Benaz Saktanber is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Istanbul and writes weekly for Gazette Oxygen and other media outlets. Nadine Lang translated her text from English.
When art patron and businessman Osman Kavala was sentenced to life in prison, seven other people were sentenced to 18 years in prison. They are said to have aided Kavala in his alleged crime of trying to overthrow the government through the Gezi protests in 2013.
They are Yezit Ali Ekmekci, one of the founders of Bilgi University in Istanbul, Ali Hakan Altani, director of the European Bosazici School of Politics, architect Musila Yabaca, architect and urban planner Teyfun Kahraman, and lawyer Kan Atalay, a documentary filmmaker. Ozerdin Mine and Director and Producer Sisdem Mater.
The ruling shocked and angered many citizens. Because for the millions of people who took part in the protests, Gezi was the best example of a peaceful popular protest without institutional leaders and with participants from all walks of life.
After the verdict, social media was filled with hashtags like #GeziyiSavunuyoruz (we’re defending Gezi), #GeziYargalanamaz (Gezi can’t be shipped), and #HepimizOradaydak (we’ve all been there).
In the past, artists who showed the slightest support for Geeze were blacklisted, intimidated and their work censored. As a result, many artists and intellectuals left the country and found refuge in cities like Berlin.
Weakening civil society
Repression of dissent has weakened the capacity of civil society. The artists were reluctant to speak out or were self-censored, but this time their response was immediate, powerful, and brilliant.
The first reaction came from the filmmakers. A statement signed by directors Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Fatih Akin, Yimm Ostaozlu and others said: “We will turn our anger from this ruling into hope and courage, and work tirelessly to bring our country out of darkness into light to lead and build a Turkey where we live together freely. We will not be silenced or intimidated.”
In two days there were more than 5,000 signatures. Actor Aykut Sezgi Mengi was among the first to sign. When he saw the verdict on social media, he immediately headed to the court in Gazelian. In an interview, he said: “I thought that I would only believe the verdict if I saw it with my own eyes. I could not understand that the people who were acquitted of the same crime two years ago are now under arrest.”
For him, the explanation is the most hopeful thing that emerged from this disaster. The large number of signatures is a sign that there are still brave people who keep hope for justice, equality and freedom. “In the atmosphere in which we live, it is important to show solidarity. Osman Kavala is a key figure in Turkey’s artistic and cultural scene. I believe her strength will be an inspiration to artists and their works. Çizdem Mater is one of the most successful producers in Turkey. She will continue to make great films. I think They will be free soon. I want to believe that we must not lose hope.”
Petitions from directors and writers
Berlin-based director Zeinab Dadak also signed the announcement. “It hurts me and makes me angry because our friends’ freedom is taken so easily,” she says. Musila Yabaka testified that she had not seen Osman Kavala since 2000. There was no telephone conversation between them. “However, they are said to have plotted together. There is no evidence, no witnesses,” Dadak said.
Following the petition, 15 film and professional syndicates joined to protest the ruling. The Documentary Film Festival indicated that Gizdem Mater was convicted of simply “contemplating” making a documentary.
In her defence, she said, “I participated in the GeziPark protests as a park protection activist and as a filmmaker. I didn’t make a movie about it, as the indictment claims, but I could have. This is something we need to discuss not in courtrooms, but in movie theaters.” Film Society Istanbul International Film Festival, which just screened Mater Japan’s film, but without showing support for Mater.
“What shocked me about persecution was the arbitrariness and utter irrationality of persecution,” says queer feminist activist and author Bursen Tetik, who has been living in Berlin since 2016. Gizdem Mater was sentenced to 18 years in prison for a movie she didn’t do. I fear this will lead to massive self-censorship and silence in society. Artistic because film festivals that show Mater’s work are reluctant to acknowledge it.”
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However, along with the International Alliance of Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR), the Berlinale, which screened Mater’s “Toz Bezi” at the forum in 2016, demanded the release of all accused.
Shortly after the sentencing, feminists gathered in front of the women’s prison in Bakirkoy, where Mater, Yabaca and Ozerdin are being held.
Susma Petsen, a platform for women’s solidarity in film, television and theater said: “We have seen resistance to oppression by patriarchal government and refusal to bow to the punishment of lawlessness. We know that this punishment is caused by fear and anger, but the voices of millions will not be silenced. It has punished a film that was not filmed. Yet; we won’t stop making our movies and fighting for what we know is right.”
Balloons were launched into the sky hoping to be seen from prison.
Grouse the book too. 198 statements were signed, including Latifa Tekin, Muratan Mongan and Asla Erdozan. She says, “We were all there, we are still there. We consider judgment our own. We are not afraid. We will not give up.”
Jeezy is a place for hope!
“The ruling was unjust, unjust and imposed from above. These people, working tirelessly and without fear for the betterment of Turkey, have been kept in prison cells, perhaps for years,” says writer Barbaros Altuz, PEN member and co-signer.
But Altuz draws attention to another process surrounding Turkey’s decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention for the Protection of Women: “Thousands of lawyers, gays and women’s rights activists defended the convention. The State Council Prosecutor also declared the withdrawal illegal and demanded that the decree be rescinded. This is Turkey: it makes you laugh and cry. At the same time “.
“We’re Fine Here,” Altuz wrote a short novel about young people who left the country after the Gezi protests. Now he says: “There will come a day when Gezi is no longer the name of a process, but the place where hope begins. We will name the trees that have not been cut down: Gezdim, Osman, Musila, Hakan, Mine, Kan, Teyfun Wezet. These trees will live longer than they can that none of us have ever lived, bringing hope to the city every spring.”
Burçin Tetik also sees room for hope: “Many gay artists and activists moved to Berlin after 2016. There is a joke in the gay community that there are now more gays from Turkey who live in Berlin than in Istanbul.”
Nevertheless, she hopes to maintain strong ties between Turkey and the expanding diaspora. “We need to find ways to work together and create new and unexpected spaces to think, create, and support each other.”
Osman Kavala’s work has focused on this particular collaboration. He believed in civic arts and cultural initiatives that should serve dialogue, with an emphasis on cultural diversity, heritage and rights. Gezi rule is devastating. It sends a message of intimidation to artists and institutions interested in these issues and to express their opinions. Remarkably, they are now standing up again for the accused Gezi – combative and full of hope.