Report from Turkey June 05 2013

June 13, 2013 – Update

This past weekend many of us in Canada began hearing news reports about the protests taking place in Turkey. Although most of the information being reported was rather scarce in detail, it was clear that what had initially started off as small peaceful sit-in, had quickly erupted into something of a much bigger scale, both politically and socially.

On Monday morning I arrived at the office to find an email from Anansi and Groundwood’s Turkish subagent, Amy Spangler. Amy is the co-founder of the Instanbul-based AnatoliaLit Copyright and Translation Agency.  Amy and her colleagues act as sub-agents for Anansi and Groundwood, helping us place our titles with Turkish publishers. Most recently, they negotiated the Turkish sales for the Ava Lee Series by Ian Hamilton and the Stella and Sam Series by Marie-Louise Gay. They are a lovely and dedicated crew, and I look forward to my meetings with them at the Frankfurt, London, and Bologna book fairs.

Likely after hearing from many concerned friends, family, and business partners from around the world who have been following the news, Amy and her colleagues decided to send out a firsthand account of the events taking place.

With AnatoliaLit’s permission, we’d like to share their insightful letter with you, along with some photos taken from the streets. While hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey are taking to the streets to demonstrate for what they believe in, we’ll continue to follow the events with a critical eye and remain hopeful for a positive outcome.

— Gillian Fizet, Rights Manager

Dear friends,

You are probably already aware of what is happening in Turkey right now. What started out as a peaceful sit-in in Istanbul’s Taksim Square to protest the construction of a shopping mall in Gezi Park — one of the few remaining “green” locations in the heart of the city — has turned into a countrywide insurgency against the despotism of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his regime. Myself and my colleagues at AnatoliaLit Agency have been taking to the streets whenever possible. We were in Taksim when the resistance movement began gaining momentum on Friday afternoon, and we all suffered our share of pepper gas and tear gas, which the police rained down on protestors from both land and sky. (As some of you already know, I was struck in the back by a pepper gas bomb on Friday evening. It hurt like hell, like someone hurled a brick straight at my back, but except for some soreness I’m fine now.)

Friday, May 31st
Friday, May 31st

Protests continue throughout the country, as does police brutality. So far, it is confirmed that one person has died, two people are in critical condition, and nearly 2,000 have been injured. (These figures are contested and it is difficult to know the true damage done due to false reports being circulated on social media. I dare say the figures are more likely an underestimate than an overestimate, however.)

This protest was initiated in Gezi Park by a coalition of environmentalists, human rights activists, feminists, LGBTT activists, anarchists, and leftist groups, including the formidable Anti-Capitalist Muslims, who have had no qualms in aligning themselves with these groups, I should point out. These groups were protesting not only the construction of a shopping center in the park, but the imprisonment of writers, journalists, and human rights activists, the Roboski (Uludere) Massacre of December 2011 in which 34 Kurdish civilians were killed, the Reyhanli bombing earlier this year (just today the trees in the park were named after the victims of both incidents), rampant discrimination and attacks against minorities, rising femicide — in short, the manifold of egregious abuses that this regime has at worst been directly responsible for or at best turned a blind eye to.

Friday, May 31st
Friday, May 31st

It is important to point out that this movement was not spearheaded by Turkish nationalists. At the vanguard of the movement are people fighting for human rights across the board (not to mention animal rights activists, such as those running the kitchen at Gezi Park and specifically asking for donations of vegetarian and vegan foods). While we welcome the support of people from all walks of life, it is important that this movement not be high-jacked by nationalists. Yes, the People’s Republican Party have taken to the street in support of the revolt against Erdoğan. However, there is a large contingent that does not agree with their flag-waving, especially their banners proclaiming “We’re all Turks, we’re all Atatürk,” which were ubiquitous in the march we witnessed last night in our part of the city. The latter is a slogan taken from “We are all Armenians, we are all Hrant Dink”, which was chanted by more than two hundred thousand people who took to the streets for the funeral of journalist Hrant Dink. Hrant was an ethnic Armenian citizen of the Turkish Republic who was assassinated by a Turkish nationalist in 2007. I dare say that perverting this chant, created as a sign of solidarity with a persecuted minority, is no worse or less sensitive than Prime Minister Erdoğan’s plan to name the third Istanbul bridge, another highly contested privatization of public space that will result in the felling of 2.5 million trees, after an Ottoman Sultan responsible for nearly exterminating all of the country’s Alevi (a non-Sunni Muslim denomination, to which two of our colleagues at AnatoliaLit belong).

Friday, May 31st
Friday, May 31st

I point all of this out simply to exemplify how complicated the issues truly are. Yes, we all oppose the voracious privatization of public spaces, we all desire regime change, and it is important that we be united on these fronts at this moment. However, not all of us agree on what exactly the changes should be. So, keep this in mind, and be wary of what you read in the news. The Western press is highly adept at depicting everything in this part of the world through a neo-Orientalist lens. As consumers of the news, please remain vigilant!

Prime Minister Erdoğan has stated that “we can barely restrain the fifty percent”, by which he means the fifty percent that voted for his party. In saying this, he is effectively calling on them to take to the streets. They have already begun doing so, though not yet in large numbers. This could change at any moment.

We have no choice but to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. That said, we are hopeful; indeed, very hopeful.  The casualties suffered will not be in vain. The Turkish stock market may hit rock bottom and business (including our business!) may suffer. But, as Annie says, “the sun will come out tomorrow.”

Me with translator and friend Elif Ersavcı and AnatoliaLit's bookkeeper, Ayşe Baykal, at the demonstration (with our faces covered in the medicine Rennie, which reduces the sting of pepper gas)
Me with translator and friend Elif Ersavcı and AnatoliaLit’s bookkeeper, Ayşe Baykal, at the demonstration (with our faces covered in the medicine Rennie, which reduces the sting of pepper gas)

So, please bear with us as we engage in what very well could be a revolution. If we get a bit behind on e-mail, we hope you’ll understand!

Best wishes,

Amy Spangler and the rest of the AnatoliaLit Team: Dilek Akdemir, Ayşe Baykal, Eda Çaça, Muhtesim Güvenç, Zarife Kaya

P.S. Some useful links:

Hans Rusinek’s album

The Right to the City Movement and the Turkish Summer by Jay Cassano – Jadaliyya.com

The Turkish Protests and the Genie of Revolution by Jerome Roos – RoarMag.org

The Gezi Park Occupation: Confronting Authortarian Neoliberalism by Cemal Burak Tansel – AdamDavidMorton.com