Labour Party (EMEP) Leader Selma Gürkan stated that the resistance started at Gezi Park widened to become an opposition to AKP government policies. Regarding the Prime Minister’s stance she said, “This is not simply insistence on the Barracks. The PM knows that if he takes a back step now others will follow”. Gürkan answered our questions, stating that widening of the resistance is the immediate responsibility of all labour and democratic forces.
What are your thoughts on the people’s movement started by the defence of trees in Gezi Park?
The will and resistance shown by the people to the fluctuating intervention and attacks have not developed overnight. It is a manifestation of the reaction built up by the policies of the government that victimises its own population. It is a reflex against political attacks.
The movement seems to be against the PM. The masses walk to the PM’s office rather than the Parliament. The slogans calling for the PM to resign are the most common…
The reason is the PM’s stance and his statements; aggressive, separatist and provocative. Hence the PM is the visible face of the government’s policies and the target of the protests. In both in his speeches in Tunisia and on his return to Istanbul, as well as his public addresses in Mersin, Adana and Ankara; his mildest definition of the protesters has been looters, plunderers, scoundrels… Since the beginning, he has used similar language against all that has opposed or resisted him. Such as telling the farmers to “take your mum and go”, branding the protests of citizens as “ideological, agitation”, etc. Now he is using definitions against the Gezi Resistance that are untrue. The public has witnessed the dose of violence displayed by the police and their civil companions brandishing sticks. Of course any movement that is just about vandalising cannot be accepted and will damage itself. But what shell the public do faced with gas bombs, police panzers and plastic bullets. They rightfully resist. We are talking about advertising boards and stops that people use as shields being targeted in attacks. These unprovoked attacks are the reason for this resistance to be so popular among the public.
As well as “agitation by outside influences” the PM is also talking internally about the interest lobby, Ergenekon and those favouring a coup. Is there any truth in this?
History is repeating. They are a repeat of government lies I used to hear in my childhood. If we need to draw attention to any agitation it should be the mindset that blocks the eyes, ears and hearts of the public, which oppresses them, gasses, bludgeons and kills them. If an interest lobby exists then the government should look at its own financial relations. It is not the Gezi protesters that exchange money with international financial institutions. To see this movement as an attempted coup is utter carelessness. The PM thinks that his portrayal as the victim of a coup will increase his political reputation. On the contrary it is well known that to bring into line the public, the opposition, the media, the judiciary, the universities, etc. Erdoğan uses tactics that differ not much from a coup. These classic methods to discredit the people’s just resistance do not work anymore.
The PM’s stance was tough before going to Tunisia. The expectation of a softening in his stance on his return was also futile. There was a very strong intervention in Taksim on 11 June.
Yes, he does constantly mention his determination to rebuild the Topçu Barracks but this is not an insistence on the barracks. The PM knows that if he takes a step back now others will follow. This is the emphasis of all of his politics. As a result a reckless attack has been staged on 11 June under the pretext of ensuring security in Taksim.
The level of participation among the youth surprised everyone. Youth in central and women in local actions have been prominent. What has brought them to the fore?
The government policies mostly affect youth and women. The youth, due to its character, do not give in to the traditional; do not appreciate intervention on their lives. They are fed up of the changes in the education system, problems in further education and universities, unemployment and uncertain futures, and women of intervention in their lives, violence and poverty.
What about the Gezi protests spreading to 70 cities around the country?
What we said for the youth and women could be widened to all sections of the society. Everyone is going out on the streets in line with their own local issues. The government’s policies affect all sections of society adversely.
What would the influence of the current period of negotiations and ceasefire be on Gezi resistance or the impact of Gezi on the peace process?
We can definitely talk about a mutual positive affect. The ceasefire of the last five months weakened racist, chauvinist influences and supported the rise of this movement. On the other hand, the Gezi protests have also exposed the public’s yearning and demand for democracy, rights and freedoms. We can confidently say that nothing will be the same again. During the peace process, it was said of the Kurdish struggle that it is a point of no return; the genie is out of the bottle. We could now say the same about the desire and energy shown by the public on the streets in fighting for rights and freedoms. Governments need to realise that you cannot govern without recognising the will of the public.
Along with the call for constraint – aimed mainly at the protesters – by TÜRK-İŞ (Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions), TZOB (Turkish Chambers of Agriculture), TOBB (The Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey), Hak-İş and Memur-Sen (Pro-government trade union confederations), weren’t the other unions late in their reaction?
A call for constraint among the public after their sufferings from attacks, injuries, deaths and violence will not find a response. The calls for restraint must be addressed at the government, the Department for Internal Affairs, governors and the police. It should also be noted that the support from opposing unions within TMMOB (The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects), TTB (Turkish Medical Association) and DİSK (Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey) and some opposition unions in Türk-İş to the initial strike decision by KESK and the strike and street protests, taking place in the early stages of the protests is important and meaningful, regardless of their weakness. But this unity has not been developed further. Local platforms, committees and unions must be set up immediately for unity of power.
What kind of lessons should be learnt from the struggle by the unionists and advanced workers and labourers?
Unions should quickly advance the organisation for unity among workers and public workers to develop class unity. Organisation should not be limited to this; all sections of the public involved in the struggle, mukhtars, neighbourhood associations, community centres, religious centres, etc. that defended their rights and freedoms in the streets and neighbourhoods should develop and strengthen their own organisation. To develop this struggle and turn it into a real people’s opposition, spread the struggle for democracy in the country, to create the widest unity of equality, democracy and peace movements; these are the immediate tasks facing labour, peace and democracy organisations as well as our party.
The reaction to Erdoğan’s statement of “I’m hardly keeping the 50% at home” has led him to point at the elections in seven months time and took decisions for big rallies in major cities. What does this mean?
This has never been seen in history. The government has the opportunity to communicate with the population at any time they want. Everything he says is in all forms of media. He had thrown the same threat at students protesting against exam irregularities. He is now organising rallies that will put people against each other. The AKP government-calling people out for these rallies are a call to arms. Furthermore, he is abusing the power of his office, blackmailing public sector workers to welcome him in the streets, and abusing public utilities such as using public transport vehicles. Where is the equality, justice democracy in this? Kenan Evren had staged rallies like this after 12 September to make the public feel the force and effect of the coup. You are the government in office, how are these different from the rallies of a coup?
Even if the PM got 70% of the votes, does this justify oppression of the other 30%?
We have to look at this 50% issue from different perspectives. Firstly, what reality does it represent? Once the system, election threshold, non-voting has been taken into account his share drops to 49.5%. Hence it is not clear to what degree he represents the public’s desires. Let us assume he got 50%, even 90% of the votes. Does this mean the government can do what it wants? Let’s look at AKP’s election manifesto. Did he go to the public saying “We’ll fix minimum wage at the hunger threshold? Increase the price of petrol, electricity and water. We’ll ban alcohol and cigarettes. We’ll evict you from your houses through ‘urban transformation’. We’ll open mines that will poison your lands and water and ruin the environment with new dams. We’ll reduce your children’s opportunity for employment through our work policies. You’ll pay extra for education and health services. Vote for these policies?” What has been promised and exercised is different. At what stage of these implementations is the public consulted? He is talking about a 50% as if he kept his promises. Second issue is the lie that the minority is ruling the majority. Gezi protestors aren’t complaining about this or that aspect of the majority. Besides, he is talking about majority and minority according to what criteria? What is important is that the rights of the majority and the minority are secured. He is trying to split society into them and us, but the Gezi protesters are giving his politics the best response with variety and colour.
Could the Gezi demands be seen as democratic demands? How can a link between those and other be established?
They are the most democratic demands. What is not democratic is the PM’s stance, policies, and government. A call to “Give up on building the Topçu Barracks, demolishing the AKM, and building a third bridge” means give up on all policies such as building dams, power plants, urban transformation and privatisation of forests and protect your history, nature and environment.
The investigation, removal and prosecution of the governors, police chiefs and secretaries of state responsible for the attacks is a call to the government to not wave a stick in the faces of its citizens, investigate those that do and not use chemicals on your own people.
Furthermore, photos of the police officer that killed Ethem Sarısülük in Ankara had been shared in social media for days and finally shown by national media. The irresponsible actions and hostility of this officer, who jumped in among the workers and just shot the young worker, cannot be accepted. Internal Affairs and police should immediately hand this individual over to the law.
To demand the release of those in custody means; you cannot investigate, prosecute and imprison people just because they are against the dominant policies and critical of them, you should review these policies. The demand to open squares to the people means remove any barriers against the public’s rights to gather, demonstrate, march and those against media and freedom of speech, make open spaces available to the masses.
Formulized for equality, solidarity and freedom, the Gezi protests summarise the country’s need for more democracy. It represents the demands for justice and freedom by all sections of the society; equality between Turkish and Kurdish, solidarity among all minorities whether Laz, Caucasian, Arab and Armenians and equality between all beliefs whether Alevi, Sunni, Christian, Assyrian.