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Some ten days ago in Istan­bul, dur­ing an oper­a­tion tar­get­ing ware­hous­es of paper for recy­cling, the baracks in the Ataşe­hir neigh­bour­hood were destroyed and mate­r­i­al con­fis­cat­ed. In the Ümraniye neigh­bour­hood ware­hous­es were sealed off, and the mate­r­i­al also con­fis­cat­ed. The few remain­ing oppo­si­tion media in Turkey relayed “the arrest of close to 200 work­ers , tak­en into cus­tody and of migrant work­ers sent off to reten­tion cen­tre pri­or to their expulsion.”

Mehmet Aytar who works in paper recy­cling in Ümraniye and Salman Yıldırım, a mem­ber of the board of admin­is­tra­tion of a recy­cling asso­ci­a­tion, met with Haber Sol, a few days after these oper­a­tions and the dif­fi­cul­ties encoun­tered by the gatherers.

At the time, Mehmet Aytar said : “The Istan­bul pre­fec­ture reached a deci­sion: all the con­trac­tors must get rid of the carts. Istan­bul has 39 dis­tricts and 1 350 ware­hous­es ded­i­cat­ed only to paper for recy­cling. There are also 260 big firms with licens­es. Those with­out licens­es bring their pick­ings to these firms, I work in Ümraniye Esenkent. There are 85 ware­hous­es, and five or six big firms.

A few days ago, the munic­i­pal police, and teams of spe­cial police came, with­out pri­or warn­ing at 10 am, along with armoured vehi­cles, and shov­els. They con­fis­cat­ed all the stocked refuse. Three hun­dred, four hun­dred per­sons were there. We asked for an hour or two delay so we could pick up our mate­r­i­al in the ware­hous­es. The police’s answer was “you take your bag, and you leave”. And when peo­ple said “how are we sup­posed to leave, how can you con­fis­cate our goods? Give us a bit of time” they were based and received rub­ber bul­lets. In the end, they sealed off all the ware­hous­es and took our com­rades into cus­tody. They are pro­ceed­ing to these oper­a­tions one after the oth­er. Fol­low­ing Ümraniye, it was Ataşehir’s turn.

Many peo­ple have been wronged; Some have four, five school-aged chil­dren. Thou­sands oe peo­ple make a mis­er­able liv­ing here. How can the pre­fec­ture take their bread away like this? Cur­rent­ly, no one can work here. Every­one is afraid.  In any case, they con­fis­cat­ed most of the mate­r­i­al and sealed off the warehouses.”

Mehmet Aytar under­lined the fact that a few deputies and jour­nal­ists had stood by the work­ers in paper for recy­cling and he added “we think we must find a solu­tion to this prob­lem. This can’t go on. We’re talk­ing about the liveli­hood of thou­sands of people.”

In an inter­view in ear­ly Octo­ber, Mehmet Aytar was already ask­ing : “They are said to have set up an instal­la­tion in Gebze, cer­tain­ly linked to the “Zero Waste Project” head­ed by Emine Erdoğan. They say the seized mate­r­i­al will go to City Hall, to the State. But one way or anoth­er, it goes to the State… To ben­e­fit the project of the Pres­i­dent of the Republic’s wife, they con­fis­cate the sweat of thou­sands of peo­ple. Are they not cit­i­zens of the Repub­lic of Turkey? Pri­or to elec­tions, they come knock­ing on the doors of our asso­ci­a­tion ask­ing for our vote. And now? Only the wronged sup­port the wronged. The wealthy are nowhere in sight.”

As for Salman Yıldırım; mem­ber of the admin­is­tra­tion of the recy­cling asso­ci­a­tion “Geri Dönüşüme Katkı Derneği” he denounces:

The pre­fec­ture con­duct­ed the clos­ings using as an excuse that ‘the work­ers dis­turb the inhab­i­tants with their carts and dirty the sur­round­ings. In the neigh­bour­hood where I work, they sent in the police in the same way. They attacked us, accus­ing us of irreg­u­lar work or demand­ing licens­es in an area where zon­ing does not exist. We gath­ered with our com­rades of  paper recy­cling at Avcılar Yeşilkent, we organ­ised to han­dle the prob­lems. We cre­at­ed an asso­ci­a­tion so that the munic­i­pal­i­ty would final­ly deal with us. We solved our problems.

How­ev­er in Ümraniye and Ataşe­hir, the pre­fec­ture makes the deci­sions direct­ly, claim­ing the work­ers “pol­lute the envi­ron­ment’. These peo­ple sort through the garbage, trans­form­ing it into recy­clable mate­ri­als. They bring them to ded­i­cat­ed ware­hous­es. And in that, there is mon­ey. There is a very real pos­si­bil­i­ty to turn a prof­it. This is the rea­son and in the frame­work of the “Zen Waste Project” that the pre­fec­ture is attempt­ing to hag­gle  over the busi­ness with allied firms. Tak­ing advan­tage of Mine Erdoğan’s project, they are attempt­ing to set up their own net­work. So the pre­fec­ture works at clos­ing down exist­ing firms, and peo­ple resist. In no way do the work­ers cause prob­lems for the res­i­dents. This is just an excuse to open up a sec­tor for (regime) allies. The town­ships base their deci­sions on those of the pre­fec­ture. They open bids, ten peo­ple show up, but the busi­ness is hand­ed over to a mem­ber of the AKP munic­i­pal coun­cil, thus cre­at­ing a monop­oly in the sector.”

You were won­der­ing why the gath­er­ers were attacked sud­den­ly,  That, in a few sen­tences, paints the pic­ture.  Obvi­ous­ly,  even the country’s garbage isn’t for the poor…

Mashal­lah, the Erdoğan fam­i­ly is very active. With their dif­fer­ent “sen­si­bil­i­ties”, envi­ron­ment, edu­ca­tion, women, thanks to each of its mem­bers, it devel­ops foun­da­tions active in sev­er­al sectors.

The daugh­ter Esra Erdoğan Albayrak is on the board of TÜRGEV, the Turk­ish Foun­da­tion for Youth and Edu­ca­tion Ser­vices which presents itself as “a not-for-prof­it organ­i­sa­tion pro­vid­ing dor­mi­to­ries and edu­ca­tion­al ser­vices for girls”. The young son, Bilal Erdoğan is an hyper­ac­tive mem­ber of the board of the “Turk­ish Foun­da­tion for Youth” TÜGVA, ded­i­cat­ed to youth and stu­dents. Sümeyye, Erdoğan’s clever daugh­ter is the vice-pres­i­dent of KADEM, a civ­il soci­ety  claim­ing to be “involved in the defence of women’s human dig­ni­ty”. The wife, Emine Erdoğan, leads  the “Zero Waste Project” the foun­da­tion of which, TEMA (The Turk­ish Foun­da­tion for the Fight against Soil Ero­sion) and the TRT (Turk­ish raid-tele­vi­sion) are part­ners and which is direct­ly linked to the Min­istry of Envi­ron­ment and urbanism…

And this is how lit­tle fam­i­ly “enter­pris­es” are shared with allies. In any event, they will nev­er lack cheap slave gath­er­ers how ill han­dle the garbage in order to turn a prof­it for them…

Recy­cling can bring in impor­tant rev­enues, and it seems like a shame to leave this to “rag pick­ers and gath­er­ers”. Using them as cheap labor to be han­dled at will, the ones who knew the busi­ness well before the age of “zero waste” which appears as mod­ern­iz­ing the sec­tor, but it noth­ing oth­er than one more cap­i­tal­ist secur­ing of a return, caus­ing fur­ther  hard­ship for those already in poverty.


One of the paper for­cats responds in his own way, with a poem by Ahmed Arif. You will find the trans­la­tion below the video.

I gave cradles to Noah,
Swings, hamacs,
Eve, your mother is only yesterday’s child,
Myself, I am Anaolia,
Do you know me?
I’m ashamed,
Ashamed of the poverty,
Naked before the stranger, in the light of day…
My buds are cold,
My land cries out in famine.
In the world of brotherhood, of work
In the world of solidarity
In a wolrd where atomic petals open,
In a world of poets, of scientists,
I remained all alone,
All alone and far.
Do you know?
They miled me for years.
With their knights, they broke me
Of delicate morning slumbers
Sovereigns, assassins, brigands
Paid me pay the tribute.
I don’t care about Alexander
The shah and the sultan.
They disappeared without leaving a shadow!
I saluted my friend
And resisted…
Do you see?
If you knew how much I love
The unknown soldier…
And also Pir Sultan and Bedrettin.
And there is so much love
That the pen cannot write it all…
I you knew
How they loved me also.
If you knew how the one who shot bullets in Urfa,
From the minaret, from the barricade,
From the branch of the crypress,
How he smiled at death.
I absolutely want you to know,
Do you hear?
Don’t destroy yourself in this way,
So sad, so strange,
Wherever you are,
Inside, outside, in class, at your desk,
Walk on,
Spit in the face of the torturer,
Of the opportunist, the corrupter, the traitor.
Hold on to the book,
Hold on to the work.
With everything, your nails, all your teeth,
With all your hope, your love, your dream,
Hold on, do not shame me.
Ahmed Arif

Illus­tra­tion: Sinan, paper recy­cler. Pho­to Evrensel

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Le petit mag­a­zine qui ne se laisse pas caress­er dans le sens du poil.