Another World

Occupy May Day, image via

Occupy May Day, image via

Istanbul, April 30

Dear people,

I finally made it to the Bosphorus, and beyond. On the Asian side of Istanbul I was welcomed by my brother Memed, whom some of you will remember from my account of the days in Acampada Sol.

On the way here, many people spoke to me about this great city, about what a fascinating place it is, about all the things I should see here. I politely smiled, and promised them I would. But I won’t. I’m not here for the Aya Sophia, the Topkapi palace etc. I’m here for the Mayday riots in Taksim Square.

To make me understand what it’s all about, Memed filled me in on some recent and contemporary Turkish history. It’s a different world, really. This is not Europe any more, and it never will be. Things in Greece may seem messy from a political point of view, but Turkey is ten times worse. The left wing is even more fragmented here, if ever such a thing was possible. The right wing is fragmented as well. Plus, there is a very strong religious dimension, and there is the ongoing war with the Kurds.

In parliament there are only four parties, because of a very high election treshold. Three of these parties are nationalist. One is more religious (the ruling one), one is racist, one is ‘kemalist’. The only real opposition comes from the Kurdish party, allied with the left wing.

For thirty years the government has fought a war against the Kurds, a very dirty one. It’s not like the Kurds have been treated as second rate citizens, rather they have been treated as non-citizens. Their culture and language has been systematically oppressed. Their sons and daughters tortured and killed. Only recently has the government initiated a peace process and started to make some concessions, like recognizing the Kurdish language.

Since last year, Kurdish rebels have held ground for the first time. The Turkish army is not in full control of the entire national territory any more. In politics as well, their position is not as strong as it used to be.

Ultimately, in Turkey, national sovereignty lies with the army. Their role is to protect the secular constitution of the state. Once every ten years or so, the Turkish army stages a coup, or threatens to do so, to stem potential shifts towards islamism or socialism.

But there are more dimensions. Nothing is what it seems in Turkish politics. The whole system is wrought with doublethink. Among the dozens of pythonesque left wing splinter groups you can find racists and fascists, you can find communists among the islamists, and you can find government infiltration everywhere. In Turkey there exists a shady concept called ‘Deep State’.

Deep State, if there is such a thing, can be viewed as an invisible hand, beyond democratic institutions, beyond the army even, which infiltrates and controls the political life of the nation against influences from the left and the Kurds and the islamists.

All in all, there is no way for a stranger, or even for a native, to fathom the depths of Turkish political intrigue.

In recent history, political struggle reached its zenith with a small scale civil war between rightists and leftists in the 1970s. Nationalist Grey Wolves and revolutionaries clashed on a daily basis. It escalated on Mayday 1977 with a massacre in Taksim Square when snipers fired at the crowd from the surrounding buildings. In 1980 the military staged a coup. It meant the end of the conflict and the start of another, against the Kurds in southeast Turkey. In 1982 the army wrote a new constitution and the country evolved towards a kind of controlled democracy. In the meantime, the war raged on. Thousands were killed, thousands were imprisoned without evidence, thousands were tortured.

By now, economically, Turkey is on the rise. Tourism is booming, a real estate bubble is in full swing. It will take a few years for it to burst, but until then the rising level of wealth will probably be enough to keep political convulsions in check. Maybe there will even be a form of peace with the Kurds.

The revolution has emigrated to the east, with the Kurdish struggle, but nonetheless, tomorrow the people will try to force their way into Taksim square in occasion of Mayday. The unions will be there, as will the students, the anarchists and the Kurds. The police will barricade the square, the army will be on standby. The government has prohibited access to the square, so clashes are most likely.

Strategically, an assault on Taksım doesn’t make any sense. Like in Italy, Mayday is a valve which allows protesters to ventilate their frustration, and make it a little easier for them to bear the daily oppression during the rest of the year.

The Global Revolution team will be there to cover the events. This is the real revolution we are working on. Whatever happens, it will be live, for the whole world to watch.


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