Once again İrf­an Aktan is the one who shines a light, more nec­es­sary than ever, fol­low­ing the lib­er­a­tion under sur­veil­lance of one of the teach­ers on hunger strike.

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He does so through the inter­ven­tion of Veli Saçılık, who has been of one of the pro­tag­o­nists since the very begin­ning of this pow­er struggle.

Because Veli Saçılık does not mince words, he sheds light on the shad­owy areas of non con­ver­gence in the social strug­gles against the suc­ces­sive decrees by the AKP regime in Turkey. The out­look is blunt on the divi­sions in the oppo­si­tion, and their role in the appar­ent sta­bil­i­ty of the rul­ing pow­er faced with iso­lat­ed protesters.

Of course, any resem­blance with sit­u­a­tions in Euro­pean would be pure coincidence…

If the extreme fatigue of those who have strug­gled alone for months shows in this casu­al exchange, it also reveals the dif­fi­cul­ty of tak­ing onto one’s self a strug­gle that should be mas­sive and col­lec­tive against a regime dic­tat­ing its rules against of back­ground of State terrorism.

Veli Saçılık : “Seeing Nuriye’s condition could provoke indignation”

The good news land­ed as I was fin­ish­ing the tran­scrip­tion of this con­ver­sa­tion and was prepar­ing the intro­duc­tion : Semih Öza­kça, the teacher jailed since May 23, was released on the con­di­tion that he wear an elec­tron­ic bracelet. How­ev­er, the same deci­sion was not tak­en con­cern­ing Nuriye Gül­men, arrest­ed with Semih, whose health has dete­ri­o­rat­ed to the point of requir­ing her trans­fer into inten­sive care. Accord­ing to Saçılık, Gül­men was not lib­er­at­ed for fear of the indig­na­tion the sight of her might set off.

Semih Öza­kça and Nuriye Gül­men start­ed their resis­tance togeth­er at the same peri­od, led the same fight, spoke the same words, and expressed the same demands. The fact that Öza­kça was freed, fol­low­ing the hear­ing on Octo­ber 20, but that Gülmen’s incar­cer­a­tion con­tin­ues appears to be a per­sis­tent top­ic of dis­cus­sion. Accord­ing to Veli Saçılık, the fear that see­ing Nuriye might set off indig­na­tion in the pub­lic is the rea­son for keep­ing her out of sight.

Semih freed under judi­cial control…

While hun­dreds of thou­sands of pub­lic sec­tor employ­ees were fired under the state of emer­gency, declared on July 20 2016 and con­stant­ly extend­ed ever since, reac­tions to this prac­tice has remained lim­it­ed to the resis­tance of a hand­ful of per­sons say­ing “I want my job back” in front of the mon­u­ment to Human Rights on Ankara’s Yük­sel avenue. Veli Saçılık, who also descend­ed on Yük­sel Avenue demand­ing his job back at the same time as Gül­men and Öza­kça did, has been one of that hand­ful of peo­ple to come forward.

Saçılık, who has been harassed by the police almost every day, tak­en into cus­tody a count­less num­ber of times, now com­plains most­ly of the fact their union did not stand by them. Saçılık, whose moth­er and com­pan­ion are also fac­ing tri­als, says “I’m tired now”. But he adds imme­di­ate­ly: “This is about the sur­vival of two com­rades, of Nuriye and of Semih. I have to go down [into the street] for her and for him. When no one speaks up, I must say ‘our work, our bread, our free­dom’. Oth­er­wise, at this very moment, I would be at home with my com­pan­ion and my daugh­ter, I would be liv­ing like a human being. But since no one is tak­ing to the street, since no one is say­ing any­thing, I must compromise.”

With Veli Saçılık, we exam­ined the resis­tance on Yük­sel, now going on a year, and Özakça’s lib­er­a­tion while Gül­men remains imprisoned.

Fol­low­ing our con­ver­sa­tion, we learned of Semih’s lib­er­a­tion. What does this lib­er­a­tion signify?

In my opin­ion, the tri­bunal in ques­tion wants to impress abroad, as if there was a real judi­cial process under­way. Of course, we con­sid­er recu­per­at­ing Semih a vic­to­ry. We freed him from cap­tiv­i­ty. And the hunger strike will go on in pub­lic. It will be an argu­ment against those who say “They are not con­duct­ing a hunger strike”. We will con­tin­ue to speak out on Yük­sel Avenue. And I think we’ll also remove Nuriye from their hands and have (her and Semih) get their jobs back. I have hope in this area. Beyond the hope, I’m deter­mined to keep up the fight.

In your opin­ion, why wasn’t Nuriye Gül­men set free?

There is sup­posed to have been con­fes­sions from a so-called repen­tant. Yet, today on Octo­ber 20 at the hear­ing, every­thing this per­son said was futile. Such a deci­sion was tak­en because they are pre­tend­ing they are con­duct­ing a legal judi­cial process. More­over, since the sight of Nuriye would pro­voke pub­lic indig­na­tion, they con­tin­ue to keep her out of sight.

Because Nuriye’s con­di­tion is very bad, to the point of mak­ing the sight of her impos­si­ble. The gov­ern­ment does not want to step on its own pres­tige. Yet, with this strug­gle, we’ve giv­en that pres­tige quite a shaking.

On Novem­ber 9, it will be a year since you began the resis­tance at Yük­sel-Ankara. Hun­dreds of per­son were fired from their jobs by decree, but we have fol­lowed the reac­tion against these wide­spread liq­ui­da­tions through the resis­tance con­duct­ed by a few per­sons, includ­ing your­self. What is your appraisal of the year [gone by]?

Lis­ten, sev­er­al of us are resist­ing but for once, I will speak in my own name. I was fired on Novem­ber 22 2016 and I joined the resis­tance on Novem­ber 24. Nuriye Gül­men was the first to go down to Yük­sel Avenue with a plac­ard that read “I want my job!” One day lat­er, Semih Öza­kça joined up with Nuriye. The fol­low­ing day, I was on Yük­sel also. Then, oth­er com­rades such as Acun Karadağ, Mehmet Der­su­lu joined us. The dose of [police] vio­lence tar­get­ing us did not change from the first day onward. Frankly, I thought that these demon­stra­tions of resis­tance would spread to oth­er places, that seri­ous pub­lic opin­ions would build up in sev­er­al regions and that, short of being able to clear­ly reverse the process, we would man­age to trans­form this into a mass move­ment. Indi­vid­ual resis­tance mul­ti­plied in front of estab­lish­ments in dif­fer­ent places, begin­ning with Ankara and Istan­bul. But the AKP gov­ern­ment was so “uncom­pro­mis­ing”, to use their own term, that the peo­ple tak­ing to the street were put into cus­tody and sub­ject­ed to abuse. Dur­ing that peri­od where tear gas and rub­ber bul­lets were at the ren­dez-vous, and count­less tri­als opened besides, the birth of a mass move­ment was thwart­ed. I’m in front of tri­bunals every day. Law­suits have been launched against my moth­er, against my com­pan­ion. In this way, the threats start­ed to affect the fam­i­lies also.

Does the fact acts of resis­tance do not con­verge result sim­ply from these acts of repression?

In ref­er­ence to the film “The silence of the lambs”, we would have to say “the silence of the unions”. I, for one, have trou­ble under­stand­ing the silence of the KESK [Con­fed­er­a­tion of pub­lic ser­vice work­ers’ unions, mem­ber of the CSI and CES]. There have been over 130 thou­sand liq­ui­da­tions and some 3 500 of the ter­mi­nat­ed work­ers are mem­bers of the KESK. It shouldn’t have been too hard to mobi­lize those 3 500. What we are doing doesn’t demand super­hu­man strength. We go out and sit in front of the Human Rights mon­u­ment, we read press releas­es and we put up with police vio­lence. Peo­ple aren’t cow­ards in Turkey. Dur­ing [the protests in] Gezi, we saw what peo­ple were capa­ble of. But the unions behaved as if there was no tomor­row, enclos­ing the demands in bureau­crat­ic insu­la­tion, they con­stant­ly applied the brakes on mass move­ment and stopped it. They did not know how to lead, or they did not want to lead.

The unions have become a cog in the climate of terror


By play­ing dead.


They fig­ured, “by play­ing dead, there won’t be oth­er fir­ings of our mem­bers, and we, the lead­ers, won’t get arrest­ed”. The unions have become on the of the instru­ments in the cli­mate cre­at­ed by the AKP.

But we know that the lead­ers of the KESK (con­fed­er­a­tion) have crit­i­cisms con­cern­ing your action. They say that Gül­men and Öza­kça did not con­sult them when they began their hunger strike and even that this action was imposed on them, and that those lead­ing the Yük­sel resis­tance aren’t too hot on the idea of coor­di­na­tion with the union.

They are not speak­ing the truth. I am not from the same polit­i­cal tra­di­tion as Semih and Nuriye. Every­one knows that. Nor did I join this resis­tance after long con­ver­sa­tions and dis­cus­sions with Nuriye and Semih. I moved with the KESK from day one. The day I was fired, I held a press con­fer­ence with the KESK. Then, I tried to par­tic­i­pate in all the actions and meet­ings orga­nized by the KESK around the liq­ui­da­tions by decree. But the KESK main­ly worked at doing noth­ing and at apply­ing the brakes. For instance, they orga­nized some­thing called “the Con­gress on liq­ui­da­tions”, but none of the deci­sions vot­ed there were put into prac­tice. That said, indi­vid­u­als or unions aren’t oblig­ed to come to Yük­sel. They’re not oblig­ed to go on hunger strike, as Nuriye and Semih have done, or to resist in the same way I have done. There are no rules of the sort. The only rule is to resist. You can resist in oth­er venues, in oth­er ways. At this point, the KESK is in such a sor­ry sate that it can’t even hold a sit-in on Sakarya boule­vard in Ankara. We’re talk­ing about a union that can’t even bring itself to do that much.

But in Istan­bul, in the neigh­bor­hoods of Bakırköy and Kadıköy, there is a resis­tance by mem­bers of the KESK…

Yes, they are my friends, and I know they are not orga­nized by the KESK, and that they pur­sue their resis­tance on their own ini­tia­tive. They are mem­bers of the KESK, like me, but they take to the street of their own free will. The KESK can’t even man­age to take care of its mem­bers resist­ing in front of their places of work in Ankara. And yet the KESK had vot­ed a deci­sion on “Mobi­liza­tions and actions in front of work places”.

Esra Öza­kça, tak­en into cus­tody on May 22 2017

The union leader said “We’re beaten because of you.”

Did you talk to them about this?

I talked to them a num­ber of times. “All right, don’t come to Yük­sel, I can be there and oth­er com­rades can show up” I told them, “But let’s not back down from our posi­tions, for instance on Sakarya avenue. When the police orders us to dis­perse, let’s stay put in front of our work places, stub­born­ly”. They keep tak­ing us into cus­tody. Fol­low­ing this inter­view, I’ll go to Yük­sel and be tak­en into cus­tody again. Tomor­row also, I’ll be arrest­ed, and the day after… If there were five hun­dred of us there, in dif­fer­ent spaces, two by two, and in rota­tion, wouldn’t we be more effi­cient? Do I have to suf­fer so many hard­ships? You claim to head a union, you obtain the posi­tion then, you do noth­ing! A KESK leader told some young­sters who took action dur­ing the com­mem­o­ra­tion of the Octo­ber 10 attack [attack at the Ankara Sta­tion dur­ing a Peace meet­ing, that caused 102 deaths in 2015]: “We’re beat­en because of you.”

Who said that?

I don’t name names but he’s one of the top lead­ers of the KESK. And he said that to young­sters who were dis­obey­ing the police. This sen­tence was spo­ken on the occa­sion of the trib­ute to the 102 peo­ple who were mas­sa­cred. It wasn’t addressed to the police spread­ing tear gas inside a enclosed space but to the young­sters react­ing against this [police] vio­lence. It’s a seri­ous com­ment. I don’t accept it. I go fur­ther and reply : “I’m the one get­ting beat­en because of you”. We get beat­en because you don’t mobi­lize your union of 250 thou­sand mem­bers, because you don’t take the offen­sive, you don’t dis­play the required resis­tance and, as lead­ers, you do not put your hand under the stone [Turk­ish expres­sion mean­ing ‘tak­ing risks’]. My crit­i­cism is clear and deter­mined. But that crit­i­cism doesn’t mean “Veli has an action plan, he has an objec­tive, and every­one must fol­low him”. The actions I under­take may or may not find sup­port… Peo­ple can say “What Veli says isn’t cor­rect” and I respect that. But if what I say is not cor­rect, it is their job to bring to light what is just, to move into the zone [of resis­tance] with their own vision, to pro­duce the words and the actions. Those com­rades – nev­er mind actions – they have no com­ment con­cern­ing the decrees. Con­cern­ing the zone [of resis­tance], I man­age to pro­duce slo­gans, I speak, news­pa­pers and web­sites pub­lish my words, whether they agree with me or not. But in those same media, we don’t see a sin­gle dec­la­ra­tion from the KESK’s co-pres­i­dents. Because they make no dec­la­ra­tions and even if they do, they say noth­ing of inter­est, they don’t think on the top­ic, they have no plan to move those actions [into a mass movement].

Don’t the mem­bers force the KESK to move?

They did, at first. In Ankara, approx­i­mate­ly 250 mem­bers were fired from their jobs, we man­aged to hold meet­ings with hun­dreds of peo­ple. I nev­er saw mem­bers who weren’t fired raise a sin­gle demand to the KESK on the top­ic. We kept ask­ing the unions, “What should we do?” and the answer we got was always the same “Wait, we’ll reach a deci­sion”. They did nothing.

Veli Saçılık

İrf­an Aktan with Veli Saçılık

I told Nuriye and Semih “hand over your hunger strike to me”

The fact Nuriye Gül­men and Semih Öza­kça start­ed a hunger strike was a crit­i­cal ele­ment that moved the resis­tance into inter­na­tion­al news. Why then did you not start a hunger strike?

I want my job back and I think a hunger strike that threat­ens to end in death doesn’t fit into that equa­tion. But Nuriye and Semih think this is how it must be done. Per­son­al­ly, I think my point of view is the cor­rect one, but I respect theirs. The fact I don’t agree with them nev­er turns into a judg­ment against their choice.

Many calls went out ask­ing that Gül­men and Öza­kça stop their hunger strike. Did you make any such suggestions?

At the fifty day mark, I offered my com­rades “stop and I’ll take over the strike, for fifty days”. I offered to turn it into a rotat­ing strike. But when they said “this is our deci­sion and this is how we’re going to do it”, I respect­ed their choice. From there on, it would have made no sense to tell my friends “why are you on hunger strike, this isn’t the right way”. In all cir­cum­stances, in my prac­tice, I do what is cor­rect for me. And my com­rades, with their own prac­tices, say what is cor­rect for them. So we have two action mod­els before us : that prac­ticed by Nuriye and Semih, and the one Acun Karadağ’ın, Mehmet Der­su­lu and oth­ers includ­ing myself prac­tice. If oth­ers who don’t think like we do, sug­gest oth­ers things, I will nev­er tell them “why are you doing it that way, why are you resist­ing in that fash­ion”. Take the exam­ple of a com­rade in Bodrum, Engin Karataş [a teacher]. One day, he writes the word “Jus­tice” every­where, using wrap­ping tape. Anoth­er time, he does a para­chute jump, or he dives into the sea, anoth­er day he writes “Jus­tice” using marine rope, he flies a baloon with the slo­gan “I want my stu­dents” attached to it. He comes to Ankara, he man­ages to evade the police and places a slo­gan on the Human Rights mon­u­ment. As far as modes of action go, Mas­ter Engin is not ortho­dox, as I am, but he does a num­ber of things to express in a dig­ni­fied way “I want my stu­dents”. Fol­low­ing which what does the Eğitim-Sen [Teach­ers’ Union, mem­ber of the KESK] do to Mas­ter à Engin?


The Bodrum rep­re­sen­ta­tive says “Mas­ter, do not come to the Eğitim-Sen, the police is pres­sur­ing us.” At that point, will we keep our dis­tance from unique actions like those under­tak­en by Mas­ter Engin?

Do you con­sid­er you action to be radical?

No, I’m doing noth­ing rad­i­cal, I’m only get­ting beat­en. Is get­ting beat­en some­thing rad­i­cal? I turn my back on them, they hit me over the head and kick me for good mea­sure. Fron­t­wise, they spray my face with tear gas, they shoot rub­ber bul­lets into my body. I prac­tice pas­sive resis­tance, an action in accor­dance with the dig­ni­ty of a pub­lic sec­tor work­er. And if some­one tells me “this is not a just action”, let him or her speak through his or her prac­tice, with­out run­ning away.

What argu­ments do KESK lead­ers oppose to your criticism?

The AKP has for­bid­den it, the police attacks”. That is their argu­ment. True, the AKP has for­bid­den it and the police attacks but I go out (in the street) any­way. Is it pos­si­ble for a union to base its action on “nev­er being tak­en into cus­tody”? If Lami Özgen, KESK’s co-pres­i­dent had demon­strat­ed the will I dis­played the first time I went down into the street, would things be the same today? If he had spo­ken up, as he saw fit, wher­ev­er he saw fit and said “my mem­bers act­ed on my instruc­tions and I take respon­si­bil­i­ty for it” Was that not pos­si­ble? They say of our action “the deci­sion was not tak­en in coor­di­na­tion with the union”. Why then don’t they put into effect the deci­sions that were tak­en in coor­di­na­tion with the union?

What kind of deci­sions were taken?

For instance, it was decid­ed to have actions under­way, every day of the week, in front of all the establishments.

When was that deci­sion taken?

About eight months ago. Indeed, there are deci­sions such as “In impor­tant spots in the towns, we will car­ry out actions of four hours dura­tion, every day”, “We will devel­op gen­er­al­ized pro­pa­gan­da tools against the state of emer­gency” , all these deci­sion were writ­ten down and reg­is­tered. The deci­sions tak­en by the KESK itself aren’t even respect­ed by the mem­bers of its admin­is­tra­tion board.

Lis­ten, KESK’s ten minute action does not sat­is­fy me. Myself, I’m fired, I have a child, I must resist. I say, “I’m not going home, I’m resist­ing” and they answer “no, we decid­ed on a ten minute action, the ten min­utes are up, go home.” They can’t tell me that, they have reg­is­tered decisions.

Are there ide­o­log­i­cal oppo­si­tions between you and the union?

No, we don’t have ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences. I don’t tell any­one “you are of such and such a polit­i­cal fam­i­ly, this is why you do this or that”. We have a tra­di­tion at the KESK : legit­i­mate and active strug­gle. It finds its strength, not from the law, but from its legit­i­ma­cy. Which is to say that, if your action is legit­i­mate, even if the police for­bids it, you do it. I go every day to Yük­sel and what I do is legit­i­mate. But some go to Sakarya avenue and the police tells them “don’t stay there, go in front of the com­mis­sari­at”, they go and they stand in front of the 5th com­mis­sari­at… I don’t accept that. Lis­ten, when some demon­stra­tors announce “for those who were fired : we will close our eyes for a minute and think of them”, the police tells them “your action is ille­gal, we shall inter­vene.” And they answer “OK, OK, we’ll open our eyes.” The sit­u­a­tion should nev­er have reached that point.

You have been up against police vio­lence almost every day for close to a year. How is your health?

Aching neck con­stant­ly, frac­tured shoul­der, I can’t lie down on that side. Fol­low­ing the tear­ing of a mus­cle in my left shoul­der, I can’t make some move­ments. I still have the bruis­es from the lat­est police inter­ven­tion. As I’m sub­ject­ed to gaz­ing reg­u­lar­ly, res­pi­ra­to­ry prob­lems are show­ing up. I had excel­lent eye­sight, now, I don’t see as well.

I never lived through another period where I was beaten, morning and night

Are you tired?

I’m tired! I don’t say it in a neg­a­tive sense, but yes, I am tired! I’ve been inter­est­ed in pol­i­tics since 1993, but since that time, I’ve nev­er been involved in an action for close to 350 days. I’ve nev­er lived through such a peri­od where I am beat­en, morn­ing and night. I live that now and I am tired. I’ve said it a num­ber of times : so many peo­ple were fired, why are there only four, five peo­ple shoul­der­ing the bur­den by them­selves? Hence­forth, this bur­den must be tak­en from us. Lis­ten, the Human Rights mon­u­ment in Ankara is sur­round­ed now. If the unions, the IHD (Human Rights Asso­ci­a­tion) and oth­er sim­i­lar organ­i­sa­tions don’t act, if they don’t at least orga­nize a cam­paign for the “lib­er­a­tion” of the mon­u­ment… The Human Rights mon­u­ment is bar­ri­cad­ed, this is shame­ful for all of us!

Does the fact you are tired mean you will not go out to Yük­sel anymore?

Per­son­al­ly, I don’t want to to down in Yük­sel street like that. I have to go into the street for her and for him. While every­one keeps mum, I have to say ‘our work, our bread, our free­dom’. If this was not the case, at this very moment I would be with my com­pan­ion and my daugh­ter at home, liv­ing like a human being. But since no one goes out [on the street], since no one speak up, I must com­pro­mise. How could I turn my back on news that four or five peo­ple who went in my place were beat­en? I’ll con­tin­ue. In a lit­tle while, I’ll go back in action, I’ll get sprayed with tear gas again, I’ll get beat­en again, I’ll get tak­en into cus­tody again.

There’s an even­tu­al­i­ty that the gov­ern­ment might resolve the hunger strike issue.

Of course, Nuriye Gül­men, Semih Öza­kça and Esra Ökzakça’s hunger strike con­tin­ues in the mean­time. Con­se­quent­ly, the risk for their life increas­es with every pass­ing day. Appar­ent­ly, there won’t be any evo­lu­tion on the part of the government…

I think there will be an evo­lu­tion. The hunger strike is reach­ing its 222nd day and its an irre­versible process. Even if they lib­er­ate them this very day, the fact our friends will remain hand­i­caped is an unfor­tu­nate cer­tain­ty. Although four or five of us car­ry out our actions, we know that people’s hearts are with us, their eyes are on us. The State gives us impor­tance. It thinks this action can gen­er­ate a revolt of the Gezi type. Con­se­quent­ly, so this ten­sion will stop, I think there’s a pos­si­bil­i­ty that the gov­ern­ment will resolve the hunger strike issue, through par­al­lel means.

Are there sig­nals of this, that we don’t see, but that are vis­i­ble to you?

Anadolu Ajan­sı [AA State News Agency] has start­ed attend­ing our press con­fer­ences… so, some­thing is going on. AA was also present at the press con­fer­ence in front of Numune hos­pi­tal where Nuriye is detained.

But there are no oth­er sig­nals besides that one…

I think they’ll try to find a par­al­lel way through the state of emer­gency Com­mis­sion or the CEDH. The gov­ern­ment will devise a tac­tic rather than reach­ing a solu­tion. This will allow it to find a way allow­ing for a pause. But that means our friends will lose their life, and when we will go back to work, we will be sit­ting on their remains. And that will be inscribed in indeli­ble ink in the case against the government.

Dur­ing this year, both the HDP and the CHP attempt­ed dif­fer­ent approach­es. Do you think the oppo­si­tion par­ties are assum­ing their responsibilities?

We can’t say that this is ful­ly the case but but we did see that the CHP (People’s Repub­li­can Par­ty) pro­vid­ed sup­port above what they tra­di­tion­al­ly do. The HDP (Peo­ples’ Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty) also gave us its sup­port. Sev­er­al mem­bers of par­lia­ment came to see us and mem­bers and sym­pa­thiz­ers of the HDP joined in actions with us. So did the oth­er par­ties of the Left­ist social­ists. Even if there was no deci­sion at the cen­tral­ized lev­el, they were by our side. How­ev­er, the CHP still insists on insti­tu­tion­al approach­es. The HDP is coher­ent with its dis­course at a polit­i­cal lev­el. I’m hap­py to see that. A KESK leader com­ing from the HDP, who is a mem­ber of the HDP in pol­i­tics, does not adopt the same posi­tions. HDP mem­bers involved in polit­i­cal action appear much more coher­ent. The same holds true for mem­bers of the ÖDP (Par­ty for Lib­er­ty and Sol­i­dar­i­ty) and the oth­ers. Because they under­stand that a breach that would open here would affect all the decrees and the state of emergency.

Wouldn’t the fact the gov­ern­ment would take a step in a direc­tion allow­ing Gül­men and Ösakça to end their hunger strike rep­re­sent an open­ing of the breach for it also?

We don’t much care about what the gov­ern­ment will do, we think about what we must do our­selves. For 350 days, the gov­ern­ment has demon­strat­ed that it does not want a solu­tion. At times, to decrease the effect on pub­lic opin­ion, it dimin­ish­es the vio­lence against me or against Acun. And when we raise our voic­es, they beat on us say­ing “you talked too much”. They haven’t found the bal­ance yet. The gov­ern­ment wants to shut us up, but not every­thing can go accord­ing to its wish­es, life doesn’t play out that way.

This stubborness is a good stubborness, a solid one

For months now, almost every day, you face the police, and you can­not guess from one day to the next what kind of inter­ven­tion you will deal with. What is your state of mind when you arrive at Yüksel?

I don’t think about what the police will do, but about what I must do. Fol­low­ing their argu­ment with the Broth­er­hood [the orga­ni­za­tion of preach­er Fetul­lah Gülen, for­mer friend of Erdoğan’s, now turned into Pub­lic Ene­my n°1], with whom I had no ties what­so­ev­er, as I am a Social­ist, they fired me. More­over, as if I had been stripped of my nation­al­i­ty, they took away all my rights, my right to study, to open a coop­er­a­tive, to trav­el, to go abroad, every­thing. Had I been con­demned for belong­ing to an [ille­gal] orga­ni­za­tion, I wouldn’t have been pun­ished so harsh­ly, but when you are fired by decree, this is how it goes. They said “Let them eat the roots of trees” [sic Osman Zabun, AKP par­ty leader, Ispar­ta Octo­ber 7 2016 ], they said “those ones, we’ve trans­formed into the social dead” [an AKP minister].

I’m not only angry for polit­i­cal rea­sons. I don’t go down in the street because I’m a Social­ist. I am there as a fired pub­lic ser­vice work­er. And I’m very angry at them. It’s a per­son­al anger. As I say “They can’t do this to us”, I also say “they can’t do this to me. I know, I could get killed sud­den­ly, by a gas can­is­ter. They can hurt my friends. On the one hand, when you arrive, you expe­ri­ence fear. It comes from not know­ing what will hap­pen, but once you’re on the spot, it ends. A few days ago, they did some­thing I could not stand. They threw me to the ground and with their boots, they pressed on the place where my arm was ampu­tat­ed. Liv­ing through such moments is hard to tol­er­ate. But I also know that every­thing they have done to us will be tal­lied up. I don’t say this to pro­voke agi­ta­tion but we are not writ­ing on sands but in His­to­ry. Before, I called those who tor­tured us “fas­cists”. But for peo­ple who hand­cuffed us in the back, even mama Per­i­han who is 75 years old, I don’t use polit­i­cal terms any more. Every time we think they won’t go that far, they do. But every time they tell them­selves, “this time, they will be afraid”, we are not afraid. This stub­bor­ness is a good stub­bor­ness, a sol­id one.

We only see the vio­lence on Yük­sel Avenue, but we don’t know what goes on dur­ing the cus­todies. Are you tak­en to the com­mis­sari­at every time? What goes on after Yüksel?

This varies every time. In any event, we were nev­er told what our crime was, pre­cise­ly. These last few days, for instance, they would throw us into the vehi­cle while beat­ing us and chok­ing us with the gas. Then, they take us to the hos­pi­tal, charge us a 227 turk­ish lira fine, for “obstruc­tion to the law and inci­vil­i­ties”, which is to say the type of mis­de­meanor that con­sists of “throw­ing garbage on the pub­lic road”, and they set us free. Before that, they would arrest us for “obstruc­tion to the law on demon­stra­tions and assem­blies” and there are sev­er­al tri­als opened against us for that rea­son. After­wards, they saw this wasn’t work­ing. So they opened a tri­al against Nuriye and Semih, for “mem­ber­ship in an (ille­gal) orga­ni­za­tion”. At that time, I had appealed to the Min­is­ter of the Inte­ri­or, say­ing “find an orga­ni­za­tion for me also”. Final­ly, they incor­po­rat­ed me into Nuriye and Semih’s tri­al. Now, I go and sign in at the com­mis­sari­at every day [judi­cial control].

Yük­sel Avenue, Ankara, May 22 2017
Encir­cled Human Rights monument

If I was a member of the organization, I would have been imprisoned a long time ago

What evi­dence is used to war­rant a charge of “mem­ber­ship in an [ille­gal] organization”?

The shares I make on Twit­ter and Face­book, con­cern­ing our resis­tance at Yük­sel. A pros­e­cu­tor asked me “who do you take your instruc­tions from?” I told him “you can’t ask me such a ques­tion, all you can say is ‘we have deter­mined that you take your instruc­tions from such and such’”. I told him “you for­got to enter the evi­dence in the file. Please, try to find some evi­dence before the tri­al, if you don’t it will be an insult to your pro­fes­sion”. I am a social­ist, I am a rev­o­lu­tion­ary, I am not a mem­ber of any kind of ille­gal orga­ni­za­tion. I am in the street as a work­er of the pub­lic sec­tor, a mem­ber of the KESK. Any­way, if I was a mem­ber of an orga­ni­za­tion, they would have arrest­ed me a num­ber of times.

What has gone miss­ing for things to reach this point?

If we were talk­ing about a nor­mal bour­geois gov­ern­ment, we wouldn’t have been fired, there wouldn’t have been all these dis­cus­sions. But when all this hap­pened, if our union had been the least bit orga­nized to deal with all these liq­ui­da­tions, if the lead­ers had mobi­lized from with­in the union, we could have made them back down. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, every­one turned into anoth­er cog in this cli­mate of fear, and backed down instead.

Some policemen come to us in order to apologize

In your opin­ion, on this road, those who were fired have been vanquished?

As long as the Yük­sel avenue action isn’t van­quished, the fired work­ers can­not be con­sid­ered as van­quished. Yük­sel avenue has become the cor­ner­stone, but this is not a good thing, it is a bad one. Our prac­tice should not be like this. The fact our will has been sub­vert­ed to that of the Pre­fect and of the Chief of Police, the fact we can­not say a word with­out their autho­riza­tion is shame­ful for us.

For months now you have been face to face with police­men on Yük­sel avenue. Over all this time, have you observed a trans­for­ma­tion in the com­mu­ni­ca­tions between you and them?

From what I’ve heard, part of the police­men would have sym­pa­thy for us. They say “As long as those ones occu­py the news, it won’t be our turn” (He laughs). As for anoth­er part, they attack beyond what their orders call for. When some of them address me as “Veli”, I tell them “You can­not call me by my first name”. Some of them, when they shove me, they come and apol­o­gize after­wards. But on the whole they are in a stance of reflect­ing “the wind can turn in this busi­ness some day and Acun and Veli who are well in the fore­front may come and ask for some account­ing some day”. On some days, they turn on our sup­port­ers telling them “Acun and Veli can do that, but who do you think you are to allow your­self the same thing?” And when we go to the hos­pi­tal, the police­men who seem the most respectable can say “we had noth­ing to do with it”

İrf­an Aktan

İrfan Aktan began in journalism in 2000 on Bianet. He has worked as a journalist, a correspondent or an editor for l’Express, BirGün, Nokta, Yeni Aktüel, Newsweek Türkiye, Birikim, Radikal, birdirbir.org, zete.com. He was the Ankara representative for IMC-TV. He is the author of two books: “Nazê/Bir Göçüş Öyküsü” (Nazê/A tale of exodus ), “Zehir ve Panzehir: Kürt Sorunu” (Poison and antidote: The Kurdish Question). He presently writes for l’Express, Al Monitor, and Duvar.

Spé­cial archives Nuriye & Semih : Nuriye et Semih

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
*A word to English-speaking readers: in all instances where the original text is in Turkish or Kurdish, the English version is derived from French translations. Inevitably, some shift in meaning occurs with each translation. Hopefully, the intent of the original is preserved in all cases. While an ideal situation would call for a direct translation from the original, access to information remains our main objective in this exercise and, we hope, makes more sense than would a translation provided by AI…
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