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Turkey: The Birth of Community Occupation

Standing people in Taksim, June 20.

When you get off the boat in Besiktas and take a walk through the neighborhood, you won’t have difficulty recognizing where the clashes took place. Along some of the roads, the sidewalks have completely disappeared.

To turn a sidewalk into a barricade, you start with the small posts and need a lot of people to yank them out of place. Once you have taken them out, you can easily gather the stones, and through a human chain you can transport them to the main barricade, or to the supply barricade. Or you can smash them up for ammunition.

There are many useful things to know about the practice of urban resistance. At Abbasaga Park, Friday, people employed a gazebo as a small Resistance Museum with photos from the last few weeks. There are images of sling shots, catapults, Molotovs, as well as riot police in waves of fire, fleeing like chickens. Protesters with gas masks stand defiant amidst blasts of chemical water, burning TOMA’s and more along those lines.

We meet a school teacher in the museum. She’s happy to talk to us, and is she is so proud that people didn’t bow their head in the face of police this time. Most of all she is proud of the transgendered movement-builders. Together with the anarchists, the Kurds and the football fans, they were in the first line of the clashes, like the Sacred Band of Thebes. They opened their houses and their coves to treat the wounded.

“I’m a secular and open-minded person,” our friend says, “but me as I well, I was prejudiced against them. I never really considered them to be like the rest of us.” Now she does. In the first week of the Turkish uprising the queer scene of Istanbul has earned everybody’s respect with their bravery. Next week they will organize a gay pride march, and all the people of Gezi will be there to back them up.

Two nights in a row we went to Abbasaga Park. The place has changed a lot since we went there for the first time last Monday. Besiktas has become the Mother of All Assemblies.

The stone theater is much too small to house all the people. It has become the center of a galaxy. Around the big assembly, smaller assemblies are forming, and everywhere you look there are groups of people sitting on the green to discuss the future. It’s moving at an incredible pace. Today, an impressive list of working groups was formed in Besiktas. Legal, Health, Communication, Education, Arts & Culture, Labour and Unemployment, Business, Logistics, Youth and Students, Women, Shopowners, Architecture and Engineering, Animal Rights, Agriculture and Ecology.

In Kadıköy, the working groups are more centered on artistic and spiritual matters. Every night, and during the day, the parks of Istanbul are abuzz with activity.

It’s hard to underestimate the significance of it all. We are witnessing the birth of Occupation 2.0: ‘Community Occupation’.

The common form of occupation which has been tried in Sol, Syntagma, Zuccotti and Gezi had a fundamental flaw, because it was practically unsustainable. After a few weeks the occupations start to degenerate, and after a few months – if they live that long – they turn into a mess. As a physical living space for many people, huge logistic and social problems emerge in no time.

A Community Occupation aims to be a meeting and working space made up of semi-permanent structures, with a limited amount of people actually manning the site around the clock. If it is well organized, it can be turned into a permanent autonomous zone. What it comes down to, in practice, is the transfer of legitimate authority from the government to the citizens themselves.

Yesterday, the General Assembly of Besiktas, issued a list of principles. It’s nothing official, it’s just an attempt to put the spirit of Gezi Park into words.

Slightly paraphrased, this is it.

  1. We refuse all discrimination and humiliation among humans and other living beings.
  2. We are a peaceful community. We will not provoke violence, but we reserve the right to legitimate self defense.
  3. There is no other thing than freedom that inspires us. We have no other interest beside social justice. We are guided only by what we hold to be true. There is no organization that represents us.
  4. In our movement there will be no leaders, no hierarchy and no titles.
  5. Everyone who participates in our working groups will be personally accountable towards the community.
  6. We stand together with everyone who resists, anywhere in the world. Our biggest aim is to raise solidarity by uniting around commons aims, and to continue our struggle.

List of working groups in Besiktas.

List of working groups in Besiktas.

Originally published in

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