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On protests and Taksim

December 6, 2010

Editors’ note: In the wake of this weekend’s violent student protests comes this account of a non-violence-marred demonstration earlier in the month in the city’s main protest venue, Istiklal Cad. and Taksim. The author, Bebe Santa-Wood, is an exchange student at Yeditepe University and thus is our inside source on all things student and Asian. She hails from here, there, and everywhere and blogs over at A Turkish Delight. We’re very psyched to have her insight over here!


In my Political Sociology class the other day my teacher invited students to come to a march in Taksim of women against gendered violence. Back home in the states, I’ve been involved with feminist and Women’s rights groups both in Beloit College and back home in Colorado. Normally these are the type of events that I go to all the time. So my first reaction was “Of course! I should go!”, so this Thursday I participated in my first Turkish feminist demonstration.
So the next day I made my way to Taksim to meet up with my teacher and a few other students from my class. The street up the hill was completely dark, every store front closed or lights shut off. It was strange to see a street that is normally so vibrant completely dark. It set a very anticipatory mood and when I reached the top I saw only a few women milling about. The march was to start at seven and for a moment I thought I had the place wrong. Five minutes later women started pouring in from all directions. I always have to remember the Turkish sense of time.
The women were all different ages. I saw women that could easily have been my grandmother and a few women even brought their daughters with them. The demographic seemed thoroughly middle class. I ran into my professor and three other girls from school, two who were Turkish and one Italian. My professor is part of the Socialist Feminist Collective, which is one of the biggest feminist groups in Istanbul. We met up with other women from the group to march together. There were women from nearly all the major feminist groups present and it was really cool to see how they all came together. I think a lot of times in my experience in the U.S., there is a lot of splintering between feminist groups and you wouldn’t necessarily see them united like this in one solid front.
Women started bringing out flags and signs with symbols and slogans. There was a sign stating in white against a black background, “I am a 12 year old transgender child who was stabbed twelve times to death”, lesbian solidarity signs, feminist power images, and various declarations against violence. I think the most interesting one was a symbol of a house and inside it said “The heart of violence”. There were also a lot of declarations making ties between the state as a father figure and violence. I think in Turkey that feminists view the state as a source of control over the home, definitely a negative paternal figure. As the woman started preparing for the march the police seemed surprisingly nonchalant about the whole thing—their guns weren’t even out. I think because it was “only women” the police feel no real reason to take aggressive stances. I felt a little odd about this, because it’s good they weren’t being aggressive—but why is a women’s march not seen as threatening? Or more closely, why aren’t women deemed important enough of a threat?
Looking around me at all the women, I felt a little bit like an intruder for a moment. Was I just an American tourist? Who was to say I knew anything about the experience of what it is like to be a Turkish woman? I felt a little bit like I might be a bit of a moral imperialist by participating in the march. My professor asked us if we wanted to carry flags. I really wanted to but hesitated for a moment—was it right for me to carry one? I told my teacher I felt strange as an American carrying one and she said “That’s dumb! You’re standing in solidarity—you should carry one!” I guess it makes sense then that I was carrying a large purple sign with the “woman” symbol, since as a woman there’s always a sense of solidarity and kinship you can make with the common female experience. Be I Turkish or American.
Before the march started, one of the organizers made a declaration in both Turkish and Kurdish. My teacher explained that this was done as a way of showing solidarity with minority groups in Turkey. I think that this is a really interesting move on the part of feminist groups. During and after the march women were making whoops and calls and singing old Kurdish songs. I think by showing solidarity with another oppressed group is a really smart way of making connections in the minds of the Turkish that the plight of woman is that of an oppressed minority-even though we’re half the population.
The march itself was a very joyous event despite the serious reasons behind it. Women chanting, marching, playing drums and flutes, it was like a parade. Waves flagging, everyone was smiling, women laughing and holding hands with each other. As we marched past police trucks, the group screamed out against police and state brutality. People watched along the streets but nobody seemed to be protesting the march, after all, it is Taksim. When we passed a gallery they threw out papers from the window as an act of solidarity.
When we reached Taksim square everyone sat down but the demonstration lost a lot of the power and punch it had packed during the march. The woman speaking wasn’t allowed to have a microphone so her message was completely lost.. I was towards the front and I couldn’t even hear her. It’s a shame, because there were a lot of powerful statements made—particularly about the ties between the state, home and violence. Without a microphone the whole demonstration was lacking a voice, literally and symbolically. From the perspective of the state, it’s a smart move. Without a voice the demonstration becomes less threatening and might explain why the women’s movement in Turkey is often met with apathy or disinterest.
I don’t want to end this on a negative note though-because as a whole the march was personally empowering for me and also I think made a statement, however big or small. It was amazing the type of community and empowering effect women can have on each other when they band together rover one issue. I think that this march illustrated to me that the Turkish feminist movement may not be the most powerful at the moment but it’s sense of community is what I think will ultimately propel it forward.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 6, 2010 1:06 pm

    When you say the speaker was “not allowed” to amplify her voice, do you mean she did not have legal permission to do so? Is this the case for all rallies in Taksim? If so, it’s not a women’s movement issue per se. If other rallies are also not amplified, how do they get around it? (Chanting?)

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