“In Turkey, girls aren’t raised to be heroines”

24/10/2015

“Mustang”, a movie about young girls’ oppression in Turkey, has been nominated for the Oscars in the category “Best Foreign Language Film”. An interview with its director, Deniz Gamze Ergüven

All of these people that I’d met or run into this past summer told me that I should see Mustang – an epic tale of five sisters who live with their grandmother and uncle in a seaside village in Karadeniz, Turkey. I went to one of these old cinemas in Paris to watch it this October. After all those scenes where little laughter and giggles filled the theatre, I felt like there was this big knot in my throat. I was born and raised in Turkey, I have a sister as well, and those scenes seemed so familiar. After a point this knot got bigger, tears went down my face and I when looked through the audience, I saw this French man crying right next to me. Once the film was over I walked outside, and just in the corner of the cinema, I hugged my boyfriend and cried for minutes. I remember I kept saying “these things happen in Turkey and then people dare to ask me why we need feminism.

The film is directed and co-written by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, a woman who was born in Turkey and moved to Paris when she was 6 months old with her parents. She completed her entire education in Paris yet has never broken her bonds with Turkey. I had to find this woman, the woman who left an elephant sitting on my chest, who stealthily told a story, a story about being a woman, a story about how conservative culture oppresses young girls and destroys their lives, yet there is hope to be found! I contacted Deniz Gamze and we met in a café in Paris back in October 2015. She was so familiar it didn’t feel like an interview!

 

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“Mustang” got nominated in the category “Best Foreign Language Film” in Oscars 2016.

Can you explain the development process of Mustang?
I wrote the scenario with my friend Alice Winocour in the summer of 2012. The story had a structure and mechanics, just like a clock. The script didn’t allow much change and new versions. Whenever we wanted to change something, it was as if the balance was broken. After graduating from La Fémis, I’ve written a script, but I couldn’t shoot it. That’s why I was so ambitious to start shooting, and to work with actors and actresses.

 

How did you pick the 5 artists for the roles of the sisters?

I thought about these sisters as one character, as if they had 5 heads, 10 arms and 10 legs, like a Lernaean Hydra. I worked with a casting director and tried different combinations for 9 months. For me the hardest part was distributing the roles. It was important to show the cross relationships within the group and also the group’s relationship. Plus they all needed to look similar. Some of them look like twins. When they first met each other they were observing one and other with surprise.

This is your first feature-length film. It collected so many awards and attention. Were you expecting this? The movie was nominated for the Oscars by France and not from Turkey, how do you feel about this?

To be honest, while I was making the film, the furthest part that I saw was the movie making it to Cannes. When we were at Cannes, all of the distributers who’ve bought the movie came to talk to me and not once did they mention “to how many places did they sell the film” but instead they talked about their feelings towards the movie. This really affected me. People from many different cultures have bought this movie, they were sensitive to the issue and they understood the story. The nomination process for the Oscars actually happened very spontaneously. A very powerful distributer from USA has bought the movie and told me that he wanted to have an Oscar campaign for this movie. Actually I was expecting it to be elected from Turkey, but it didn’t turn out that way. But I had this instinct about this movie making it to the Oscars. Then it got elected from France and it came as a surprise! This is a very big honour for me. Really.

I read the comments in Turkish social media after your first interview getting published in Turkish media such as “there’s no child marriage tradition in Karadeniz” or “another director in Europe who tries to make Turkey look bad.” What do you think about these critics? Do you believe that your movie realistically narrates the cultural structure of that area?

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The official movie poster

Since the first screening of the movie in Cannes critics of “this movie is not Turkish” had begun. This was strange for me, hearing this from people who did not even see the film.  Do movies really belong to a nation? We are one of those countries that rarely sends movies abroad. When the situation is like this, then we are forced to look through only one window, as if we are responsible to narrate the entire reality of Turkey. When there’s such obligation then you cannot do what you actually would like to do. This movie, does tell some realities from Turkey. These are things that I have lived, I have seen. If the stories told in the movie are not real, why was I told exactly the same things when I was at the same age of Lale? I was playing with my cousins and I got on the shoulders of some boys, and I’ve got told the same accusations that Lale got! My reaction was to look down, to be embarrassed. This is a story that happened to me in Turkey. What is fiction in this movie is the part where Lale refuses this oppression of embarrassment and she breaks the chair on the terrace saying “these chairs have touched our asses, they are disgusting too.” This, of course, is not real. What Lale does there is something heroic. In Turkey girls are not raised to be heroines, they are raised to be well behaved and polite. Mustang is not a historical work. The reality I sought in this movie was the reality of a feeling, the feeling of being a woman. Does Mustang tell the feeling of being a woman? I think it does.

The concepts such as abuse of young girls, child marriage and insect are a big taboo. There’s a common perception such as “it would not happen in our family”, “someone I know would not do this” or “this is not specific to our country” where there’s a denial of the crime or an attempt to blame someone else. What do you think should be done in order to break this taboo?

What surprises me the most is that, I don’t mean small families but in big families, I don’t think I’ve ever come across one that this doesn’t exist. Our responsibility is to question and look into the reality. When you swipe the dirt under the rug, it does not disappear, on the contrary we should make it more visible. Not just as artists but as citizens, our duty is to question, to reflect on it and search for reality. As a filmmaker, I cannot close my eyes and pretend that these experiences of people don’t exist. Especially on issues like these, I don’t think I have the right to do that.

In the past couple of years the conversation around sexism in Hollywood has increased. What are your opinions on sexism in cinema?

Actually there has been a very fast change regarding this issue. In our school we were only 2 women in my class. For example there’s a position called “script supervisor” and it’s mostly women who are in these positions. They call them “script girl.” There’s a perception such as each job is more suitable for women or men. It’s as if women are being pushed away from jobs that require leadership. To be a director means that you have to fight and persist on your idea sometimes. And it’s so interesting; there are some women who say “I do not have this in my character.” There’s a perception as if women cannot have these characteristics.

Don’t you think these are actually gender stereotypes?

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“Mustang screens intelligent girls as brave figures.”

Of course they are and they exist so strongly! This exists in Hollywood as well but now people started to question it. Mustang screens intelligent girls as brave figures. We lack this in cinema! In the western world, women feel more equal yet they have so many things to say that are stuck in their throats. This movie portrays so much of what we live, what we want to say in an optimistic way that it appeals to Western or American women as well. This is beyond me or Turkey.

You were pregnant throughout the shooting of this movie, how did this reflect on the movie?

I learned about my pregnancy just one week before the producer quit the movie. I did not have the right to be stressed and not shooting the movie just because I’m pregnant was not a choice. I guess this situation gave me some kind of calmness. When the producer left the movie, I was basically dead for the team. The movie did not exist, everything was over. And everybody pitied me, saying “look what happened and the poor thing is pregnant.” I guess when I accomplished to put everything back on track nobody dared to mess with me. The pregnancy, holding everything together, me being persistent, all of these created a different mood for the team.

I gave birth on the same day that we learned about the murder of Özgecan Aslan [20-year-old student who was brutally murdered by 3 men as she resisted rape in February 2015 in Turkey.] I was disconnected from the world for 24 hours and the next day when I looked at the news, I saw Özgecan. I will remember that photo forever. During those hours as a woman I was experiencing giving birth and her experiencing that affected me a lot. Just 2 days after birth I started working again, I never stopped. I finished this movie cheek to cheek with my child. The first 3 months after birth is like the continuation of pregnancy, he was just like a little monkey attached to me. We finished the post-production together.

Can we say that you’ve given birth to two things at the same time, your child and your movie?

Yes, I always talk about it like this as well, they’re twins! I gave birth during the sound editing of the movie. I was going to work with someone I don’t know and we were supposed to meet in a café yet I realized I couldn’t get out of the apartment. I was just out of the hospital 2 days ago, I have a crying and hungry baby and I myself don’t even know what to do! So I called him and invited him to come over. When I opened the door he saw me with a 2 day old baby in my arms. It’s the first time we meet and there I am breastfeeding. I don’t think he ever saw me without my baby attached to me.

Many find similarities between Mustang and Virgin Suicides. How do you respond to that?

Yes this question is asked many times. Yet they are similar but I was not inspired by it. I read the book and I watched the film but Mustang is my story. My family, just like in Virgin Suicides, is a women’s family. Especially when I look at the photos of my mother’s generation, I see girls in long hair, if I was to describe them romantically they are like a girls’ nebula. I also have one interesting story from my childhood. One summer we were at our family house and other relative girls arrived as well. Blonds, brunettes, we were all together like in a coop. A neighbor boy has asked our friend the phone number of the house and our friend asked “for which one?” and he responded: “doesn’t matter, just any one of them.” I still remember this memory. This approach of not being able to differentiate between the girls, this perception of “what difference does it make, it’s just a girl.” This memory I have is a very common point with Virgin Suicides.

We see an #OccupyGezi t-shirt being locked in a closet with the rest of the “objectionable and dangerous” objects in the movie. What was your experience of Gezi Park protest in Turkey? Do you have hope for the future of Turkey?

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Dilara Gürcü (left) with the director Deniz Gamze Ergüven

My eyes are always on Turkey. I don’t lose my sleep over France but I do over Turkey. When the Gezi Park Protests began, I was in Los Angeles, and immediately I flew to İstanbul. When the police attacked to empty the park, I was there, standing on the stairs of the park. Not being there, was not an option for me. The ideas that women established there were very exciting, revolutionary, and even more modern than of the western cultures. There were ideas that got transferred from one occupy movement to another. New critical perspectives were created on capitalism, ecology and feminism.

But of course, after that, it was like we were beaten with wet wooden sticks. It was as if we really lost a big combat. Now we are in a period in Turkey where people are afraid to and therefore cannot really express their opinions publicly. The public conversation is suppressed. We are in a period where our main values are shaken, from democracy to secularity. It’s very difficult to see the future of Turkey. The geopolitical situation of the country is very sensitive.

It’s difficult to say if I am hopeful or not. Yet what I find truly healthy and hopeful is that there’s always an amazing reaction whenever something negative happens. For instance whenever they do or say something conservative about women in Turkey, the feminists react very collectively and powerfully.

What are your plans for your upcoming movies?

Each day there’s a new project coming up. I’m in a period just like when Mustang was developing. There are some cars on the street and I don’t know which one is going to pass the other one. Alice and I are writing a new script which takes places in İstanbul and my Los Angeles project is on discussion again, it’s becoming a very strong possibility.

*All images are courtesy of Cohen Media Group. The last picture was taken by freelance journalist Sophie Janine

(This interview was published on European Young Feminists Blog on 15/11/2016)

Who would bomb a rally organized for peace in Turkey?

10/10/2015

99 people are reported dead after the bombing that occurred at a peace rally in Ankara, Turkey. [The number has increased to 109.] Saturday, 10th of October, “Peace, Labor and Democracy” rally was organized by many unions, civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations. The rally was a response to the ongoing war between Turkish Armed Forces and Kurdish militants in southeast of Turkey. The demand was to enter ceasefire.

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Saturday morning, people started to unite at the rally’s meeting spot, Ankara Train Station. According the official declaration of Turkish Security Forces, there were 14.000 people present in the area. Participants of the rally lined up with their associations, holding banners demanding peace. The crowds chanted: “Resist the war, make peace now!

At exactly 10:04 AM there were two consecutive explosions, suspected to be suicide bombings, within close distance to each other. Video footage shows the exact moment when the bomb went off, as people were singing and dancing:

Soon after the bombing, within the chaos, cries and screams for help, various civilians in the area and press workers started using the social media announcing that there are tens of dead people in the area and no ambulances were arriving. Doğan Tılıç, a participant of the rally explained the moments of the attack on his article on BirGün newspaper: “I was 20 meters away from the area where the bomb went off. The police forces entered the area by throwing gas capsules. I have not seen any ambulances when the police was arriving. Here [Turkey] the distance between life and death is only 20 meters.” Member of Turkish Medicine Association, Hande Arpat gave a statement to Agos newspaper: “Because the police attacked with gas capsules right after the explosion, we could not perform immediate medical intervention on those who were wounded.” HDP (People’s Democratic Party) Istanbul deputy Filiz Kerestecioğlu also gave a statement to Agos newspaper: “I arrived 30 minutes after the explosion; immediately we started carrying the wounded people. They [police] made an intervention on the first ambulances that were trying to exit.

This footage shows the police attacking the people trying to escape and blocking their way:

Many videos taken right after the bombing are circulating in the social media. Most of them contain graphic content and I watched them all. In one of them there’s a woman crying “My flesh is falling apart, I am dying!” The man shooting the video, in between his sobs keeps saying “Hang in there, you will resist, please don’t die!

I was going to be there. My feminist association, erktolia, already made a call for women’s associations to participate in this rally. I was going to be there with my friends but we cancelled because the plane tickets were too expensive. The minute I woke up on Saturday morning, I saw messages from my friends about the incident. I started searching through the Facebook profiles of each person I know who was to attend the rally. On each click, my fingers were shaking. I could have been there with them, and we could have been dead. And here I am today, in Paris, miles away from people I love, miles away from this massacre, searching through the lists of dead and wounded people, trying to see if there is a name that I recognize.

Just a couple of hours after the bombing, Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Council announced a ban on press coverage from the area. The request was made from Vice Prime Minister of Turkey, Yalçın Akdoğan. Then people from Turkey started tweeting that they could not access Twitter and they had to use various VPN services to tweet.

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Interior Affair Minister Selami Altınok, Justice Minister Kenan İpek and Health Minister Mehmet Müezzinoglu gave a press conference on condemning this attack. Health Minister explained that there were 4 ambulances in the area (where 14K people were rallying) and by 11:00 AM (55 minutes after the call for help was made) 21 ambulances made it to the area of the bombing. He also said that hospitals are fully equipped with staff and medical needs yet as he was saying that, the Turkish Medicine Association made a call to say that more staff and blood is needed. Interior Affairs Minister also said: “Necessary measures were taken. I don’t think that there was vulnerability in security.”

In Ankara, the capital of Turkey, where about 4.5 million of people live, a national peace rally was organized. As I write, the death toll is 109 and there are 516 casualties, and the officials say that the security measures were taken?

Just 1 day ago, on 9th of October, a local newspaper in Rize, Turkey organized a protest against terrorism. Well known gang leader Sedat Peker participated to this rally and he said “blood will be shed, and once rivers of blood are shed, then they [terrorists] will understand” yet there were no bombings there. Just 20 days ago, a rally was organized in Istanbul against terrorism where Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said “you have to work hard for 1st of November [general elections day] and make AKP the ruling party.” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave a speech there as well, yet there were no incidents.

According to the info-graphic prepared by Cumhuriyet newspaper 694 civilians, soldiers, police and Kurdish militants have died since the last elections on June 7th. 694 people have died in 4 months and not a single official has resigned!

infographic (©Cumhuriyet Newspaper)

On the night of the bombing, in a press speech, Selahattin Demiştaş co-president of HDP, addressed to the AKP government’s inadequacy on investigating such attacks within its history and accused AKP for being responsible of this attack: “Has there been even one massacre that you [the state] found the criminals perpetrated them? Did you find who did Roboski massacre? Did you find who murdered kids in Gezi protests? Did you find out who bombed our Diyarbakir rally? Is Suruç massacre resolved? This massacre will not be brought to justice either because there are no dark hands behind it. They are conveying this message “We can kill you and blow up you into pieces in broad day light in the middle of Ankara! This is not just an attack on us. They want to give this message: We can kill anyone who stand up against us [AKP] and cover it.”

Many AKP members and pro-AKP media were quick to blame PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) which is an armed pro-Kurdish organization. Yet PKK has announced one day before the bombings that they are willing to enter ceasefire and they made a statement saying that the attack was not done by them.

The protesters ask for justice. They claim that whoever is being this attack, the state should be held accountable for, because it’s the state who dragged Turkey into a civil war and it’s the state who did not take majors in investigating DAESH militants existing in Turkey. A banner from the İstanbul protests says: “Murderer State”

4 (AFP)(© Ozan Köse/AFP)

We don’t know who organized the bombing in Ankara yet. What we know is that the Turkish state failed to protect its citizen in a national rally, emergency response was inadequate and was focused more on harsh control and banning freedom of press. As I write, 48 hours passed since the attack, and no names have been released and the officials refuse to take responsibility over this failure.  Doesn’t that say something?

Anniversary Update (10/10/16): 36 suspects [who had strong relations with DAESH have been detained after the attack. 10 of them were arrested. All of them are still on trial.

If anybody asks, you can say that they were children who went to death with their toys

If anybody asks, you can say that they were children who went to death with their toys

This was one of the signs from the protest done for Suruç Massacre where 33 young people were murdered with a suicide bombing of DAESH, carried in İstanbul: “If anybody asks, you can say that they were children who went to death with their toys.”

Or you can choose not to say that. Yes, because it’s the reality.

Socialist Youth Associations Federation organized a trip to Kobanê where 300 activists from Turkey participated to support the Rojava Revolution and re-build Kobanê after it was rescued from DAESH (ISIS) occupation.

They met in the border town Suruç, where they were supposed to pass the borders. Yes they had boxes of toys with them. They wanted to build a library. They had 500 saplings with them for a memorial forest, fruit scions were different, just for Berkin Elvan, 14 year old who was murdered by the police during Gezi Park protests, with a gas canister. Yes they were anti-militarist, peaceful young people but why do we have to prove that they were “innocent”? Why do we have to talk about the fact that they were carrying books and toys with them? We say “but he was only present at that street because he wanted to buy bread” to prove a child was not a protestor. What about the child who was a protestor? Does he deserve to die? We say “but he was only coming back home from school when he was killed by the police” to prove a child was innocent. What about the street child who was there, and not actually coming back home from school? Does he deserve to die? They say “but what was their purpose for being there”? Where’s there exactly? There – the lands of the Republic of Turkey?

32 young people on the day of the 3rd Anniversary of Rojava Revolution were murdered by a suicide bomb that leaked within them. I could not watch the videos; I could not look at the photos. I could not listen to the screams of people. There was a woman activist amongst them. I read her tweets right after the bombing. She wrote: “people are in pieces” so many times. Letters far away from each other, words hard to read: People are in pieces. Why those people were in Suruç? Why did they want to go to Kobanê? What the heck where they doing there? How dare they went there? Would you like to know?

Rojava is the area where three autonomous cantons are in north-east of Syria. Cezirê, Efrîn and Kobanê. 3 years ago, on 19th of July, PYD (Democratic Union Party) in Syria gained control over Kobanê and declared the Rojava Revolution. People from various races, religions and languages took the power as PYD. With Rojava Revolution, a system livable for the people of Middle East was formed for the first time. Yet since 16th of September, 2014 Kobanê was under the surrender of DAESH. Thousands of people from all around the world joined the courageous fight of YPG/YPJ voluntarily. Thanks to those who fought against the ones whom behead people, Kobanê was cleared from DAESH. During this difficult period, various voluntarily acts were organized in Suruç, from sending one single item of clothing to going there as a doctor. All those people, who believed a different way of living in the Middle East is possible went to Suruç, Kobanê and Rojava. People went there to fight against the brutal violence DEASH is trying to propose. After DAESH was out of Kobanê, there was a city, burnt and destroyed. And since then, people are tyring to rebuild it.

And that’s why those 32 young people were trying to go there, to show their support for Rojava, on the anniversary of the revolution. So that the revolution could last, so that they could contribute to it… What was it that they could offer? Books, toys and saplings… They had those in their pockets.

Hatice Ezgi Sadet. A 20 years old woman from the west part of Turkey. She had told so many times why she wanted to go to Rojava, and here’s what she said in a video: “As women, we embrace this revolution. It means this to us: Rojava is a place where gender stereotypes are destroyed. We know that within the people of the Middle East, all these wars, these gangs exploit the women the most, they oppress the women the most. Now, women are in self-defense. They take the guns and fight in the fronts of the war. They formed YPJ and many other women’s unions. As women from the west and as women from Kurdistan, we see our freedom in the women of Rojava Revolution. Rojava is freeing us.”

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Alican Vural is one of the young people who died. This is what he wrote on Twitter: “We will be in Kobanê, in order to build it against the murderers, partners, b headers, those who humiliate women.”

alican

We have a revolution like this, very close to Turkey. 20 years old people have seen this. Many more has seen it. Those who are there and those who support what’s going on there, like me. All of us have seen it.

These teenagers, they had a heart full of bravery of something that I could not do! I am really tired of asking for your pity on them by showing them as hippies who had toys in their pockets!

If I try to prove their innocence to you, wouldn’t that make all of those who died to build Rojava Revolution guilty? Do you know how many people have died so that those cantons were formed?

When the war was though in Kobanê, Suphi Nejat Ağırnaslı was murdered fighting against DAESH. He was only 2 years older than me. He had a bachelors degree of sociology from Bosporus University. He was a militant of MLKP. His code name was Paramaz Kılızbaş.

nejat

But Paramaz had a gun his hand! That’s not ok! Is t? Then how about Kader Ortakaya? She did voluntary work in Suruç for 25 days and she was a part of the human chain in the borders to that volunteers could take humanitarian aid to Kobanê. Turkish army shot her and killed her. They denied that they have shot her. She died with no murderers accused.

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Rıfat Horoz. He was a 60 years old man from Sinop. He left his house, his everything to a family from Kobanê whom escaped the war and went off to Kobanê to fight against DAESH. He died about one month ago in an attack from DAESH. There was a photo of him with lilac flowers in his hand, it hurts to see that everytime I look at it.

rıfat horoz

No, I am not saying one death is above another. I’m just saying that I do not make a differentiation between the deaths as guilty and non-guilty. What is the definition of the word terrorist? What is the definition of peaceful protest? As peaceful protestors, should we offer DAESH, who practice every single type of patriarchal violence against humanity, flowers, like we did to the police in Gezi Park protest?

Everybody is afraid to call those who died in Suruç human. Those who died are human. And they are humans whom I was in solidarity with.

Before, I had no reconnaissance of those who died, even from a distance. But now it’s not like that. Those who died in Suruç, I had common friends with. Friends of my friends are dying. Who’s next? My friends? And after that, who?

The circle is getting tight.  I guess it would take a police officer or a DAESH militant to kill you with a rifle in front of your house to understand… You think that you are protected in your white-collar jobs, at your security guard protected residences where you exit with your luxury cars? Do not forget: we all step on the same sidewalk as soon as you exit the door of your secure lives where you live as queens and kings.

This is what Loren Elva, an LGBTIQIA activist who has survived Suruç massacre said:

“I am not fine. I will not be fine. Don’t be fine.”

Please. Don’t be fine anymore.

From Stonewall to Taksim, we are all gay!

28/06/2015

On 26th of June, with the declaration of the Supreme Court, same sex marriage became legal on all the states of America. We’ve had a double celebration on a birthday of a gay friend of mine. I’ve marched for the Pride on Paris on 27th of June. This was the 3rd Pride after the legalization of same sex marriage in France. A friend of mine said: “Each year we are getting more crowded.” Of course we had to get more crowded, the combat was not over! For example, there are still more rights to gain for same sex couples’ reproductive rights in France.. As hundred thousands of people we’ve marched for hours. I believe there were more than 30 corteges. It was a day full of love! I think I was literally flying with my rainbow colored wings by the end of the night at the celebrations in Marais!

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On 28th of June, I’ve had dozens of friends to participate in Pride in Istanbul. I’ve received the news that the Pride was cancelled before the parade begun. The governorship of Istanbul, had cancelled Pride without any warning in advance, just because it was Ramadan! They did not just cancel it, but they attacked dozen thousands of civilians with plastic bullets, tear gas and water cannons! For intermittent 7 long hours!

I’ve just walked with love the day before, and that day, I’ve watched the people I love, my friends, my own sister, people that I don’t even know yet I’m in solidarity with in my heart, being attacked! They did not attack to Pride that day, they attacked love! That day, love did not march on the streets of Taksim, it was the violence of the police state!

The conservative, ruling party of Turkey, AKP had a brochure prepared before the parliamentary elections. Here’s the sentence from that brochure: “Turkey is a country where Pride can take place in the middle of Ramadan. Just non-conservative people are more visible in Turkey now, does not mean we violate the rights of less conservative people.” Last year Pride was during Ramadan, what has changed this year? This year, can the government violate the rights of non-conservative people? Ah yes, it’s after elections, that’s a good excuse!

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They say people’s freedom of love is against the sensitivity of the sacred Ramadan. How about the men who marry under aged girls, who abuse and rape women and girls? They’re not against the sensitivity of Ramadan? How about the animals that are being raped? Raping donkeys is a common thing in Turkey, that’s not against the sensitivity of Ramadan? People marched and protested supporting DAESH (ISIS) in Turkey without any police intervention, that’s not against the Islam sensitiveness? Really? DAESH who cuts heads, rapes and kills anyone who is not Sunni does not do any harm to the sacredness of Islam? They say DAESH does not represent real Islam, well thank you, but why can’t we benefit from the tolerance of the “real” Islam, do you have any explanation?

On 28th of June, 1969, just after midnight NYPD organized a riot at the Stonewall Inn bar. This bar was especially popular among the crowd whom were marginalized even within the homosexual community. Mostly transgender men, drag queens and male sex workers would enjoy a night out there. Up until the end of 1960’s homosexuality was diagnosed as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association and homosexual sex could be punished with life imprisonment. Within this environment, NYPD formed a squad just for raiding homosexual bars and this squad has arrested hundreds of people. Yet 13 people getting arrested on Stonewall that night was the last drop for the suppressed community! A journalist who was writing the attack on that night reports a woman shouting at the crowd standing outside and watching the attack: “Why won’t you do something?”

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The crowd police attacked on that night was an organized and rebellious crowd. After the attack, they’ve first organized among themselves and then they involved the heterosexual people, whom they’ve asked “why won’t you do something” within their protests. They’ve protested for consecutive 6 days in front of Stonewall Inn. Even thought there were many individual activists within the LGBTIQA community, Stonewall Riots is considered as a beginning movement for gaining LGBTIQA rights.

After these riots many LGBTIQA organizations, associations and press institutions were founded. On June 28 1970, in order to remember Stonewall Riots, the first Gay Pride was organized. Craig Rodwell, Fred Sargeant, Ellen Boridy and Linda Rhodes were the ones to propose this idea. And here’s how they explain their motivation:

“That the Annual Reminder, in order to be more relevant, reach a greater number of people, and encompass the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle in which we are engaged-that of our fundamental human rights-be moved both in time and location.

We propose that a demonstration be held annually on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street [street where Stonewall Inn was located]and this demonstration be called Christopher Street Liberation Day.”

This parade exist so that we can remember the fight this community so that their love is considered legal, to celebrate the acquisitions up until today, to remember all those people who have suffered or died for these rights and to keep up the fight!

There are still 11 countries in the world where homosexuality is punished with death penalty and 77 countries where homosexuality can be punished up to life imprisonment.

Why won’t you do something?

Rainbow colored profile photos is a good start to raise awareness but it is not enough! Those “though thugs” who colored up their profile photos still use the word gay as an insult. They are still capable of making rape jokes and promoting violence through their language. Coloring our photos is not enough, first we should color our hearts, our dialogs, the streets and the laws..

Let today’s Taksim attack be 1969’s Stonewall! When you support LGBTIQA rights, do not defend yourself to say “I’m not gay but I’m supporting”. Being gay is not an abnormal thing, nor an insult. Instead say: “what if I am gay?” This is the way to begin the real support. We have to say it out loud every single day so that they get used to it!

We are all gay and we are everywhere!

100 Years Later: The Ongoing Denial of Shame

24/04/2015

Last month I met an Armenian person in a night out in Paris. As my French friend introduced us to each other, he said: “You are Turkish, he is Armenian, and I hope that you two won’t fight.” I could have attacked my French friend with the same prejudgment he had by asking “Yet what do you think of the Rwanda genocide?” but instead I turned to the Armenian man and asked: “Do you think we will fight?” He responded: “Of course we will, because you will deny the Armenian genocide and I will have to tell you the history of my grandfather and we will waste our time here instead of enjoying the party, so no need to discuss.”

I guess in order to accept or deny a massacre, genocide, a murder or a crime – whatever you’d chose to name it – you have to belong to a “crowd”. Once you belong to that crowd, that society, you have to accept the de facto truths of that crowd. It’s not okay to question, to doubt, or to research. If you are Turkish, you don’t like the Kurds and you deny the Armenian genocide. If you are Kurdish, automatically you’re a terrorist. If you support the Republican People’s Party (CHP) somehow you acknowledge that within the first years of the Turkish Republic, tens of thousands of Alevis were slaughtered in Dersim but you still claim that they deserved it because they were “rebels”. If you support the current conservative government in Turkey – the Justice and Development Party (AKP) – you can say you’re upset that 34 civilians were bombed “by mistake” in Roboski by the Turkish army’s F-16 jets, but you still claim that you don’t know who has given that order to bomb them. If you support the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) you demand justice for Berkin Elvan who was murdered at the age of 14 by the police during the Gezi Protests in Turkey but you don’t demand justice for the Kurdish children murdered by the Turkish Army, like Ceylan Önkol or Uğur Kaymaz.

But what if you’re simply a human being? A human being who does not belong to any race, religion or political belief, what do you do then? That’s when you take the conscious decision to research about history without bias, by looking at a range of different sources. You refuse to believe the history books that were given to you since elementary schools or the stories told to you by the mainstream media, and instead you try to understand everything from different points of view.

On April 24, 1915, when the Ottoman Empire was actively engaged in World War I, Ittihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti (Committee of Union and Progress) were in power and they decided to “deport” all the Armenians living in the lands of the Ottoman Empire. The word used for this is “tehcir”, a unique and difficult word to explain but back then it meant “deportation by obligation.” The legal system of the Ottoman Empire introduced this world to the history of law but it does not exist anymore. Yet it is for this reason that some people defend the idea that what happened in 1915 was not genocide but instead a “deportation by obligation” because of ongoing “civil war”.

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When we look at The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948, the definition of genocide includes: “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Yet again, many say this definition was made on 1948 and it does not define what had happened in 1915. It does not really matter which word you use, or how you try to sugar coat what had happened back in 1915. Nothing changes the fact that April 24, 1915 is the date when many Armenian intellectuals living in İstanbul started to be detained and any Armenian living in the lands of the Ottoman Empire were forcefully deported to Deir ez-Zor in Syria.

As of that day, Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire had to leave their houses and their belongings to their friends, or sell them… And then they had to deport, immediately! During this exile, many of them were robbed, raped or murdered. The ones who could survive eventually died due to illness and the horrible conditions suffered along their forced journey. Back in 1915 there were about 1.5 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. Today in Turkey there are only sixty thousand!

There are some “terminology experts” in Turkey who claim that genocide means “wiping a race completely out of the land” and they ask “if the Ottomans are responsible for genocide, how come there are still Armenians living in Turkey?” As if there are no Jews living in Germany right now…

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Many people in Turkey deny what had happened back in 1915. The world is shocked by this denial, but actually there are many reasons behind it.

One of the main reasons people do not believe what had happened was a genocide is because they never learned about it in school. Unfortunately, even some of the most educated individuals in Turkey think that whatever writes on the Turkish history books are 100% true and Turkish historians would not dare to lie. I mean really, why would history books lie? Armenian Genocide is not on print on Turkish history books – voilà! This means it did not happen! Simple logic, no?

There are also some people who think what had happened to the Armenians 100 years ago was agreeable due to the acts of ASALA (Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia) During the years of 1973-1985 this patriotic Armenian army has slaughtered many innocent Turkish people, including Turkish diplomats. Whenever you talk about the Armenian genocide, these people would immediately say: “but they killed us too! ASALA killed us too!”

Let’s talk about money a little, shall we? After the Armenians were deported, the Ottoman Empire released a “liquidation law” and formed a committee in order to manage the belongings of the Armenians. The records kept by this committee were never released. No one knows who got their capital back or not. Unfortunately there were not many Armenians left to pay back to… The liquidation allegedly kept going on until the Republic of Turkey was founded. Turkish journalist Murat Bardakçı – a specialist in the history of the Ottoman Empire – released some documents on his latest book “The Chest of an Ittihat (Union) Member”. According to those documents the capital and belongings of the Armenians were transferred to government leaders and families of the martyrs who died in the Turkish independence war, with the approval of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and İsmet İnönü. The republic of Turkey has inherited a lot of things from Ottoman Empire, yet when it comes to debt, no one in Turkey is interested in paying back this inherited debt.

The theory that I have the most difficult to understand is held by the ones who say “what happened in 1915 is the crime of İttihat ve Terakki (Community of Union and Progress) and it has nothing to do with Turkey.” They deny what had happened as if this is a rule in order to become a patriot and they label anyone who talks about this as a traitor or wannabe leftists! This crowd dares to say: “Orhan Pamuk got a Nobel Prize because he said Armenian Genocide happened.” In their small minds they think supporting minority rights is a “trend”. They say “even though you’re not Armenian, just because you are a wannabe leftist intellectual you talk about the Armenian genocide.”

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I remember very well when I was studying in university and had a minimum level on political comprehension, for my “Revolution History” course, the assistant said that he will ask about the “So Called Armenian Genocide” and he asked us to prove that it did not happen. Back then I wasn’t aware of the issue, so I went on the Turkish patriotic websites, did some research and then did my best to prove that Armenian genocide did not happen. When I look back, I’m ashamed of my unconsciousness, and that instead of resisting to the biased fascist assistant, I did what he told me to, and wrote a completely biased and false essay on this subject!

How long can you live with a shame like that? How long does it take to accept the shame, to see the reality and speak out about it? Do you have to be an Armenian in order to speak out about hundred year old shame? All the booties and capital the republic of Turkey took from the Ottoman Empire counts as official inheritance, but yet why do we refuse to inherit a shame? When we are grieving, we expect everyone to respect our grief, yet when it comes to grieve together with others, why do we turn our backs? All these people who deny the Armenian genocide, they talk about democracy and peace, but what kind of democracy or peace state would support deportation over one million people? In order to speak out about injustice, do we have to be the ones who experienced the injustice ourselves? Can’t we question a system objectively, without accepting the ideological beliefs of a specific crowd?

Just like Rakel Dink said on the funeral of Hrant Dink; “Whoever the killer [of my husband] is I know that he once was a baby. Without questioning the darkness that creates a killer from a baby, you cannot change anything.”

(This article was published on Radikal Blog in Turkish on 24/04/2014, I edited the article and added some paragraphs for the English speaking audiance.)

An open letter to the men of Turkey

25/02/2015

Dear men of Turkey,

I see that you are in an odd state of shame and unacceptance these days. You keep asking: “When did all men become perverts?” “How did we come here?” “Why do we read about femicide on the news every single day?”

You read about femicide on the news each day because male violence is happening on a daily basis in Turkey. You did not hear about it before because “somehow” these stories of women who were murdered by men, who were harassed and raped by men, were dissolved within the rest of the savagery news on the third pages of the newspapers. Nobody enjoys reading the third page and getting upset, no?

Finally more women started to raise their voices and with the fake attention of the media, femicide is a hot topic at last! Yet I find it quite ironic that this topic has just started to interest you… You act like you’ve just learned about male violence and I find it surprising to realize that you were so distant from the violence women have to face on a daily basis. I mean, really, are you sure we live in the same world? Or are you just estranged aliens?

I find it hard to believe… You really think all of these cases of femicide, the violence against women on a daily basis, the continuous pressure women have to face and the obsessive desire men have to control a women’s body is a new thing? It’s been 12 days since Özgecan was murdered and in these 12 days, 8 more women were killed by men in Turkey. You think it’s the state who’s responsible for this? You think it’s the perverts and only the perverts who are responsible? You think everything will change once the laws are applied? Once the “perverts” are put in jail? You are wrong! Sexism and patriarchy are responsible for this. Isn’t it time that you face the dirt you’ve been sweeping under the rug? Your own dirt!

You were not aware of male violence against women before, simply because you were a part of it. Come on now, you cannot solve this problem without accepting the fact that you are a part of this patriarchal society.

Hundreds thousands of women told their stories on how hard it is to live as a woman in Turkey with the hashtag #sendeanlat (#youtelltoo) Did you read them? After reading them could you say #ididittoo or #iamashamed ? How ashamed are you really? Do you know why you’re ashamed? You think all of those #youtelltoo stories are about men you don’t know? You think they’re all strangers? They are not! These are our stories and we are all a part of it! All of us! And now if we are to fight together as women and men, isn’t getting rid of our mentality that is infected with patriarchy, sexism and misogyny should be the first step?

You think of violence against women only on a physical scale, but why can’t you think of the psychological, sociological, educational, economical and political dimensions as well? These may seem like “minor” details for you but for us women, they are so tiring! If I was to talk about only one dimension, the other dimension would be left out. I’m not talking about the fact that when you’re walking as a woman in a dark street alone in Turkey, that you have to be cautious. I’m not talking about taking the licence plate number of each Taxi we take and texting the number to our friends in case he decides to kidnap us, or the fake phone calls we make during the taxi ride to our “owners” (fathers/husbands) so that he would not dear to flirt with us. I’m not talking about the possibility of harassment that is directed to our physical existence. We were thought how to fight that and how to develop tactics to protect ourselves, since the day we were born as girls. As if this is human nature… What I’m talking about is a different thing. It’s how your male minds oppress and violate women on a daily basis. What I’m talking about is how women are and have to be left behind in this patriarchal system.

What I’m talking about is when I said “I hate those men who rape me with their eyes as I’m walking down the street, as if they’ve never seen a woman before” my ex-boyfriend replied “but why do you look into their eyes?” What I’m talking about is when I said “they ask me if I’m married or not on job interviews and my job efficiency is questioned according to my fertility” my friend replied “but this information is on your ID, why would you refuse to provide it?” What I’m talking about is when female celebrities’ naked photos leaked online and when I warned my friend not to look at them, he replied “but they are celebrities because they love attention, they should have been more careful , it’s not my fault the photos leaked so I can enjoy looking at them.” What I’m talking about is when I said “women should have the right to have their own last name after marriage – even though that it comes from their father” my friend commented “but how will we determine the ancestry of people if they take any last name they want?” Or when I said “I don’t think we should use swear words that provoke sexual violence” this man asked me “so you will re-invent the language?” What I’m talking about is that when I said I find the Oscar Academy judges biased as they are 93% white, 76% male and with an average age of 63, some men tried to guilt me into being “politically correct” and who belittled my fight for women to be equal on all grounds and labeled it as “extreme sensitivity!” Or the time when I complained about women being shown in the media with the focus on their bodies, clothing, partners or children, my colleague replied “why do you complain about this instead of fighting for women women who are being raped?”

What I’m talking about is YOU! Your masculinity, that you have to prove at all times, your willingness to indcate that you know better about the difficulties women face. Your consistency to insist on proving your masculinity, and how you don’t understand this willingness to prove your maleness creates the men who rape women just because they would like to prove their masculinity. You think it’s only the women who have the capability to give birth, but you know nothing about the society which gives birth to gender roles, therefore “masculinity”.

As a person who defines herself a socialist, I have to comment on my leftist brothers as well. I accept the fact that feminist fight has changed over time and today feminists fight as well for the power defined by capitalism, which was created by the patriarchy. I accept that women fight to gain respect which is only gained by being aggressively masculine and using violence as a weapon. I know, economic income, the capital, has become a material for this fight of power. Perhaps one day we can sit down and discuss how power ended up being equal to being masculine and having capital, and how women are delusional to belive once they reach the power that is defined by this system, they will finally gain freedom!

I’m not against discussing all of these, yet you have to understand the main fight that we combat is gender equality. When you define the oppression women face on a daily basis through the fight for power in capitalism and private property rights, you forget about one thing: patriarchy. You tell us to give up on our fight with patriarchy and fight against capitalism instead. You tell us to give up on our fight with patriarchy and fight with religion instead. When we look at the history of humanity, of course it’s easy to see what capitalism has done to women, as women did not have the equal capital as men, and as they still do not, they fell behind on this competitive system. When we look at the history of humanity, of course it’s easy to see what religion has done to women by owning women as property and daring to have control over their fertility. Yet you fail to see the bigger picture! You fight so strong against capitalism and religion, that you forget it’s patriarchy that created them both!

Do you know what sisterhood means? Your race, age, language, religion, class or political views do not matter, as long as you protect your sisters. While you are so busy prioritizing what to fight against, how about you put patriarchy as a priority for once? Huh? Because just like Simone de Beauvoir said: “the combat between classes is deceptive, unless it’s consolidated with the combat of the women.”

So please, try to take a look at the bigger picture. Try to see what patriarchy has done to women, to us, as a society. Because for me, and for many other feminists who’ve put effort in this fight, we cannot combat together with men, who don’t understand patriarchy is the main problem, with men who do not see themselves as a part of this problem.

The feminist resistance in Turkey following the murder of Özgecan

17/02/2015

TRIGGER WARNING: This article contain information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors

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On February 11th, Özgecan Aslan, a 20 year old student in Mersin, Turkey, was taking the bus home from school. She was the only one left on the bus when the driver took a different path. She got scared and started arguing with him. He stopped the bus in a deserted area, and when he attempted to rape her, she resisted and sprayed pepper spray in his eyes. (In Turkey it’s the number one purse item for women.) He got mad and took his knife and started stabbing her. She scratched his face trying to resist. Finally he used a crowbar to hit her until she died. He took her dead body to his father and his friend. The three men took her to the woods, cut her hands off so that his DNA would not be found under her fingernails burned her body to destroy the evidence and left her there. I’m nauseous from anger.

I’ve grown a new habit of cracking my knuckles when I get angry. My fingers struggle to type. I’ve been a feminist for 29 years, and a feminist activist for one. And people who laugh in my face when I say I’m a feminist are mourning for Özgecan today. I want to spit in their faces.

48 days of 2015 are past us. In these 48 days in Turkey, including Özgecan, 37 women have been murdered by male violence. Nobody knows their names. Nobody protested their murders. For none of them has social media been “shaken” with worldwide trending topics. I’ve lost my voice from screaming about the femicide in Turkey and those who have questioned my screams with “don’t you think the wording women massacre is a little strong?” are now shedding crocodile tears for Özgecan.

Men and women who are embarrassed to call themselves feminists, hypocrites who play house with society’s gender roles, talk about Özgecan today. I want to puke. When they have done nothing up until today for all of the other women who have been victims, now they rub their show of sensitivity in  our faces. How is Özgecan different from the 13 year old girl sold for a “bride price” who gets raped by her 50 year old “owner” every night? Who knows that girl’s name? Who talks about her? Nobody. Because that girl is not an educated member of the middle class. Those who take offence at imagining themselves in that girl’s shoes have no problem with empathizing with Özgecan though. Even corpses have class in this system. And murders are categorized by the level of attention they receive. The more savage, the more horrific, the more attention the violence gets. It’s not enough to be raped and murdered, your body needs to be cut in pieces and burned on top of that to get enough attention for people to actually talk about you.

When Özgecan’s murder was first revealed, the news was shared on the third page, yet once the social media attention increased, they pulled it to the headlines. Not because they cared about Özgecan, but for the “clicks” it would bring to their sites as a hot topic. The last time a femicide was featured on the front page of a mainstream newspaper in Turkey was when the chief editor of Habertürk, Fatih Altaylı, published the photo of Şefika Erik, naked and dead, with the knife that her husband stabbed her with in her back. It was published as murder porn. Come on, let’s be realistic, everybody condemns femicide in Turkey, but nobody really gives a damn about it. Our sensitivity just moves along the current of the daily news, whatever is the hot – or horrific – topic. I saw the photo of Özgecan shared on Twitter when she was missing. Somebody shared it and said they were looking for her. One scumbag commented to say “Why are you making a big fuss about it? It’s been only a day, she probably just hasn’t woken up yet.” In other words: “She’s sleeping in the arms of some man, relax.” The man who commented on the news of the women who has been raped by her husband by saying “But it can’t be rape if it’s her husband” now says he’s in solidarity with Özgecan. The man who said “But you’re only talking about it to get attention” when I talk about street harassment now says he’s crying for Özgecan. The man who asked “What, so you’re going to invent a new language?” when I said I was uncomfortable with swear words that imply sexual violence now says “Stop femicide!” Excuse me, but how are we going to stop femicide? Without changing the collective perception of the society, the norms and the de facto acceptances, do you think we’ll say “Ok everyone we’re stopping femicide” and poof, femicide will magically disappear? Without understanding the correlation between the man who says “f.ck you” and the man who physically f.cks you without your consent, how are we going to solve this problem?

I had a big breakdown 3 weeks ago. In between e-mails coming from different women asking for help and the stories of harassment, rape, violence, murder, the question “But what can I do on my own?” echoed in my head and I couldn’t swallow my sobs. The articles that I started writing and could not finish, the women I wanted to help but couldn’t collapsed on top of me. I wanted to buy a rifle and form an armed patrol unit. One task force that hunts down those who commit street harassment, another one for those who beat women, another one to track rapists and one more for those who kill women. You might think I’ve gone insane, but I’ve come to the point where I think that insanity itself was invented by patriarchy.

So if you’re the sane ones then I have to ask you, you think we should wait for government –  which is men from head to toe – to free women? Especially in Turkey… You think a president who defines gender equality based on creation (using an Islamic term I won’t use here) and says that men and women are not equal will help stop femicide? Maybe you don’t know, but in Turkey there is no ministry for women. Women issues are dealt with under the “Family and Social Politics Ministry.” And the head of this ministry that defines existence of women only within the family, Ayşenur İslam, says “It’s unnecessary to make a fuss about femicide in Turkey, it happens everywhere.” Will this “woman” minister who refuses to meet with women associations solve the problem? Will this government who pays for each child born, as if women are breeding animals, solve the problem?

The government who turns sacred mothers into house workers? Really? You think lawyers will solve this problem? The lawyers who claim that if the government makes monthly payments to single men so that they can have sex with sex workers they will stop raping women? This is the reality of Turkey.  And now people are saying they want death penalty back in Turkey. As if they don’t know that in countries run by Islamic regime, women who have been raped are seen as a part of the crime and are murdered by execution as well. Let the death penalty arrive and you will see how the sultan of Turkey will implement it.

It hurts to think about it. Özgecan resisting the bus driver Suphi Atındöken as he tried to rape her. Spraying pepper spray, scratching his cheeks. How could he have enough knowledge to remove the DNA evidence from under his fingernails; yet no acknowledgement of a woman’s right to not be touched against her will? Of course there should be deterrent punishments, yet who will give these men deterrent consciousness? The Daddy state? Schools? Or collective perception of society?

You will give them this consciousness. We will give it to them. A society that has adopted feminist ideology will give it. A community that fights for women’s rights will give it. The people who should have reacted against the man who kicked a young woman on the bus the other day in İstanbul just because she was crossing her legs will give this consciousness. The street will give it. Continuous protest will give it. The We Will Stop Femicide Platform will give it. The support and donations we give to this platform will give it. The people who have the courage to react to the men who catcall women on the street will give it. The people who do not define people according to whether they have a vagina or a penis will give it. The men who can be “like a girl” and the women who can be “like a boy” by saying that what matters is being “like a human” will give this consciousness to our society. Özgecan’s slaughter is no different from any other woman’s slaughter. We cannot complete this fight without showing equal support to every woman who has been murdered, raped, harassed, belittled or left behind just for being a woman. This is not the fight of women but it’s the fight of the whole society. My heart goes out to the women who were and will be on the streets in Turkey, yesterday, today and tomorrow. This will be the new turning point of our resistance. I invite all the women of Turkey to talk about the harassment they have faced, the sexist moments they had to fight. They’ve already started with the #sendeanlat (you tell too) hashtag but the sharing shouldn’t stop here.. I invite all the men in Turkey to say “I’m a feminist” without being embarrassed. If you really are in solidarity with Özgecan, it’s time to finally take real action!

(Special thanks to Abby Comstock-Gay who helped to edit this article. She’s a woman from the US living in Turkey and she contacted me saying that she wanted to translate my article. I had already translated it by then, so she helped me with the editing. This is what being in solidarity is like!)

(This article was published in Turkish in T24 and in Greek in fylosykis.gr)