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Protests in Turkey: The Language of Protest

  • By Canan Marasligil
  • 7th June 2013
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In the fourth of a series of posts on the demonstrations in Turkey, Canan Marasligil takes a closer look at some of the language to come out of the protests, highlighting some of her favourite words, memes and slogans to have been adopted by the demonstrators.

Last weekend, I joined one of the worldwide parallel protests in London's Hyde Park with some friends, one of them a non-Turkish speaker to whom I started to translate the various slogans the crowd was shouting. These chants were also heard in Turkey and across the world in the various protests organized to support this civil uprising.

“Faşizme karşı omuz omuza” and “Diren Gezi” were among the many slogans we shouted (I stopped when it started to become too nationalistic, but that’s for another post). My friend learned that “omuz” in Turkish means “shoulder”, that “fascism” is the same word, only written differently in Turkish, and “diren” means “resist”. Resisting against an authoritarian regime, shoulder to shoulder against fascism, was the main message. Some have called these protests the “Turkish Spring” but I believe that, following many criticisms laid against this wrongly coined term, that the situation in Turkey is different from the Arab uprisings we've recently observed. So I won't add it to this list of language from the protests.

Many words have travelled the world, especially through social media. One obvious use of language that has been used, and is still in use despite the shift of the events, is the language of “occupy”. One of the most popular hashtags on Twitter seem to be #OccupyGezi. It is interesting to look at this use of “Occupy”. Indeed, the initial Istanbul protests led by about 50 environmentalists against the destruction of Gezi Park to construct a mall was in line with the Occupy movement. But these protests later developed into massive anti-government demonstrations, and I don’t believe anyone in the world would think this is still the initial Occupy movement. The fact that the term stuck on social media is, I think, one way of reminding us of how the events began, but it's also just a useful way to tag all information published on social media that relates back to that original event.

#direngezi #direngeziparki
Other very popular hashtags on Twitter are #direngezi or #direngeziparki, with additions such as #direnankara where violence against civilians has continued when everything looked more quiet in Istanbul (many have voiced this concern that the international media’s eyes were all on Taksim while the violence escalated in Ankara). As I said earlier, “diren” means “resist”: it comes from the verb “direnmek”, “to resist” and the noun “direniş”, which means “resistance”. This language of resistance has been included into the city’s name, Istanbul, to become “Resistanbul” – and it doesn't just work in English, but in French, too.

Cartoon from this week's Uykusuz magazine
Cartoon from this week's Uykusuz magazine

Do you know what a TOMA is? I didn’t even know what it meant in Turkish until last week. It stands for “Toplumsal Olaylara Müdahale Aracı”, or for “Riot Control Vehicle in English”. The police have used these armored vehicles with water cannons against civilians so widely that it's entered the protesters' everyday language. TOMA even has its own Wikipedia page in English. To show just how far it's become embedded in lanaguage, I'm going to share a comic from the Uykusuz weekly magazine with you.

It's not rare to meet people born after the 1980 military coup who are named “Devrim”, (“Revolution”) or “Ülkü”, (“Creed”). This cartoon is a version of this if we imagine kids born after these uprisings.

The name of the kid is TOMA Yurdakul. “Yurdakul” means “One who lives for his/her country.” The conversation goes like this:

The kid says: “Dad, why did you name me TOMA? TOMA Yurdakul oh, are you kidding me?”
Dad replies: “It's to remember the day I met your mother.”

We all know now that Turkish mainstream media has remained shamelessly silent on the reality of the events, but it's certainly worth repeating. So when this widely popular word game on TV showed its support to the protests by choosing an all “revolution”-related vocabulary, it was lauded and widely shared on social media. Words included in the game were: Gezi (the name of the parc), Sivil (civilan), Eylem (protest), pasifizm (pacifism), Halk (the people), Ağaç (tree), Biber gazı (tear gas) and sansür (censorship). I've read comments that the game show would be stopped – I have no reliable source on this but it is conceivable that the writers and producers of the show got into trouble.

Chapulling in different languages

Patti Smith holds up a sign with Turkish resistance hashtags
Patti Smith holds up a sign of support.

We are all chapulling

Last but not least, probably the most important addition to the world's vocabulary this week is the word “chapulling” and its derivatives, from Turkish “çapulcu”. “Chapulling” is a neologism derived from one of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s speeches following the protests. Erdoğan (now also referred to as RTE) used the word “çapulcu”, which means “looter” or “marauder” in Turkish, to describe the demonstrators. It has not taken very long for social sites to adapt this word to English with a new meaning: “fighting for one’s rights”.

Chapul (verb): (/ˈtʃapu(ə)ːl/ regular, -ed): To resist force, demand justice, seek one’s rights.

Chapuller (noun): (/ˈtʃapu(ə)ːlə/): A person who resists force, demands justice and seeks his/her rights.

Chapulation (noun) : (/ˈtʃapu(ə)ʃənː/): The act of resisting force, demanding justice and seeking one’s rights.

Chapulling also has its own Wikipedia page, and derivatives on other languages too.

If one thing is sure, these protests are a demonstration that, although Turkish people are now fighting for increased democratic representation, their struggle is far from insular, and their rallying cries are finding echoes throughout the globe. Turkey is, and continues to self-identify as, a democracy, and like all democracies, it is only an imperfect application of an ideal. One man may suffice to turn it into an autocratic government. We all need to keep the “çapulcu” in us awake, for we never know when we may need to get such a person out of power. Today is that day for the citizens of Turkey, and the day for supporters of democracy across the world to chime in with their voice.

Only together can we become “The Incredible Halk”.

Incredible Halk
“Halk” is the Turkish word for “people”.

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