter comments about the election results in locations facing serious environmental issues and possible risks of dispossession. Why would the people of İkizdere, asks one status update, vote more than forty percent for the AKP after all those hydropower plants that destroyed the entire valley? Another one sarcastically congratulates the entire Eastern Black Sea region for its “wise choice for the environment” in the election as the AKP is, still, the uncontested leading party in the region. One account was particularly furious with the results in Soma, home of the Soma mining disaster that took 301 lives just a year ago: “O.K. Soma! 301 deaths, a new coal-power plant, chopped-down olive trees and despite all this, still thirty-nine percent AKP! Well, what can I say? As you make your bed, so you must lie in it…”
The commentator who made the outrageous Soma comment was warned by others and reminded that most of the miners who died in the Soma mines were commuters living in neighboring precincts. Despite the fact that most of these frustrations stem from a certain ignorance about, and an unwillingness to grapple with, local power dynamics and politics, there still remains a question concerning the link between so-called realpolitik and place-based environmental and urban struggles that have inspired and been inspired by the Gezi resistance. How are electoral politics—or high-politics, so to speak—connected to the current state and ever increasing salience of spatial politics in Turkey? Was the urban and environmental oppositional tone of Gezi a mere background and excuse for dissidence instead of its core source? If not, how can that tone be heard in, and matter for, politics with a capital P?
Let’s be honest. At one level, the general elections on 7 June had nothing to do with Gezi and the spatial politics it grew out of and extended. The election agenda was to a large degree dominated by Erdoğan’s desire to increase his presidential powers and whether the post-election parliament would provide a distribution viable for the desired power realignment. The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) cleverly devised an election campaign that tackled this agenda head-on by positioning itself as the only option capable of halting Erdoğan’s ambitions. The more Erdoğan and the AKP strived to counter this attack, the more visible, mainstream, and convincing the HDP became. In a relatively short period of time, the HDP not only won the hearts and votes of a sizable non-Kurdish constituency, but it also dramatically amplified its vote share among the Kurdish population. Eventually, the HDP’s game changing campaign came to fruition: the party gathered more than enough votes to pass the national threshold, which was introduced by the military regime in the wake of the 1980 military coup to keep socialists, but mainly Kurds, out of the parliament. Thus, by more than doubling its share of the vote, most of which was stolen from the AKP trenches, the HDP singlehandedly toppled the thirteen-year-long reign of the AKP, while other party alignments remained more or less intact. To cut a long story short, one can tell an election story—and many do so—without referring to the urban and environmental awakening in the country whatsoever.
Yet, at another level, the 7 June election was indeed profoundly marked by spatial politics; it has urban and environmental roots as well as ecological repercussions that deserve further discussion. It may seem trite, but we should remember that this election witnessed a shift in votes from a party with a light bulb logo to another with an oak tree. Is this merely a coincidence at this specific post-Gezi juncture? Are these logos merely empty rhetorical devices, or do they have political content? I am inclined towards the latter claim, and propose to take the spatial and political ecological interpretations of the 7 June election seriously in order to better grasp the possible cracks and openings awaiting progressive politics in Turkey.
To start with the most concrete and the practical, we should examine the political parties’ election manifestos, which, for the first time, have taken up questions of the urban and the environment seriously. While the urban and environmental sections in the AKP’s manifesto were defensive and those of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) were busy trying to manage the balance between resource utilization and protection, it is clear that both parties were at least aware of the need to further elaborate on urban and environmental matters. The Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) manifesto, on the other hand, allocated surprisingly long and detailed sections regarding the party’s position and promises on key urban and environmental problem areas. Perhaps the most radical part of the entire CHP manifesto was the section titled Environmentally Friendly Social Life, in which the party deployed the concept of the right to the city and went so far as to offer a new ecological constitution guided by “the principles of immediate protection and rehabilitation” of the environment.
Although more concise in length and detail, the HDP’s manifesto was the only one that thoroughly incorporated an ecological outlook into the entire text. The Great Humanity manifesto of the HDP, which aimed to further the New Life approach from the 2014 Presidential Campaign by the party’s co-leader, Selahattin Demirtaş, successfully conjoined urban and environmental disputes with political economy, injustice, and inequality. This manifesto proved that the HDP is the only party that is willing to unapologetically discuss the force of capitalism on the city and the environment.
But, at the end of the day, who reads election manifestos? Even if we ignore them altogether, the HDP’s interest in political ecology should not be surprising for those who know how popular Murray Bookchin was among Kurdish youth throughout the 2000s. This is thanks to Öcalan’s Bookchin-inspired theory of the ecological society, which calls for decentralization and rural communitarianism to revitalize the war-stricken Kurdish countryside. One bold, but not so successful, application of this ecological opening was the ecologically-friendly agriculture village projects in Yüksekova and Viranşehir, sponsored by municipalities run by Kurdish politicians. Some of these ideas are now being tested in northern Syria, making the Rojava revolution even more interesting.
Nevertheless, it would be unfair to reduce the ecological perspective of the HDP to the Kurdish political movement. We need to situate it in a present that encompasses the current wave of urban and rural activism expanding to unexpected places across the country. Since the late 2000s, there has been an unprecedented surge in grassroots environmental activism, specifically in the unexpected reaches of the Turkish countryside, against the destructive and extractive infrastructure projects of consecutive AKP governments. Most of these resistant communities have been, to put it mildly, notoriously skeptical towards the Kurdish cause. HDP deputies and members kept a close eye on many of these cases, and on several occasions, secretly sent envoys to show solidarity under the radar. Building upon these small but sustained connections, the HDP initiated a national Ecology Assembly in which grassroots movements could scale up local disputes and struggles. The assembly may still be taking baby steps, but such initiatives nonetheless helped the HDP to reach out and establish some new relationships. Most recently, Professor Beyza Üstün, an activist scholar who travels from one disputed area to another giving public lectures on environmental hazards, ran on the HDP’s ballot and was elected from Istanbul.
If you ask me, however, the roots of sympathy and synergy between local resistance movements and HDP politics lie elsewhere. The burgeoning form of ecological activism in Turkey is, at the same time, heavily a place-making activity. Whether in the countryside or the city, activists protesting an undesired energy project or a mega-infrastructural investment on the grounds of their negative impacts to neighboring communities inevitably find themselves in a position to define and defend the authenticity of a place. That place is then invaded by construction vehicles, residents’ voices are silenced, and protestors are beaten up by security forces. So many times I have come across local activists who, disillusioned by police/gendarmerie brutality, sympathize with Kurds and finally shed their sense of disbelief regarding the violence Kurds have been subject to all along.
I have contended elsewhere that grassroots, place-based environmental activism has created a unique vocabulary and presented it for use within larger oppositional politics in Turkey. Life space (yaşam alanı) captures the gist of new environmentalism in the country. Anti-mining, anti-energy, and right to the city activists all define themselves aptly as defenders of life and/or life space(s). First coined by rural environmental struggles, the term “life space” soon proved itself to be handy, disseminating across various movements and becoming even more popular with the Gezi events. For these activists, life space is a useful definition of what they defend, as it is applicable for both urban and rural struggles; it embraces all activists from different walks of life (farmer, student, housewife); it rejects the dichotomy between nature and human; and it helps to differentiate grassroots activists from mainstream environmental organizations. Environmentalism as the protection of life space (yaşam alanı) strongly resonates with the contemporary language of Kurdish politics and the HDP with regards to their emphasis on the constitutive life of place and the value of place-making. They may correspond to a fraction of votes now—maybe not even that—yet the ecological and spatial struggles captured in the phrases new life and life space have immense political potential to generate unexpected alliances that go beyond election cycles into the long run.
In the meanwhile, the fall of AKP single party rule has already opened up certain opportunities for urban and rural movements in Turkey and can be expected to produce some critical gains in the short run. First of all, there are some signals suggesting a dead-end to the AKP’s construction-led speculation economy. The big winners of this era, real estate investment trusts, lost around 17.6 percent within the three weeks leading up to the election and lost an additional 6.4 percent on the 8th of June. Some controversial mega urban infrastructure projects had already been hoping for another AKP victory to overcome the current financial bottlenecks that they are facing. We can be confident, for example, that the most outrageously disastrous of all, Kanal Istanbul—a project that aims to construct an artificial waterway surrounded by residential projects in imitation of the Bosphorus—will not taken back off the shelf anytime soon. Now that the once unquestionable power of the AKP cadres has been shaken, we can expect bolder court decisions regarding the fate of urban and environmental disputes.
One early example hit the headlines just a few days after the election, when an Istanbul court cited environmental grounds to halt two roads leading to Istanbul’s controversial third bridge. It is argued that the decision may jeopardize the entire project, which, according to activists, aims to clear land for urban speculation rather than for solving Istanbul’s dreaded traffic problems. The following week, a Council of State Board halted an emergency expropriation ruling that was to clear land for Istanbul’s third airport, a serious threat to Istanbul’s remaining forests and watersheds. Although it is important to note that both of these cases were taken to the courts by urban and environmental activists, the upcoming period nonetheless requires new strategies that go beyond a mere defense of endangered life spaces. The contemporary setback to and sense of crisis in speculative infrastructural investments induced by the election could eventually be short lived if opposition groups take them for granted and leave them to run their course.
 By spatial politics or politics of space, I refer, on the one hand, to a political economy in which land speculation and enclosure become a dominant form of governance and a major source for accumulation, and on the other, to types and discourses of contestation that are in one form or another heavily rooted in and motivated by a sense of place. Although space is already political and politics have inevitable spatial repercussions, I want to draw attention to a particular recent condition in which space has become a central theme as well as a tool in politics. Urban and environmental disputes are two increasingly relevant domains of spatial politics in Turkey that predate the Gezi resistance but grew in scale as a consequence of it.
 Compared to the 2011 general election, in which many components of the coalition that later founded the HDP entered the election with independent candidates under the Labor, Democracy, and Freedom Bloc and gathered 5.67 percent of the total valid votes.
 Post-election analysis by Konda predicts that the majority of the HDP’s new electorate (fifty-three percent) voted for the AKP in the previous general election. The report is accessible here.
 Not only political parties but also activist groups published election manifestos. A leading example was the independent ecologist election manifesto penned by The Ecology Collective to create public pressure on political parties during the election cycle.
 For a comprehensive summary on the Kurdish political movement’s engagement with theory and practice in ecological politics, see Güllistan Yarkın, “Dünyada Dönüşen Mücadeleler Ekseninde Türkiye’de Kürt Hareketinin Ekonomi Politiği”, Toplum ve Kuram, 5: 63-91 (2011).
 It is, on the other hand, unfortunate for environmental struggles that Melda Onur, a CHP candidate from Istanbul, could not make it to the parliament this term. The tragedy is that a traveling activist deputy runs the risk of weakening ties with her home constituency.