From Black Lives Matter to Gezi and Rojava

Sevgi Doğan

Summary: Questions for the Black Lives Matter uprising in light of the Turkish and Kurdish mass movements and uprisings — and repression — since 2013 — Editors

My argument refers to the unity of theory and praxis, in the Gramscian sense of a historical bloc. In this regard, I would like to hear more about how the current Black struggle or Black-led multiracial movement in the U.S. spontaneously organizes itself. Marxist-Humanists have claimed that they have never experienced a social movement on this scale, partly because it has become an international movement.

These movements remind me of another social movement that I had experienced in Turkey, the Gezi Park protests or uprisings in 2013. These occurred after the Arab Spring in 2011. At the time, I also thought that the Turkish social and leftist movement had never experienced such kind of movement. Its character was also spontaneous. After the brutal end of the movement the Erdogan regime became more aggressive, violent, and harsh. In the Gezi protest, there were different social and leftist groups coming together. Even Kurdish and Turkish nationalists tried to struggle together against the semi-democratic and authoritarian government.

The form Gezi took was also very interesting because it contained a communal feature, with nearly a direct form of democracy. People had taken the responsibility to clean the park every morning and evening. Nobody told them what they had to do. People who could not occupy and sleep in the park tried to bring food, blankets and tents, medicine, masks, and other things that helped to protect Gezi from brutal police attacks. A mother wearing a headscarf brought food that she cooked herself and said that “I am here for the future of my daughter and we are done with what Erdogan is saying and we do not want him to even enter our bedroom.” There were artists, there were discussions groups, there were doctors who were coming after their shifts in the hospital, there were forums, theater performance. In short there was great solidarity among intellectuals. Maybe it was first time that the intellectuals and people came together in this way.

I was impressed particularly by the forum, which was a form of direct democracy, as it seemed to me. Here I saw how people needed to make their voices heard. They needed to talk.

The problem arose after the brutal police attacks that ended the occupation of Gezi Park. People tried to unite in different parks in different districts or parts of Istanbul. But the movement was not able to mount a sustained resistance. It could not transform itself into a political organization. This makes me wonder about the future of these current movements in the U.S.

Here it is important to refer to the significance of space for social movement. Gezi Park was the site of creation for a revolutionary movement. I want to stress that today the struggle is no longer in the mountains; the urban areas are the site of struggle. This park opened a space of struggle!

It is the case also after Erdogan’s attack on the peace movement of some intellectuals who called themselves “Academic for Peace” who signed a petition to call a cessation of Turkish military attacks to the part of Turkish Kurdistan (Bakurê). Many thousands of academics signed and then after the coup attempt of 2016 but most of them were dismissed from their university positions. They created new space for their struggles in streets and parks. They continued to teach on the streets and in the parks, in particular in big cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Kocaeli, etc. This semi-democratic and neoliberal authoritarian system — the Erdogan regime — is creating academic refugees/an academic migration from the south to the north.

Another point to consider regarding the unity of theory and praxis is the Rojava experience. I think it is also important in order to comprehend how to design a non-capitalist society. Rojava had an experience based on the gender equality, called Democratic Confederalism. Democratic Confederalism is based on “a platform of shared values: environmental defense, self-defense, gender equality and pluralistic tolerance for religion, politics and culture.” It of course has its defects or shortcomings; for example, regarding the political economy of the new society. I think this is both problematic and particularly important for its democratic political agenda. It can therefore be said that the Rojava project is based on politics, that is, more on the superstructure than on the structure, here using Marx’s famous terms. Rojava tried to struggle against three things: 1) the patriarchal system; 2) the nation-state or the state system in general; 3) the capitalist system.

The revolution is strengthened via daily life. There are academies, cooperatives, and municipalities. Municipalities are social and political units. Cooperatives are the economic units and academies are the training units. These three elements must be connected and if one of them is missing the revolution cannot be complete and thus the transformation of daily life would be considered incomplete. The economic sphere supplies the whole of society and there are municipalities as decision mechanisms and a place to identify problems.

Democratic autonomy has multiple dimensions, concerning issues such as women’s situation, ecology, the economy, self-defense, justice, diplomacy, etc. A female presence can be observed in each of these areas. Each institution is a mixed institution with fifty percent female representation along with a female/male co-presidency system. In parallel with all of these aspects, a women’s committee or council is established. For example, if there is a municipality, there is also a municipality for women; if there is a cooperative, there is also a women’s cooperative. In each municipality, committees are established among these multiple dimensions as needed. One example would be self-defense for the safety of the village, where if there are problems the committee of magistrates tries to create a group able to face them and to reconcile the parties, all according to people’s needs. Diplomacy can provide external relations with other municipalities and other ethnic groups.

I do not want to go into deep the discussion or to give a detail but I just want to say that it is very crucial to consider these experiences in order to create or design a theory of How.



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