Shining Into Darkness – The Power of Protest

You are living in a state of total comfort in your home, with your family; your two children are educated according to your values and ideologies. You teach them that culture is essential and that they have to learn to think for themselves and find their own ways to be happy. But what if your government creates an environment in which people are not allowed these basic human rights? What do you do then? Hülya, fifty years old, decided to join the fight against government oppression in order to ensure freedom for future generations.

I remember the day they won the election. In 2003, the president of Turkey, Tayyip Erdoğan, made a balcony speech saying that he would protect all freedom. That promise was not kept. I can’t say living in Turkey was like being in a fairytale before that, but at least it was better than now.

In 1980, when I was in my twenties, there was a coup d’etat within the government that brought about political change. Before that, we were were more or less free, but soon after we became repressed. Any non-political literature was burned—poetry, everything—even if it had no anti-political agenda. By the end of the ‘80s, things got better, and the ‘90s were very relaxed.

Soon after Erdoğan’s speech, things changed. We could no longer drink in the streets; men and women were forbidden to live together out of wedlock; media became strictly controlled—to the extent that a documentary about penguins was shown on television instead of coverage of an extremely newsworthy anti-political demonstration. The government began to put pressure on certain religious groups, and slowly, like a virus, it created natural divides in the population. To be honest, I realised what was going on, but I didn’t expect that one day the people in power would have quite as much influence as they do now.

My country has become unlawful and our once peaceful environment has descended, again, into darkness. Now, alcohol is forbidden, sex is forbidden, Internet is forbidden, abortion is forbidden… Everything is forbidden. But I am not afraid of government censorship—they can censor everything and people will still find solutions—but I am really afraid of self-censorship. It’s much more dangerous. I am afraid that people will only understand the control they have been put under once everything is shrouded in darkness. I am afraid it will be too late. I want a country where women and men are equal, where the way a woman wears her scarf is her own business, where people are respectful to nature—no hydroelectric power plants, no nuclear energy. I want a country where people are free to be who they are, follow any religion, any ideology. There shouldn’t be a place for religion in our ID cards! Who cares?!

Protesting is one of the only ways to shine a light on these issues, the only weapon we have to fight against this oppression. If the government won’t listen to us when we’re quiet, we have to shout louder, haven’t we? We’ve taught our children to stand up for themselves, and they should, but when they do police and governors whose salaries are paid with our taxes are hurting them. When this started happening, I knew I had to get involved. I will not to let our kids die. All the young people who’ve been harmed in protests are my children, all Turkey’s children! Young people are our future; I protest for them. If something bad is going to happen, I’d rather it happen to me. I’ve lived enough in this world and I’m not afraid anymore.

Before the Gezi protests, I didn’t have much involvement with politics. I voted, that’s all. Demonstrations and protests were not really interesting to me. I would read political things on Facebook, but I was mainly using Facebook just for Candy Crush! Since then, if I learn something bad has happened I go to my window and bang pots and pans. I learned that I had to follow what was going on around me, so I started to read more: newspapers, posters on the street, magazines, social media. I realised I had to take a stand against the things that were not acceptable to me—my vote alone was not enough.

Çarşı—the Beşiktaş football team’s fan group, a group of ‘hooligans’— are the group I most identify with politically. They are the only ones who really fight, with no fear of police and government. In lieu of getting involved with them, I settled for joining an opposition party. Being a woman in my fifties, this was the next best choice. I wanted to become more involved, to help enlighten people in any way I could. In fact, before I joined the opposition party, I planned on running through the streets nude with banners wrapped around me shouting the truth. But fortunately, once I joined I was given the opportunity to raise awareness in a more effective manner. Now, I travel through suburbs and villages to inform people of what’s going on.

People sometimes make fun of me, tell me that I’m crazy. If it’s crazy to try to change our lives and our children’s lives, then yes, I am crazy. There should be more people like me protesting, not just young people. More people like the women with the slingshots! I love them!

I’m fighting in any way I can to make my voice heard, to inform people who don’t know the truth. Even if one day I’m the only person in the squares spreading this message, it doesn’t matter. I will be there, fighting for a country that is truly free. It doesn’t matter if you support me, whether you have the same beliefs as me or not: just read, and make sure you’re informed. READ EVERYTHING, please! Forget hearsay, and remember to bring your conscience. Whatever you decide, at least you’ll be armed with all the facts. Learn everything you can about what’s going on around you—that is the only way can make the right choice.

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