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Last updated: June 10, 2013

“Çapulcu” generation shakes political culture in Turkey

Banner Icon Resistanbul “Occupy Gezi Movement” became the manifestation of a slowly-growing anger against the government’s interventions on individual lifestyles and freedoms, as well as the lack of political representation of young people in Turkey, writes Baris Mumyakmaz.

Thousands of young men and women wearing soccer team jerseys, heavy metal band t-shirts, headscarves, hoodies and tank tops took to the streets in Istanbul’s Taksim Square Sunday afternoon to continue their 12-day long protest against the demolition of the last remaining green spot in the heart of the busy metropolis.

Rallying and chanting anti-government slogans on the streets, protestors reiterated their demands on government officials to end all construction efforts in Taksim Gezi Park, ban the usage of tear gas, prosecute those who ordered unbalanced police violence, release all detained demonstrators without further prosecution, and remove demonstration bans in public squares throughout the country.

But many experts and young demonstrators say that “Occupy Gezi Movement” is not only about saving Taksim Gezi Park and its trees: It became the manifestation of a slowly-growing anger against the government’s interventions on individual lifestyles and freedoms, as well as the lack of political representation of young people in Turkey.

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Thousands of young people in Turkey now call themselves “çapulcu” - looter in Turkish - after PM Erdogan coined the term for the first time on June 2 to name peaceful demonstrators of Taksim Gezi Park. “Chapuling” has already become synonym with “resisting” - a term also used by Noam Chomsky and Patti Smith to support the protestors.

“The traditional politics in Turkey is male adult-centered and ignore young people"

A recent online poll conducted by Istanbul Bilgi University academics Esra Ercan Bilgic and Zehra Kafkasli among the occupiers of the Gezi Park revealed that only 56.2 percent of them cite cutting down of trees as one of the definite causes of the protest, while 91.1 percent of poll participants said violation of democratic rights by the government figures was one reason they joined the movement.

Almost 64 percent of around 3,000 pollsters were aged between 19 to 30 years old.

Furthermore, the poll suggests that 70 percent of the protesters at the Gezi Park do not feel close to any political party in Turkey, while an overwhelming majority of 92.4 percent of the participants say that the “authoritarian behaviour” of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan motivated them to join the demonstration.

“I used to appreciate PM Erdogan and his government for years. But he recently crossed to the dark side. Like Anakin Skywalker,” said Sinan Mutlu, a 29-year old improvisation theater artist.

“Erdogan turned into a real dictator now. He thinks that he is the expert of everything. Disregarding everybody’s opinion including real experts, he gets to decide how many children we should have, what beverage we should drink, where we should entertain. I am asking you: Where else on earth a democratically elected prime minister tells you all of this? Why is my choice or opinion worth nothing?”

On several occasions during the past years, PM Erdogan commented on a variety of issues that created controversy in Turkey. In 2008 Erdogan said that every Turkish family must have at least three children - a statement that enraged feminists and women across the country. In addition, he said aloud that every abortion was a “homicide” in 2012. That year, Turkish women rallied against a government bill to restrict abortion rights.

Similarly in 2013, Erdogan announced the national Turkish beverage to be ayran - a non-alcoholic mix of yogurt and water. Later on, the Turkish Parliament passed a bill that restricted the sale and usage of alcoholic beverages to “protect the health of Turkish youth.” The bill still needs President Gül’s ratification.

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“Limiting the sale and consumption of alcohol has nothing to do with protecting the public health of children and young adults. Their (AKP government’s) aim is to intervene lifestyles that they don’t want,” Levent Gök, Republican People’s Party deputy told bianet on May 24.

According to Demet Lukuslu, associate professor of sociology at Yeditepe University, many people and politicians were surprised with Taksim Gezi Park protestors due to their profile.

“When you first look at protestors, you see soccer fans, heavy metal band listeners, comic book readers, tree huggers, TV show watchers, computer geek victims of YouTube ban, beer lovers, etc.,” she continued.

“They first seem to have nothing in common and not at all interested in traditional politics. But in fact, it is the anger towards PM Erdogan and his policies since 2002 that brought all these young people together. Some of them are so young that they don’t even remember another prime minister. For them, PM Erdogan marks the adversary image.” 

Lukuslu said that Erdogan paradoxically gave these young, independent, urban, heterogenous and middle class individuals a common identity by calling them “çapulcu.”

“I am participating in a demonstration for the first time in my life. I don’t like political parties and I am not under any political party flag,” said a 23 year-old female protestor who didn’t want to reveal her name. She marked her rare blood type (AB-) on her arm in case excessive police violence might require her hospitalization.

“I didn’t vote for Erdogan either,” she continued. “But he is my prime minister too. He should think of my needs and freedoms as well. He is the prime minister of this country, not the prime minister of those who voted for him. Even my friends who voted for him are resenting him now.”

She also complained the attitude of other political parties that only rallied in Taksim Gezi Park to launch petitions against the government.

“Those parties are never with the people at night when police attacks demonstrators. These protests shouldn’t aim to overthrow the government. Protests must aim to improve democracy and ensure individual rights,” she said.

For Demet Lukuslu though, this process might take a while as none of the political parties have indeed any clear idea on what “çapulcu” people are really demanding out there in Taksim Gezi Park.

“The traditional politics in Turkey is male adult-centered and ignore young people. They take part in sub-organizations but can't become a part of decision-making. Instead of criticizing young people for what they have done, they need to take a closer look at what’s going on there. They need to stop considering young people as objects to build the future upon. They need to regard them as subjects, as individuals who have an opinion.”

EDITOR'S PICK What you need to know about the #OccupyGezi phenomenon in Turkey

Baris Mumyakmaz
Baris is a young journalist based in Istanbul. He has written for Cumhuriyet, Milliyet, bianet, The Mass Media and Zete. In 2008, one of his works was awarded by Milliyet, a prominent Turkish newspaper. He is fluent in Turkish, English, French and Norwegian.
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