CORNERSTONES OF JULY 15:WOMEN WHO ARE MORE POWERFUL THAN TANKS
Sare Aydın Yılmaz*
CNN International published a report titled “Turkey coup attempt: Reaction on the streets of Istanbul” soon after the coup attempt in Turkey. It conveyed the comments from Clare Busch, the American who caught images from the Turkish street, which says: “Despite the older woman up front, there were no women marching with the men”. According to the report, “the older woman was the only female in the group that was headed down Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Street) toward Taksim Square”, Istanbul. Similarly, a number of accounts in the social media shared comments propagating the lack of women in protests against the coup makers while the coup was unfolding. Despite the contrary, the lack of women was used as the evidence for the patriarchal character of anti-coup mobilization against the secular state establishments of Turkey such as the military. In parallel, the Western media and social media accounts disseminated photos of violent male-dominated protests. To cite an example, Public Radio International claimed, “Images of protesters on the streets are mostly men… the fact that mostly conservatives are holding vigils at the squares might be a factor in women’s absence”.
Despite this early representation of the anti-coup protesters, reports proving the active participation of women in anti-coup protests started to find their place in especially the Turkish media. For example, Hürriyet Daily News published a report documenting leading women actors who actively participated in anti-coup mobilization. This paper aims to contribute in such reports in order to do justice to women who played a key role in suppressing the coup attempt against the elected government of Turkey. By doing this, the paper also focuses on civil society in Turkey and its role during the mobilization of protests against the coup makers. In repelling the attempted coup experienced in Turkey on July 15, the fact that the nation has reacted aggressively by putting forward its willpower, has once again shown to the whole world how much the influence area of civil society can grow, and its determination in protecting democracy will not give passage to anti-democratic variations/transformation. This aggression has no doubt been an important breaking point that clearly indicates the existence of a conscious civil society in Turkey against the terrorist organizations attempting to capture the government and deal a blow to the nation’s willpower. From this point of view, in this article, civil society, women and democracy will be emphasized on, and July 15 will be studied.
The coups of the 60’s and 80’s, March 12 Memorandum, February 28 post-modern coup, and ultimately April 27 e-memorandum experienced by Turkey, which have intervened in the democratic civil government, are all a show of strength of the nation’s willpower, and they are projections of the ill fate that attempted to dominate the history of Turkey. What reversed this ill fate following the attempted coup experienced on July 15, has been the “civil defense” move, that the national will was put forward by gathering in the streets, and organizing against heavy weapons in order to protect their government and assembly, which were elected by democratic means. This willpower shown by Turkey in protecting democracy, is a significant evidence of the fact that a conscious reaction was shown specifically against this attempted coup, and against this coup tradition that it has closely experienced, and has been forced to bear the consequences of for many years. With its success in its democracy fight against this attempted coup, and with the democracy fight it has put up at this point, Turkey has once again clearly shown that the willpower of the nation is a power above all. This awakening ensured that a more conscious and deliberate civil society can be developed and grow in solidarity in Turkey against terrorist organizations, and this anti-coup understanding that protects democracy can find a place in the social base. This has an additional importance from the viewpoint of the protection of democracy and the democratic regime that was put forward in the EU adventure. This has a characteristic of irrevocable acceptance of the superiority of the law and democratic improvement at the social base in spite of the junta.
Resistance of Civil Society Against Coups
When we look at the traditions of civil society in Turkey from the past to the present, we may talk about the existence of a civil society order which is struggling to take a breath in the middle of social polarizations and ideology based social problems. However, the fact that we have seen that the resistance of civil society, which was the main element in repelling the attempted coup of July 15, was reflected on the street, and this resistance contains within itself the main codes of a sustainable democracy, is the result of a transition into a powerful and efficient society and civil society order, which struggles to cure social problems. The most apparent example of this is the “Democracy and Martyrs Demonstration” held in Yenikapı, which entered into the records as the largest square demonstration in the history of the Republic of Turkey, together with the sagacity shown by the patriot people who have ensured that the coup was repelled by climbing on the tanks, and who thereafter have kept a democracy watch all across Turkey. In the Yenikapı Demonstration held in Istanbul, more than 5 million people and political parties came together, and demonstrated a common stance against coups in Turkey, politically and on the base of civil society. With this demonstration, which brought together the whole of Turkey, in which supra-party unity, solidarity and brotherhood messages were given, the big picture given by all segments of society against the attempted coup was aimed at the democracy, by fulfilling its conscientious responsibility and by protecting its determined structure, for the democracy and liberty, in order to commemorate the martyrs for the sake of the homeland.
The fact that civil society, which is defined as “a value creating institution, a communication network, which plays a role in the creation of important values such as social solidarity, social trust, social responsibility, social stability, and finding solutions to social problems”, and social base have interlocked with each other in Turkey against the coup without any discrimination, and the fact that they have banded together for the protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms, shows that, a new civil society understanding is growing. This has once again proved to us that, the former civil society tradition which was polarized and which was struggling to take a breath with only ideological capital, is now obliged to fade away in this new world order.
Women Who are More Powerful than Tanks
It is completely contrary to human rights and fundamental rights and freedoms for a terror organization to bombard the civilian community in a way to cause deaths by using the ammunition of the state, bombard the parliament by paying no attention to the willpower of the nation, force an announcement to be read by seizing the media institutions/organizations, and demoralize the whole community psychologically. Concerning the protection of this basic right to live and democracy, it is not possible to ignore the role of women in repelling the attempted coup. They are women from different segments of society, women who have come together against this interference with the democracy, and who have gone out on the street by saying openheartedly “we are here too”.
However, with the campaigns conducted in international media, in spite of illustrating to the community that has protected democracy against the coup, a completely opposite perception of the operation was attempted to be conducted. With a pro-coup understanding, this anti-democratic attempt of the FETÖ member pro-junta soldiers was struggled to be legalized. The world media has been subject to a serious disinformation, that Turkey is increasingly becoming conservative, the salvation of democracy and secular order can only be ensured by a coup to be made by soldiers, however, this attempted coup, which resulted in failure, means that domination of Islamist on the state will increase, and secular life and democracy will be endangered. People from each party and social base, who have poured onto the streets in order to defend democracy and protect the national will against the attempted coup of July 15 immediately after the President of the Turkish Republic called them to gather in the streets against the attempted coup, have been ignored, and broadcasts/publications aimed at justifying the pro-coup terrorist organization have continued. With this disinformation, in spite of taking the pulse of the street in a realistic way, again with an orientalist approach over the conservative women who have attended the protest against the coup, a defamation campaign has been made by using a marginalizing language, and it has been emphasized that, the marginalized environment can be a great danger for women, by saying that women in head scarfs have crowded the squares. Women from every segment, every social class of society, who have gone out to the street to fight against the coup, have been ignored by being incarcerated orientalist view. CNN presenter Hande Fırat is one of the women who played a significant role in the attempts to defeat to coup by connecting on face time through her phone to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan so that the president could call Turkish people on the street to stand against the coup. Whereas, turkey will not forget the scenes where 50-year old Şerife Boz and 61-year old Sema Tutar, who have turned into symbolic names in the coup protest, drove trucks, brought together everyone in their neighborhood, and went together to the coup protests. In this picture, which reflects the social reality of Turkey, the fact that the women driving the truck is a very conservative veiled woman, and the woman sitting beside her is a traditional secular looking woman, is a clear appearance of the fact that the line separating each other from the ideological and/or life style was removed by the coup. The fact that the west has read the pictured Muslim women as orientalist, is its rottenness. Hence, these women did not need the approval of a man while going out to the street with their own free will, and they have ignored the traditional acceptances. These self-sacrificing women of Turkey, who have gone out of their house for democracy, rights and freedoms, have no doubt played a great role in winning the fight. Everyone who can take the pulse of the street can easily see the determined stance of Muslim religionists women who are still struggling to be pacified and painted in a different picture by the west with some feminist orientalist expressions, and this attitude, this fighting spirit is not new. It is not possible for the west to understand this spirit, while wallowing in an egocentric alienation grip. The heroism shown in the War of Independence by Martyr Şerife Bacı, who carried the ammunition loaded onto tumbrels to Kastamonu under cold winter conditions, and who wrapped her own jersey on the cannon balls in order to ensure that they don’t get wet, and Halime Çavuş, who left her home and went to carry ammunition notwithstanding the insistence of her mother and father, and the spirit in our hero women, who left their homes and families to pour onto the street and were martyred today against the coup of July 15, are the same. Women, who are the integrative and dynamic power of the society, have again shown the same attitude and same resistance against this attempted coup. Safiye Bayat is 34 years old, a mother of two children, went to the Bosphorous Bridge to stand against the tanks during the coup-attempt, she was wounded with a bullet by one of the coup plotters. After watching the report about the coup-attempt on television, Safiye Bayat arrived at the Bosphorus Bridge around midnight after walking about 45 minutes along the empty streets. The fearless woman wanted to talk to the commander. However, one of the coup plotters stopped her by saying “You may be hurt”. She continued to walk through the soldiers, saying that the soldiers cannot do something to frighten a woman. Bayat, who arrived at the bridge alone tried to explain with courage and faith to soldiers that what they were doing was wrong. One of the coup plotters tried to push her away with riffle, but she said “I am not afraid, are you trying to scare me with that? This woman that stood alone against coup plotters went nearby one of the soldiers who fired his gun up in the air. While she was reporting heinous events of that night, she said: “I didn’t know how I could go to the bridge as a woman but when it comes to my country, my blood flows differently”. And she continued, “If a man would go over there, they may have killed him, luckily I was there.” Safiye Bayat, who was wounded with a bullet fired by coup plotters when she turned to help an injured protestor has been taken to hospital and she was put platinum on her legs afterwards. Safiye Bayat’s name is identified in the history as a fearless woman standing alone against the tanks. Türkan Türkmen, a 53 years old housewife from Malatya has been martyred by a tank running over her when she was on the way to Ataturk Airport to stop the coup attempt. Tekin saw the reports on TV about the FETO’s coup attempt, then she left home and took on the streets to defend the nation’s will after President Erdogan called people to stand against the plotters. Türkan Tekin, together with her husband Ramazan Tekin and their children arrived at Esenler Atışalanı Police Station. After hearing the news that the tanks of coup plotters were going towards Atatürk Airport, the family decided to join other citizens marching to Ataturk Airport. Turkan Tekin was critically injured after being ran over by a tank. She was taken to hospital by other protestors but unfortunately she could not be saved. Tekin’s 20 years old son Berkay, 18 years old daughter Buket and 11 years old daughter Sümeyye stated that they are honored of having a fearless and heroic mother. Fikriye Temel, 75 years old woman, stood against the tanks with her stick on her hand and fought to protect democracy. This mother of four children who lives in Ankara rushed into the street during the coup attempt and went to the Presidential Complex with a stick that she held in her hand. The photo of Temel with her stick has gone viral on social media and became a symbol of the courage and determination of Turkish women in defending their country and democracy against the coup. While she was expressing herself, she said “I have never been afraid, that stick felt as a machine-gun in my hands. If it happens all over again, I would do the same”. Nebahat Topaloğlu, another female hero has heard at home that there was a coup attempt and following President Erdoğan’s call, she told herself: “Today is the day to go outside and defend the country, if we do not go outside today, it will be too late tomorrow”. Topaloğlu marched to Sarachane with the other citizens and stood against the coup plotters. She was wounded by one of the coup plotters who opened fire on her. Special Operation Commissary Demet Sezen, who left her 3-year old son at home, went for duty to stand against coup plotters and was martyred. There were many others… just like our women, who in 1947, when it was asserted that the mukhtar elections were illegal and attempted to be renewed, have said that “the voting box is our honesty” and protected the voting box with their sticks and canes, and all the hero women of Turkey, have today given the necessary response against the coup, for democracy, freedom and justice. In addition to the women who have fought on the battlefronts, the history of Turkey is full of hero women, who were active behind the front – who gave logistics support in today’s terms, who have fought against all kinds of threats to their democracy and state, and who have shown the most distinguished example of national unity and solidarity in this fight of existence.
While commemorating these hero women, although it is too ridiculous to see that the orientalist approaches and expressions in the perception operations carried out by the western media aimed at conservative women are being maintained and repeated snidely, these are at the same time ominous examples showing the double-dealer attitude of the west, which asserts that it protects the basic rights and freedoms. At this point, what we have to see is that, this attempted coup which was attempted to be realized by FETO on the night of July 15, is aimed not only at the President and voters of a party, but at people from every segment and base living in the Turkish Republic. Hence, the aforementioned “Democracy and Martyrs Demonstration” held in Yenikapı, in which millions of people from every segment have come together and banded together against the attempted coup and this disinformation, is one of the best indicators of this.
Women from very different social and political backgrounds who took it to the streets at democracy watches and streets protests also reinforce this argument. Young and old women, veiled and secular looking women, women with children, girls, were marching on the streets throughout Turkey shoulder to shoulder, uniting on the streets for their common interest. This is a clear indication that ideological and political differences are insignificant when the future and security of the country that women will leave to their children are at question.
Talking about the passivity of conservative religionists women from past to present, and complaining about their obedience, their public appearance and publicity was brought into question. Today, nobody can argue with the same arguments again the stance of these women, who have kept a democracy watch against a terrorist organization which attempted a coup under a religious cover, and their attitude to demonstrate patriotism by climbing on the tanks. Today, the conservative religionists woman, who is integrated into economic life, who can easily be adapted to the political and social arena, and who confronts us as a conscious and combatant individual with regard to representation and taking part in decision making, is a woman who doesn’t leave the Islamic references, but maintains her existence having a voice in the public sphere. The bold resistance of these woman on the streets against the coup attempt demonstrates how biased and inaccurate the orientalist perception of feminism. The stories of these women is a clear and undeniable proof of their determination and will to be present at every platform, to be part of the public life and as such is shuttering traditional approach of feminisms to East as a man dominated society where women are unable to act on their will. The story of Safiye Bayat standing alone against tanks on the Bosphrous Bride asking soldiers how they could drive their tanks on the civilians in a democratic country is an outward expression of the democracy consciousness among Turkish women.
The whole world will continue to remember and recall the fight for the homeland given by these women, who struggle to protect their own language, own argument, own stance and identity far beyond the orientalist expressions, and their stance in the streets before the tanks, more powerful than tanks.
The attempted coup, which was experienced in Turkey on the night of July 15 by the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization, was prevented in consequence of the fight given by the nation by pouring onto the street with women, men, elders and youngsters from every segment and grade, notwithstanding all the perception operations. In consequence of this coup, which was attempted and prearranged with the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization which is a parallel congregational structure believing that it will bring democracy to Turkey, being unable to stand both the developing and growing economy of and the democratic environment in Turkey, and the resistance of the community in protecting the existing democracy, the international powers have once again understood that they will not be able to reach their goal against the unity and solidarity of the nation. The fact that the international media has reported with perception operations groundless, snide and unacknowledged news aimed at the government which was selected directly by democratic means and aimed at the hero nation, gushed over the attempted coup by using an anti-democratic language, used a language aimed at polarization by ignoring the unity and solidarity of the Turkish community, has clearly shown that the western media has a long distance to cover for democracy.
Communities that still believe in this century that democracy can be brought by means of a coup, are required to review this approach in themselves, which ignores the democratic environment in Turkey. The big picture that Turkey gave after the coup shows us that: Neither the perception operations, nor any power, including the terrorist organizations that wrap themselves under a religious cover can harm the hero women who protected democracy, their state, and nation against pro-junta and similar terrorist organizations, who are strong, qualified in an educational viewpoint, and who can correctly read the events occurring at home and abroad.
* Women and Democracy Association (KADEM) and Istanbul Commerce University.
 “Women are being silenced in Turkey’s crackdown”
 “Meet the women in the spotlight during resistance to Turkey’s failed coup”
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