In only a few days, the word ‘chapulling’ has taken international vocabulary by storm. Stemming from Turkish çapulcu, roughly meaning ‘looters’, it was used by prime minister Erdogan on June 2 to describe the people who had occupied Gezi Park. Instead of taking offense, it was immediately reappropriated by the protesters, who now proudly identify as ‘chapullers’. Almost overnight, the meaning of the word has changed from looters to rebels.
The Gezi Park television channel is called Çapul TV (capul.tv). One of the places distributing free coffee, tea and snacks all day and all night is the Çapulcu Cafe. I met a Dutch-Turkish compatriot there from Rotterdam. He has occupied Gezi since the beginning. He is unable to contain his enthusiasm and he makes no effort to do so.
He shows me the supplies. All day, vans full of goods park at the kitchen. To allow for them to arrive up here the barricade down the road has been turned into a checkpoint. Some of the food coming in is home made by the Turkish mothers. Other articles are ordered from around the world, to be delivered at ‘Gezi Park, Istanbul’. Every time a van pulls up there are cheers, and a human chain spontaneously forms to pass everything to the storage depot. The same cheers can be heard when a garbage truck arrives, and the same line forms to take out the common trash.
My friend also explains a thing or two about Turkish politics, about the Erdogan regime, about his allergy to criticism, about his small steps toward dictatorship. Like the denial to recognise Alevi prayer houses as sanctuaries with the same status as a mosque, the ban on alcohol sales after 10 pm, the naming of the new Bosphorus bridge after sultan Mehmed II, known for conquering Constantinople but also for persecuting religious minorities, the intervention in family affairs by stating that women should bear at least three children, the ties with big business, the control of the media, etc. The intended destruction of Gezi Park was only the last drop. It brought the Turkish nation together. Religious and not, left wing, right wing and kemalists, Turks and Kurds and the rest of the world. They are all chapullers, chapulling all day long.
In talking about the first days of the rebellion, my Dutch Turkish comrade recalled some of the stories that will be legend. Like the ones about the water cannons and the bulldozer that were captured by the Besiktas fans. At a certain point they were so fed up with the helicopter hovering overhead and dropping cluster tear gas bombs that they painted a heli landing pad on the pavement and put out a tweet, calling for someone with experience in flying a chopper…
What I found interesting is that even a Dutch Turk was very sensitive about the Kurdish question. He consistently referred to their space as ‘Eastern Turkey’ and to Kurdish guerrillas as ‘terrorists’. Still, Kurdish people are an integral of Occupy Gezi. They have their own corner next to the steps leading down to Taksim, where they proudly exhibit the image of their imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan, not far from the Turkish nationalists’ stand and the images of Atatürk.
When the rebellion began, the Kurds were reluctant to show up, because of the sensitivities surrounding them in Turkey. But then, from prison, Öcalan was reported as saying that “if this is a democratic movement, then we have to be a part of it.” So here they are, in solidarity.
Notwithstanding the constant threat of invasion and the ongoing persecution of dissent, yesterday was a day of celebration throughout the park. Twice in a row, Erdogan had issued an ultimatum for protesters to leave or face violent eviction. And twice in a row the attack was called off as the place was packed with people all night. It meant defeat for the government. And victory for us.
At night, not even a tropical cloud-burst could temper our spirits. When it came pouring down people were singing and dancing in the puddles, chanting “Get wet! Get wet! If you don’t get wet, you’re Tayyip Erdogan!” Further down, in Taksim square, the pianoman defied the tempest and kept playing for the third night in a row, to the delight of rebels and police officers alike.
A common sight at Gezi, every day, are the photographers and the television crews. And me, giving in to vanity, I had myself interviewed by Spanish public television for a change. It was a good occasion to brag about my role in the Spanish Revolution, and about how we as GlobalRev tactical media team were invited to share our livestreaming expertise with the Turks. It was also a good occasion to talk about the differences between the uprisings in Spain and Turkey.
For one, the Turks had to fight to conquer their spaces, whereas the Spanish movement was founded on non-violence. For two, the Spanish indignados developed a fetish for assemblies and working groups right from the start, while popular self organisation is only slowly taking root here in Turkey. Yesterday, however, there were simultaneous neighbourhood assemblies being held all over Gezi. I counted five. Two in downtown, two in midtown, and one in uptown. There was also an assembly of Taksim Solidarity, but that one didn’t count. It was held in a closed space and it’s wasn’t accessible for all.
These days there is a sense of rebellion on the rise against the original organisers, because of their apparent lack of democratic openness. To the outside world, they speak for Gezi, but they do not represent us. Still I’m willing to admit that this has not necessarily been a bad thing. Full Spanish style horizontal democracy gives everyone the possibility to speak and participate, but it hardly ever leads to any practical results.
Taksim Solidarity started this movement and gave it a voice. It has issued a handful of clear, rational demands. Now it is up to us, the people, to prevent them from becoming some kind of institution or – Allah forbid – authority.