#IndexAwards2016: Gökhan Biçici launched citizen news agency Dokuz8Haber after Gezi Park protests


By Georgia Hussey, 28 March 2016

Gökhan Biçici is a Turkish reporter and was one of the most active reporters of the 2013 anti-government Gezi Park protests in Istanbul. While covering the protests Biçici was beaten severely by police and then dragged through the streets. Observers in apartments overlooking his arrest captured footage of the attack, which quickly went viral.

“The censorship in Turkey is stronger now than ever,” Biçici told Index. “There is no period in history where political power had reached this level of domination over the media. And there is no period in history where disinformation has reached these levels.”

Biçici’s arrest and the Gezi Park protests became a symbol of the state of democracy and free speech in Turkey.

The wave of public engagement was huge, Biçici says, and after the protests were over and people left the streets, he sought to build something more permanent.

“It was necessary to go through the resistance protests and realise the size of the censorship and the imposition of self-censorship and the corruption in the press.”

“In these resistance protests, millions of people went out to the streets. Hundreds of thousands, or even millions, went out to the largest square in Istanbul, Taksim Square, and when they came back home a penguin documentary was on TV instead of the truth,” he said.

“The younger generation was politicised by Gezi. At the same time, their relationship with the social media became politicised, too. All conditions were ready to appear citizen news agency in Turkey.”

Dokuz8Haber aims to be just that. “Dokuz8Haber is a foundation that brings together the journalists and the national reporters of digital activism, in a unified network,” he said.

Launched in March 2015, Dokuz8Haber is a journalism network that gathers various independent citizen journalism outlets to create a common newsroom. Volunteers and citizen journalists send their stories to professional editors, and the news stories are then broadcasted domestically and internationally via Dokuz8Haber. They understand the importance of disseminating news in new, modern ways – using social media, video and live-stream coverage and translation to get information out to the people of Turkey.

They have also organised numerous training programs for potential citizen journalists in all regions in Turkey, to train a network of reporters around the country.

On the day they launched 17,500 people followed them on Twitter. They now have 43,000 followers.

“Freedom of expression is a right we will never give up on,” said Biçici. “It’s an nonnegotiable right and it’s also a pursuit that requires hard work. Personally speaking, it’s what I’ve spent my whole life working on. This is why I chose this career.”

Meltem Arikan on Gezi Park: “What had happened to turn all this into a war zone?”

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Istanbul on 1 June in the capital's Taksim Square during demonstrations over plans to turn Gezi Park into a shopping mall. (Photo: Akin Aydinli / Demotix)

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Istanbul on 1 June in the capital’s Taksim Square during demonstrations over plans to turn Gezi Park into a shopping mall. (Photo: Akin Aydinli / Demotix)

Author and playwright Meltem Arikan was amongst a small group of people who was accused by senior Turkish politicians and government sponsored media of being the architects of the May-June 2013 Gezi Park demonstrations. This was no idle threat, but a TV, newspaper and Twitter campaign designed to convince the Turkish people that the accused were responsible for the largest anti-government protest ever witnessed in Turkey. Forced to leave Turkey, she, and those closest to her, have come to live in UK and only now is she beginning to feel safe enough to tell her story.

What follows is Arikan’s personal account of the events.

For me everything starts on 27 May 2013.

Together with Memet Ali Alabora the director of my play Mi Minor, Pinar Ogun the lead actress and the play’s graphic designer Melin Edomwonyi, I went to KARVAK Awards Ceremony to receive our award for Best Play 2013 given by the Black Sea education, culture and environment protection foundation. As we made our way there, it didn’t seem possible that our lives were about to change completely. The ceremony started and the first award to be announced was a lifetime achievement award for the governor of Istanbul. The moment we heard this we stood up and left the venue, refusing to receive our award.

In Turkey, the governor is the highest state representative in the city, and has responsibility for and control over the police. At the time in Istanbul the frequent and excessive use of tear gas and heavy-handed police tactics to even the smallest gatherings — especially around Taksim — were causing real concern for us and many people. For example on 7 April, a peaceful demonstration of artists and cinema goers — including Greek film director Costa-Gavras — against the demolition of the Emek Theatre was dispersed with water cannons and tear gas.

We could not have accepted an award from an organisation that honoured the governor after all that was happening in the heart of our city.

We went straight home and read on Twitter that the trees at the Gezi Park, the only park in the area of the city called Taksim, were being destroyed to make way for a shopping mall. We started tweeting to make people aware of what was going on, that the trees needed protection. A small group of around 50 people went to the park to keep watch over the trees and stop them from being uprooted in the middle of the night. When the workmen drove into the park during the night ready to destroy the trees, the protesters asked if they had an official permit. They had no papers, so the workmen left the park. I followed everything on Twitter, retweeting the tweets and pictures that were coming out of the park. Looking at those pictures I was worried that, as with so many demonstrations, only a handful of people would turn up. So I kept retweeting moment by moment what was happening there all night.

Next Morning – 28 May

The digger came back in the morning at 8 am. By then there were 200 people in the park and, because of the growing numbers, the riot police used pepper spray and tear gas to clear it. At noon, pictures from Gezi Park were being shared on Twitter again, but this time they showed riot police using tear gas against peaceful protestors. The picture of the pepper-gassed woman in a red dress, that would later become an icon, was taken during this first police attack.

The attack had triggered more people to come to the park. We decided to join the protesters, to give our support to the trees and say “enough!” to the crazy number of shopping malls, which are poisoning our cities.

After the pepper gas attack the works in the park were restarted. This time the Istanbul MP, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, who is also a screenwriter and film director, stood with his arms wide open in front of a digger and asked for their permit. This stalled the destruction for the time being and the workmen left.

When we got to the park we could still smell the gas even though it was hours after the attack. Despite the stench, the joy and determination of the young protesters remained. By sunset nearly a thousand people had gathered. There were tents everywhere. It was clear that people living around Gezi Park supported the protests and they, too, wanted to save the trees, the treasured heart and lungs of Taksim Square. People were treating the damaged trees, and planting saplings in the holes left by the diggers. Women, men, strangers to one another, straight, gay, transsexual, young, old, little kids with their parents came together for the sake of the trees. Regardless of their differences they shared their feelings with one another. A table became a simple stage for people to speak from, prejudice gave way to the attempt to understand each other, music and dance took over from frustration. We wrote our thoughts on pieces of paper and hung them on the branches of the trees. Perhaps, in our country, where everyone had become “the other” to one another, for the first time, in that park, no one was “the other” anymore.

As the writer of the novel Hope is a Curse, it was wonderful for me to feel hope for the first time in years. Hope that, helped by new ways to exchange and share information, women and men can come together to lay claim to public space and freedom of speech, leaving the barriers of race, religion, sexual choices, language, ethnic roots and ideologies behind. Although we only planned to go to the park for an hour, after feeling the atmosphere there, I couldn’t leave. We all tweeted to spread the word that night. We chanted, danced, protested. It was as if something I had written years ago, was actually beginning to happen in front of me…


We do not have to surrender to the beliefs that are imposed upon us.

The time has come for us to reclaim our stolen spirit.

We can sing the song of another culture without knowing its language.

Without knowing the steps, we can keep up with the rhythm.

The time has come for us to tune in to the music and the rhythm within ourselves.

Patriarchy will be scared, Patriarchy will resist. Patriarchy will accuse…

The time has come for us to reclaim our stolen spirit…

We will cover our ears and will burst out laughing at the accusations,

Women will dance and sing songs and laugh aloud.

In spite of everything, we will rise up in protest, propelled by our irrepressible laughter.

The new digital world will be shaped WITH women, not IN SPITE OF us”

29 May

The next day Prime Minister Recep Erdogan gave a speech and said that they will build a shopping mall no matter what the people say. After the prime minister’s speech more people came to Gezi Park.

I was there around 4 pm. This time there were thousands of people present, including supporter groups, political activists, environmentalists and even Turkish Airlines staff who were out on strike. People were coming to the park to give voice to the issues they were concerned about as well as to protect the trees.

It was like a festival. Even though it was much more crowded than the previous night, the atmosphere generated by such a large and diverse group of people was absolutely amazing. Could things change for real? This time, could we change things by singing songs, by dancing, by freely expressing ourselves all together? Could we actually protect this precious corner of nature from mad-made destruction? The leader of the opposition party visited the park that night. He promised to have two MPs stay there at all times. I left the park after midnight. 

30 May 

In the morning we heard that, at dawn around 5 am, the police had attacked people and the tents had been set on fire.

I was following everything on Twitter. Again, police had surrounded the park. Again, the Istanbul MP, Sırrı Süreyya, went to the park and again he stood up against the digger to stop the demolition. Again the police left the park. Once more, the protestors occupied the park. The tree watch went on.

Pinar and I didn’t get to the park until that night, because we had been in the studio all day shooting our TV programme Witch’s Cauldron. The early morning police raid had prompted crowds of people to come to the park. By the time we got there, there were more than 10,000 people gathered.

Some young people were tying pieces of colourful cloth to the branches of the trees to make wish trees just like in the old Shaman tradition. I was very moved to see young people picking up on this old tradition. More young trees were planted, more people were trying to heal the wounded trees. People were holding up banners and they were not just about Gezi Park. There were a lot of different issues addressed: protecting the environment, the demolition of the Emek Theatre, recent bombing and deaths in Antakya.

Speeches were made, poems were read and songs were sung on the small stage in the middle of the park. Yet again we chanted and danced until dawn.

31 May

We saw the riot police getting ready just as we were heading out of the square at 4 am. There were two MPs on duty from opposition party. We spoke to them. They said they could do nothing to stop the police attack.

As the sun rose, pressure in the park was rising. Protesters who were already awake warned those still sleeping in tents.

At 4:30 am, as we were on our way to a café down the road, the riot police moved in. At this point there were about 3,000 people in the park. Police used massive quantities of gas against the peaceful protestors. Trying to escape the storm of tear gas people got trapped on an old stone staircase in the park, which collapsed crushing dozens of protestors. Many people were badly affected by the excessive amount of gas, and many others were injured by tear gas capsules thrown directly at them.

It was, and still is, very difficult for me to tell the story of what happened that morning. Inside a café, on the first floor, even though the doors were shut, none of us was able to breathe without choking. I couldn’t make sense of the scene I was witnessing. What was this place? Where was I? What had happened to the songs, tents, banners and dances? The hope I had seen in the eyes of the young people, the wish notes on the trees, the voices of people united? What had triggered the violence? What had happened to turn all this into a war zone?

By 7 am Gezi Park was empty; everybody had fled. The police closed the park. Small numbers of people started to regroup in neighbourhoods around Taksim. We walked to Cihangir Street nearby. Sitting in a café it was hard to breathe and hard to believe how we had been abused. During the gas attack we had been separated from our friends, and now we were trying to get news about them. Had they been injured, arrested? Everyone was following the Twitter feeds, reading them out loud so that all of us could hear as reports coming out of Taksim Square told of the growing number of injured. The roads were closed, the police were everywhere and we were not able to leave the café. There was no media coverage of this brutality. Twitter was the only source of information and I was trying to follow every second of the feeds. I was furious and also felt completely disillusioned. A voice inside me was screaming “HOPE IS A CURSE! I TOLD YOU!”

At 10 am protesters who had now gathered outside Gezi Park made a statement to the press condemning the police brutality. After the press statement people tried to enter the park, and police once again fired tear gas. A couple of protestors, including the well-known journalist Ahmet Şık, were shot in the head with tear gas capsules. The police started to chase people in the streets but they were met with passive resistance – protesters stood still, some with their arms held up, some sitting on the ground. At 1 pm another statement was made — this time at Taksim Square. Then we heard that police once again had attacked.

We ran to help, but people had already dispersed. On the way back police were firing tear gas everywhere. A gas capsule fell next to my feet, I felt like I would never be able to breathe again. We washed our faces immediately with a mixture of water and Rennie tablets to neutralise the burning of the gas, and hid in an apartment building. I tried to come to grips with the reality of what was happening in front of my burning eyes. I could hear the sirens from outside and the screams of the people running. The same words going around in my head: Why all this violence and brutality? Why this hatred – who was it for? Once again I was witnessing how brutal male domination can be when people come together and say NO!

A young woman was hit by a capsule on her head, which left her in a coma for 30 days. She is still fighting for her life.

That day “Taksim Dayanışması” (Taksim Solidarity) the platform of nearly a hundred NGOs, political parties, and trade unions, that started the campaign against the planned shopping mall in Gezi Park called people to come together at Gezi Park at 7 pm. That day millions of tweets called for a gathering at Gezi Park.

All the time that Taksim was in chaos, there was nothing about what was happening in the mainstream media. Even more absurdly, one of the main news channels was showing a documentary about penguins while thousands of people were being attacked in the centre of Istanbul. This inspired a wave of satirical graffiti around the city – penguins in gas masks with slogans of defiance. We couldn’t go home because all the roads were closed and every minute more and more people appeared on the streets with goggles, helmets and plastic bottles filled with Rennie and water to protect each other from the effects of the gas.

Hearing the sounds of helicopters mixing with the sirens of the ambulances I felt completely disorientated. I closed my eyes and opened them… People falling on the ground in pain barely visible through the gas… I closed my eyes and opened them again to look for the helicopters I could only hear… I closed my eyes and opened them… A street dog lying on the ground… I closed my eyes and tears flowed in to my mouth tasting of pepper. My lips formed the word ENOUGH!

“I have seen how violence was created, when Patriarchy became merciless.

It was so cruel that I was frightened…

When the lives of those given by women were slaughtered by Patriarchy …

I saw nothingness…

The lives of those given by women were turning into fear and violence…

 When we silently screamed ‘enough’, the cruelty of violence is so dense…

Enough, I feel shame.

 Enough, I am a woman, violence was not born of me…”

 On the night of 31st of May hundreds of thousands of people tried to reach Taksim Square on foot. We spent an hour on the street and then went to our friend’s home nearby. We could smell the gas inside the house and hear the ambulances, helicopters and people banging pots and pans in support of the protests from the windows of their houses. Then the first clashes between police and the protestors started; they carried on all night. We didn’t sleep at all.

1 June

In the morning Taksim was like a battlefield. The square was still surrounded by the police, and the protestors were still in the streets. Any one attempting to enter the square was forced back by the police.

Around 5:20 am, thousands of people started to march from the Asian side of Istanbul and crossed the Bosporus Bridge on foot to reach Taksim. They were joined by a big rally which had been planned months before to take place on 1 June on the Asian side. The government gave them permission and the police blockade was lifted. Hundreds of thousands of people entered Taksim Square. It was peaceful there but we heard about outbreaks of violence elsewhere because protests had spread to many parts of Istanbul and all around Turkey.

A group of high-profile artists, actors, directors, writers came together to appeal directly to the governor to stop the excessive use of police force, which they felt was responsible for the escalating violence. They couldn’t contact him so they sent out a call to fellow artists to join them in Cihangir Park to make a filmed appeal from the demonstration. I was there, too. When we entered the square there were nearly a million people and it was almost impossible to move through the crowds. Memet Ali Alabora, president of the actors union, spoke for the artists, addressing the governor and calling for peace; his speech was filmed and broadcast live as part of the first TV coverage of the demonstration.

Soon after the statement was made, I managed to get back to my house. I had no idea that I was to become a prisoner in my own home. From that moment until the day, two months later, when I decided to leave the country for good, I would only go outside once, for an hour, to the local shops.

At night clashes between police and protestors became increasingly brutal. That was when everything started to be broadcast internationally.

After the broadcasts went out all around the world the government, in an attempt to explain away what was happening, claimed that it was a conspiracy, a plot sponsored by foreign countries designed to bring us down. The only way the government could make sense of it was to find to someone to blame it on and to punish those responsible.

4 June

As the police violence increased more and more people left their houses and went out onto the streets. The more police brutality there was, the more people gathered in solidarity. The more thuggish the behavior of the police the more protestors responded with humour and satire – graffiti started to appear on the walls.

During the demonstrations the government had tried to control the flow of information, but they had failed to understand the significance of social media. They learned a valuable lesson — censoring the media had not prevented the people from finding out what was going on. In fact it had the opposite effect. It spawned thousands of new social media users, who understood — some for the first time — what young people have known all their lives, that new media has transformed the way we share and access information and ideas.

This change in perception was more threatening to the authorities than any weapon and signals the transition from the analogue to digital world order. In Gezi Park there was no leader, everything started and developed spontaneously. The majority of the protesters were from the new digital generation, who connect with the world, using technological tools to access the free flow of information and to express themselves freely.

As the Turkish prime minister said: Twitter has become a troublemaker.

Instead of listening to us — to the citizens — the prime minister, like an authoritarian father, tried to silence us, gave orders to the police to attack and harm us — seven young people and a police officer died, 4,329 people were injured some lost their eyes, others their arms, a few still in hospital — all because of the excessive police violence.

Instead of trying to understand what we were feeling, he told us he didn’t care. For thousands of years patriarchy has perpetrated violence by ignoring its conscience. Our prime minister said Obey Me. Arrogant, ignorant, oppressive, persistent and irreconcilable as always. Here were the age-old violent tactics of male domination used against men and women whose crime was to come together to protect nature from needless destruction.

The world thinks Turkey is a third world country, but in Gezi Park the demonstrators supported modern secular universal values. They didn’t say we are hungry or we want a job. Instead they said, “We respect nature and defend the lives of the trees. We want to exist as who we are, we want religious, sexual and cultural freedom. We don’t want racial, ethnic or political discrimination. We want free flow of information, we want free expression.”

Read Index’s interview with Arikan: A conversation with Meltem Arikan, Turkish playwright and author (7 January 2014)

This article was posted on 22 January 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

How ‘industrial football’ was used to silence protests

Football is a colossal business in Turkey. The billion-dollar industry constitutes Europe’s sixth largest football economy. No wonder the so-called “beautiful game” wields such enormous cultural and political influence on Turks, many of whom define themselves by their loyalty to football clubs Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş.

All based in Istanbul, they’re known as “the big three”, but since the nationalist-Islamist AK Party came to power in 2002, a flurry of other teams, from Trabzonspor to Başakşehir, have risen to prominence, winning national cups and increasingly defining what modern Turkish football is. Unsurprisingly, these teams are government-supported – a prerequisite for any successful business in autocrat President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “New Turkey”.

Just a decade ago, though, anti-government sentiment defined Turkish football. During the opening ceremony of Galatasaray’s fancy new stadium in 2011, Erdoğan greeted fans, expecting gratitude for his role in building the new venue. Instead, boos rose from the terraces.

“It’s a key moment in modern AK Party-era Turkish football,” said Patrick Keddie, who chronicled the tale of Turkish football in his 2018 book The Passion: Football and the Story of Modern Turkey.

“He expected to be welcomed and thought he would bask in fame, but ended up getting booed… It was around this time that things began to turn. There was this shift from the liberal early-era AK Party to something much more authoritarian and repressive.” Turkish football in those years, Keddie noticed, was “utterly politicised on every level”, from activists using the game’s national prominence to voice their political anger, to Erdoğan talking up his semi-professional football background for political gain. “There was this mythology of him as a former player.”

That 2011 incident, so crushing for an ex-footballer, marked the culmination point of several changes that began in 2002. Acting
out of financial self-interest, the government started knocking down stadiums in city centres and replacing them with enormous new ones, subsequently building a dozen more, in the suburbs, in association with Toki, Turkey’s public housing body.

Despite such tactics, cronies of the AK Party noticed how impenetrable the “big three” culture remained. Defending the republic’s ideals, fans of those teams largely hated the party’s oppressive project of Islamist nationalism. So the government began criminalising, imprisoning and demonising dissident fans and managers through a flurry of court cases.

First came the “match-fixing scandal”. In the summer of 2011, Erdoğan’s prosecutors began investigating football matches they
accused of being fixed. On 10 July 2012, a state court ordered the arrest of 61 people. Among the managers and national team players held was Aziz Yıldırım, the strictly secularist president of Fenerbahçe – the club Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk supported and which symbolises his modernising legacy. (A retrial process that began in 2015 cleared Fenerbahçe from all the charges; Yıldırım’s case was dropped in 2020.) Week after week, Fenerbahçe fans rushed to courts and, after sentencing, to prisons to show solidarity.

But it was the Beşiktaş fans – particularly the Çarşı group, named after the marketplace where Beşiktaş fans used to gather before matches for a drink – who played a crucial role in 2013’s Gezi uprising.

These Istanbul protests started as a movement against the development of the area, but quickly became a focal point of wider anti-government sentiment. Alongside environmentalists, leftists, liberals and other progressive millennials, Beşiktaş fans filled public squares and fought with the police.

Haldun Açıksözlü, an actor and author, wrote two books on Çarşı. “While growing up as a leftist in my youth, my passion for Beşiktaş grew, too,” he told Index. “I was part of Çarşı right from its inception.”

Rooted in the Ottoman Empire, Turkish football’s story begins with English residents of Salonica introducing the sport to Turks. The first matches were played in 1875. A football league was established in Istanbul in 1904, which soon extended into regional leagues in Anatolian cities and eventually the formation of the nationwide professional league. While Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray were known as teams of the bourgeoise and aristocracy, Beşiktaş was the team of cab drivers and the working classes.

Çarşı fans, Açıksözlü says, are famed for their cosmopolitanism and because they have a vital element of dissent. He said: “The group’s founders, from the early 1980s, were all leftists. Çarşı was a fan group that tilted football spectators toward leftist politics in the aftermath of the coup trauma of 12 September 1980. This leftist, communitarian perspective influenced me.”

But things turned when Beşiktaş’s 70-year-old stadium, İnönü (named after Atatürk’s closest ally in founding the republic), was demolished in 2013. “They made a mess of İnönü Stadium in the name of rebuilding it,” said Açıksözlü.

Erdoğan, who hates İnönü’s secularist politics, ended up excising the name of Turkey’s second president from Istanbul with this gesture.

Around this time, “the police and security forces began terrorising Beşiktaş fans”, said Açıksözlü. “Perhaps that was why Çarşı played such a prominent role in Gezi. The reaction creates reaction: the unnecessary use of tear gas by the police, their assault on Çarşı fans while they walked on streets with their families – these inevitably pushed Çarşı to the side of the sensitive people of Gezi.”

Açıksözlü describes Çarşı’s involvement in Gezi as an “incredible tale worthy of movies”. It began simply: 50 people walked from Beşiktaş to the nearby Akaretler neighbourhood. Their number grew to 100 at first and then grew to 1,000. When they walked up the hill and reached Gezi Park, the group numbered 2,500. “People heard their chants on the streets and joined in. Anyone who said they wouldn’t accept [living] under a one-man regime, wouldn’t accept state-intervention in their lives, sided with Çarşı,” he said.

Before Gezi, what Keddie – the British journalist – knew about Turkish football was clichéd: that it had crazy fans, that the big three Istanbul clubs hated each other. “I was surprised to see how prominent those fans were in the protests,” Keddie said. “They were on the forefront, fighting the police, manning the barricades.”

Still, the “big three” culture proved hard to penetrate for Keddie, who struggled with mingling with fans. “I think they’re insular and clannish and suspicious of outsiders – especially journalists.”

By the time Beşiktaş opened its new stadium on 10 April 2016, Keddie had noticed that Turkey’s political equation had changed dramatically. On the opening day, when Erdoğan sprinted and kicked a ball on the pitch, the stands were free of spectators. Even if they wanted to, nobody could boo him now.

When he visited the new stadium, Açıksözlü saw “airplane seats with special monitors attached to them”, and decided the old spirit of Çarşı was gone.

“There was this period, from 2011 to 2014, when the protest movement was quite intense,” Keddie said, “but by April 2016, most of the protests had died down or got more subtle for various reasons. Turkey didn’t have these major events, these major triggers, anymore. The biggest recent scandal of European football, the match-fixing case, 2013’s massive Gezi Park protests, and its aftermath – all of that had faded. With some exceptions, all forms of protest were essentially banned in Turkey.”

A significant factor behind the demise of Turkey’s protest culture was Passolig, an electronic ticket system the government introduced in 2014. “The electronic fan card Passolig was introduced as part of the country’s efforts to tackle hooliganism and violence in football,” announced the AK Party-run Anadolu Agency. “The new practice aims at a better identification of fans involved in violence in stadiums.”

In reality, Passolig was a cunningly conceived mechanism to detain dissident football fans. “Bringing in the Passolig card cowed many fans, and it made them think twice about protesting and even chanting because that system came with a whole load of security protocol and surveillance systems,” said Keddie.

It was much easier to identify anti-government protesters, ban them from stadiums and even charge and imprison them. “It was a response, the authorities said, to hooliganism and disorder, but most fans considered it a way to control them politically. It also gentrified the sport, making it more manageable, more middle class.”

Açıksözlü pointed to the formation of the 1453 group, a nationalist fans’ group, as another form of secret state intervention. “Specially assigned people were sent to Galatasaray’s Aslan Pençesi fan group and the Tek Yumruk group of Fenerbahçe. Their job was to stop fans looking at events from a leftist perspective.”

Anger soon melted into silence. Concern for security triumphed. Today, most fans wonder why they should risk their safety under an oppressive regime: Erdoğan sued more than 38,000 Turks for defamation between 2015 and 2021. Besides, for many devoted fans, it’s costly to go to matches at big clubs now. After Beşiktaş relocated, Çarşı had a much less prominent place in the new stadium. And outside the glossy new venues, Keddie observed, “the police are deployed in heavy numbers and they are happy to use violence whenever they need to”.

Açıksözlü said “industrial football” had destroyed the pleasures of the game. “Did you hear anything about Çarşı in the past five years? Did you read anything about other fan groups? Because of Passolig, the fan groups no longer influence Turkish football.” Still, the protest culture lives on, despite going underground. Fans can still be heard chanting about Atatürk, and when they sing the famed Izmir March, with lyrics including “Long live Atatürk! Your name will be written on a precious stone”, it’s a message directed at the Islamists.

Opposition politicians are playing ball, too. After a match between Galatasaray and the government-funded Başakşehir ended 2-0, the leader of the İYı Party, Meral Akşener, tweeted: “Galatasaray 2 -Erdoğan 0.” Many in Turkey call Başakşehir “Erdoğanspor”.

When another member of the opposition, Ekrem İmamoğlu, won Istanbul’s mayoral elections in 2019 but was refused the mandate after Erdoğan accused him of being a “terrorist”, a “liar” and a “thief”, the young politician, an ex-goalkeeper, visited football stadiums for support.

“Football is a big part of İmamoğlu’s brand,” Keddie said. “He was a goalie in his youth. So after the election was cancelled, he went to stadiums of the big three, pointedly avoiding smaller clubs, especially Başakşehir. Fans at those stadiums were chanting, ‘Give him the mandate’.” Once he was re-elected as mayor, İmamoğlu pledged to defend the interests of the big three.

Meanwhile, the “artificial success” of Başakşehir, Keddie said, may prove temporary. “I don’t see Başakşehir as really having power because they’re not an authentic, grassroots project. They don’t have many fans… It’s like a top-down project team; after all those years of investment and success in winning the league, they still get terrible attendances. It’s a cultural thing. Every other team sneers at them. Even people who support the government and support Beşiktaş or Galatasaray sneer at them.”

The AK Party may play dirty again, reject the results of next year’s presidential elections and invite their hardline supporters to
the streets to terrorise people. But then Turkey’s oppressed football fans can make a return, too, and protect Atatürk’s legacy.

“I spoke to a lot of people from Çarşı,” Keddie recalled, “and they said: ‘Yes, we’re against the government, and if something like Gezi happened again, we’d be there in a heartbeat.’”

Kaya Genç is Index’s contributing editor for Turkey. He is based in Istanbul.

This article appears in the autumn 2022 issue of Index on Censorship. To subscribe click here

“I wrote a play then lost my home, my husband and my trust”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”118071″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]I am a woman kicked out of Heaven.
I am a writer tried for treason, facing life in prison.
I am an exile defined as others.
I am autistic, pushing myself to be normal.
Only to become invisible.

I’m 52 years old. Since childhood, I have always felt alienated from my environment. The more petulant I became, the more walls I built between myself and the world, the greater the desire to flee grew. Not knowing from whom and from what I’m running away, only having the desire to shelter somewhere else, anywhere else. It is hard to be weird and different to others but not know why.

It has done irreparable damage to my self-esteem. I felt trapped inside a cocoon woven of my unhappiness. I was a thing apart. Other people were strictly separate from me. I felt this separation keenly.
This distinction was so clear in my childhood, as a young girl and even now it is the same…

For years, I established completeness in my inner world with all my broken fragments. Without expectation, motionless, distant, introverted. I drowned in words, definitions, tasks… I forgot my essence. I learned to mask myself because I have always been judged.

I have a lot of voices in my mind, ghosts of decades-old voices. Telling me how I should be…

In 2011 I wrote an absurd play called Mi Minör set in a fictional country called Pinima. During the performance, the audience could choose to play the President’s deMOCKracy game or support the Pianist’s rebellion against the system. The Pianist starts reporting all the things that are happening in Pinima through Twitter, which starts a role-playing game (RPG) with the audience. Mi Minör was staged as a play where an actual social media-oriented RPG was integrated with the physical performance. It was the first play of its kind in the world.

Blamed for the Gezi Park protests

A month after our play finished, the Gezi Park demonstrations in Istanbul started. On 10 June 2013, the pro-government newspaper Yeni Şafak came out bearing the headline ‘What A Coincidence’, accusing Mi Minör of being the rehearsal for the protests, six months in advance. The article continued, “New information has come to light to show that the Gezi Park protests were an attempted civil coup” and claimed that “the protests were rehearsed months before in the play called Mi Minör staged in Istanbul”.

After Yeni Şafak’s article came out, the mayor of Ankara started to make programmes on TV specifically about Mi Minör, mentioning my name.

In one he showed an edited version of one of the speeches that I made six years ago about secularism, misrepresenting what I said in such a way that it looked like I was implying that secularism was somehow antagonistic to religion.

What I found so brutal was that the mayor did this in the knowledge that religion has always been one of the most sensitive subjects in Turkey. What upset me most was the fear I witnessed in my son’s eyes and the anxiety that my partner was living through.

Arikan interviewed over Mi Minor

The play was being discussed regularly on TV, websites and online forums and both Mi Minör and my name were being linked to a secret international conspiracy against Turkey and its ruling party, the AKP. Many of the comments referenced the 2004 banning of my book Stop Hurting my Flesh. I received hundreds of emails and tweets threatening rape and death as a result of this campaign.

For three nightmarish months, we were trapped in our own house and did not set foot outside. One day, I saw that one of my prominent accusers was tweeting about me for four hours. The sentences he chose to tweet were all excerpts from my research publication The Body Knows, taken out of context and manipulating what I had written. Those tweets were the last straw.

Wales is protecting me

I left our house, our loved ones, our pasts. We left in a night with a single suitcase and came to Wales, which had always been my dream country. I never imagined my arrival in Cardiff would be like this; feeling bitter, broken and incomplete.

Two years later my partner, who had remained in Turkey, and I got married. In the first month, I learned my husband had brain cancer. Operations, chemotherapy, radiotherapy followed… Within a year, I lost him. I visited him, but sadly I wasn’t able to go to his funeral because of new accusations levelled against me. This was a turning point in my life. I lost my husband. I lost my trust in people. I lost my savings to pay for his care. I lost everything.

In all of this emotional turmoil, I started walking every day for five or six hours. Geese became my best friend and my remedy. I walked for months. I walked and walked everywhere, in the mountains, in the valleys, at the seaside.

These walks had a transformative effect on me. I had discovered a way to live as a woman who had learned to accept herself, rather than a shattered and a lost woman.

Maybe there is an umbilical cord, beyond my consciousness, between me and the wild nature of Wales. I feel this land always wrapped itself around me, talked to me like a mother during the difficult time in my life. For this reason, I wrote my latest play; Y Brain/Kargalar (Crows), written in Welsh and Turkish and produced by Be Aware Productions. It describes my story, the special place this land has in my life and how it transformed me. The title refers to my constant companions during this time – the crows. One reviewer called it “unashamedly lyrical…even as it touches on dark themes”.

On 20 February 2019, as the play was being staged, a new indictment was issued against 16 people, including me, over Mi Minör; I now face a life sentence. Because of this absurd accusation, I feel ever more strongly that Wales is protecting me.

My diagnosis

It was at this time that I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome/autistic spectrum disorder and I’ve received many answers about myself as a result. From this moment, a new discovery and understanding started. I set out to discover myself with this new knowledge. As soon as I could know who I’m not, I could find out who I am.

I realise that my wiring system simply makes it harder for me to do many things that come naturally to other people. On the flip side, it is important to be aware that autism can also give me many magical perceptions that many neurotypicals simply are not capable of. I believe I was able to write Mi Minör because of my different perceptions.

I have therapy twice a week and I have started to understand what I have been through all my life. My therapists told me that I was manipulated and I was emotionally and sexually abused by whom I love and trust the most; it was a big shock for me. I spent half of my life trying to help abused victims, and I never thought I was a victim. They said this is very common because autistic women are not aware of when they were used. How could I have been so blind?

I couldn’t work out that I was being played by others, like a fish on a line. As an autistic, communication is about interpreting with a basic belief in what people tell me because I don’t tell lies myself. But I have learned how much capacity for lies exists. Autistic people can be gullible, manipulated and taken advantage of. But I learned that regret is the poison of life, the prison of the soul.

The most significant benefit of this process is that I am learning again like a child to re-evaluate everything with curiosity and enthusiasm. It also gives me the chance to reconstruct the rest of my life without hiding myself, being subjugated to anyone, and living without fear.

Autism diagnosis and discovery were liberating for me. There is still not enough autism spectrum awareness even today. That is why I decided to come out about my autism. I strongly believe that if those of us who are on the autistic spectrum share our experiences openly, then it wouldn’t only help other autistic people, it would help neurotypical people to better understand both us and our behaviour.

Looking back at the last few years, I have been thrown into navigating most of the challenging aspects and life experiences and there has been a complete cracking of all masks.

This process is not easy at all, sometimes my soul, sometimes my heart, sometimes all my cells hurt, but it also causes me to recognise a liberation I have never known before.

Fortunately, during this process, I have been learning a lot about myself and how I have masked myself as an Aspie-woman… For me, masking myself is more harmful even than not knowing I’m autistic. Masking means that I create a different Meltem to handle every situation. I have never felt a strong connection with my core. When I am confronted with emotional upset, my brain immediately goes into “fix it” mode, searching for a way to make the other person feel better so I can also relieve my own distress.

For most of my life, I’ve allowed myself to fit in with how I thought others wanted me to feel and act, especially those I loved. My dark night gave me so much pain I broke free and started to care for myself and heal. Taking me back to my primordial self, not the heroic one that burns out, to step back from the battle line of existence, to remember the gods and spiritual parts of nature, my own nature and the person I was at the beginning.

The last two years have been exciting for me. It is as if I died and was reincarnated again. In the end, I understand that my true nature is not to be some ideal that I have to live up to. It’s ok to be who I am right now, and that’s what I can make friends with and celebrate. I learned it’s about finding my own true nature and speaking and acting from that. Whatever our quality is, that’s our wealth and our beauty. That’s what other people respond to. I’m not perfect, but I’m real…[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]