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The following article appeared on pages 42-47 what was to be the July 2013 issue of NTV Tarih magazine, devoted to the Gezi Park protests, but the magazine’s publishers, Doğuş Media Group, decided not only to cancel this issue, but to close the magazine entirely.

The cancelled issue has appeared on the Internet at http://www.yasarkenyazilantarih.com.

★The cancelled issue of the NTV Tarih Magazine devoted to the Gezi protests has now been published as a book by the Metis Yayınları publishing house, with the ISBN number of ISBN13 978-975-342-925-2. The proceeds from this book will be given to the families of those who lost their lives in the course of the Gezi Park events.★

Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton

HISTORIANS ASSESS THE GEZI PARK PROTESTS

How will the history now being written in the making
be read in the future?

How will future generations read the movement that set out with environmentalist demands and went on to shake the whole of Turkey? How will the history books speak of these events? NTV Tarih posed these questions to historians. According to the historians, there will not be a single history and the future course of events will also determine the manner in which the three earth-shaking weeks will be depicted in the annuls of history.

A turning point in Turkey’s history

The truth is that Turkey’s history has not previously witnessed such a spontaneous social/political movement. It thus does not greatly resemble the social movements that preceded it. It was an event that merits attention in the way that it brought together not only several generations but also the most unlikely combinations of political organisations. This was most certainly a turning point for Turkey’s history. The importance of this event stretches beyond our country’s domestic politics to its impact on other countries.

It would appear that a different, peaceful and youthful style has entered politics. Gezi Park presents everybody with the opportunity to understand their family, society, their party, their ideology and the young generation. More importantly, it is an opportunity to understand ourselves and engage in self-criticism. The lesson of the events is that the time has come to re-assess the values, taboos, prejudices and obsessions we have acquired, the means of communication with which we thought we were familiar, our insults, fury, arrogance, sensitivities and priorities. They have come as a reminder that this country is a homeland that belongs, not to its rulers, but to everyone that lives there.

More importantly, Gezi Park should spur us, rather than equating democracy, in a cold, calculating and mechanical fashion, with the ballot box and reducing it to the holding of elections every four to five years, into attaching importance to our ability to influence the decision-making process at any time and through various legitimate political means, so as to prevent coups from being pulled off on the back of crises.

I hope that this event will enter Turkey’s history as having taken democracy forward and making it more mature.

Mehmet Ö Alkan
(Istanbul University)

A civilian and political movement

Turkey, ever since becoming part of the globalising world in the 1980‘s, has followed the neo-liberal policies most commonly labelled as the ‘Washington consensus’. The country thus also witnessed the anti-neo-liberal protests that started with the ‘occupy’ movements. The Gezi Park protests, having no connection with any political party and consisting of various groups of people who asserted that they were struggling against a government which they felt had designs on their social, economic and private lives and was becoming increasingly authoritarian, is a spontaneous civilian and political movement and it has yet to find its clear reflection in the economic sphere.

Feroz Ahmad
(Yeditepe University)

The nature of opposition will change

All the indications currently point to the sociological character of the event. It is too early to pronounce on when this breakout will constitute a chapter in history because we are still in the middle of the process and the data is still too hot to classify. However, the developments appear likely to affect the nature and course of politics. There has been a stirring which promises to bring a paradigm shift to political life.

I think that developments will change the course and character of social opposition in Turkey. I hope that we will become acquainted with new areas and volumes within which opposition may function legitimately and democratically, but I do not expect regime change in the short term.

The Taksim events, to the extent that they resemble the social tension preceding a coup, somewhat resemble 27 May, but there is more to it than that. ‘28 May’ will leave an elegant mark in modern history in terms of its contribution towards imbuing our political life with a far more democratic culture.

Ahmet Turan Alkan
(Cumhuriyet University)

This explosion is unprecedented

It is possible to assess historical events and point to similarities between them if the periods and circumstances run parallel to one another. As such, it is impossible to speak of finding a precedent for the events that erupted as result of the regime’s desire to put a mall on Taksim’s Gezi Park. This event, which will clearly continue to dominate the news agenda in Turkey, will naturally enough become the subject matter of history in the future. If we examine the Turkish people’s mode of reaction throughout history, we see a general tendency towards passivity but, if they perceive themselves to have been pushed too far, for violent reaction. The Taksim Gezi events need to be assessed in this context. People have vented their rage pent up over the years. The way that certain terrorist elements have infiltrated the ranks of those expressing their rage and the disquiet felt by the wider masses must not be ignored.

Vahdettin Engin
(Marmara University)

Long-term change in mentality

I think that the resistance movement that started on 28 May 2013 will go down as a decisive turning point in modern Turkish history. In the first place, we must underline that at the heart of this huge mass movement lies a serious sensitivity as to the use and transformation of public space and the preservation of urban and architectural heritage. In this respect, I think that this civic sensitivity that has found expression in the slogan “Everywhere is Taksim“ and has brought the masses out onto the streets, is a first in Turkey’s history.

Gezi Park bore witness to the emergence of a new and unexpected type of civil imagination. The park and other public spaces inspired by it were turned into vanguard spaces where democracy was played out as very different groups engaged in debate and fantasised as to how they might coexist. Of course, this sudden burst of empathy does not guarantee that even those involved in Gezi Park will coexist without problem in the long term. But it is possible to discern here signs of a long-term change in mentality also affecting the groups who were unable to directly share in the Gezi Park ‘joy’.

Ahmet Ersoy
(Boğaziçi University)

A 200-year process continues

As an Istanbullian living in Cihangir, I was forced to spend two weeks living in a cloud of teargas, with it even coming straight into my home. [...] I think that these incidents constitute a historic event in that they point to society’s democratic consciousness moving onto a new advanced level. It speaks volumes that the Gezi resistance was instantly embraced with the same energy by world public opinion and that the spirit of these protests which erupted in the centre of the city of Istanbul gave rise to a shared global worldview. As such, this shows that the Gezi events are exceptionally important and will have a lasting place in global history. Such events show that globalisation is about more than just the speedy transfer of money.

It is unacceptable for the Gezi event to harm Turkey’s European Union accession process. Our society’s modern political history of two hundred years duration since the final period of the Ottoman Empire has been a history of the process whereby the modern constitutional regime has brought citizenship rights and freedoms into being. It is only natural for this to be a difficult process, just as it was in Europe and the whole world. Governments in Turkey have faced a great variety of crises and calamities. However they have not, apart from sudden regime crises experienced in the past, essentially given up on the right of our people to be a member of the region neighbouring them where democracy and human rights have found acceptance.

Selçuk Esenbel
(Boğaziçi University)

There will not be a single history

It goes without saying that a development on this scale cannot be ignored when the history of these present days is written. However, your question demonstrates the extent to which the reflexes created by official historiography still hold sway in our society. Considering that ‘history’ does not exist in the abstract and that in modern societies it is not ‘history’ but ‘histories’ that undergo reconstruction, we can say that in the future different assessments, rather than a single and indisputable proclamation, will be made on the above-mentioned subject. Just as we have by now seen a variety of attempts to subject 27 May to reconstruction at different dates based on a range of views stretching from ‘revolution’ to ‘coup’, developments in the wake of 28 May will be interpreted in various ways in the future. Moreover, these interpretations will be deeply influenced by the spirit of the times. Just as interpretations of 27 May made in 1970 differ from those made on the same subject in 2010, 28 May will be treated differently in 2023 and 2053.

M. Şükrü Hanioğlu
(Princeton University)

Environmental consciousness and historiography

We are witnessing an exceptional phase in Turkey’s history. This is a youth-dominated social movement. My main concern here is not the administration that is striving to keep a tight hold on the gains of past years and the freedom of individuals within society. I wish to examine the environmental problems raised by the protests. I wish to highlight the importance of environmental problems, i.e. the plundering of nature, the environment, city and greenery – as if under the system known to historians as tax farming, once employed by the Ottoman administration, whereby nature is made the object of sale, lease and assignment. It can be no mere coincidence that the resistance, in which pride of place is given to the aspiration for ‘freedom’ and tyranny is rejected, was sparked off by the cutting down of three to five trees in a park. [...] The protest/protestors have reminded us loudly and graphically that the ‘environmental right’ is a basic right - in a manner and on a scale that is unwitnessed in Turkey’s history.

I believe that in the coming years historiography will devote much greater attention to past events, phenomena, problems, acts of destruction and measures having to do with environmental protection.

Salih Özharan

The legend has already begun to be created

First, ‘history’ will not be written. History does not exist in the abstract. There are people and people will write it – be they historians or not – and in this manner a memory – or more to the point, various memories - will be created about this event. Second, it will pass into history provided that it is of sufficient importance to be remembered, thought and spoken about and repeatedly investigated. This is most probably so. But, third, we must not forget that it is too early yet. The way that historic events are viewed undergoes constant change over time. As the excitement subsides, admiration may wane and approval levels sink, while criticism is made more readily. [...] 1791-94 and the French Jacobins, the Bolsheviks and October 1917, Kemalism and Ataturk, and the 27 May coupists, on the one hand, and Menderes on the other have all been subject to such historiographical tides. In the Gezi Park example, for its part, we have just exited the Big Bang moment and the first aftershocks of the event are only just being felt. [...] I think that the most critical question is whether it has the impetus to open up the entire political arena to renewal. It will be a matter of five to ten years before this becomes apparent. Fourth, even if, at a far later stage, a cold-blooded objectivity manages to prevail, it is unavoidable that before that happens different and contradictory recollections and narratives will come into being. [...] Various legends will be created around the Gezi Park and Taksim Square events from 28 May until 17 June 2013; actually, the first steps towards their creation have already been taken. There will be those (for example, the core environmentalist youth) who separate these two places; others (for example, the ‘old left’ organisations) will combine them. Some will portray Gezi as a ‘commune’, others as a ‘red square’. Some will speak of two or three separate stages containing different truths and falsehoods, others will speak of a ‘popular movement’ that at all times was one hundred percent right and correct. Some will regret the subsidiary violence meted out to Muslim democrats and women, others will dismiss this in its entirety. Some will minimise all aspects of police violence, others will maximise it and, based on this, will justify the ‘self-defence of the oppressed’ or even create new ‘urban guerillas’ out of this and will tell their children and grandchildren that this is how they once ‘fought to push out the regime of brigands’. Tear gas (reminiscent of the ‘chemical machines’ in the period 28/29 April-27 May 1960) will be turned into ‘chemical weapons’, the event as a whole into a into a ‘rising wave of revolution’ and the ending of the protests into ‘counter revolutionary terror’ (inspired by the Black Hundreds after 1905).

In the face of all of this, counter-narratives steeped in authoritarianism along the lines of ‘anarchy or stability’ or ‘there can be no development with too much democracy’ will develop, aimed at covering up Prime-Minister Erdoğan’s huge mistakes and primary responsibility. Which of these will prevail in whose memory? Or will a balanced consensus take shape? Once again, the coming years will show this and Turkey’s overall democratisation and political maturisation adventure will be a determining factor.

Halil Berktay
(Sabancı University)

Compromise is the key to our future

Will history write about the events of June 2013? Undoubtedly it will because we are at a turning point and this turning point will be remembered, at the very least in the near future. What will history say? This I do not know because things may move forward in two ways from now. Those involved in or observing today’s events are divided into three groups, two of which are in diametrical opposition – what one calls white the other calls black. Events are only perceived from one angle and it is always the other or somebody else that is at fault. Those who interpret things in this manner are either deceiving themselves or are attempting to deceive others. [...] If things proceed in this manner, this division into two camps will gradually set in, ossify and become dangerous.

Or else the third group will prevail. The cold-blooded, common sense people in this group, rather than seeing and pointing to the error/good deeds of one group alone, will see to it that a culture of political and social compromise comes to bloom and takes hold, and the way will be paved for us to evolve into a society that understands the other, or at least attempts to do so. Then history will say that in June 2013, thanks to a culture of understanding rather than of authoritarianism, Turkey embarked in the direction of full-scale democratisation. Let’s hope so.

Metin Kunt
(Sabancı University)

Civil disobedience that will go down in history

The Taksim Resistance is undoubtedly an act of civil disobedience that will go down in history but, of course, it is not the first mass demonstration in our history. For example, the Hasköy Shipyard workers who went on strike in 1871 were unable to stage a demonstration since they were state servants and so their wives and children took up this task. The 1905 Erzurum Rebellion deserves mention because there Muslim and Armenian women, not restricting themselves to roaming the streets of the city together, banging the lids of empty pots together shouting, “We are hungry, hungry,” pillaged the grain stores belonging to the state. The New York Times reported several times in the course of Word War 1 how, “hungry Muslim women staged demonstrations with empty pots in Istanbul.” The final example that comes to my mind is the student protest of 1960 and, in my view, its most striking feature: 555K in Turkey! That is: “5 o’clock on 5 May in Kızılay!” The rest is history – 27 May 1960!

Student activism and mass protests have never on their own been capable of overthrowing regimes, but governments have always been toppled by the economic crises that come in the wake of such events!

Yavuz Selim Karakışla
(Boğaziçi University)

Questioning what life is about

Gezi Park has now become a ‘concept’, a new brand. Change in the ‘zeitgeist’ in Turkey has been brought about, first by women, and then youth. Gezi, in common with every large historical event, was not ‘made’; like an earthquake, it ‘happened’. Given that both those in power and the opposition have perceived an event on this scale as if it were the first screening of a film, it is almost certain to go down in history. The most important historical dynamic underpinning this event is the reaction unleashed against the oppressive, conservative encroachments on private life that the regime, having brought the ‘population’ issue onto centre stage, wished make. The Gezi process may pass into history as a transition towards questioning what life is essentially all about.

Historians will in various regards make comparisons with the final years of the Democratic Party period; however, it is risky to make comparisons between the Turkey of that period, when the overwhelming majority of its people lived in the countryside, and a Turkey where 77% live in cities and the strength of military guardianship has been significantly broken.

Asim Karaömerlioğlu
(Boğaziçi University)

‘Everywhere is Taksim’ in historiography

Of course the Taksim Gezi Park events will have an important place in Turkey’s history and will be a matter which will keep historians very busy in the future. Initially, there will be debate about the name to be given in our historiography to this ‘event’. Consensus may be reached on a relatively neutral name such as the ‘Gezi Park events’, but different strands in our historiography on this subject will initially emerge through the business of attaching a name; on the one hand, through names such as ‘Taksim Resistance’ the notion of resistance may be brought to the fore; on the other hand, there may be a preference for names like ‘Gezi plot’, indicating that the events were a conspiracy against the government, or for words that emphasise the protest’s peaceful means and stress the disproportionate force of the police in reaction to this. In addition, a name such as the ‘May-June 2013 Events ’ may find preference, thus indicating that the ‘event’ was not limited to Taksim Gezi Park or even Istanbul, but spread throughout Turkey.

The audio-visual material in the media and on the Internet that has been bequeathed today, and especially social media, will be the most important sources for historiography on this subject. Additionally, the works of political scientists and especially sociologists conducted from the outset in the field will be priceless for future historians. The same can be said for the products of reliable journalism and especially serious public opinion surveys. As ever, in-depth analyses in the media as events unfold today will be an important source for our future historiography. It may be thought that the possibility of accessing so many sources so easily will make historians’ work much easier, but this abundance of sources and the issue of the reliability of sources may at the same time be factors that make things more difficult.

On the other hand, compared to the amount of today’s audio-visual and written sources that will be preserved for posterity, objects relating to this process will suffer greater loss over time. For this reason, a commission set up within the History Foundation, by archiving, not only easily accessible audio-visual materials, but also objects, is making preparations for exhibitions, publications and other activities which it will surely one day be wished to arrange in coordination with other relevant bodies and entities. This commission within the foundation, which in any case is experienced in the matter of oral history, will in addition concentrate on the material representation of Gezi and the traces that this will leave in memories.

The question of whether these events will have served to establish the difference between ‘majoritarian democracy’ and ‘pluralist democracy’ will be addressed particularly in political and philosophical historiography. [...] An important tool to which historians may make recourse could be ‘psychohistory’; the decisive role played in this process by the Prime-Minister’s language and demeanour and the personal reasons lying behind this may lead psychohistorians to seek out theories and models explaining this demeanour. The conspiracy theorists ever-present within our historiography will not remain idle and will exploit every detail as of the emergence of the events in support of such conspiracy theories as are advanced. […] Another dimension to the events that will court interest within our historiography is the experience of engaging for the first time in joint struggle gained by various opposition groups whose very coming together would previously have been inconceivable. Finally, one of the matters of hottest dispute in our future historiography will be the process whereby a government that is endeavouring to liquidate the old established order (leader-party-police state) at the same time creates its own established order (leader-party-police state), and the relationship between this and the (non-)development of civil society.

The most important task that will fall to historians who do are capable of rising to the challenge when it comes to factual history will be, as ever, to place these events in their historical context within the ‘continuity-break’ debates.

Bülent Bilmez
(Istanbul Bilgi University)

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton