Sunday, June 9, 2013

Where is all this going? The week in Silivri, the weekend in Gezi Park

I must be careful of words—the old cliches don’t work anymore. Freedom, democracy, liberty, tolerance—the wrong people have used them for the wrong things for so many years. Sometimes with good intentions, sometimes with bad. My ears hurt to hear them.

So let me paint a picture.

Gezi Park, Taksim Square—The heart of Istanbul. To the left of the stairs that lead to the park, the Kurds dance the Halay in an everwidening circle. The Kurdish flag flies and the radio blasts guerilla songs. A crowd moves past them—‘Turkey for the Turks’ Kemalists most likely with red star and crescent banners emblazened with Atatürk’s face. They chant ‘We are soldiers of Mustafa Kemal!’ Down the path a little bit, they will come across a group of gay men marching in the other direction chanting, ‘We are NOBODY’S soldiers.’ They are hamming it up big time. Between the two converging groups you find a tent for the Turkish Socialist Party—old school hardliners, and another tent of middle-aged Armenian churchladies distributing cookies. Down in the main square, some Black Sea people dance the wild horon.
A week ago--you would never have seen an Ataturk flag and a BDP banner together...

A few weeks ago, things would have been very different. The Kurds and Kemalists would have been fighting in the streets; the gay men harassed or jeered, maybe by the Black Sea boys, the Armenians would have been trying to keep a low profile and everyone would have beeb watching what they said—as afraid of each other, even, as they are of the government. But in Gezi Park this weekend they are all here, speaking out, without fear or censure. They don’t necessarily like each other—make no mistake about that--but they tolerate each other, they leave each other alone.

The media calls it a carnival or a festival or a party. But it’s much more organized than that—a funhouse reflection of a state. And together our protesters have created a miniature city within a city that reflects the dream of Martin Luther King—however ephemeral, however tenuous, however fast the army of police and marauders approach, people feel ‘free at last’.

Together, these disparate groups have built a ‘Museum of the Revolution’ pasting pictures of the police attacks and subsequent resistance in the abandoned trailer of the construction crew’s foreman. They have transformed the overturned and looted cars of the civil police into day-glo platforms of free speech—everyone grabs a spray can and writes what they think. And, in a first for Turkey, they write it with no fear or hesitation.

They’ve created a ‘Market of the Uprising’ where they distribute drinks for free. They set up a ‘children’s studio’ where kids get messy with tempera paints and create whatever they hell picture they want on huge sheets of white paper, emerging from their efforts covered in color.

They have trash teams that do clean up of the grounds and somehow have managed to publish two newspapers ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘The Future’ which they distribute among the hundreds of thousands of people who come to visit every day. They’ve set up a television station (online of course), a radio station, several different websites in a multiplicity of languages. They’ve created a ‘Parliament’ where different people come and debate each other and a moderator turns off their microphone whenever they get aggressive or insulting.

Now let me give you a bit of what Erdoğan’s AKP has in mind for these people—in case you couldn’t guess from the continuing brutal police attacks and arrests in Antakya, Ankara, Eskişehir and Izmir. Or from the tortures of detainees here in Istanbul (

You see,  I could not make it down to Gezi Park until Friday because the rest of the week my family was kept busy by the KCK show trial of my father-in-law and hundreds of others. The trial took place in Silivri and has been going on for almost two years. For some reason, my more enlightened work colleagues at the protests were under the impression that everyone had been released. This was a devastating blow to our morale. How could people aware enough to come to Gezi NOT KNOW??

For the past year and half, the trial has been held in Silivri prison’s old courtroom. The first time I was there, I counted about 60 chairs on the right of the court room for defense attorneys, another 60 on the left of the courtroom for government officials and parlementarians, in the middle over 200 chairs for defendants, and in the back a small section for visitors. Well we’re in the new and improved courtroom now. Recently completed, AKP authorities have added another section for defendants—I think it is up to 250 chairs now. There are now 180 chairs on the right for defense lawyers and 180 more on the left. The section for the journalist and parliamentarians is now in the far back corner where it is difficult to see or hear and numbers maybe 45 chairs—3 in a row and 15 deep. Only the first two rows could see anything.

What is the symobilism here? What needs is the government anticipating? Even larger mass trials with hundreds of defense attorneys and a pliant press that sits obediently and silently in the back?

The crowds here--these are the people that the Prime Minister is expanding the size of his courtrooms for.
These chairs are meant for groups like our young protesters—the children painting in the ‘art’ tent. The old lady distrubiting lemonade. The bagpipe band I saw perform on the square.

And when the protesters are brought here, what sort of justice awaits them? Well, let me give you a sample. Most things you’ll be forced to buy from the prison. Socks for instance. Your family won’t be able to bring much to you at all. And take a book because you’re going to be there a while. We waited a year while the court read the indictment aloud—it was over 2000 pages (you need that many for mass trials of over 200 people at a time) and while we waited for them to finish reading, our relatives and friends languished in prison, many nearly dying in a hunger strike last fall. The reward for the hunger strike? More of the police attacks the protesters are eating on the square and a year and a half of no visitations, five months of no outside contact, ten days in isolation. But if you have been reading this blog, you know all this.

So what happens to the protesters once the indictment is read?

These days, at our trial, the suspects are coming up one by one before the court and giving the statements of defense. They are allowed to do this in Kurdish now. There are three translators in the courtroom, though they have a hard job at times. After decades of prohibiting the language, no one is confident that they speak it well enough for a courtroom. And in many cases they don’t. Still, here is what some of the defendants said. I am summarizing from notes—this is not a word for word dictation and it’s been twice translated. But please government reporters and conspiracy nuts, rest assured, I am not hiding any sudden outbursts of ‘Hey everybody, I’m a terrorist! And I’m gonna get you!

These girls--some of the drunks and looters (chapulcu) Erdoğan spoke about. Will they be arrested when the show trials begin?

A man named Kemal Aydin was first—he once was the local chairman of the BDP offices in Esenler. After paying respects to the court and judge, he reminded them that he was a member of a legal political party, whose bylaws and platform had been submitted to the Constitutional Court and approved.

‘You say working for this party is a crime. Going to rallies, making phone calls—crimes. We submitted all the paperwork to your courts. Everything I’ve done has been legal and open. Your courts recognized our legitmacy—then how now are we criminals?’

Our protesters might make a similar argument—that civil disobedience is a legally recognized right protected by most constitutions in the world.

 ‘I am an activist,’ Mr. Aydin went on. ‘And I feel a great responsibility to my conscience. In our thirty years of activism, five of my relatives have lost their lives. One was my brother, one was my daughter, and three were my nieces and nephews. If you want to open a case against us, then you should start by opening their graves.’

This little looter girl and her drunk dad will be rounded up maybe, and the little drunk soccer fan above them, too.
The judge started to ask about contents of certain secret files whose contents have not been read aloud to the court—do we have no idea what they said. Have no doubt that enthusiastic police are preparing similar secret files for the protesters.

‘Our secret witness Haydar says you were present at rallies where terrorist slogans were chanted,’ says the judge.

‘Excuse me,’ Mr. Aydin answers. ‘But who is this secret witness, Haydar? How can I respond to that if I don’t know who he is? How do I know that your secret witness was not coerced into confession by torture or even real?’

Here you are—terrorist slogans at rallies. This is what the Prime Minister says about the Gezi Park protests now. Terrorist and secret agents agitating the masses. How many secret witnesses might this government find, how many ‘Haydars’ to accuse those braveyoung people in Taksim and Ankara and Beşiktaş and Izmir. They are clearly getting the stage ready—hundreds have been arrested already—five today were arrested in Adana (June 8th).

Perhaps police will use secret witnesses or phone recorders to prosecute this terrorist member of a marginal group
Osman Akdağ is another defendant who tried to explain to the court where he was coming from.

‘I have never spent more than one month together with my children. I spent 28 years in exile and when I came back, I was arrested within 3 months for ‘terrorist’ activities. How could I manage such a range of ‘activities’ in just three months!? I spent many years in prison in this country. So did my children. Many of my friends in prison suffered severe torture. One man lost his eyes. Two set themselves on fire to protest their treatment—one of these guys had been so badly maimed by police torture that he was paralyzed and we had to carry him to the toilet. And my story is not unique, hundreds upon hundreds of people experienced the same sorts of things. The only thing that prison gave me was time to learn to read and write—but the funny thing is one of your pieces of ‘evidence’ is a notebook that supposedly belongs to me. Well that notebook is 18 years old and was written long before I’d learned to write it. How is that possible? And how could I have written it in Turkish when I still can’t write that language? I write only in Kurdish!’

Police brutality, eyes put out, fabricated evidence—the net has widened now. Everyone in Turkey can now experience these things. How many eyes have been put out by plastic bullets in Beşiktaş and Ankara? Two young men have lost their lives to beatings—I heard rumors of a third this morning-- most likely by secret police—Abdullah Comert died in Hatay, the other boy in Eskişehir.

Perhaps these are the foreign spies that the AKP say instigate the crowd.
Defendant Ahmet Demirsoy speaks after the lunch break. ‘I am a conscientious objector,’ he tells the court. ‘I do not believe in violence of any sort.’

I think of the gay men with the sign, ‘We are no one’s soldiers.’

‘I am against all forms of militarism,’ he continues. ‘I saw villages burned, children shot and killed. I have worked to have everyone’s rights recognized. I emphasize the word everyone. Any militarized country says to its army, ‘You will kill take this gun and kill or you will die.’ They turn us into murderers or martyrs. I refused. I cannot be a terrorist, and I am no robotic follower. You say you have telephone recordings that show I was part of a ‘terrorist group’. Let me discuss one of your recordings. I was speaking to a French friend who had trouble pronouncing certain letters. He said, in French, ‘Lets go to Akhtamar’ but it came out like a guttural ‘Amara’ (The Kurdish name for the village Abdullah Ocalan was born). That is admissable evidence for you. The misunderpronounced name of a city spoken in a language your police could not understand.’

I think of all the foreigners I saw in Gezi Park yesterday—the marchers with signs in French, German, English and Dutch. How will police use this agains them? The police shout out for people not to listen to ‘provocateurs’ right before they gas them. The Prime Minister warns of foreign agents. What is it they have planned? They can twist anything you say into evidence. One of the tweets used to arrest the Twitter writers was ‘The police are here. Don’t come!’ This is proof of terror and incitement to violence?

The last person to speak is Mehmet Kıymaz. He repeats the argument that they have all been brought in for working for a party recognized as legal by the government. ‘I lived and worked in Küçükçekmece for  22 years. I retired in 2008 and became the BDP party’s accountant there. As the accountant, I was very busy and had to intend every single meeting and rally we had. It was my job! And now you say I am guilty for ‘my presence at certain meetings?’ I am guilty for performing my legal duties as accountant for a legal political party? Some of our people are very poor, as you know. I gave them bus money to attend our rallies—men, women, children. They couldn’t have gone otherwide. Bus money! And because of that you accuse me of funding terrorist organizations?’

The people in Ankara, from what I understand, were arrested by a similar leap of logic. By their protest in the street, they were fomenting a coup. Every action taken by a protester is interpreted as incitement to violence, a terrorist acts, plotting and meddling.

On Friday, June 7th, we got the news. 14 people in the KCK Silivri trial were released leaving 90 more behind in prison. And the one hundred or so who have been released are still being tried—let me emphasize that. Life sentences are being planned for many of them. And this is just at Silvri. KCK trials are being run all over the country—two more are in Istanbul alone. And people think they are all released. We’re forgotten—even by those who shouldn’t forget. After a few years they will forget about our protesters, too. They will sit in jail, yesterday’s news.

The government has already done away with the army in the Ergenekon case, for better and worse, and the Kemalist with the Balyoz case. Now the Kurds of the BDP are being finished off. One by one the opposition is being picked off. I suppose they have the Gezi Park protesters in their sights now. A big spacious courtroom is waiting, and 30 years of precedence.

Some more of the vandals and provocateurs who need to be rounded up for a mass trial
As you resist, remember what waits for you if you lose, and if you win, remember all of those who went before you. I admire what you’ve done. The whole world does. Carry forth in peace and fairness, and remember that democracy is for us all.


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