Social Ecology Seminar in Istanbul
On February 15-16, social ecologists traveled to Istanbul to participate in a ten-member peace delegation. Our purpose was to attempt to restart the peace talks concerning the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, which had been suspended since the spring of 2015, by meeting with members of the Turkish state and with Abdullah Öcalan, imprisoned on Imrali Island since 1999.
The Kurdish freedom movement in Turkey regards Öcalan as its chief spokesperson and indispensable negotiator. Even from his prison cell, he has been a crucial role-player in previous talks and a consistent voice calling for peace—or he was until last heard from on April 5 of last year.
The delegation was led by Judge Essa Moosa of the High Court of South Africa, the lawyer for Nelson Mandela during the latter’s imprisonment on Robben Island. Judge Moosa requested the meetings with the Minister of Justice and with Öcalan to take place on February 15 – the seventeenth anniversary of Öcalan’s capture and detention. Unfortunately, the delegation was granted neither of the two meetings that the judge requested.
As the delegation awaited a response, however, it met with representatives of organizations linked to the Kurdish freedom movement: the Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK), the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and the Libertarian Lawyers Association (OHD) as well as the ‘Freedom for Öcalan’ committee which has collected 10.3 million signatures for its petition. These representatives briefed us on the country’s most disturbing situation.
All recounted to us that between the two elections of June and November 2015, the peace process decisively came to an end, and the Erdoğan government has shifted to a war footing. Many told us that the situation for Turkey’s Kurds is worse now than it was in the 1990s, when the state’s armed forces evacuated and razed numerous Kurdish villages in the southeast, forcing residents to migrate to cities. Now it is attacking those same people and their children in the cities, transforming urban neighborhoods into war zones, pounding them with heavy artillery and tank fire. Certain police forces, directly linked to the President, are licensed to shoot anyone with full impunity, with no fear of consequences. In Cizre, up to 190 people who took refuge in three different basements have been murdered by airstrikes, even burned alive by firebombing, and now the state is destroying the buildings to eliminate the evidence.
These are war crimes. Yet even as the AKP attempts to repress the Kurdish movement, it denies that any problem exists, saying, “There is no Kurdish problem. There is only a terrorism problem,” and asserting that there is nothing to negotiate.
The AKP wishes to refashion the Turkish Constitution toward a presidential monopoly of power. The Kurdish movement, by contrast, advocates creating a new democratic constitution throughout Turkey, one based on decentralized democracy and that acknowledges the rights of ethnicities, religions, and women.
It was in this context that the delegation’s four social ecologists, all TRISE members, gave presentations at a seminar called “Social Ecology and Self-Management” on February 14, organized by Istanbul social ecologists and TRISE members Ertuğ Dinseven and Ahmet Sezer. This public meeting which took place on a Sunday at 11 am in Kadikoy, had a jam-packed room full of interested persons, young and old, men and women, Turkish and Kurdish. Dimitri Roussopoulos led off the session, emphasizing the urban nature of social ecology. His talk was titled “What Social Ecology is or is not: Radical Struggles in the City and Direct Democracy”. Janet Biehl noted that the panel was historic in that it was the first time that Dimitri, Eirik and her, three of Murray Bookchin’s closest collaborators, were speaking together. She then recounted the emergence of social ecology as a project of political, economic, technological, agricultural, and urban decentralization, and specific influence of the writings of Murray Bookchin on Abdullah Öcalan. Eirik Eiglad spoke about the dynamic between universal ideals and their practical political implementation in Scandinavia, New England, and Rojava, opening a discussion about mutual learning and how different experiences all form part of a common movement. Federico Venturini explored the philosophical dimension of social ecology. Ertuğ Dinseven wrapped up the proceedings by offering a definition of direct democracy and critiquing consensus decision-making processes. The seminar was well attended—indeed, the room was overflowing. Nathan McDonnell, who works with Black Rose Books, was selling books and also taking photographs.
Social ecology has played a fundamental role in shaping the Kurdish political project of democratic confederalism that advocates freedom through decentralization, self-management, and respect for women and minorities. Democratic confederalism indeed represents a political project that can solve the complicated panorama in Middle East and social ecology can inspire people all around the world.
As the AKP government strives to transform Turkey into an ever more authoritarian state, the Kurdish movement, we were told, is the country’s only significant opposition. It is imperative that people of all ethnicities in Turkey struggle with the Kurdish movement to transform Turkey from a unitary, top-down state to a democracy.
Moreover, they need help from outside. The AKP government is beyond shaming. “We can’t raise our voices in Turkey,” lawyer Cemril Adi told us, “because when we do we are attacked or tortured. We need you to raise your voices in your country, . . . to urge your countries to hear our voice and find a way to stop this.” Zubeyde Teker of the Freedom for Öcalan platform agreed: “Our struggle is insufficient without support from outside.”
We urge all to raise their voices against the barbarous actions of the Turkish state and of all other states that are complicit in those actions by virtue of their silence.
Dimitri Roussopoulos, Montreal, Canada
Eirik Eiglad, Oslo, Norway
Federico Venturini, Leeds, UK
Janet Biehl, Burlington, United States
Nathan McDonnell, Montreal, Canada