One of the most hotly debated aspects of #OccupyGezi has been the nature and degree of Kurdish participation. Although from the beginning Kurdish activists have participated intensively in most of the #OccupyGezi protests in metropolitan cities in Turkey, and some MPs of the pro-Kurdish BDP have been closely involved in the movement, the participation of the Kurdish political movement as such — especially in predominantly Kurdish cities — could be at best qualified with the adjective “cautious.”
On the ninth day of the massive protest wave the KCK (Union of Communities in Kurdistan) made a statement calling on the Kurdish people “to take initiative and fulfill responsibility by working with the democratic forces in Turkey.” Abdullah Öcalan and Murat Karayılan’s hailing of the Gezi resistance followed. Still, everybody knew that the Kurdish people and their main political organizations did not concentrate their forces on the resistance.
The reasons for Kurdish caution were hardly secret.
First, Kurds (i.e., most of the Kurdish people who follow mainstream Kurdish political organizations) were wary that #OccupyGezi could harm the so-called “resolution process” of the Kurdish issue.
Second, Kurds remembered Turks’ lack of solidarity with and even interest in them when Kurds had faced much graver attacks over many decades.
Given that a considerable portion (though definitely not all) of Gezi Park protesters had openly Turkish nationalist, even anti-Kurdish, sentiments, such caution on the part of Kurds was totally understandable but still unfortunate. Because as Gültan Kışanak, co-chair of the BDP, put: “There is no such thing as democracy for Kurds and flogging for Turks.”
Gezi and the Kurdish Issue: A New Conjuncture
Then, the Prime Minister, during the final meeting on 26th June with “Wise Men” who were supposed to prepare the socio-psychological ground for the “resolution” of the Kurdish issue, made it clear that his government has no intentions for any reforms or constitutional amendments related to political or cultural rights of Kurds. Apparently he is not happy with the pace of PKK guerillas’ withdrawal and he thinks that the government has already given all necessary concessions. (The Kurds, however, are of the opinion that nothing has changed yet, though persisting in the hope that something will.)
Two of the prominent liberal intellectuals in Turkey invited to participate in this final meeting refused to do so because of the PM’s attitude to the Gezi resistance, which has, meanwhile, entered a new stage. This stage is characterized by fewer demonstrations, more “forums” (open discussions). People from various sections of the society are gathering in parks and discussing their respective local problems as well as the course of the Gezi resistance in general.
Protests are still being held in various places, especially in Dikmen, Ankara, a traditionally working-class quarter which has been partially gentrified recently. Each and every night people build barricades on the main street of the quarter against police who tear-gas its streets and alleys. Also, people gathered in the aforementioned forums frequently launch demos in opposition to various outrages, such as the release of the policeman who shot Ethem Sarısülük to death and mainstream media’s falsified news. Besides, Saturday — the day of the week strongly associated with the mothers of the disappeared and prisoners who have been holding sit-ins for decades — has become a day of general protest throughout the country (updates on #OccupyGezi can be followed in more than 10 languages at translateforjustice.wordpress.com).
Attack on the Kurdish Town of Lice
It is at this conjuncture — i.e., the Gezi resistance is becoming institutionalized, while the “resolution process” to the Kurdish issue is being led into a blind alley — when state forces attacked Lice, a district of Amed/Diyarbakır where dozens of people had been killed by state forces in 1993. On the 28th of June soldiers opened fire on people in Lice who were protesting the construction of additional buildings to a military station in the district. (Halting such constructions would have to be part of the “resolution process.” The Turkish state, however, insists that they are projects that had been planned before the beginning of the process and are moreover necessary for security purposes. The Kurds, of course, believe that this is but opportunism on the state’s part, building new apparatuses of oppression by exploiting the ceasefire.) The Lice protesters were carrying a banner reading “We Want Peace, Not War”; and the Turkish state’s reply was to kill a 19-year-old protester Medeni Yıldırım and injure ten others.
As soon as the news of the attack spread, social media started pulsing with the question: how would the Gezi movement respond to this massacre? The Kurdish activists who had actively supported the movement, despite the mixed feelings in their own community that I described above, emphasized that this response would be the real litmus of whether the “Gezi spirit” actually existed. This “spirit,” to be characterized by the unity and solidarity of all peoples of Turkey against fascist oppression, had to react immediately against the attack on Lice, showing that Kurds were right to participate in the Gezi resistance.
Early signs indicate that the Gezi movement passed this litmus test. Many Turks refused to be deceived by the government’s typical excuse that it was responding to a “provocation”: “Maybe we might have believed you before Gezi, but not now. We now know who you are and how you act against democratic protests.” Gezi forums, especially in Istanbul, turned into demonstrations protesting the attack on Lice. It was frequently reported that, perhaps for the first time in the history of Istanbul, so many Turks were shouting slogans in Kurdish. Maybe it will turn out that Gezi protesters are as unsuccessful in mobilizing the bulk of Turks for Lice as Kurdish activists have been for mobilizing the bulk of Kurds for Gezi, but gestures of solidarity have now clearly been shown from both sides. (The same gesture of solidarity was repeated when police attacked people in Amed/Diyarbakır who held a demo on Saturday with the demand “Government, Take a Step Forward” to advance the “resolution process.”)
“Long Live the Fraternity of Peoples” has always been one of the most popular slogans of Turkish and Kurdish revolutionaries. But we always knew that real fraternity could be built only through joint struggles of the peoples of Turkey and Kurdistan. Many joint struggles in the past all paved the way for Gezi, and Gezi in turn has made our contemporary joint struggle broader than ever before. We are continuing to resist together, which means that we are widening our path to lasting fraternity. This is not a path without barriers and detours, but after #DirenLice1 the path is wider: more of us than ever before have learned to fight shoulder to shoulder.
1 Resist Lice — a hashtag dedicated to supporting the people of the Kurdish town of Lice against military attacks.
Follow Barış Yıldırım on Twitter @prometeatro and @yazilama.