This Front is another Front

The news magazine in turkish language “Nokta” released an article about Halk Cephesi, dated 2006.  Here’s the translation in English. From the Turkish “Nokta” magazine, November 2-8, 2006. Author Ahmet SIK.

“There were perhaps 100-150 people. Before we realised what happened they were pointing guns at our heads. We could not make a move. Others who had clubs in their hands were swinging them right and left, breaking things, pouring them on the ground, turning tables over and leaving a mess. Then without saying a word they went away. They fired in the air. This lasted maybe 20 minutes and the police never came. We do not know who they are. We have had nothing to do with these people or with any others.”

In Ikitelli, the owners, from Diyarbakir-Kulp, of two music halls, one of which has a cafe on the ground floor, described what happened that night at the hands of armed people whose identities are unknown, adding: “No my friends, there was no gambling, no prostitution, nothing like that.” The owner of the other music hall who was attacked was adamant: he said not a word and would not allow photographs to be taken. He did not allow any of his workers to say anything. A youth from the area with his hands in his pockets did approach a little later and describe what happened. “He said, “Sir, two days ago they made a telephone call and gave a warning. He said, “They said that here ‘You are engaging in gambling and prostitution, if you do not stop it you will be punished.’ To this threat they added another threat. In two days they would come and turn the place over. Later they left a banner and went, the banner had the words ‘We will disperse the nests of filth – the Front.’ I learned this from the workers there.”

This Front is another Front

The days of Ramadan were not far off and in certain areas actions directed at places of entertainment selling alcohol had been given the same signature on numerous occasions: The Islamic Great Eastern Raiders-Front (IBDA-C). But this time weapons were involved, as was a different colour. And one or two days later in a “song bar” in Umraniye-Sarigazi there was also a similar event and any doubts about it were dispelled by a statement from the security services which mentioned a banner left behind: This Front was a Front of the “left”.

Moreover this Front used an abbreviation that is no stranger to many: DHKC–Devrimci Halk Kurtulus Cephesi–Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front. It is especially remembered in connection with the Death Fast against isolation practices in the F-Type prisons, which have been continuing since 2001.

In the past few years it has been maintained that the organisation has been carrying out a systematic struggle against drugs, gambling and prostitution in suburbs of Istanbul. It is even understood that that from these three elements, a politically left organisation has by its very presence gained a certain burning ascendency. In the above mentioned neighbourhoods political slogans and threats are written in red. “Gambling is a crime”, “Prostitution hand having others engage in it is a crime”, and these slogans are seen more and more frequently. And they all have the same signature: the Front.

In the above mentioned poor neighbourhoods of Istanbul, Ikitelli and Sarigazi, it is possible to say that in the past two years there have been dozens of different actions involving the throwing of Molotov cocktails. Nor is that the end of it.

In “problem” neighbourhoods “patrols” have been ensuring the security of neighbourhoods and streets. “Those who commit crimes” are made to leave the neighbourhood, otherwise they will be “punished”.These actions, referred to as “security” are one of the new activities of left organisations and are efforts to “expose” people, with various left groups setting up “public order teams” that are “looking after the honour” of neighbourhoods. Criticism of them does not change them, because “the people love them and support them”.

The Association for Basic Rights opposed to corruption

Alongside the DHKC’s illegal actions declared to be against “corruption” are the regular work of another institution, associations set up under the umbrella of the Federation for Basic Rights.

The Basic Rights Association is organised in the Istanbul districts of Sultanbeyli, Alibeykoy, Gazi, Kucukarmutlu, Sarigazi,
Umraniye-First of May neighbourhood, Ikitelli, Bagcilar and Kartal-GUlsuyu as well as in various parts of Adana, Elazig, Zonguldak, Tunceli, Samsun, Izmit, Gebze, Iskenderun, Adiyaman and Ankara. The association in its campaign named “Struggle Against Corruption” has been working like a serious civil society organisation over the past few years. It puts up posters in the streets against drugs, prostitution and gambling as well as organising panel discussions, street theatre and film showings. In the places where it is organised, it goes from house to house and workplace to workplace talking to local inhabitants to raise their awareness and involve them in its struggle.

The work in Ikitelli is run from a centre in a narrow street by the chair of the Basic Rights Association, Erkan Sonmez, who draws attention to the widespread addiction to drugs. After three years of working in the area they have been able to get dozens of young people off drugs. Touching on deeper questions, he said “Think of what lies behind the spread of drug addiction. To find money for drugs, these people sell drugs or engage in theft and prostitution. In doing this they are bringing down the neighbourhood for those who live in it. We have seen this problem and to find a solution we have started action together with the people. We have organised meetings in houses and workplaces, listened to people’s demands, listed their suggestions for solutions and put all into practice.

We have spoken to drug addicts on a one-to-one basis and have managed to persuade some of them. Now some of them work in our association, and we have found work for some of them.”

“Allah is pleased with the revolutionaries”

During our talk in a central part of the association building an elderly inhabitant of the neighborhood came in and at the end of the conversation suddenly said: “He is telling the truth. My son was one of them saved from drug addiction. We did what we could but could not succeed. But these young people were turned around in only a few days. Allah is pleased with the revolutionaries. It is not a lie, at the first opening of the association we wondered, ‘Could they be terrorists?’ but now we know.”
Hamza Pas said in the cafe in Ikitelli Atatürk neighbourhood where he has worked for two years that it was a case of “the association – before and after”. “In the first period this place was an unbelievable swamp. The young were addicted in one way or another. Later the people developed unity and unanimously cleaned it up. When I first came here pills were even being sold in this cafe. Both in my workplace and in the neighbourhood the children have been purified. Previously people were afraid to go home and would take detours that lengthened their journey.But now there is quiet and security.”

If the quiet in the neighbourhood was the result of association members and the cooperation of the people, the fear caused by “punishment” methods of the DHKC was even greater. Because in the streets at night, “patrols” by organisation members have achieved supremacy. To determine where there is prostitution and the drugs trade and then beforehand issue verbal warnings which, if not heeded, result in beatings, large groups raiding places and “punishing” them seizing theives and making them return the items they stole to their owners. And if these do not work there is one thing left – making exposing “criminals” and forcing them to leave the neighbourhood.

“Are the left guardians of public order?”

p4nONrThere are those who do not think it right that these kinds of organisations use these methods in struggling against gambling, prostitution, drugs and other crimes. It is undoubtedly clear who should be ensuring order and security in an area.

Security circle see events as a new danger from the DHKC, an illegal organisation that has been tending to decline, saying it is using these actions to broaden its base.

If not very strongly, there is real criticism from left circles. The criticisms are of how an organisation counting itself as left-wing is setting up “public order teams” as “guardians of honour”, preoccupied with conservatism and morality and taking over police duties.

Struggle against drug dependency

A 24-year-old named N.S. describes how he was “liberated” from drug addiction:

“Before I came to this association I had been a drug addict for seven years. I have been clean for the past six months. I was liberated from this illness and I take part in the work of Ikitelli Basic Rights Association. When I left school I starting taking drugs and pills. A lot of my young friends in my environment did the same. I had a friend with whom I would take drugs. One evening we were invited to the association. We ate a meal and had a chat. Previously we had held back from coming. That night they told us why we needed to give up drugs. Actually nothing was said that had not already been said by our families or older brothers. But I was very much affected. What influenced me was that they told me how political activities influenced the lives of the people who carried them out. I thought about the difficulties we are in and what they are giving their lives to. My conscious was troubled and the two of us gave up drugs. There were certainly threats made to us but I was not afraid. What made me give up was not fear but a bad conscience. Now I am calmer and happier.

Instead of using drugs I have started to show that IO am sensitive to the problems of our country. I have broken ties with my old friendship group. And now I am going to make speeches persuading our friends to give up these dirty practices.”

For example, Internet sites have argued about how a house where prostitution was going on was raided in Gazi neighbourhood in a “punishment action”. Those who were engaging in prostitution and persuading others to it were beaten, and a particularly criticised aspect of it was that a woman’s head was shaved.In the criticisms the “punished” woman was seen as unjustly treated, the DHKC’s methods resemble those of the Sharia supporters in Chechnya and in a number of ways resemble those of the mafia.

Selda Yesiltepe, the chair of the Association for Basic Rights and Freedoms in Gazi neighbourhood, says those who make the criticisms are overlooking the struggle as a whole. She also has a different approach to the hair-shaving incident. “This subject has been confirmed and it cannot be disputed. It is correct that women who engage in prostitution are also victims. But in Gazi neighbourhood our culture is one of solidarity and embraces everyone who is in difficulties. If someone is hungry they are fed, if they have no house or home a place to stay will be found for them. It is not the case that people in Gazi can say they are compelled to engage in prostitution for those reasons.”

The new problem of Gazi neighbourhood

It is in Turks’ memory that in 1995 there was a mysterious attack in Gazi neighbourhood that opened the way to more than 20 other people being killed, and the Basic Rights and Freedoms Association is one of those active in the area. At the time it was presented in the media as a “liberated zone of the left” but today the biggest problem is drugs and prostitution. Selda Yesiltepe says that even 12 or 13 year old girls have escaped from home or engaged in prostitution. Yesiltepe says some girls who gave up prostitution and returned home have returned to it. She says the association’s struggle in its three years of existence is against a “culture of corruption”.

She finds it odd that the actions cannot be reconciled with “left” politics.”Nevertheless revolutionaries have engaged in struggle in this area for years, and are correct to do so. Yes, in the past it was not as comprehensive but then again the problems were not as great. There is corruption almost everywhere being forced on society. We are in Gazi and naturally we have shaped our duties according to what people complain about to us. The problem of prostitution, drugs and gambling in Gazi is very extensive. The public authorities that need to struggle aainst corruption also make money out of this swamp, a fact covered in the news already. While it is like this some people will need to struggle with this problem.” Yesiltepe says this proves critics ignore the “political dimension” of the problem. “In Gazi, even legal associations can be closed down from one day to the next, people, killed, detained and tortured, imprisoned. By the sowing of fear, the idea is forced on people to “abandon political activity”. To put this into effect, a systematic culture of corruption is encouraged among those seen as “potential terrorists”. Bars are opened under the name of night clubs, gambling dens are opened under the cover of cafes. The sale and use of drugs is being normalised. All this is in areas where working people live, shantytown neighbourhoods.

So the idea is spread that ‘being politicised is trouble for the state, being apolitical is only a trouble for those around you.’ Because if human beings become politicised, they will engage with imperialism, the oligarchy and the struggle against injustice. There is no concern with people who get bogged down in corruption. So we can say that the struggle against corruption is also a struggle against imperialist culture.”

Imam part of the struggle

“The struggle against corruption” in Okmeydani was first announced some years back and it has said to have been largely largely successful. Okmeydani Basic Rights and Freedoms Association chair Musa Aykanat said that despite it being close to Taksim, the centre of every kind of entertainment in Istanbul, the struggle against night clubs, bars and music halls was started about 10 years ago. Aykanat says that “we took steps according to the pattern set out by the People’s Council in Okmeydani.” “Here there are not just left-wingers and revolutionaries. Conservative people also live here. People with headscarves and head coverings also attend our meetings. The former imam of our area’s mosque also takes part in the struggle and at every Friday sermon says he is ready to take part in the people’s council’s struggle against corruption. Yes, revolutionaries are the leadership but everyone living in our area is part of the movement so it is successful.”

In the end, of ten night clubs opened in Okmeydani, only three are still open. At the moment the biggest problem in the area is gambling, drugs and theft. Of course our situation is better than some other areas. Some gambling dens existed but were closed. There is one gambling den and it has been announced that it will close. There was a lot of gambling in cafes. Now there is considerably less.It is reported that some will close soon. All the local people held meetings on this subject and prepared leaflets. In the leaflets it stated that people younger than 18 were not allowed into cafes, there could be no gambling and they were to close at midnight. All these things are already legal requirements.”

Yes, in the poor areas of istanbul and the suburbs, there is a different kind of activity going on at night as compared to the day. It is certain that in the years to come this “new form of struggle” defended by inhabitants will continue to be one of items on the agenda.

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