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Benjamin Netanyahu
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Campaign posters after the general election in Israel 2019
Trailer for the documentary "King Bibi"

Israel’s Bibi, the avant-gardist of the contemporary populist disease

24.04.19
9 min
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Israel’s Bibi, the avant-gardist of the contemporary populist disease

On April 9th, the ugliest and dirtiest election campaign Israel has seen so far, was over. It was basically the same fake-lies&bots-game of shame, Western democracies are struggling with lately. On the morning after, centrist and left-wing supporters woke up with a hangover to an Israeli election groundhog day. Benjamin Netanyahu – or Bibi, as everyone calls him in Israel – was up for his fifth term; this time, with a coalition comprised of his own party and its nationalistic and religious allies – forming an even stronger coalition majority than in the previous term. Why did he win again? To answer that, let’s look back to the beginning of the race.   

On Monday, January 7th, the Israeli public was on alert, waiting for a “dramatic announcement” by the Prime Minister. The televised event, which was more of a speech than a press-conference, as journalists were not allowed to ask questions, was used by Bibi to contest corruption allegations. Later this year, the Attorney General is expected to indict the Prime Minister on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust – something Netanyahu referred to as a “left-wing conspiracy” to overthrow him in an “undemocratic manner”. Netanyahu railed against anything that stood in his way, from his political opponents and the police, to the public prosecutor and the supreme court. He demanded to meet in front of the camera with the state witness of the case, which of course was rejected. The tone for the campaign of his nationalistic party, the “Likud”, was set: blaming everyone who is not “on their side” for all the faults of Israeli society, and accusing without integrity entire constituencies – from the liberal Tel Aviv central-left to the Arab communities – as traitors and even “terror supporters”.

The political wizard, that he is, Bibi had broken up his governing coalition upon the pretext of a dispute with one of Likud’s allies, went for an early election, in a bid for a bigger majority for his government, and –  this might be the next step in order to rescue himself – try then to install the so-called French law, that protects a sitting prime minister from prosecution. Bibi knew too well, that he is grappling with a disadvantaged opposition, due to one of his biggest propagandistic achievements – the demonization of the Israeli Zionist Left. Over the course of his 12-year premiership, the Hebrew word for Leftie became synonymous with “traitor”.  Consequently, no political party, other than the tiny Zionist socialist party “Meretz”, dares to define itself as “left-wing”. Even not the central-left Labor party, which totally crashed. The movement of the murdered peace-maker and novel-price-bearer Itzchak Rabin and the social democratic founding father icon David Ben-Gurion, who ruled Israel throughout the 50’s and 60’s, shrank to a depressing 5 percent low, as their voters were flocking to the generals.   

The generals? Some analysts were jokingly talking of a military putsch, while referring to the alpha-team behind the newly founded centrist party Blue and White (the colors not only of the usually summerly sea and sky along Israel’s coastline but also those of the Israeli flag), led by former IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) Chief of Staff, General Benny Gantz, furthermore by a charismatic former TV-journalist and – two other former Chiefs of Staffs. Together, these four middle-aged men were looking sternly from the huge Blue and White election posters into their electorate’s eyes, posing the only serious challenge to Netanyahu’s victory. But the dire warnings of three former military leaders to a nation, which would not exist without its military: that Netanyahu is a liar and eventually corrupted, a danger to Israeli democracy, who divides the country; all that was not enough to undermine the religious and nationalistic majority. Knowing he had the left-wing vote in the bag, Benny Gantz’s campaign took on increasingly aggressive messaging to attract voters away from the right. In one video, for instance, Gantz bragged about his achievements as a commander during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, during which about 1300 Palestinians were killed. Apart from this, Bibi was constantly criticized as not being tough enough towards the rocket attacks of Hamas, the Islamist terror organization, that is subjugating Gaza. But despite these efforts, most right wingers stuck to Mr. Netanyahu, and the Likud party won the largest number of seats they ever held in parliament, though neck to neck with Blue and White. They absorbed most of the majority of votes by the other half of the electorate, which was united by the one and only slogan: Just not Bibi again. 

As corruption cases against him mount, the love and trust of Netanyahu’s massive fan only just grows stronger. Out of historical mistrust against the European socialist labor party, dominated by the privileged East European Jews of the first Zionist waves of immigration in the first half of the 20th century, by whom they felt mistreated throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, the majority of Oriental Middle Eastern Jewish immigrants and their descendants traditionally vote for the nationalistic Likud. This constituency is overlapping in great parts of with the working poor, the less educated, those who long for a strong man’s hand, and those identifying themselves with the arrogant and paranoid middle-finger Bibi shows his fantasized foes – the media, the judges, the establishment, which, to their assessment, never did much to raise their life-quality and social status.

Reminds you of the mad man in the White House and his constituency of ‘deplorables’, as Hillary once said in a slip of tongue? Well, Benjamin Netanyahu was there first, long before watershed political events in recent years took place – the defeat of Hillary Clinton, the Brexit craziness, the electoral success of Italy’s Five Star Movement and Brazil’s sudden shift to the far-right. Israel could be seen as forerunner of worldwide populism, and Netanyahu as the avant-gardist of the popular, charismatic, reality-show style leader. Since he took over more than a decade ago, the public discourse in his country became increasingly nationalistic, xenophobic, and militant.

In his new documentary “King Bibi”, which was broadcasted on ARTE at the eve of the elections, Israeli director Dan Shadur follows Netanyahu’s rise to power through four decades of public appearances. Relying solely on archival footage of Netanyahu’s media performances, spanning a career of some 40 years, the film shows how the Israeli Prime Minister understood the political benefits of creating a toxic relationship with the media and communicating directly with the public long before Facebook, Twitter, and the spectacle of the Trump-presidency.

Shadur’s documentary portrays the making of Bibi by himself in his early American years. For instance, after changing his career from furniture sales promoter to politician, Netanyahu autodidactically exercised “7 steps for fearless speaking by Lilian Wilder”, an audio-tutorial on audio cassettes in the 80’s. As well known, Hitler, too, started his career by self-taught acting in front of an audience. In our opinion, it is legitimate to put these two figures under a comparative analysis, given the eagerness seen in both of them to learn how to theatrically address the masses and to gain followers, the paranoia that nourishes their charismatic mission, and their power to convince their listeners. In order to learn from the faults of history, we should not overlook these striking similarities, contributing to the rise of Bibi. It is not helpful to view Hitler as a taboo, an unhuman monster, an incomparable phenomenon. Bibi will, of course, never turn out as a bloodthirsty dictator, who throws his adversaries into prisons and builds death-camps. Only anti-Semitically motivated, antizionist extremists would maintain such nonsense. Netanyahu nevertheless, belongs to the category of populists, who manipulate their nation with lies and stigmatize the free press as lying press, such as Hitler, Stalin and Mao – the big mass-murderers of the 20th century, Chavez and Maduro, the destroyers of Venezuela, and Russia’s Putin – who, instead of continuing to sit in the Kremlin and thwart progress in Russia, should be sued at the international court of Justice in The Hague for complicity in the war-crimes of Syrian’s dictator Assad. 

These are the Zombies standing on the wrong side of history. Likewise Bibi and his sympathizers Trump, Orban, Salvini, and Bolsonaro; they may not be murderous, are by far less vicious and, principally, stick to the democratic rules; yet – as we pointed out in our recent piece, – they bear the same irrationally poisoned mindset of refugee-paranoia as the assailant of the Pittsburgh synagogue or his even more successful colleague, who committed the massacre at the Christchurch mosque and became a youtube-star by filming with his head-cam his shooting people to death. The members of the liberal-leaning, reform-religious Jewish Congregration, who were attacked and murdered for taking a stand for refugees; on the political landscape they are on the side of the of the few percent smaller half of the Israeli population, who loathes to have Bibi as head of government and of the 70 percent of US-American Jewry, who vote for the Democratic party and reject Israel’s right wing policies. 

By coincidence, a day after Bibi’s victory, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, the perpetrator of the Genocide in Darfur between 2003 and 2008 was ousted from his office after weeks of ongoing mass-protests. The Save Darfur Coalition, who invoked the Western world in those years to stop the killings, was carried on mainly by liberal, Jewish American NGOs, who applied the post-Holocaust Never Again principal not only to their own brethren, but to any other people (fairplanet.org joined this movement in 2007 with a German initiative). Nowadays, a few thousands Darfuri refugees are living in Israel, tolerated by most of its citizens, supported by a number of NGOs, but struggling with the difficulties imposed on them by a xenophobic Israeli government, who profits from right-wing incitement against them. One day Bibi will be history, hopefully sooner than later.

A shorter version of this text has been published in the opinion section of fairplanet.org.

kastanienallee
Kastanianallee
dessous berlin
Porn on Kurfuerstenstrasse
poem berlin
Vicente Hudibro's 'Storm'
berlin G
Kreuzberg, with one of many 'single-letter' cafe's
rummelsbruger bucht 1
Rummelsburger Bucht; Treptower Park and the Spree

Searching for the city: A walk around Berlin using Google

20.04.18
19 min
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In this article writer and resident of Berlin, Gurmeet Singh, goes on a walk around the city using Google as his guide. Moving across the keyboard one letter at a time, he chooses his destination based on Google’s suggestions. Q, for example, brings up Qua Phe, a restaurant, and W offers up a wine bar. The random destinations are connected by Gurmeet’s search history and Google’s demand that we constantly buy, resulting in an exploration in digital and urban capitalism.

There’s a bullet hole…

…in a building on Max Beer Strasse, hidden behind a sign for ice-cream. Amazingly, a family sit outiside with a round of cones, even though it’s January and the grey air threatens snow. I’ve walked from my flat in Schoeneberg to here, exactly 5.3KM, the fastest pedestrian route according to Google. It’s taken me, briefly, past the old, invisible Hitler Bunker, the theme-park tackiness of Checkpoint Charlie, a protest (which Google displayed as a traffic jam) at Brandenburg Gate, recommended several cafés, bars and photo spots along the way, and through the old fashion quarter to here, Qua-Phe, the first stop on my walk. 

Qua Phe

Cities have a subterranean or celestial otherness, where the drab details of their random components cohere in unpredictable ways; all you need to do is walk and look. Well, so says Psychogeography. Using a smartphone to find your way around however, only entrenches those details into their dullness. The weather is, the time is, the traffic is. Google like a dumbass only now tells me Qua Phe is closed, (but it gives me a handy hint that later on when it opens it will not have too much foot-traffic between 9-10 am). The street is basically empty, apart from the people breakfasting on ice-cream. Clean lines, hipster, modern; an appearance broken only by bullet holes. Hippopotamus-sized laughing Budais normally announce Asian eats, but Qua Phe is more subtle (thatch, lanterns). A child toddles into the empty street, playing a game, drops her cone, and immediately cries. One of the boys offers her his: hier, hier. Es ist ja noch zu frueh fuer mich.

Weinerei

Google likes W in Berlin. Google adores W in Berlin. I opt for the nearest place from its list of Ws. The church on Fehrbellinerstrasse is strung with bunting, the street’s red bricks and little cafes recall tiny English market towns, dislocated to old East Germany. Weinerei is atop a slight slope which Berliners call a hill, and is opposite the city’s most interesting church, the Zionskirche. Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached here, anti-Soviet groups organized; but this historical mindset is hard to enter into when you’ve been programmed to follow the Google route — all you think about is the promise of the destination.  Something glitters: a lighter. It’s heavy. Silver case, art-deco. It works. No one is around to whom it might belong; it goes in my pocket. The Church is merely Weinerei’s instagrammable background, alone on its roundabout. All roads used to lead to it, and no all roads lead around it, and this is and this isn’t a metaphor for the Church itself. 

St George’s English Bookshop

I deleted my history + cache before I came out, but Google must have lodged an earlier search in its subconscious; trying to find something beginning with ‘E’ offered me the ‘English’, buried deep in the shop’s name. Kastanienallee used to be known for squats, radical-left politics; now it’s like any other high street, and every café announces itself with a quotation from Goethe or Schiller on its awning, as though this elevates shopping and edifies the consumer. You’re not just eating a cake, you’re partaking in a slice of pleasure, says Goethe, for what else is life?, or whatever. Only in St George’s is the poetry on the inside. I look around for a while, pick out a book by Vicente Huidobro –  poem, Storm, which looks like this (left).

Rummelsburger Bucht

Rummelsburger Bucht is miles away, 6 miles away (or 7.3km according to Google). It ETAs me in at an hour, and recommends three different, long-winded routes through Volkspark Friedrichshain. The old DDR is here better reflected than in Prenzlauer Berg, with white flats and the endless Karl Marx Allee, which I’m now on, my shoes covered in sand. This is bleak. The wide road, the building sites, the sand and powder blown by cars, cyclists shivering up the path. While the West built trains, trams, underground, overground, microwaves, fridges, cars, drills, the East built highways in the city. 

I begin to notice how inattentive I am, the blocks of colour moving around me, people or a truck, muddled sounds, machine noise, city noise, an inattention caused by the enervating metaphysical power of the massive street, and trust in the phone, which knows the path better than I do.  Christmas trees rot on the roadside the whole way. When I get to Rummelsburger Burcht, past Friedrichshain’s mess, it’s pure relief. Quiet, with cold, dark, lovely water. 

Treptower Park

Can Google hear me? It knows where I’m walking, and recommends photo spots, places to eat (an hour ago it recommended pizza, now it tells me to eat fried fish —  both? In an hour?) It knows how the traffic is on the bridge beside me (an S-Bahn is broken down in-between). Google controls the flow of the city, which plays around the routes it recommends, the sun breaks through the clouds because Google says it will, the city remains in place because Google needs it to. The bridge over the Spree is quiet, and a girl walks by and smiles and this flirty exchange wants commemorating by Google: Many people like to take photos of Treptower Park: would you also like to? The city towards the East is hidden by trees, with different visions of itself poking out: an abandoned theme park in the distance, Google tells me the streets have Russian names; and the celestial otherness of the city is apparent in the routes which traverse these visions, like the river flowing through old East, old West, now carrying tour boats. 

Yildirim Yildirim, Weserstrasse.

Google offers this place with a lot of other non-German sounding names. Does the alphabet gentrify? Y, Q, I, X all denizens, huddled together in fast-changing areas like Neukoelln, where Turks, Asians, Africans live; the W, Z, S, P all rich, established, old money. This invisible cypher of letters draped over the city, inviting queries about places to eat, editing the environment with every search and every rating. 

A delicate patterning of lace, a kitten, a Swiss Flag, ‘HERTHA BSC’, three wooden boards, a stack of old books, football stickers, beer cans, a pile of condoms: all of these are in the windows on the way to Yildirim Yildirim, down the gloom of Weserstrasse. There really aren’t that many Christmas trees on the street here. A dog barks and a drunk smashes his bottle. A woman dries a towel on a window ledge. It’s cold. Yildirim Yildirim doesn’t seem to exist in real life. It’s could be a ghost shop, haunting Google Maps with dead data. It starts to rain. 

Urbanstrasse

It’s just around the corner. Hermannplatz’ street design keeps traffic in a kind of permanent threat of head-on collision, and a woman pushes me into the street with her trolley full of garbage. I let her past as she does the non-German thing of ignoring the standing red man into traffic. A guy I kind of know stops me to say ‘hi, what are you doing man, dreaming?’ I tell him I’m on this pseudo-psychogeographic walk, one where the normal rules are suspended, and rather than take a route I’m making, or spontaneously forming, I’m travelling based on what Google tells me I’ve worked on before —  and I’m going all the way through the keyboard, one letter at a time. The rain is so bad, I plan to duck into Karstadt, even though the inside is like an airport, and the market on Hermannplatz feels like a more interesting, real place. ‘Man’, my buddy says. ‘That sounds like a great way to waste a day.’

Il Kino, Nansenstrasse

It’s raining in the city, says Google. My footprints on Karstadt’s floor said the same thing. But it’s abated, and I can follow Google’s precise instructions comfortably, and not duck in or out anywhere (although it is telling me many people like to take photos of Karstadt), the curtain of commerce folds and blows, until I’m in the residential strip of Kreuzkoelln. On the floor is a letter. It’s half torn, sodden, the ink running. Fancy pen. I can’t tell the bulk of what it says, just how it’s signed: Sabine, with two tiny XXs at the end. I drop it in a bin, observe the other signatures: graffiti blooms along the canal walls, locks hang on the bridge like they do in every other city, with people graffiting their names onto the locks. Swans fill up the canal, and people are playing boules: why does Google simply take you to shops? Why can’t it take you to places like this? On a map, why can’t you search for The Zone of Emotional Intensity, or Berlin’s Contemplative Region,  or the Trust-me This Place is Great Area. I check in to Il Kino, one of the city’s hip, slim cinemas, and Google tells me the movies playing in Il Kino have been rated pretty highly: do I want to take a photo? 

OKAY Café

Snake Cop. Pupsi. Was, mich? Kreuzberg’s graffiti is a bit crap. A few streets down is the OKAY café,  on Pflugerstrasse. It is, very, OKAY. What to say about a Berlin café? It’s got a good atmosphere or it hasn’t, serves good coffee or it doesn’t. Hipster café, unless you have a special emotional attachment to them, all produce the same feeling: that you’re in a hip place, skinny jeans, skinny table legs, take selfie in hip-place? Plus do the people know that OKAY in English is OK, alright, pretty Good. In Germany, OKAY is, meh, nah, no thanks, oh really just OK, quite bad. A guy walks by, pushing two dogs in a pram. He shakes his head, points at the place — ‘die Suppe ist scheisse da.’ 

Pannierstrasse 

The city begins to fragment into the searches I’m making, each letter enclosing an individual parcel of the environment. Pannierstrasse, divorced from its geographical context, feels like a run-down neighbourhood all on its own.  A group of guys are drunk and pissing on the walls of a closed shop, the pipes drip with bronze gunk, tables and chairs left outside zu verschenken. The shops are filled with boxes of —  something. Is that a fish tank in the window? 

I find an Indian restaurant. A guy outside is smoking. He recognises immediately that I’m also Punjabi (it’s a thing…) and we speak for a little time in the language. ‘Hey man’ I say, ‘how come you called this place Indian Dhaba Mira?’, ‘It’s just a name innit?’ he replies. ‘No I mean, shouldn’t you have called in Paneerstrasse? Such a missed opportunity’, he laughs, smokes, says no. ‘Why not? Come on man it’s an OK joke’. ‘Yeah the joke’s OK’, he smokes again ‘but do you know what Germans are like? Every time they’d come here they’d tell us we made a mistake: excuse me, that’s not how you spell Pannierstrasse.’ 

AKA

I’ve just realised I’ve done this all wrong. Travelling across Berlin with an English keyboard deletes at least three letters, Ä,Ö and Ü; but it’s something I have to live with, this English bubble of mine. I approach Germany and German with this English mindset, anyway.  I’m directed back down towards Schoenleinstrasse, and to AKA, a tattoo parlour which isn’t very busy. I don’t want to go in and disturb the artists —  they’re doing that thing where they look out the window mournfully, the absence of any unblemished flesh coming their way today — but I smile at the woman in the store, who pokes her head out and asks me if I’d like a tattoo. I tell her I have a few already. Show me, she says, incredulously. I do and I lift up a trouser leg to show her. Ah, she says, ‘Elefanten. OK. Aber nur drei. Warum nicht drei mehr?’ We laugh, and I wave myself away, this overgrown village of a city, where people playfully pretend to know you. 

Sanderstrasse

The buildings fade into the midday, as does the graffiti, the packets of mulch staining the buildings and the cold which clings to everything and trails behind the trucks and buses, then I don’t feel or see any of this, and I’m aware I’m only thinking of my route, my walk, my destination, just relying on Google. Is this girl Sabine? Is this one? Is it this woman banging on the metal store shutters? I’m getting caught up in a Kreuzberg glut here, but I follow Sanderstrasse’s graffiti lines and fat rats up to the end of the street and towards:

Das Edelweiss

All the shops on the way have reduced their names to basic elements, letters, numbers: A, Z, N, words are so passé, but these places are also much easier for Google to recognise. Das Edelweiss is in Goerlitzer Park. I reach the park. The idea of this being a train station, a powerful symbol of Nazi atrocity, and now a big mess of a park filled with immigrant families and drugs and graffiti feels like something of a rebuke to this old history. 

Goerlitzer Bahnhof

Of course, this is all lasts a mere moment as when you walk through the park, the idealistic energy fails. A fight breaks out between a dealer and buyer: the guy’s not happy with the amount, it seems, and the dealer’s just laughing him away. The racialised, political disparities of the city are most evident here. The black, presumably disenfranchised dealers wait for a mainly white, pretty middle-class, often tourist clientele; yeah, obviously the dealers have agency, are nice etc. But it’s not an enviable position. They watch the city, as much as the city watches them, in a mutual gaze of fear or annoyance or intrusion.  

Hallesches Tor

Kreuzberg is getting to me. Google Maps shows me how enclosed I’ve been in the last few rounds. I find a way out, to Hallesches Tor, along the Google recommended route, again, one which doesn’t prioritise beauty or calm, doesn’t reward patience, but encourages expediency, so I’m walking along Skalitzerstrasse, as it becomes Wassertorplatz, and becomes Gitschinerstrasse with the traffic as raging and intense as it is on Karl Marx Allee. Plastic sheets wrapped around the elevated U-bahn tracks clap in the wind, the wind supercharged by the buildings flanking the street. Tourists always complain that Berlin is ugly, and without Parisian charm, as though there wasn’t a massive war here, two massive wars here, but here is the skin of that history, which when viewed from above,  connects the old ministries of Mitte, and the old hotels of the West. The enclosed community of Hallesches Tor has opened its own little market. Not instagrammable, but thriving, a microkiez. 

Jüdisches Museum

The city becomes even more ugly towards Mitte. It begins to get dark, and the Jewish Museum is on an empty street. Jewish history is far more than the Holocaust, of course, but I’ve always felt that the Stolpernsteine (stumbling stones) are the most powerful memorial to Jewish lives in the city and in Germany, more so than a building. Ordinary Jewish names on the street to honour victims of atrocities, completed on a scale that rivals the Nazis for bureaucratic energy, and in doing so, attempts to undo or make visible some of that awful legacy. 

Kurfürstenstrasse

My next destination is Kurfürstenstrasse. Google tells me to walk along the empty Gitschenerstrasse again, where the road, U-bahn and canal are huddled together. It’s like a central nerve of the city, carrying information from one end to the other, the partygoers on the U-bahn heading east, the boring workers heading out this way, cars, wind, trash. Museums and warehouses mean the street is feels abandoned, and the damp clings to the pavement, streetlights come on, the melancholy of post-Christmas. On Kurfürstenstrasse, a prostitute stops me taking a photograph of a sex shop, and asks me if I want to sleep with her. ‘Hast du lust?’ she says, pointing at her body. ‘Ah, nein danke’, I reply, embarrassed by this whole thing, (is she Sabine?). She points at me, laughs, ‘haaa! Du hast kein lust!’ Thanks Google, is there a way I can rate even this business you’ve sent me to? ‘Never come here guys, the staff are not very friendly’. 

Lidl

At the other end of the keyboard, Google picks out a Lidl on Potsdamerstrasse that I simply must visit. It’s laid out exactly like another Lidl I know, so this again is like walking through a recurring dream, where the city has shifted around Google. I don’t buy anything, and head out to:

Zoologischer Garten

There is a palpable energy change, the kind of borderline violent tremor in the air — loud, drunken jokes, shirts tucked into jeans — that emanates uniquely from lads on tour. People are giving me wary looks, suspicious (after last year’s attack) of any skin colour that isn’t flushed and ruddy from beer. I avoid. The church behind the crowds says that there have been other atrocities here, also, and the amount of damage done to the city is immense and almost endless in variety. There is a kind of museum of pain and history etched across the city’s buildings, that you could read if only you knew how not to look at it with the tourist’s relish for consumption. But I’ve forgotten how to do this, and Google tells me my next stop is only a few metres away.  

Xantenerstrasse

The graffiti has all but disappeared from West Berlin. This is chic town now. I even cross Bleibtreustrasse, a street which features in Ulysses —   itself a monument to a decaying city —  but the real Bleibtreustrasse has posh bars and hotels, reversing the fictional mythology of Joyce’s construction. His city was alive with shabby beauty. This is just plain bourgeois dross. 

Along the street, fancy shops, fancy customers, and the windows are huge —   for the first time I realise so people on the outside don’t just feel envious, but also project themselves inside (how different from the little dioramas Germans normally like to set up in their shop windows). The guy in the furniture store on the couch could be you! 

Cicerostrasse

Even the streets have gotten pompous names. The street becomes even tackier, and actually quite melancholic. The buildings lack any character, but the people of Cicero look like they have warm, inviting flats which induces in me a nostalgia for a childhood that wasn’t ever mine. 

Vesper Bar 

I’m led back on to the main street, towards Kurfürstendamm. I haven’t eaten all day so rather than go into Vesper which looks a little pricey, I instead opt for a café. I grab a coffee and a sandwich, pay on my card, and a young woman is sitting by the window. An old man approaches her, asks her to sit. They chat for a bit, and she rebuffs him, and he leaves sullen and then another comes up and does the same. The third approaches, she’s interested but finally, he also goes. A fourth, unbelievably, sits with her, and she loves it. They talk and giggle and an obvious flirt starts. What the fuck is going? Google reinforces capitalism this much I know, but I’d rather risk being sent to a shopping mall than watch any more of this weird porno unfolding. 

Bismarckstrasse

Tacky with an air of grand, another shopping and culture district, devoid of those exciting marks of a city. A woman with a dog as small as mouse walks by. Sabine? 

Netto, in the mall

A homeless guy comes up to me, asks me for some change. I tell him, honestly, I don’t have any. Hey man, he says, do you at least have a light. No. Wait, no, yes I do. It was at Weinerei. I reach into my pocket, and give him the lighter. He’s impressed by this, and returns it. ‘No’, I say, ‘man, keep it. It’s cool. It’s not mine anyway. I was going to put it on Facebook on a lost and found group.’ ‘You for real?’ ‘Yeah, have it.’ I go into Netto, just to complete my journey, and log the walk I’ve done in Google. I make a celebratory round of the aisles, in the airless ending to a cold day. I stick a bag of oranges and some milk on the counter, pay on the card and get out of there, ready for my u-bahn journey home. On the way out I run into the homeless guy again. ‘Hey guess what?’, he asks. ‘I gave the lighter to that pawn shop there.’ ‘Ah cool’, I say, happy I could be a part of this small act of redistribution. ‘Yeah man – guy gave me eight Euros for it. Mega!’

 

Photography by Gurmeet Singh

nurcan baysal close up broad

The price of saying “no” to war in Turkey

15.02.18
5 min
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It was just after midnight. I was watching TV as my sons played nearby. My younger son was playing with Lego as my older son played on his phone. My husband and another friend were also with us. A normal Sunday night. All of a sudden, I heard a terrible noise. At first, I thought it was an earthquake. I then figured out that the sound was coming from the front door. With war as a not so distant memory, I thought perhaps our house was under attack, being bombed and shot at.

I shouted to my children to stay where they were, to not come close. We soon understood that the men on the other side of the door were police, trying to knock down our door. Our door was too strong, and so the walls began to crumble around it. When they couldn’t enter through the front door, they came through the garden and entered our home through the kitchen.

Approximately 20 Police Special Operation officers with Kalashnikovs and other military tools in hand stormed our home. With all guns pointed at me, the head of the squad asked if I was Nurcan Baysal. After I said “yes” he said that they had a warrant to search my home. I asked if they also had a warrant to break down my door. He confirmed that yes; the prosecutors also gave permission to break down my door. I told him that this was against the law and asked for the name of the prosecutor. They did not answer.

Briefly, this is how I was detained. They entered my home; a home they knew had two small children inside.

It was not until the second day of my detention that I learned that I had been detained because of five tweets I had made against “the war in Afrin”. They said:

  1. What is coming from tanks are not olive branches, they are bombs. When they drop, people are dying. Ahmet is dying, Hasan is dying, Rodi is dying, Mızgin is dying…. Lives are ending…
  2. To give the name of  “olive branch” to war, to death. This is Turkey!
  3. The leftists, the rightists, the nationalists and the Islamists are all united together in hate against the Kurdish people.
  4. Where do you think that you are going to conquer? Which religion, which belief supports war and death? (I wrote this tweet after the Turkish religious authority called for ‘conquest’ in a sermon supporting the military)
  5. (Retweet of another journalist’s photo of a dead kid in Afrin) I wrote, “Those who want war, look at this picture, a child died”.

It is because of these tweets that I was accused of terrorist propaganda and calling for provocative action. As you can see, these tweets do not contain any terrorist propaganda and I did not, nor am I calling for provocative action or violence. These tweets demonstrate that I am against war and death, and yes, I criticised the policies of the Turkish government.

I grew up with war in the city of Diyarbakır. I really do not know what a normal life looks like. I have spent my last 20 years struggling for peace, democracy, justice and freedom. I have established institutions, civil society organisations for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue. Even in the darkest days of 2015, during the bombardment in the heart of the Sur district of Diyarbakır, I was working towards opening a dialogue between the government and the Kurdish movement.

I organised a number of meetings in my office, bringing members of the ruling party, the Kurdish movement and intellectuals together, trying to stop the deaths in the region. As a peace and human rights activist, my life has been spent dealing with forced migration, village guards, victims of mine accidents, poverty, women abducted by Islamic State, disarmament, dealing with dead bodies left in the streets, reporting war crimes and crimes against humanity.

After three days in the anti-terror department, I was released on bail, but I also received a travel ban. In the last week, an additional 311 people have been detained just for saying “no” to war in Afrin.  The state is trying to silence the voices against the war. They want all sectors of society, including the media to support their war.

As writers, activists, intellectuals and journalists, our responsibility is not to the state. We are responsible to our people, to humanity, to history, to life, to the Turkish and Kurdish youth who are dying now, and to their mothers.

Last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened the public, saying those who attend protests against the war will pay a heavy price.

Yes, President, we are paying a heavy price. But believe me, this price is worth it. Perhaps there can be life and peace in the end. This country deserves life and peace.

Nurcan Baysal SW CR
Credit: Private

Nurcan Baysal: Detained by Turkish police forces in Diyarbakır

60pages
22.01.18
1 min
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We are deeply saddened

to hear that our dear friend and colleague, journalist, writer, human rights and peace activist, and mother of two, Nurcan Baysal was detained by police from her house in Diyarbakır, around midnight on Sunday night January 21, 2018 as part of the operation launched by Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office into posts on the social media about Afrin operation. Numbers are varying according to different sources,  as far as we have come to know Nurcan is among 57 people detained in Diyarbakır. 

Turkey’s silencing of voices who speak out against war is in violation of its own laws and obligations under international human rights law.

We hope that Nurcan will be out of police custody and home, with no charges, immediately. 

60pages, Berlin, January 22, 2017

 

osman-kavala
Credit: Private
gorki_#freeosmankavala_taz_anzeige
Credit: TAZ

Message from Osman Kavala

60pages
08.01.18
3 min
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Osman Kavala, the chairman of Anadolu Kültür, made a statement through his lawyers.

As it is public knowledge, I was arrested on 1 November 2017, and I have been in Silivri Prison for more than two months.

When I was taken into custody on board returning from Gaziantep, I was not worried. I counted on that it would be understood immediately that the suspicions against me are unwarranted. Yet, my arrest and the accusations that led to my arrest came as a surprise to me.

The accusation that I am the organizer of the Gezi events includes the allegation that I have provided financing. As one may remember, after the events of Gezi, allegations were made that these events had been outsourced and financial resources had been provided from abroad. In a newspaper article dated 2014, it was also mentioned that there had been an intelligence note that relates me to the Gezi events. Later, the person conducting the investigation on this issue was arrested in 2015 and is still detained. As a result, until now there has been no discovered evidence about these unfounded allegations; and I am the only one to be arrested on this issue.

On the grounds of the arrest, I have especially found odd the allegations that have linked me to the Gülen movement and the July 15 coup attempt.

I am astounded by the fact that such allegations are laid on me, while I have always been against coups throughout the course of my life and tried to draw public attention to the negative impacts of the presence of Gülen community within the state for years.

In any case, as a person who experienced September 12 and never forgot the terrible memories of those days, it is highly insulting to me that I have been associated with such circles. I would like to point out that I have resorted to legal measures in this regard.

I believe that it will soon be understood that these accusations are unfounded. Nevertheless, I think that the state of emergency also affects the climate in the judiciary, and that the arrest decisions may be reflecting this effect. In times of state of emergency, the concern for losing the suspect outweighs the need for the prevention of engendering unjust victimization. While the people who were unjustly arrested are expected to be freed as soon as possible, the psychological impact of the initiatives that violate the presumption of innocence, such as the recent preparations for the regulation on the uniform dress code, is not taken into account.

Despite everything, my belief is that the new year will be a better year in terms of democracy and freedoms.

I send my regards to all those who have supported me with their statements and messages ever since I was taken into custody, and I want to say that I am in good health. Hope to see you all soon…

Osman Kavala, 4 January 2018

Osman Kavala

Nurcan Baysal about One good man
02.01.18
3 min
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When I woke up this morning, I learned that Osman Kavala, a leading civil society leader and a prominent businessman, had been detained. You already know a lot about him, I would like to tell you some things that you may not know.

I met Osman Kavala 16 years ago during my work in civil society. Osman Kavala was  supporting the women’s rights work that I was very active in.  Throughout the years, I took part in many cultural activities and projects that were organized by him. For many years, I have witnessed his efforts to bring people from different views to the same table from Kars to Muş, Diyarbakır, Antep, Antakya, Mardin, Erivan, Mid Anatolia, Çanakkale, Bursa… He not only invested in culture and art facilities but also in activities supporting children’s rights, poverty, development, the rights of LGBT’s, the peaceful solution of Kurdish and Armenian issues, democracy, freedom and establishment of justice… He has done a lot for this country. Osman Kavala founded Anadolu Culture which has supported local artists all over Anatolia and has contributed to the revival of local cultures and established cultural bridges between different cities, cultures, societies, languages… For many years, they have supported children’s activities, organized art workshops for the children affected by war and supported the establishment of cinema clubs in universities.

While hundreds of thousands of Yezidis were fleeing to Turkey because of ISIS attacks in the summer of 2014, Osman Kavala was again there to support the establishment of Yezidi camps in the Region. After a lot of work, we established a school together with him in the Diyarbakır Yezidi camp.  The needs of the school, the school books, motivating the teachers… I am telling you, this man dealt with them one by one. When the wood for keeping warm, food or clothing ran out in the camps, Osman Kavala was the first person we called. I am telling you, this man paid such close attention to the kinds of tents we bought, and the wood we chose to ensure we kept the families warmest. Also he did the same for the Syrian refugees. He is always there when there is someone in need. I am telling you, this man has done his best for the Syrians, Yezidis, Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, for all the nations, societies, for all the people.

As one man, he has contributed enormously to the development of civil society in Turkey. Many times I thought that if we had a few more Osman Kavalas, the civil society of Turkey would be in a different place.

Osman Kavala is also a good friend. His friendship makes you trust and believe that another life is possible. He is so warm hearted, gentle, helpful and honest. He could never see harm come to another human or living thing.

Osman Kavala is a good man. His detention shows that this is a war between goodness and evil. Surely, goodness will win!

Nurcan Baysal, Diyarbakır

Some Notes for the Warmongers

13.10.17
3 min
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In the last couple of weeks, İnsan Hakları Derneği (Human Rights Association) Diyarbakır Branch has published an important report on human rights violations between the dates July 24, 2015 and July 24, 2017, which attests to the atrocities faced by our society in numbers. 

According to this report, in the last 2 years: 

– 771 security personnel and 1307 armed militia died in armed clashes. 51 people were caught in crossfire and died. 

– 448 people were killed as a result of extrajudicial killings by soldiers, police or village guards (korucu). Most of these deaths took place during the curfews imposed. 75 of them were children. 

-14 people died as a result of armored cars hitting them. 

– As a result of armed groups actions, 129 people died all around Turkey, 64 of whom were living in Kurdish cities. In Kurdish region, 14 people died after being detained by armed militia or due to attacks committed by them. 

– 15 children died due to mines or residues from armed clashes. 56 people died due to fire opened at people near the borders. 

In total 2891 people died. 2891 lives lost, 2891 hearts stopped beating! Those injured can go up to 3000. 

The report also includes the curfews declared and special security regions designated in the past two years. A total of 4842 days under declaration of special security regions. Curfews declared were not even calculated in days. Today marks the 647th day of the declared curfew over Sur, where I come from. You can imagine the rest. In the “practices related to funerals of militia”, one reads about all those cemeteries destroyed, corpses that were never given to the family of the deceased, or those that were exposed naked to the public. 

When you add up the villages displaced, forests burned, people tortured, detentions, arrests, house raids; violations against the right to organize, the right of expression, economic and social rights- you can see the horrible mess we have been in for the past two years.

It is important to recognize that these violations and atrocities are just the ones identified. It is noted that this report should be considered as a MINIMUM since there can be cases out there that have not been identified yet. In the preparation of the report, only the formal counts were used. It is underlined that military and militia death numbers are actually higher than the reported numbers.  

This is the part of war that can be analyzed through statistics. What about the aspects that cannot be analyzed in numbers? Everything listed above causes a trauma, separates family members, destroys, causes anger and makes one weary of life, and lose aspirations of the future, struggling to stay alive amidst all the destruction…

These days warmongering is on the rise again and it is important to remind ourselves about these numbers and bring up the heavy consequences of war whenever we can. As I look at these numbers, I think about what a mother in Cizre told me after the curfews were lifted:

“If the Turks knew about what the war meant, they would never want to be engaged in war. But they don’t. They don’t know what their children are doing here. I wish they knew…”

Those warmongers are the cloaked ones, politicians, writers, and the media… Think for a minute about what war really means, do you really have a sense of what it means? It is clear that you are very eager to experience it, then go ahead and get in the frontlines and let the young live! 

isa oran mesut sevitek

The Year 2016, Turkey, the story of two dead bodies 

24.08.17
9 min
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This is the story of İsa Oran and Mesut Seviktek, whose dead bodies were left lying on the ground for 29 days in Suriçi, Diyarbakır because they could not be retrieved. 

Let me first of all say this; I am writing this article so that what happened will go on the record; so that what has happened in the Turkey of 2016 will not be forgotten, in order to ensure history records it! 

I met İsa Oran’s father Mehmet Oran and Mesut Seviktek’s older brother İhsan Seviktek on December 30, 2015. I was organizing the program for Defenders of Peace in the city; 106 people from the initiative including intellectuals, artists and individuals from various vocational groups had come to Diyarbakır. A young woman came to me, she was crying. She said there were two dead bodies  on the street in Suriçi, and their families were devastated and asked for our help. Making an addition to the program, we organized for the families to talk about what happened at the Defenders of Peace meeting that day, and again the same day, we visited the Governor of Diyarbakır as a group of intellectuals to ask for his support to retrieve the remains. 

Let me summarize what happened afterwards: I met with the families almost every day, anyway just a few days later the families went on a hunger strike at the Diyarbakır branch office of Human Rights Association (İHD). In the meantime, while trying to bring the issue to the public agenda, we kept going from door to door for support with the President of İHD Diyarbakır, Raci Bilici. We rushed from pillar to post between institutions. We were told that the bodies were in the garden of Yavuz Sultan Selim School and security forces could not go inside, that it was behind the trenches. Finally, about ten days ago, we met with the Governor of Diyarbakır again, and agreed on a plan that the curfew be lifted for two hours, and the special ops to retreat for that period so that with the municipality’s funeral coach, the families and a group of civil society representatives could go and retrieve the remains. 

In the meantime, during our Ankara visit two weeks ago, we conveyed the situation to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Ministry of Interior Affairs Efkan Ala as well.  

You know what took place afterwards from the press anyway. On January 12, the curfew was lifted for two hours. Even though it was said that the special ops would retreat, when the group went to Suriçi there were hundreds of special ops around, then the conflict intensified, and families had to leave Suriçi without being able to get the bodies. Something the security forces told the family and the group that day surprised me and many people. It turns out there were special ops inside the school where the bodies lay anyway. That is to say, the remains were in a place where there were special ops  to begin with! 

While the families continued the hunger strike, two days ago, the prosecutor’s office calls Diyarbakır İHD and says that the bodies have been brought to the morgue and the families should come to the morgue to identify the bodies. 

Disintegrated bodies 

The father Mehmet Oran and brother İhsan Seviktek go to the morgue to identify the bodies. 

Let’s hear the rest in the father Mehmet Oran’s words:

“The prosecutor’s office said, ‘you shouldn’t go, don’t go in the morgue, you’ll faint’, and I said, ‘I’ll keep remain standing to see your cruelty.’ I went in the morgue. My son’s head wasn’t intact; it was burned, as if a chemical substance had been poured over it… His torso was carved out, his intestines hanging out, all in pieces, pieces of flesh had been torn off, as if an animal had bitten them off, I was able to recognize my son only from one of his arms, they had ripped my boy to shreds.”

There are hundreds of bullets on the body of the 25 year old Mesut Seviktek. His brother İhsan tells us about it:

“My brother is anyway martyred by the wound in his skull and chest. Then they shot hundreds of bullets at him. His face has become unrecognizable. What does it mean to do this to a dead person? Turkey’s problem can’t be resolved by doing this, the Kurdish problem can’t be resolved like this.” 

“Just like we had to leave Lice in 93 without even taking a spoon, that’s how we had to leave Sur in 2015” 

To tell you the truth, I am astonished, angry, enraged and in pain. I was personally involved in this, I still haven’t been able to make sense of why they made us struggle for days to get the remains if the security forces had them in the first place or if the bodies were somewhere they could get them; what their aim was in doing so. The families had anyway thought the state had the bodies from the outset, how naïve I was! How naïve I was as we were planning how and from which street they could be brought, how I was waiting with some shred of hope every day, thinking okay, they’ll be retrieved today! How naïve I was beating at the door of the state for days! 

Mr. İhsan says: 

“We told you from the outset, this state has the bodies. We knew from the first day the bodies lay there, because we live in Suriçi, we were talking on the phone with our neighbors, our friends, they were telling us, the bodies are in the school yard and the special ops have set up camp in the school.” 

Mr. Mehmet adds: 

“We knew from day one the state had these bodies, we know this state, we are the ones who know how dirty they are.” 

Mr. İhsan continues: 

“We were in prison together with my brother Mesut for three years, at the time I had gone on a hunger strike with my brother, now I am on a hunger strike with my mother to get my brother’s body.” 

I gasp. 

“It was a holiday in 1993, the state sent us away from the village. In that commotion, we had forgotten Mesut in the village, the next day, a neighbor who had stayed in the village called to inform us, we went and got Mesut. Mesut worked in construction, worked shining shoes on the streets, finally we opened a grocery store in Sur together. We built a life with great hardship. Now the store is also gone, it is demolished. Just like we had to leave Lice without even taking a spoon in 93, that’s how we had to leave Sur in 2015.”

“This is a political problem, it can’t be solved with arms, trenches, destruction” 

As we are talking there is movement on the walls of the hall in İHD where the families are on hunger strike. Two more pictures of young people are hung on the walls, photos of Turgay Girçek and Gündüz Akmeşe. They were actually killed four days ago but their families learned that they were killed only yesterday. I look at the photos of youth on the wall that increase by the day. Mr. İhsan, who notices I am shaken, holds my arm, sits me down, tries to give me strength despite his own state of agony: 

“Look, this is the outcome. For months the state bombed the martyrs’ graves, it did all in its power to the graves of Kurds, and then it boiled the problem down to the issue of trenches. What did you think would happen after you bombed so many graves, did you think the Kurdish youth would meekly accept all that was done? There were no trenches then, why did you bomb the graveyards? 

This is a political problem, it can’t be resolves with arms, trenches, destruction.” 

“I am calling out to the families of police and soldiers: Don’t say ‘all for the sake  of the homeland’!”

Mr. İhsan also has something to say to the families of soldiers and police: 

“The mothers of police and soldiers should see these sufferings too. Look I am saying this in my pained state. We are sad if soldiers die, we are sad if police die. I am calling out to the families of police and soldiers. Don’t say ‘all for the sake of the homeland’ over our children, if you are thinking about your dead child work for peace. Empathize. Mesut was my brother. They killed him, that wasn’t enough, they riddled him with over a hundred bullets. We are still saying let these be the last ones. Let our children be the last victims of the Kurdish people, of the Turkish people. Don’t let your children be sacrificed to this dirty war.   

The government should come out of this eclipse of reason immediately. The place to return to is the [negotiation] table. There is no place but the table.”

Mr. Mehmet, who joins in, says, “Everyone shot at Mesut, whoever came around shot at him, what religion, what humanity, in which God’s book does this exist?” 

I want to ask the officials, particularly Prime Minister Davutoğlu, who told us during our Ankara visit, “We will take care of all dead bodies, inform us”:  

Where were these bodies for one month? 

Who did this to these bodies? 

Will those who did these to these bodies be punished? 

Let history record this. The year 2016, the month of January. The dead bodies of the 21 year old İsa Oran and 25 year old Mesut Seviktek were left lying on the ground for 29 days in Suriçi, Diyarbakır, their families went on a hunger strike to retrieve the dead bodies of their children. When they were brought to the morgue on January 19, the bodies had been disintegrated… 

Nurcan Baysal, January 22, 2016 

60pages Istanbul Video Image
Camera: Çağdaş Erdoğan
Post-Production: Çağdaş Erdoğan, Berkant Akarcan

Istanbul Longform Workshop 2017 - A Short Video Documentary

60pages about three extraordinary days with 30 wonderful authors in Istanbul, at Cezayir/Beyoglu, March 16-18, 2017, edited by our friends from 140journos for 60pages
15.06.17
1 min
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In March 2017 60pages hosted a three-day workshop with young journalists, writers and activists in Istanbul. We discussed the possibilities and the practice of long-form writing and identified five to eight relevant, surprising, necessary stories which could open up new perspectives on pressing political and societal questions.

It was a safe space, it was a pop-up editorial board, it was a first getting to know each other and the beginning of a longer connection. The writings will be published on 60pages.com soon.

140journos

Masses Informing Masses: The Story of 140journos

14.06.17
18 min
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Below is the unedited, raw version of my article entitled “A Sense of Exhilaration and Possibility”, which was published on Harvard University’s Nieman Reports magazine on July 2014.

It is a widely accepted fact that, throughout the history of civilization, blood, fire, energy and gluttony have been unavoidably experienced around the Anatolian geography where Turkey is situated. Just as history having indeed repeated itself probably as said, I can easily say that almost all the wars I have read in the history books have mostly been caused by such reasons. I assure you that today the subjects are different, but the fiction is the same. The only difference I have been able to observe is that the long-known idea of government, the legislative tradition and the judiciary power have also been included the media in the last century. It would be unrealistic, as you would appreciate, to state that the Ottoman society having started to use the printing press two hundred years later due to the conflicts of interests handed down a mature relation with the media.

The proliferation of television channels in Turkey in the 1990s resulted in assigning the obedient journalists to the management of the newspapers as the holding representative by their owners, in hosting the popular politicians at the media bosses’ mansions leading to the dangerous flirtation between the governments and media organizations. This relationship, derailing the media out of its function to inform, has transformed it into an instrument maintaining the subsidiaries of the holdings in other sectors. Could a media giant owned by a conglomerate of diverse companies be imagined to broadcast against the government or its energy policies after having won a government tender in the field of energy? Coming into power in 2002, the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government observing today its 12th year of power began to work in less than no time in order to control that fourth power allegedly stating that it designs the politics, thus posing a threat to the national willpower. Mostly indirectly supplied messages leading the editors to be cautiously self-censoring the news were made apparently observable when the news of the anti-government republican rallies in 2007 were not intentionally broadcast, and when the protests by the state tobacco monopoly workers resulting in the greatest strike ever since the 1980 military coup taking place in the tents set up by the unions for months in the very center of the capital city of Ankara, in 2009 were ignored. At the end of 2011, in Uludere situated near the border along the Northern Iraq, the deliberate silence of the media organs followed by the murder of the 34 citizens reportedly maintaining their livelihood with the cross-border trade who were bombarded due to being allegedly mistaken as terrorists posed the most important exemplary for the young media literates as to prove that the mainstream media has completely lost its function.

Experienced media professional, Serdar Akinan, having called his friends who are the chief editors of the news centers only to learn that those news weren’t deliberately broadcast due to an order received from the governmental authorities, and thus leaving his journalist identity aside, went to Uludere and sent multimedia messages through Twitter and Instagram from the scene, leading to the birth of a methodology for the citizen journalism, no matter how simple it may seem. The photographs of that bloodshed not to be covered by the mainstream media in Turkey due to their filters those days were being shared in the social media leaked through the “Earlybird” filter of Instagram. Not surprisingly at all, that’s how the 140journos counter media movement was born as a conscientious reaction in such a macroenvironment, whose story I will share with you.

This unusual process which turned the passive media consumers who are in their twenties having nothing to do with news and journalism at all into “terminator” news feeders in one night was triggered by Cem’s father, who failed to compromise and empathize with the other sectors of the society, and therefore, politically conflicted with his son just because he kept ceaselessly following the contents of the same media group. Cem, trying to inform his father, with whom he was unable to communicate on some political issues, by hacking his mindset about the diverse sectors of the society, me, who tried to defend the freedom of expression in the only protest I had ever participated, and passivist conservative Safa, who has taken to Sufism teachings, having signed up for their brand new social media account as “140journos”, began broadcasting via Twitter with their first news tweets on January, 19th, 2012, the 5th anniversary of the assassination of Hrant Dink, the Turkish journalist of Armenian origin. We have created this account so as to convey the contents of user-generated newsworthy raw intelligence broadcasting real-time only from the scene destigmatizing the news language into a neutral non-political one for disseminating it on social networks. With this non-profit effort, we wanted to extend the happinesses and sorrows of the sectors people had never heard from to those, like Cem’s father, who live in a reality designed in the communal media framework, and have no chance of getting any news from the other segments of the society polarized against one another. Who knows that the heterogeneous communities of our geography hosting many ethnic and cultural origins, who are unaware of one another, could perhaps learn to live together in this way! Playing the truant in order to observe the political cases open to public during some weekday classes or participating in several street demonstrations of diverse groups with whose political views we symphatise or not, we would share their real-time and on-the-scene audio or video recordings or photographs. We tried to create some issues alternative to the contents of the mainstream by covering the latest news about their underreported topics ranging from the actions of leftist fractions supporting the arrested journalists to the protests of the radical Islamic marginal groups against the abortion as well as observing the publicized game-fixing cases of one of the nation’s favorite football clubs in the courtrooms. We were, then, so unaware of what we were doing and what a journalistic-sounding terminology was that the first thing we had to do was to look up in the Wikipedia for the meaning of the phrase, “citizen journalism” when we were told by Esra Arsan, an Istanbul Bilgi University academician, during the “Oda TV” case trials when many journalists were being tried that what we were doing while live tweeting unpaid set an organized practice of the “citizen journalism”.

The transformation of yesterday’s passive news consumers into today’s active news producers, The young ages of the members of the group governing this formation and the fact that they weren’t the professionals of the job in the professional sense began to draw the attention of the mainstream media. Our team members were being interviewed by the newspapers, television channels, radio stations, and the university academics were studying the structure and history of 140journos. What we were doing were attributed a variety of assets by the third parties as citizen journalism, digital activism, etc. As a group of university students with no background and intention of being journalists, we found it difficult to interpret these matters. Unintentionally, we seemed to have undertaken the media’s mission of informing the public. In 2012, when Zeynep Tufekci, a UNC academic, whom we met at a panel, described the practice of the 140journos project after listening to how it works not as “citizen journalism”, but as “journalistic citizenship”, we all noticed that we were mistaken with the methodological sense of the approach and with the fact that the system should be upside down. Along the process, however constructive discourse we tried to expand the idea of news production from the scene as a volunteer network of citizens with, we failed. In Turkey, it is almost impossible to create a movement unless the chips are down. It was highly probable that self-censorship of the media hadn’t become a matter of priority for a large part of the country yet then.

Precisely just in this sense, the Gezi Park events experienced in May and June 2013, which has been the largest civilian uprising in the history of the Republic is an overnight revolution in many respects. Starting from our experience so far, it can be said that the Gezi Park events serve as a milestone in Turkey within the scope of citizen journalism with its current meaning in the media, which leads us to the classification of the three characteristic periods of the Gezi Park events as before, during and after the events. The fact confronted and the trauma experienced by the White Turks composing the majority of the nation’s population that state terrorism, police violence, disproportionate use of force and media censorship then experienced by the Kurdish citizens for years in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern regions had taken place in the middle of a metropolis like Istanbul that time constituted in one night the favorable conducive atmosphere and awareness that were expected to take place by the call and announcements of 140journos in an artificial way months prior to the events. The announcements shared by the civilian initiatives at the very start of the protests as to the fact that the media was dead and wasn’t able to fulfil its function properly and appropriately received positive reaction this time from the public unlike all the other efforts, and 140journos, relatively more and better prepared for this type of incidents, was pushed to the forefront in terms of coordinating the news circulation. Before the Gezi Park actions, while about 400 individual contents were being produced a month routinely, after the outbreak of the actions, during June 2013, a total of 2218 singular validated contents proven at least with one photograph, audio or microvideo recording have taken place in the 140journos accounts. While all these were happening, the number of followers of 140journos in the social media has increased six times more than the initial number and the Klout value indicating the credibility of the account increased. The activity characteristic of the project during the actions of protest changed from reporting from the scene to collecting, categorizing, validating and storifying the news contents sent to 140journos at the desktop in order to economize better on the human resources. In other words, academician Zeynep Tufekci’s criticism, even for a delay of one year, was put into practice in 140journos. In addition to the extensive broadcast through Twitter and Soundcloud during the Gezi Park events, almost all other alternative media tools and platforms such as Facebook, Storify, Vine, Instagram, Prezi, etc. were used as well as tools like Topsy, Tineye, Google Image Search, Google Maps, Yandex Panorama and Internet-accessible traffic cameras of the municipalities for authenticating the information received. After the protests ended, social opposition has kept coming up constantly changing its form to maintain its existence often as in the form of creative street actions being confronted with throughout the time so far.

After the evacuation of the park in June 2013, a new era in the medium of citizen journalism defined by 140journos was entered. 140journos, turning to the work of verification and curation, began to list contacts and establish close online and phone friendships with the individuals who regularly produce content on the account through Twitter with reference to the cities and regions staying in contact with them in daily life. The project today has 300 volunteer content producers, most of with whom we have personal contacts as well, in many different locations of Turkey. The high ranking media censorship in the Gezi Park events and one of those events caused by self-censorship were also the embodiment of the pirate journalism through the social media. In Turkey, some professional journalists already permanently employed in the popular news channels like NTV, CNN Turk, Haberturk, SkyTurk 360, 24, News A, thinking that they can’t practice their profession through which they have acquired their intellectual background after the schools from which they were graduated, contacted 140journos and stated that they would like to share their capacity to access the news which they could gather (through their live broadcast vehicles, the vehicle’s internet connection, cameras, intelligence sources, multimedia data or information to verify the reported newsworthy content) in order to share their content by means of pirate ways over the 140journos because of the self-censorsip on their own stations. This information, which they think won’t be used by their responsible editors in the newsrooms, mostly consisted of opposing content. The contribution of the pirate journalists to the live tweeting news broadcast of 140journos especially during the actions of Gezi Park was incredible in size. The quality photographs above the average of citizen journalism were serviced to the public, and some issues such as verification of the news were often supported by professional pirates.

The actions during the Gezi Park, just as it is said in that famous slogan, was only the beginning, and almost nothing in Turkey has ever been as before. Many partners in providing social reconciliation in the country began to look critically at any content serviced by the media. Significant increase in awareness about citizen journalism was observed, and today hundreds of people we do not know have just recently begun to tweet live news to 140journos just as on the days we began to with a group of friends, and they have been producing content in social media free-of-charge participating in lawsuits and demonstrations as well. This civil disobedience in the country these days has been forcing the government to play all the trumps in their hand. Writing the article you are currently reading, what rumors have had as “a dream” as to the shutdown of Twitter for years “has become a reality” in March 2014 just as in the AKP’s slogan for the elections: “Once a dream, has now become a reality!” Turkey, so much engaged with the international public opinion, was pushed to the league of North Korea, China and Iran, where Twitter was forbidden. Upon the access to the platform by millions of people using the DNS services, the government authorities this time in Turkey have blocked the most commonly used Google DNS service. Wherever you consider the matter, it is a chilling decision. Even my mother in her 50s had to learn how to use the VPN technology also making a small-scale hacker all those who have limited access to technology and the Internet, and finally causing citizen journalism to have its share from this prohibition. The citizens of Turkey, who have to pay more even for the standard plans already compared with many European countries, now have to suffer from the unqualified low speed service provided being forced to consume the same service now censored. The unlimited editions of stable VPN software used to circumvent censorship are sold at the prices starting with $5 and more per month. The new internet law approved and enacted by the parliament late last month, however, if all this were not enough, granted the bureaucrats the authority to prevent the access to any content which allegedly violates privacy through DNS and IP-based access before releasing it to the discretion of the judges. Just imagine, under these circumstances, it is quite probable that any citizen who does not know his legal rights better would hesitate to produce content because of the current regulations. It is no doubt that having limited the freedom of expression by the antidemocratic laws has been causing the digital natives including the writer of these lines to get critical of the democratic acquisitions of the nation while growing up along with the AKP government in power. In this sense, extending the area of freedom assigns the activists, concerned citizens and citizen journos.

In so forgetful a society which is devoid of the ability to practically assess the theoretical achievements of the recent history, in order to register the collective memory, we have been working on the the verification of the data accumulated in the universe of social media and the “Journos” project for an interface intended to be focusing on the users’ interpretation of the publicly available data being embedded inside the multilevel maps through one of the 140journos’s R&D studies. The mobile platform crowdsources verification of social media content, analyzes citizen news reporting, and extends the coverage of civic news will soon be introduced to Turkish internet community. As 140journos, Turkey’s popular citizen journalism network, we provide a new platform solely for Twitter users who are interested, and engaged in news sharing and reporting in this project. Operating through a mobile app, website providing maps layered with facts and datas, and social media, it applies game mechanics and data visualization to reinvent the way citizen reporting is verified, and contextualized. First, game features crowdsource and promote geo-tagged, factual, photo and microvideo-based reporting. Second, harnessed citizen data are used to display relevant background information to explicate where the specific news comes from. The app interface not only promotes verified and civic-minded citizen news, but also actively uses data to contextualize the incoming reports. As mentioned above, 140journos has an established network on Twitter where we receive thousands of tweets every day on events varying from protests to local politics. We are building a new platform, Journos, which integrates a socio-technical process for the geo-tagged and visually supported reports on Twitter to be verified and contextualized. The Journos provides users with a selection of reporting tasks to be completed that is filtered through 140journos’s social media presence and raw data. Users complete tasks relevant to them based on their location and interests. By completing different tasks, users then unlock different badges and receive points, thus gaining credibility and acquiring different editorial/reporting roles. Journos pushes citizen journalism beyond merely documenting events. Let me repeat, these are all real life events but gamified. It provides a variety of information; from environmental features of where the event takes place to the political dynamics that give insights into news. Every piece of visual evidence is watermarked by date, source, and location information through the application, therefore it becomes harder to manipulate reports. Simultaneously, the application’s interface actively encourages users to report and consume news in a contextualized manner by showcasing the overall map of the citizen news network over-layered with the local, historical, and political insights. Overall, Journos app is a feedback system for citizen news on social media; run, verified, and curated by a unique interaction of citizens and technology. We take social media content, parse and filter it, and send it back. Turkey, so far, seems to be a great place to start a journalism start-up not because it provides great entrepreneurial infrastructure and incentives but because it provides real life facts igniting, pushing forward innovators to develop better to comply with the latest information needs under an intense political atmosphere.

Though 140journos has been rising in momentum due to Turkey’s agenda each day today, it is a project of the Institute for Creative Minds, which we have independently managed to maintain non-profit as of January 2012 until today. Within this network of the creative professionals, with an interdisciplinary group of 25 people, we have been designing, with the most simple words, identities and communities. In consideration of the combative reaction of the states with autocratic tendencies developed against the opposition in the streets and squares, the freedom of expression in the digital public sphere and the maneuverability in every sense can be rated higher than the ordinary democratic states. Therefore, we, at the Institute, haven’t only been developing projects of culture, art and media for digital public spaces as well as for physical spaces, but we have also been working closely with the civil society and the non-governmental organisations in addition to creating installations for the national and international biennials so as not to receive any financial support from any third party. We have never aimed at earning any money from any project to which we have no appeal for having it realized as we have no interest and concern in the topics of financially attractive maintainability since we don’t praise any project stemmed from a creative idea conceived when not demanded. It seems that our motivation probably won’t disappear easily because it has originated from a personal matter, I mean, from our personal conscience, and then, from a naive request as to hack Cem’s father’s perception. The academic concepts, expressions that define 140journos will perhaps be altered with their means in the near future, but I am confident that we still have the same anger against the media, oblivion and to all the obstacles that prevent the coexistence of all the societies, none of which have yet been pulled down.

Off we go.

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Masses Informing Masses: The Story of 140journos

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