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In Feb­ru­ary 2020, a law giv­ing “bekçi” (the Turk­ish word for guard) rights sim­i­lar to those of the police was passed in Turkey. Thus, with decree n° 5757 hav­ing force of law, mod­i­fy­ing the Law on secu­ri­ty ser­vices and the Law on the scope and pro­ce­dures apply­ing to civ­il ser­vants, the bekçi entered into every­one’s dai­ly life.

The top­ic gen­er­at­ed strong reac­tions and caused a lot of ink to flow…There was indeed a lot to say about this func­tion brought “up to date” in a coer­cive State where arbi­trari­ness rules, where the most fun­da­men­tal rights are vio­lat­ed on a reg­u­lar basis and where the regime calls upon its repres­sive secu­ri­ty forces on all occa­sions. Sev­er­al polit­i­cal per­son­al­i­ties and orga­ni­za­tions of civ­il soci­ety sound­ed the alarm, say­ing that, in the present con­text in Turkey, the bekçi con­sid­ered the polit­i­cal pow­er as their employ­er and would act as ” moral­i­ty police” for the State; they also point­ed out the risk of giv­ing rise to an armed struc­ture attached to the exec­u­tive branch, one that would not con­sid­er itself direct­ly under the law’s con­trol.

“Frère Jacques”, the famil­iar French lul­la­by adapt­ed in Turk­ish is often warm­ly addressed to the guard since one of his duties is to wake inhab­i­tants of a neigh­bor­hood dur­ing the month of Ramadan for the sahur, the meal pri­or to sun­rise before the fast begins, but also to announce the feast…

Excerpt from “Bekçi Baba” by Aysun, Ali and Ilkyaz Kocatepe, Pop Çocuk, Vol. 4


Father bekçi, father bekçi where are you, where are you? Now the feast is com­ing, play your drum !” said the song in our child­hood.
But that bekçi was from the old days… Those times are gone.

Of course, giv­en the cur­rent con­di­tions in Turkey, there is lit­tle chance that the bekçi will fill any hypo­thet­i­cal role as “neigh­bor­hood police”. Can­di­da­cy for these jobs is open to per­sons blind­ly faith­ful to the regime, with no pri­or edu­ca­tion, train­ing or qual­i­fi­ca­tions. The intro­duc­tion of this armed horde, lean­ing toward nation­al­ism and big­otry, stand­ing at atten­tion in front of the regime, could not be seen as any­thing oth­er than a fur­ther step toward the legal­iza­tion and gen­er­al­iza­tion of mili­tias like those already in exis­tence. And this, in a coun­try where, dur­ing the attempt­ed coup in July 15 2016, hun­dreds of weapons from the police arse­nal are said to have been dis­trib­uted to the pop­u­la­tion. Their where­abouts remain unknown. But see­ing self-por­traits blos­som­ing on social media of fel­lows proud­ly and fear­less­ly dis­play­ing their weapons, one can eas­i­ly guess where they are. Not to men­tion the “self-defence train­ing peri­ods” often orga­nized by the “youth” bureaus of nation­al­ist parties.

armes arms

In this regard, one should note the com­ments expressed, such as “if nec­es­sary we will take out the weapons we have buried in a cor­ner” or yet again “as seen on TV” com­ments such as “our fam­i­ly is spir­i­tu­al­ly and mate­ri­al­ly equiped, we can eas­i­ly elim­i­nate 50 people…In fact, we have made a list of our neigh­bors who are not on our side”… But there are also those dec­la­ra­tions ema­nat­ing from on high, like a pop­ulist encour­age­ment, open­ing the way to impuni­ty for a part of the pop­u­la­tion and thus trans­form­ing oppo­nents into tar­gets. “In our civ­i­liza­tion, our nation­al spir­it, the shop keep­er and the arti­san, when nec­es­sary, become sol­diers, heros, mar­tyrs defend­ing their Father­land. When need­ed they are police­men insur­ing secu­ri­ty, arbiters and judges deliv­er­ing jus­tice.” (Sic Erdoğan on Decem­ber 11 2018).

Since their intro­duc­tion, the new bekçi reg­u­lar­ly make head­lines with rights vio­la­tions, arbi­trary and zeal­ous prac­tices.

Here are facts illus­trat­ing this, with the lat­est event which occurred in the Etimesgut neigh­bor­hood in Ankara…

A young man by the name of Serkan K. steps out of his home to take out the garbage. A munic­i­pal employ­ee charged with read­ing the meters, Serkan is hear­ing impaired, a hand­i­cap that fol­lowed the explo­sion of a mine dur­ing his mil­i­tary ser­vice in Hakkari. Two bekçi post­ed to the neigh­bor­hood stop him at the foot of the build­ing as he is going back inside. They ask him why he is out­side. The young man explains he took out the garbage. The bekçi set them­selves against the man, beat­ing him vio­lent­ly. Mem­bers of his fam­i­ly, hear­ing nois­es, try to inter­vene. They are sprayed with tear gas. The bekçi grab the father — a man in ill health and suf­fer­ing from asth­ma, — arrest him by step­ping on his chest. Police­men come to assist the bekçi, all the mem­bers of the fam­i­ly are hand­cuffed with their hands in their backs and tak­en to the police sta­tion.

Fol­low­ing the usu­al pro­ce­dure, Serkan and his fam­i­ly are first tak­en to the hos­pi­tal for aus­cul­ta­tion, still hand­cuffed. Then they are trans­ferred to the police sta­tion, called “ter­ror­ists” on a num­ber of occa­sions. A reli­gious­ly obser­vant woman, Serkan’s moth­er is not autho­rized to pray, and for their Ramadan fast, when they request water at the hour for sahur, they are shown the sinks in the toi­lets. The twelve year old, who is one of the per­sons in cus­tody, is inter­ro­gat­ed alone, which is ille­gal. Two hours lat­er, the sur­veil­lance cam­eras on their build­ing are dis­man­tled.

The inci­dent was revealed on Twit­ter by Yetkin Öztürk, Ankara rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the İYİ Par­ti,1some­one who can not be sus­pect­ed of left­ist lean­ings. As for Ankara’s Secu­ri­ty Direc­torate, it refut­ed the vio­lence of the bekçi against the fam­i­ly, in a press release labelling these infor­ma­tions as “unre­al”. The Direc­torate claims that Serkan K. left his home at 10 PM on Sun­day May 17, when the cur­few had been declared for the week­end. The bekçi “warned” him but he “stub­born­ly refused to re-enter his home.” Then, the com­mu­nique lists “facts” held against the fam­i­ly, going so far as to include the father’s polit­i­cal pedi­gree.

“Ü. K. the father of the indi­vid­ual, a mem­ber of the neigh­bor­hood assem­bly of this same Par­ty [mean­ing the İYİ Par­ti] and the oth­er mem­bers of the fam­i­ly inter­ven­ing in the inci­dent lat­er, refused to obey the civ­il ser­vants and insult­ed them. As for his broth­er H.K. he phys­i­cal­ly attacked our neigh­bor­hood bekçi, grab­bing him by the throat. Fol­low­ing the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of the vio­lence in this attack, police rein­force­ment was request­ed and the indi­vid­u­als were neu­tral­ized using a pro­gres­sive and pro­por­tion­ate amount of force. Fol­low­ing the order from the Pros­e­cu­tor for the Repub­lic, a med­ical report was estab­lished. They were then trans­ferred to the police sta­tion. They were inter­ro­gat­ed in the pres­ence of a lawyer des­ig­nat­ed by the Bar for the offence of “Keep­ing agents from ful­fill­ing their duty, insults and resis­tance against civ­il ser­vants.” After obtain­ing a med­ical report stat­ing they “could be treat­ed with a sim­ple med­ical inter­ven­tion”, indi­vid­u­als Ü.K., Z.K. and S.K. were lib­er­at­ed. H.K. hav­ing com­mit­ted a phys­i­cal attack against a civ­il ser­vant on duty, was lib­er­at­ed under cau­tion by the judi­cia­ry before which he was pre­sent­ed on May 18 2020. This type of shar­ing on net­works that do not reflect real­i­ty is not wor­thy of respect.“

And here, we have inten­tion­al­ly cho­sen an exam­ple incrim­i­nat­ing a tol­er­at­ed “oppo­si­tion”.

Ram­pant fas­cism dis­guis­es itself in pop­u­lar cloth­ing close to the peo­ple, for its “secu­ri­ty”. Now, we are in the thick of it. And del­e­gat­ing to obe­di­ent and zeal­ous actors tasks of main­tain­ing order far from the direct givers of orders, leads to a mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of acts of vio­lent repres­sion while dilut­ing respon­si­bil­i­ties. Self-inter­est­ed obe­di­ence to the func­tion becomes impuni­ty for the vio­lence thus exer­cised.
The “frère Jacques” becomes a S.A. doz­ing under the brown costume…

Head­line illus­tra­tion: Dur­ing one of the many ceremonies…

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges –
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Chat de gout­tière sans fron­tières. Jour­nal­isme à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mar­mara. Archi­tec­ture à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mimar Sinan, Istanbul.