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On resistance, Women and the Petition of the Academics for Peace

Çağla Aykaç
p. 193-205

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  • 1 Donna J. Haraway. 1991. A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, adn Socialist-Feminism in the Lat (...)

The international women's movements have constructed "women's experience", as well as uncovered or discovered this crucial collective object. This experience is a fiction and fact of the most crucial, political kind. Liberation rests on the construction of the consciousness, the imaginative apprehension, of oppression, and so of possibility. The cyborg is a matter of fiction and lived experience that changes what counts as women's experience in the late twentieth century. This is a struggle over life and death but the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.
Donna Haraway-Cyborg Manifesto
1

1Writing about Turkey in 2018 is a painful exercise. Originally, this text aimed to reflect upon individual and collective practices of resistance of women in a particular time in the history of Turkey with a focus on women who signed the petition of the Academics for Peace in 20162. Yet, although many of us continue to develop skills and strategies for political expression and emancipation, our realities keep on dissolving and flying into different geographical spaces and unexpected paths, making us play roles in a feminist dystopia rather than go about our more usual research and teaching tasks in universities. As feminist scholars from Turkey, we walk through our own endangered realities, with certain relative privileges and many losses, trying to claim strategies for resistance rather than victimhood. Every day comes with its dose of shock and awe3; transformations are rapid and violent, and bear on institutional politics, spaces, bodies, daily life and senses of self.

  • 4 See When State of Emergency becomes the Norm : The Impact of Executive Decrees on Turkish Legislat (...)

2Some stayed while others left, willingly and not; and it is together that we watch the massive regressions in all procedures that guaranteed civil, political, and social rights in the country4. We were all banned from our lives. There is the outrage of the privileged who never thought it would happen to them; the suffering of those who lost loved ones; the anger of those to whom it happened before and again; the confinement of all those who are in prison.

3Today, documenting the scale of these political transformations is a challenge: in practice, certain subjects are taboo again, the work of collecting data and sharing knowledge is censored and criminalized, a great number of associations in which such research was possible were banned or closed down, many of those who are qualified to do this work are in prison or in exile, while those who continue are taking life-threatening risks. A whole range of non-official mechanisms for control accompany unpredictable and suddenly legal political transformations, challenging your intelligence as you try to think though rumors and lies.

From Denial to Dystopia

4In a country built on denial, keeping memory alive, doing translations, collecting data on trials, disappearances and injustices has always held a central place in the resistance and it is well-known that it is always a handful of people who devote their times and skills to this work. Without them, there would be no resistance, because there would be no traces.

5Yet, rational thinking and scientific methods express only part of the experience of witnessing the collapse of our realities. Our survival is at stake, but we have already been erased, and forced into a different time and a different space. Our past and plans for the future were simply brushed away and officially ceased to exist, along with certain neighborhoods, cultural, natural and historical heritage.

  • 5 Haraway, Donna J. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Experimental Futur (...)

6Donna Haraway, in her book Staying with the Trouble, encourages us to avoid certain traps5:

7In urgent times, many of us are tempted to address trouble in terms of making an imagined future safe, of stopping something from happening that looms in the future, of clearing away the present and the past in order to make futures for coming generations. Staying with the trouble does not require such a relationship to times called the future. In fact, staying with the trouble requires learning to be truly present, not as a vanishing pivot between awful or edenic pasts and apocalyptic or salvific futures, but as mortal critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, matters, meanings.

  • 6 Haraway, Donna J. 1991. « A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, adn Socialist-Feminism in the La (...)

8Further, since the Cyborg Manifesto in the 1980's, Haraway also invites us to commit to "partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity" and to be "oppositional, utopian and completely without innocence"6. Thus, while valuing classical quantitative and qualitative methods in social sciences and recognizing their political significance, it sometimes feels necessary to complement them with a certain touch of irreverence that might account for those parts our lived experiences that defy imaginations and heat up affects.

9We fall from high. In the years 2000-2015, women and other minority subjects invested political spaces, engaged their bodies and minds, active in formal and informal politics, legal and illegal, trying to knit connections through diverse backgrounds and realities. The process of negotiation with the EU contributed to structural transformations from the top, while the AKP seemed willing to engage in the process of democratization and making peace 7. During this dense, challenging and enjoyable period, there was potential for more equality and justice for all. The joys of having a whole range of tools and feminist methodologies to think and live through political challenges came along with risks, individual and collective forms of unlearning and suffering, and mourning. All this knowledge did not protect us, and it is in full knowledge of our vulnerabilities that we try to resist8.

10Now, in the new Turkey, because your name figures on a list, because armed men just kicked into your house, or just because - you are suddenly unemployed, made to pack, stripped from all your rights, arrested, put in prison, confined to limited spaces, or forced to leave. Like in all authoritarian regimes, quantitative data is used and abused. The lists run through professions, cities and villages, with hundreds of names, published at night, and no procedure to appeal. It is also by night that they force themselves into houses, breaking through private and intimate spaces.

11Since 2015, fraudulent elections, a referendum, and other simulacra of institutional political participation processes took place in the midst of racist attacks, massive imprisonments, public lynching campaigns, a coup d’état, massacres and murders. All these regressions unfolded in an environment eager to pose political demands and thus busy experimenting with social movement practices: hunger strikes, prisoners’ strikes, workers' strikes, petitioning, massive protest marches, occupations, boycotts, armed guerilla struggle, artistic interventions, whistleblowing, sittings, readings, urban uprisings. From a distance, Turkey could appear as a real playground for critical minds eager to think all the different ways of being political, and all the technologies for killing the political. Yet, there is no more distance: as scholars, we are ourselves entangled in a new wave of destruction. Within a great silence inherited from previous historical periods, those who refused to be part of the crime became subject to state violence, as cities, cultural centers, historical centers disappeared, the peace process seems to have never happened, thousands of people trapped, our bodies affected and being moved beyond our control.

The petition of the Academics for Peace

12For some women teaching in universities in Turkey, the year 2016 did not start well in terms of the relations with the Turkish state, its military, its president of the republic, its media, public and private universities, and most of the hierarchy that goes up and down higher education. At the crossroads of the paths of all these women stands a text - the petition of the academics for peace9, signed in January 2016 – and the experience of the state repression that followed this signature. A year later, in 2017, when we met in Paris, some of us had already been dismissed – more or less violently – from universities in Turkey and made our way to European institutions, some continued to teach in Turkey, while others had just learned that their passports were cancelled, some with children. Today, many are under criminal procedures10, and the threats to the higher education are reported to be “unprecedented”11.

13It is war – and resistance to it – that brought us together. We also share the experience of having lived and taught in militarized spaces, threatened, and bombarded by hate speech and images of violated bodies, while sharing a certain passion for thinking, reading, and teaching. Whether we stayed or we left, and despite all the differences in our current statuses and political positions, we have all long been conscious - in practice and in theory – of the dangers posed by the combination of nationalism, militarism, neoliberalism, sexism and anti-intellectualism throughout the history of the Turkish nation state.

14The petition of the Academics for Peace is a short text that holds the Turkish state responsible for the "deliberate and planned" violence that was taking place since 2015 in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey and qualifies these developments of "massacre", katliam. The petition states that the right to life, liberty and security of Kurdish citizens of Turkey was not respected, and denounces violations of the Turkish Constitution and international conventions. It calls for an immediate return to the peace negotiations that had taken place since 2009 between the Turkish state and Kurdish armed forces and demands the creation of independent commissions to determine responsibility and procedures for compensation for those who had suffered from the military operations. This collective text was just one of the numerous initiatives in Turkey that aimed to curb the regression of rights in those years.

15The petition could have gone unnoticed like many others; signed and then eaten up by the system. It could have been just another feel-good-for-free-petition; a small yet worthy sign of vitality for the many who feel politically paralyzed, impotent or/and disabled. It was signed by 1128 academics, read in public, and translated into many languages. The text itself was criticized for its form and its content: it had no liberal make-up and was apparently unfit to certain principles of neutrality. Not only did it dare to accuse the Turkish state, it also omitted to mention the other actors of the conflict: the “terrorists”.

16Very quickly, within two days, the President of the Turkish Republic called on all state institutions to “do the necessary” about the “traitors of the nation, forces of evil, pseudo intellectuals”; a mafia leader declared his desire to bathe in our blood; tens of scholars were rounded up from their offices and homes; our photos circulating on the internet and in mainstream media with threats and insults. And debating the quality of the text became irrelevant: the text had to be defended, and so did those who signed it.

17It is easy to lose track of the crime; so much energy was and still is mobilized to punish those who refused to take part in it. All sorts of higher male beings of the nation (prosecutors, lawyers, policemen, deans, journalists, trolls, rectors, ministers, students, presidents) gathered all their higher intelligence in the higher Council of education, in higher Courts, in universities, in public, in private, in police stations, in courtrooms to punish those university professors who signed the text about the crime.

  • 12 See various reports that document the consequences of the curfews imposed on the Kurdish provinces (...)
  • 13 For information on the ongoing trials (https://afp.hypotheses.org/)

18All these efforts in intelligence were not vain: there is today plenty of qualitative and quantitative data about contemporary Turkish state violence aimed at a particular geography, targeting its Kurdish population12. Official and unofficial documents produced by the Turkish government and media sources overflow with unapologetically hate filled visual and discursive material. The lengthy accusations prepared by the Turkish judiciary for the trial of Academics for Peace are particularly challenging in their lack of legal basis and logical thinking13. More interesting in terms of analysis of the fusions of powers and the dysfunctions in the legal, educational, and political institutions are the hundreds of defense documents prepared by academics, journalists, trade unionists, and lay people during their trials. The amount of work, bodily and mental activity involved in these processes, attests to the difficulties of contributing to building up archives, as the resistance goes through remembering personal tales and historical moments.

On crime and resistance

19Loosing track of the crime is not just easy, it is also a learned habit linked to forced amnesia. There is much continuity in the folly of a national historiography that is endlessly amputated and deformed, in divagations about ethnic purity and the passion for unicity, all within well delimited borders. Unfertile ground for critical thinking, certain subjects have always been taboo. The ambitions for modernity, a centralized administration, in the Turkish language, with a Turkish history, myths, wars, enemies and heroes is exclusive. Denial of historical moments goes through forbidding to do research on ethnic, religious, or sexual minorities. Forbidden to read certain writers, forbidden to listen to certain music, forbidden to recognize the existence of certain historical figures and historical facts, forbidden to talk languages. Forbidden and not at all advisable in the street, where all these rather banal activities might lead to death.

20We thus carry the legacies of the politics of denial of crimes perpetrated against Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Kurds and other minorities of Turkey through politics of displacement, dispossession, extermination, or forced assimilation. Trying to focus on the particular crimes that clearly targeted the Kurdish population of Turkey since the summer 2015, brings to life many other crimes that made this one possible. For years, those who produced knowledge about Kurds in Turkey worked in isolation, with little access to resources and under threat. They often lived precarious lives, through prison, in exile, with no access to funds, no editor to publish their work, and no institutional recognition. Since the years 2000, there was a significant increase in academic and analytical resources, publications, performances, critical contributions in Kurdish languages and more generally on minority issues.

21Resisting goes through creating space for these works and learning from them, recognizing and incorporating them in our work, hearing minority tongues, and working on historical counter-narratives that involve more than military victories, military coups and phallic imagery.

22Within all these straining conditions, finding the material and intellectual resources to do research is in itself an act of resistance. Strategies need to be developed, and we are forced to think about our security as we try position ourselves in relation to our fields of study, and in our bodies. From geographical borders to political ones, through administrative and legal obstacles, conceptual walls that stretch notions of the private and the public and erase the commons; the states of emergency and out of the ordinary procedures aim at our rights to be employed, our mobility, reproductive rights, bodily integrity, and aspirations for autonomy.

23Trying to understand our present condition thus implies knowledge that comes from different disciplines: law, psychology, medicine, sociology, anthropology, history and political theory, geography, and the arts. Beyond an invitation for interdisciplinary work, we are faced with threats to the university as an institution in Turkey and more generally around the world. Since 2005, in India, the UK, France, the USA, Venezuela or South Africa, university staff and students have been ringing alarm bells on the consequences on higher education of neoliberal policies and rising populism.

24The Academics for Peace have received numerous declarations of international solidarity that came from individual scholars, research centers, institutions and scholarly associations which encourage us to make claims on basic principles and ethics for higher education14. Further, along with academics that were targeted by the current Turkish government, there are also hundreds or lawyers, trade unionists, journalists, writers, students, doctors, and civil society actors, artists, which implies creating connections with other professionals. Hence, beyond the spaces of the house and that of the university, one is forced to invest other spaces of resistance like courtrooms, streets, prisons, or refugee camps.

25Through formal and institutional politics, women of all currents have worked for a politics of inclusion and participation in public debates and political decision-making processes in Turkey. They have addressed institutions, while being critical of them, and trying to resist the frameworks imposed by those institutions. Through social movements and institutional politics, armed as well as peaceful, women have worked simultaneously for politics of inclusion and politics of disruption, trying to make ruptures to stop laws or practices. In both cases, when you resist, you must not be afraid of slipping from legality into illegality in a blink.

26All these strategies for resistance have been used by different currents of women’s movements in Turkey. While many benefited from and defended Turkish state feminism, those who did not fit into ideals of secular Turkish feminity and masculinity were excluded. Progressively since the 1980’s, Kurdish women, Islamic women, transsexual women and LGBT activists invested political spaces and individuals of all genders who got involved were often also active in political actions that concerned democratization in general terms, the environment, or urban issues. There were always serious asymmetries in how different women’s bodies and minds are perceived and treated; lines running through race, ethnicity, class, and religion, and geographical location.

27Whether we like it or not, we cannot erase hierarchies and conflicts among people who try to resist. Privileges come with languages, friends, connections, previous experiences, social class, cultural capital, race, practice. While avoiding the trap of speaking for others or appropriating their struggles, it is possible to work on creating spaces for each other. As those who do have privileges, waste no time with shame, and share their privileges. Collective action is enabling, messy, potentially hurtful, and vital.

28Like in most places around the world, individually, being alive, being active as a woman, is an act of resistance. To make our bodies visible and our voices audible, we must force ourselves into spaces while having to protect ourselves from all undesired intrusions into our intimacy. Practicing our voices, speaking up, as a woman, is an act of resistance that might break ambitions, career goals, priorities, families, and pose serious security issues; but it is benefic for mental health, and general good looks.

29As academics, our path of resistance goes through producing and sharing knowledge. As such, we work in line with people in other professions and occupations who resist and create written and oral material to document and think our times. This work complements, feeds and is informed by actions and social movement repertoires. As such, resistance does imply different types of counter-violence, whether it is discursive or performative. International solidarity, local and regional networks of solidarity that run through generations, ethnicities, genders and religions are essential in keeping the flow of information and multiplying limited resources. Given the tendency of our material conditions to change, and the successions of obstacles and borders to overcome, we need flexibility of the mind and the body. Since the risk of losing people, things, and places is so high, we are forced to think out our attachments. We must learn to cope with the contradictions of having to build and destroy at the same time, leaving while still being there, feeling at peace with one's decisions while being angry at its consequences, feeling gratitude along with so much suffering. As in most feminist struggles, our path goes through shattering the wall of silence and enjoying ourselves. We actually never had the luxury of being neutral.

30Clearly, as usual, we will march, scream our political demands, and be beautiful on the 8th of March. Along with women in Latin America and Europe, we will join the international women's strike in 2019, we will continue to raise awareness on violence and rape with American, Indian and Spanish women, and eventually, along with Polish women, we will abort our government.

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Bibliographie

Butler, Judith, Gambetti, Zeynep et Sabsay, Leticia. 2016. Vulnerabilitiy in Resistance. Duke University Press. Durham and London.

Berktay Hacımirzaoğlu, Ayşe (ed). 1998. 75 Yılda Kadınlar ve Erkekler. İstanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yayınları.

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Haraway, Donna J. 1991. « A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, adn Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century ». In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, Routledge. New York.

Haraway, Donna J. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Experimental Futures: Technological Lives, Scientific Arts, Anthropological Voices. Durham: Duke University Press.

Klein, Naomi. 2008. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. United Kingdom: Penguin Press.

Sirman, Nükhet. 1989. “Feminism in Turkey: A Short History,” New Perspectives on Turkey 3, no. 1.

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Notes

1 Donna J. Haraway. 1991. A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, adn Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, Routledge.

New York. P.291.

2 https://barisicinakademisyenler.net/

3 Naomi Klein. 2008. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. United Kingdom: Penguin Press.

4 See When State of Emergency becomes the Norm : The Impact of Executive Decrees on Turkish Legislations by Ismet Akça, Süreyya Algül, Hülya Dinçer, Erhan Kelesoglu, Bariş Alp Ozden (https://tr.boell.org/sites/default/files/ohal_rapor_ing.final_version.pdf). Also see OHCHR, Report on the impact of the state of emergency on human rights in Turkey, including an update on the South-East (January-December 201), published in March 2018. (http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/TR/2018-03-19_Second_OHCHR_Turkey_Report.pdf). See also Human Rights Watch Report (https://www.hrw.org/europe/central-asia/turkey). Yearly reports by the Human Rights Association (http://www.ihd.org.tr/2017-insan-haklari-ihlalleri-raporu-ohal-altinda-gecen-bir-yil/). Amnesty International (https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/europe-and-central-asia/turkey/report-turkey/). European Commission Annual report 2018. https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/20180417-turkey-report.pdf).

5 Haraway, Donna J. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Experimental Futures: Technological Lives, Scientific Arts, Anthropological Voices. Durham: Duke University Press.

6 Haraway, Donna J. 1991. « A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, adn Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century ». In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, Routledge. New York.

7 Regular reports on Turkey (https://www.avrupa.info.tr/en/regular-reports-turkey-744).

8 Butler, Judith, Gambetti, Zeynep et Sabsay, Leticia. 2016. Vulnerabilitiy in Resistance. Duke University Press.
Durham and London. P.6

9 The text of the petition in English, French, German, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Greek is available at (https://afp.hypotheses.org/documentation/the-peace-declaration)

10 For information on the ongoing trials (https://afp.hypotheses.org/)

11 See the 2017 report of Scholars at Risk (https://www.scholarsatrisk.org/resources/free-to-think-2017/)

12 See various reports that document the consequences of the curfews imposed on the Kurdish provinces of Turkey since 2015 (http://hakikatadalethafiza.org/en/kaynak_tipi/reports-on-curfews/)

13 For information on the ongoing trials (https://afp.hypotheses.org/)

14 https://barisicinakademisyenler.net/Dayan%C4%B1%C5%9Fma

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Référence papier

Çağla Aykaç, « On resistance, Women and the Petition of the Academics for Peace », Les cahiers du CEDREF, 22 | 2018, 193-205.

Référence électronique

Çağla Aykaç, « On resistance, Women and the Petition of the Academics for Peace », Les cahiers du CEDREF [En ligne], 22 | 2018, mis en ligne le 15 octobre 2018, consulté le 14 novembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cedref/1165

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Auteur

Çağla Aykaç

Visiting Professor, University of Geneva

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