Heterotopia in Istanbul

Posted: 3 June 2013 in Uncategorized
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The protests and occupations in Istanbul and other cities in Turkey began with but have now expanded far beyond the initial gathering in Taksim Gezi Park.

A Turkish colleague has been closely following these events and offers some useful links and insights:

“Everywhere is Taksim, Resistance Everywhere”

“The Right to the City Movement and the Turkish Summer”

Gezi Park Occupation (liveblog)

Lara Fresko’s twitter account

In the second article, there are also useful links to find out about the kinds of demolishings, displacements, and dispossessions caused by the top-down urban transformation projects forcefully implemented since the mid-2000s. There is, for instance, a link to the documentary Ecumenopolis, which I thought was very good. You can also watch the trailer of AKP’s fantasy of a de-pedestrianized and concretized Taksim Square, where Gezi Park, the setting of the events, is located—which is being built as we protest. Amazing how the video spends more time on the parallel universe of underground highways than that of the overground plan.

Some friends have been unhappy about the ways in which the western media have been painting the protests/occupation in terms of the secular vs. religious antagonism. I think the second essay is good in terms of questioning that reductive narrative. Gezi Park has displayed a heterotopic character—bringing diverse groups of anarchist-activists, urban grassroots organizations (e.g., Taksim Platform, which has been organizing against the transformation of the Gezi Park is a main one, itself composed of a number of movements and associations), neighborhood associations, various socialist groups and platforms, football fan groups, LGBT groups, artists, precarious service/professional class, some trade unions, university and high school students, professionals like academics, doctors, lawyers, city planners, some parliamentary members, and just ordinary citizens, some of which have come out to protest under such conditions of police violence for the first time in their lives. What brings these groups into a chain of equivalence is that they are positioned against the top down and increasingly authoritarian neoliberal governance of the AKP, or perhaps even more narrowly, the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

One might argue that, on 1 June, this diverse character of the movement changed, with the opposition Republican People’s Party’s attempt to interpellate new protestors (its potential constituency, which has been infuriated with what they articulate as an increasing threat to their lifestyles from the AKP and RTE). It is also a fact that the composition of the park changes temporally, from day to day, even during the day (which is itself a dimension of heterotopia?), yet, I can certainly say, as of yet, the protests remain nontotalizable: there is no unified leadership, no political group steering the agenda of the protestors, no party having appropriated the movement.

I think the other, and what I find to be more disconcerting. misreading of the protests is repeatedly given by the prime mister RTE himself—a sign that he is not able to read, or rather vehemently resists reading, the changing field of social forces and conflicts. He is stuck in reading the main antagonism, or rather the main antagonizer, in Turkey (and the main discontent towards “his party”) in terms of the reactionary and elitist assault of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) against the empowerment of the “people,” that is, the “conservative majority,” once marginalized and victimized by the authoritarian policies of the Republican state. In repeating this outdated framing (outdated not because Islamophobia, or Islamoparanoi, is no longer relevant in the conduct of part of CHP’s constituency, no, but because speaking from a position of victimhood no longer resonates), he in a way acts out his own unending resentment and vengeance (and perhaps self-hatred in a way): that despite what he has done, he is still not recognized and respected (thus, he delegitimizes the protestors as pathetic, ungrateful, or illegal extremists). In this sense, re-configuring Taksim, in fact, the main spatial artery that runs from Dolmabahce Palace, Besiktas to Harbiye, is as much a symbolic war over historical memory, of re-inscribing in space a new state (I want to say imperial state, since I see AKP’s reclaiming of the “neo-Ottoman heritage” as an important ideological-affective element) on the demolished concrete of the old Republic as a war over class.

This latter needs to be unpacked further, but at the very least I can say RTE, wrapped in a dream of making Turkey an exceptional and grandiose economic power, refuses to understand that the “people” more and more see him as standing for the needs of the property and capital-commanding elite (in this sense it is telling that his first televised response to the protestors came when he was making the opening speech for the Congress of the Union of Exporters, celebrating Turkey’s growing competitiveness and new leadership in the global regime of neoliberal growth and development). He refuses to understand that his “imperial” neoliberal project of rebuilding Turkey as a regional engine of “civilization” and “economic progress” has brought about in the last 8 years or so new forms of economic and cultural exclusion and new forms of social antagonism over class.

There is much more to be said about violence, secularism, dangers, and potentialities of this event—but I leave this message here. . .

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Comments
  1. […] Heterotopia in Istanbul The protests and occupations in Istanbul and other cities in Turkey began with but have now expanded far beyond Taksim Gezi Park. […]

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