It’s an intense period for Turkey. This population with multiple origins and complex identity has to deal with south-east chaotic borders crossed by millions of migrants, zone which is historically under conflict with the Kurdish population. After the summer 2016 coup attempt, Erdogan’s regime take advantage of the instability to be more and more authoritarian, threatening in the same time its own democracy.
It may sounds pretentious for French guys to talk about human rights. Although, even if the UDHR was adopted in Paris, the situation is far from perfect in France. Ranked 45th on the press freedom index, its mainstream medias are being owned by few billionaires or big companies . Since November 2015 the country also entered in a “state of emergency”, reconducted twice for questionable reasons until at least July 2017. So it’s with this humble eyes that we will give our perception of the situation.
As we entered Turkey we could feel a lot is at stake in this period. In Istanbul, Taksim square appears shy at night. Walking by Istiklal street, a feeling of fear powered by the continuous attendance of police officers reminds us that Turkey as well is under a "state of emergency". Tension runs high under this regime that we knew was allowing less and less room for freedom.. we couldn’t imagine though that in one month, would be targeted anyone not supporting the government, politics and media (even the famous Cumhumbriet) as well as 370 NGO’s and thousands of public servants purged over for dubious reasons, establishing an increasing anxiety among most people we’ve met. We could feel concretely this authoritarianism when we met this university piano teacher, fired 2 weeks earlier because she signed a petition for peace with Kurdish community.
Aware of the risks, an opposition still exists and gets organized to face the situation with initiatives in different domains. Right in line with the symbolic Gezi Park protests, at the meeting point of the protection of human rights and green space, here is our perception of some movements we had the chance to get in contact with.
Western turkey, starting movements toward innovative and ethical food production
We figured out Turkey is quite developed on one subject we consider having great potential to provide suitable solution for both nutrition, energy and ecology. Permaculture can be defined as a smart way to design food production considering efficiency and ethics by understanding and applying the rules of natural ecosystems. Permaculture projects are quite numerous on the western coast from Istanbul to Antalia (some are reported on the great ekoharita website), we’ve met one of them in Eskisehir.
After a 300 km ride from Istanbul through the countryside, Eskisehir appeared like an Oasis of freedom. We have met there Basak and the “Ekolojik Yasam Toplulugu” community, taking care of several interesting projects. Together with Fevzi and the “Porsuk Çayı Feylesofları” they have started a permaculture project on a field lent by Tepebaşı municipality where you can see growing organic food like, pepper, eggplant, watermelon, pumpkins and different species of tomatoes. The seeds of the same tomatoes will be collected and freely distributed during the Eskisehir edition of the 2016 “Surdurulebilir Yasam” film festival. Seed swapping is quite developed in west and help to maintain biodiversity and fight against the monopoly of multinational seed producers as Monsanto.
Within this same group of people abundant in initiative, we‘ve met Sevim. She is a Art Design teacher caring about waste management and compost, she showed us beautiful pieces of art she created from recycled plastic materials, the only matter she could not recycle in any other way.
Ankara’s resistance brings up critical thinking and spread the truth
Most people we’ve met would tell us we will get bored visiting Ankara. In our research for human right activism, Ankara’s was actually full of content for us.
We have first met two local papers feeding free and alternative information to mainstream and partial medias. Solfasol, invited us to assist to one of their weekly gathering and we have met the creator and editor-in-chief of Gaia Dergi in an alternative pub downtown. We consider the diffusion of information as critically important especially in this kind of confused period Turkey is today. The connection with Solfasol team went very fast and we accepted with great pleasure to write a monthly column in which we will talk about about our trip.
In the same domain, we had the chance to discuss with one "citizen journalist" of Seyr-l Sokak group. They increase visibility of what happens in the streets by filming and reporting video on internet. The movement became popular with Gezi protest and expose crime/repression/violence committed by those in power. Some videos have actually already been used by media and in court of law. More than this, an beautiful example of their action was a one year project, financed by UN, aiming to train people in East Turkey to film and edit videos. This rely on the simple and powerful idea that anyone using a phone equipped with camera has in their hand a tool to broadcast the reality he is exposed to.
Digital technologies are a great way to spread information. We experienced that also in a simpler way when we went to discuss with to 2 classes in an Ankara primary school, about ecology and permaculture. This warmfull experience has been allowed by teachers’ goodwill and we will try to repeat it all along our trip.
The relevance of civil society's action
We have seen encouraging initiatives in a divided society, on different front, permaculture against the industrial agriculture, diffusion of free information against partial medias. We also believe that art, culture and history has an important role to play as it multiplies the way of expression and opens minds. We can think of Asli Erdoğan's work or the movie “Abluka” as concrete and powerful examples.
Beyond the interests of the country itself, Turkey hold a global important role as it still represents this sensitive bridge where East meets West.
As reflect of Donald Trump campaign, and what we see in EU especially in Hungary, Poland, and even France (with the rise of extreme right), the western concept and value of free world and universalism makes way for nationalism and identity fallback. It seems to us that something similar is happening in Turkey and we believe that the civil society, via local initiatives has the key to counterweight this tendency.