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In the summer of 2013, a protest over the redevelopment of Istanbul's Gezi Park – one of the city's last green spaces – transformed into mass demonstrations against the government. Riot police used forceful measures to suppress the public, sparking an outcry among Turkish citizens. Widely documented through social media at the time – and covered for Free Word by our then-translator in residence, Canan Marasligil – the demonstrations also sparked a great number of cutural phenomena, with images of the photographs endlessly remixed into online art. The word 'chapulling' was coined, reappropriated from one of Prime Minister Erdoğan's speeches, meaning 'to fight for one's rights in a peaceful or humorous manner'.
In the chapulling spirit, music also became a huge part of the protests: hundreds of songs inspired by the demonstrations were recorded, uploaded and shared online. A mind-boggling number have been pulled into this playlist on Bandcamp. It's a great affirmation of the power of creativity to support protest: but it's hard to appreciate the cultural resonance of the songs if you don't speak the language.
Turkish journalist and author Ece Temelkuran has written about the Gezi Park protests for the Guernica & Free Word special edition on free expression. Inspired by her piece, we asked her to share three of her favourite songs from the playlist, and explain their culutral contexts for us. Here's what she came up with:
Like a lot of these protest songs, this was made up on the spot – it’s actually based on a folk song from the Turkish Prime Minister’s hometown. ‘Recebum’ means “My Recep” or “My dear Recep”. The Prime Minister’s full name is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and he hates being called Recep. There are a lot of references like this, but roughly translated, the song goes like this:
You said I will do this, I will do that
You said I will bring down that I will sell this
Were you blind my Recep
Why didn't you see us…
You hit us when we said stop
You called us looters
But a day would come my dear Recep
You'll be taken into account my dear Recep
By those you called looters
So you thought these people are sheep my dear Recep
It packs more punch with the folkloric references and rhymes, I know. But it’s very funny, and meaningful.
Boğaziçi is a university in Istanbul; one of the best in Turkey. They shot the video for this song in Taksim Square: you can see the chorus members reading the lyrics from pieces of paper they wrote on the spot. It’s a funny song, but it’s also quite touching – in a weird way. In a complicated way. Anyway. Forget about it. (My god, my country is so messed up it always makes me cry when laughing, or vice versa). Forget it, I am translating:
Are you a looter? Wow! Are you a protestor? Wow!
The gas mask looks red
The tear gas tastes like honey
My TOMA* is spraying gas to me
Never mind, we'll find a way
(Because) The people are standing up
The people are on barricades on the road to Taksim
Gas masks come in different styles
I am rallying for Taksim
Don't be lazy and you come too
We can find a way
(Because) The people are standing for their rights
The people are in the barricades
*TOMA – (The name of the gas-spraying police vehicle)
Kardeş Türküler are one of the most famous groups in Turkey. They’re normally known for their folk songs in the various languages of Anatolia. But this song starts with the PM saying his famous line:
“I am going to say one single thing: “Saucepans and frying pans: it’s all the same.”
If this sounds like nonsense, it’s because it is. He’s talking about the people who started to bang pans from their windows when protestors were beaten on Taksim Square. This was the way that people joined the resistance if they were stuck at home – they started to bang their pans as soon as they saw on TV that the police were attacking the kids in Taksim Square. My god, it was amazing. The neighbourhoods were so noisy. But since it was dark, the police weren't able to catch them. Prime Minister Erdoğan was particulary angry with these “pan-bangers” so he directed one of his furious speeches at them. This very funny song was dedicated to that particular speech. That’s why it starts with pan noise.
You are saying this and that
We are fed up
Your one man decisions, your commands
We are fed up
We are so bored
What kind of a wrath this is
What is this anger
Take it easy
When they couldn't sell their shadows they sold the forests
They closed down, demolished the cinemas and squares
Everywhere it is shopping mall
I don't like to pass from your bridges
What happened to our city?
It is full of buildings with hormones.
This was a very popular song, but I should explain the significance of the shopping malls. The PM sold a historic cinema to a businessman so he could build a shopping mall there, and he’s obsessed with shopping malls in general. He loves them. It was a plan to build a shopping mall on Taksim Square that sparked the protests there in the first place.
You’ll see people laughing in these videos, but you’ll also see laughter in all the footage about Taksim Square. Humour was a crucial part of the resistance. Even when people were taken by the police to be arrested they were smiling, and eventually it became a slogan: laughing is a revolutionary act. The PM is very serious: so not taking him seriously became the most effective way to annoy him.
This post was created as part of Free Word & Guernica's special issue on free expression, in association with English PEN and ARTICLE 19, and supported by Open Society Foundations. Read the complete issue at guernicamag.com, including Ece Temelkuran's feature on free expression through civil disobedience.
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