Unity in Diversity: The June Uprising (a.k.a. Gezi Uprising) of Turkey

The Concept of Çapulcu: Efforts for A Common Culture of Resistance
As the Taksim Solidarity became the central organ for the protesters through which they declared their demands from the government and solidarity with other parts of Turkey, the Uprising tried to shape common targets, common values, common symbols. The concept of ‘çapulcu’, the symbolism of the martyrs, the songs and the artworks were examples of what might be called as the culture of resistance. ‘Çapulcu’ can be translated as looter in Turkish, and it is used by Prime Minister Erdogan to describe the protestors on the 2nd of June. Same day, the artists came together for a press statement and among them the movie director Zeki Demirkubuz said that “I am leaving aside my 20 year-long directing career and declare myself to be a capulcu.” Next day, a graffiti appeared on the walls of Taksim: “Everyday I’m Çapuling”. This phrase became a buzzword among the protesters as hundreds of Twitter users mentioned it. A TV program host, İhsan Varol, asked about the word ‘Çapulcu’ in his quiz show Word Play, defining the word as “the person who tries to realize his or her thoughts.” On the 4th of June, the English teachers uploaded a video on Youtube in which they gave a short lecture about the ‘English’ verb ‘to chapull’ and its conjugations. On the following days, various songs were composed on ‘capulcu’ and ‘to chapull’ again storming the social media. The word resonated beyond the national borders as a Wikipedia article on ‘Chapulling’ appeared and Noam Chomsky showed up on a Youtube video with a banner that read “I am also a Capulcu” behind him. The word had been appropriated by then and no longer had the former negative connotations for the protesters. To be a ‘capulcu’ became something legitimate and desirable, showing that one was a part in the rightful protests. The Uprising had managed to invalidate the political power’s tactic to discredit the resistance through insults and strengthened the resistance symbolically.

Word ‘çapulcu’ gained other connotations too. A çapulcu was an educated, intellectual and civilized person. He was sensitive and philanthropic. She was creative and collaborative. As the cultural activities like performances, concerts, workshops and artworks became the daily routine of the occupation in Gezi Park, this productive and caring side of the protesters was made more and more visible. As Barış Yıldırım observed, however, this ‘identity politics’ had its own shortcomings. Çapulcu identity gained its new connotations through a process of differentiation. Most of the time, being a çapulcu meant not being an AKP voter, the 50 percent who were allegedly submissive, reactionary and uneducated Islamists. This attitude ran the risk of alienating large masses of people and making divisions according to status instead of class. This was also the mistake made by Der Spiegel that defined the protests as the reaction of White Turks against the impositions of Black Turks and their government. However, among the 3 million protesters in Turkey and in Istanbul, there were hundreds of thousands uneducated and pious people who were harmed by the neoliberal policies of the government as well (Yıldırım, 2013).

The martyrs of the Uprising were the other unifying symbols of the resistance. Mehmet Ayvalıtaş (21) was killed on 2nd of June, Abdullah Cömert (22) on 3rd of June, Ethem Sarısülük (26) lost his life 11 days after he was shot by a policeman on 1st of June. Ali İsmail Korkmaz (19) was beaten to death by the undercover policeman and he lost his life on 10th of July, after a month comma. A young Kurdish boy named Medeni Yıldırım (18) have been killed by the gendarmerie forces on 28th of June in the city of Diyarbakır while he was protesting the government. Although Yıldırım’s protest had something to the with the Kurdish cause, the uprising included his name among its martyrs, expressing solidarity. Those figures were from different political backgrounds, but despite that they were embraced by all the different components of the uprising. An Ethem Sarısülük mask that resembled the famous V for Vendetta mask was another widespread symbol; and many Twitter and Facebook users used this image as their profile pictures. On 9th of July, a representative graveyard was built inside the Gezi Park as a memorial. These deaths strengthened the sense of common cause among the protestors, reminding them of the prices paid for the uprising.

June Uprising showed that it is possible for the people to stand united against the oppressors despite their internal differences and contradictions. It was nothing else but the experience of the uprising itself that was capable of bringing people together. As the slogan goes: “This is just the beginning, the struggle will continue.”

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