Monique Agius – Malta
As I sit down and write this, a wave of nostalgia takes over. Reminiscing the time in Turkey, I sip tea to make up for this strong ‘hasret / özlem’ feeling.*
Five years ago, I was on my way to Malta in full knowledge that protestors were out camping in Gezi Park. I arrived here on the 31st, the day they decided to remove the protestors from the park. That short holiday turned out to be the week when my vocabulary increased steadily as I spent my time translating tweets and articles to understand fully what was going on.
Coming from an activist background, I felt I had to do something, I had to speak to people about what was going on, why this was taking place, etc. We managed to organize a small group of students and walk down Republic Street, Valletta, in solidarity with the Gezi protestors. Others took it upon themselves to make posters highlighting the situation in Turkey.
People were thirsty for change, people were hopeful. Although the so-called Arab Spring ended up eating the children of the revolution, others were cautious on how far these protests will go on.
Fast forward to five years later: Turkey experienced a failed military coup which resulted in a state of emergency being declared. This meant that the normal law was suspended and other laws came into force. This led to a couple of laws being enacted off the cuff, such as the loss of citizenship if one is called to testify in court and is not in the country.
Apart from that, we’ve seen a general election which was overturned by a snap election after Erdogan’s party failed to secure the majority to be able to govern alone. Now, Turkey is facing another snap election, with one of its presidential candidates, Selahhtin Demirtas, running from prison. Demirtas is the former co-chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and who, along with other democratically elected officials, is now in prison as they wait for their trials to be concluded.
Since then, many of those I protested with side by side have gone into hibernation. Fearing the repercussions of an oppressive regime, they’ve decided to take up a normal life and continue living with all that is happening in their country. Others have left. Fearing retribution, they have opted to study abroad or work abroad. Others have decided to conform. Others, like myself, have returned to their country.
However, during this time of the year, we reminisce the time we were out on the streets, we breathed in tear gas and suffered water canons. We remember our friends who were killed on the streets. We also remember the beautiful space which was reclaimed (albeit shortly) by the people and transformed into a space for the people.
My fondest memory of that time was the energy of the people participating in the protests. I was back in Turkey within a week, the people persisted in their camps. Gezi was transformed and reclaimed. People, including children, were handing out water to the protesters. A makeshift library was set up. People were sharing food. The following year, when I moved to Istanbul, Gezi was the place where I met a person who eventually introduced me to what later became my family in Istanbul.
But where are we now?
What we’ve learned during Gezi was definitely not lost. Those timeless moments keep the conversations going; reminiscing keeps us hoping, for a better, freer and democratic Turkey. The people of Turkey are wonderful, they are especially wonderful when they resist, when they demand change, when the ones in power fail them miserably through their oppressive policies and through the same policies try to gag the common people: when the artists aren’t free to perform, when the democratically elected opposition is not free to contest and put forward its vision for an alternative Turkey. From afar, many of us keep looking in. We keep hoping to return to the country we love. We call home. As the lyrics in Rüzgar go, ‘Bu daha başlangıç, mücadeleye devam!’, Gezi is only the beginning, the struggle continues, we continue our work from wherever we are.
*hasret / özlem: longing/missing