There were two clear symbols of the 2001 economic crisis just before it arrived. One of them was President Ahmet Necdet Sezer’s throwing the constitution booklet to Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit during a cabinet meeting on Feb. 19, 2001. The other one was, about one and a half months later, when a shopkeeper Ahmet Çakmak threw a cash register to the ground in front of the Office of the Prime Ministry on April 4, 2001.
It was the societal seizure at that time that triggered the fight at the top of the state and its shockwaves spread from there to the streets. Even though these two scenes were part of the same course, they did not point out to the same reality.
One was the consequence of a clique clash at the very top of the state with no connection to any legal or executive context, the other one was a powerful reflection of a class issue. One was the milestone of an economic collapse, the other was the beginning of a political climb.
Today, we are going through a similar seizure. We have not seen the constitution booklet or the register cash thrown anywhere yet, but we are looking at a political scene which has the same dynamics. We are all looking, but whether we see the same thing is unknown.
The opposition front is observing the street, expecting it to be sparked by cliques, by the coalition or by the fractures within the AKP, the ruling Justice and Development Party. The opposition sees the street as a dark, creepy crime scene where every corner has its own conspiracy. It is expecting an object to be thrown, sooner or later, so that the glass palaces are shattered, hoping this will leave the government and the people face to face. The opposition does not say those openly of course, but with all its practices, it is obvious that it is clinging on to the belief that “One that comes with a crisis, goes with a crisis.”
What does the government do, on the other hand? Where does it use its power to reinforce somethings? They have “green dot” accounts in Twitter; they have played the Hagia Sophia card; well, then, who are they focusing on? Which is the place they fear, they refrain, they want to control?
Let us go back to the beginning of the piece and let us remember what we experienced at those days in 2001.
A couple of hours after the cash register fell right next to Ecevit’s feet, some 5,000 people at Siteler, Ankara, where furniture makers are a majority, locked their shops and started marching to the Prime Ministry chanting, “small business is over.” Head of ATO, Ankara Chamber of Commerce, Sinan Aygün, rushed to the scene and suggested the crowd to select 20 representatives. His offer was booed. He shyly joined the march. At the same time, in Istanbul, Mahmutpaşa and Tahtakale shop owners started marching to Istanbul Chamber of Commerce; grocers at Alibeyköy started demonstrating. In the eastern city Erzurum, industry zone occupants, and truckers in the southern city Mersin blocked roads.
Three days later, the Friday prayers turned into a rebellion. Istanbul’s Bağcılar shopkeepers and craftsmen marched to the highway E-5, then they were attacked by riot police. Istanbul Manifaturacılar Çarşısı at Unkapanı burned their checks as a protest. Grocers from Sarıgazi and Pendik demonstrated. In Ankara, Siteler, this time 10,000 people started walking to the parliament. They were stopped by police which led to clashes. Aygün again called for peace but this time a few stones were thrown at him. Several unions and confederations stepped in and hardly calmed the demonstrators with a promise to hold a rally at Ankara Tandoğan on April 11.
On the day of the rally, it was only a couple of minutes into the meeting when an unprecedented “shopkeeper rebellion” took place. Representatives were not allowed to speak; the podium was occupied. Tens of thousands of people wanted to march to the Parliament. Police stopped them with gas bombs and panzers. In İzmir, 40 thousand, in Gaziantep 10 thousand, in Konya 30 thousand, in Denizli 10,000 and in Sivas almost 5,000 shopkeepers, craftsmen and small business owners filled town squares.
This street movement was the factor that directly determined the results of the 2002 elections. The AKP walked to power with a “shopkeepers’ revolution.”
Small businesses, for the first time, became a central power designing politics. They were not merely grassroots anymore. Now, they were able to take to the streets, able to tag their workers alongside with them. They forced big capital owners to take their side. They became the only spokesperson of the people on the street.
The Turkish-Islamic guild (ahilik) traditions connect the shopkeeper, craftsmen and small business owner to religious sects. Small businesses played various roles in the past, in critical events, “helping the state.” They added to their skills, in the 1990s, the ability to dominate over labor. They became a center of gravity for politics and a “counter weight adjustment” of society for governments.
Journalist Ufuk Güldemir in a 2006 article defined the AKP-shopkeeper dialectic as such: “I call the political ideology of the ruling class in Turkey today the ‘Kiosk Islam.’ This is the kiosk owners’ rebellion that helped them come to power. The kiosk owner is nepotist, he favors his clan. He knows everything as far and much as his three-square meters of shop. His policies fit into three square meters. His foreign policy is three square meters. His world map is very simple. The Jews exploit the world. The Arabs are our religious brothers. The Greeks are enemies. The Pope is the head of the Christian world.” The journalist had to readjust after receiving too many reactions. He said he wanted to emphasize, correctly, that the movement that brought AKP to power was a class movement, not a religious matter.
Academic Utku Balaban has further studied the class factor. The Islamic feature, he stated, has developed during the capital movement process. It is an undefined class up to now but it has a carrying aspect. He calls it “faubourgeoisie.” Faubourgeoisie is a social class that emerged as a result of the global transformation of the accumulation process and derives its history from the local.
In other words, it is made up of local urban residents, entrepreneurs who form the lower segment of the industrial suppliers, the class that shifts the anger of the workers from government and the bourgeoisie to upper middle layers.
According to Balaban, the faubourgeoisie was able to enclose the petit bourgeois into a comfortable living zone at the end of the 1990s with the help of the political Islam. Thanks to this, it was able to become the anchor that ensured the bourgeois the control of the working class. Since 2008, in parallel with local and global changes, there has been a detachment in their interests with the bourgeois. The turbulence that has been going on for almost 10 years is due to this dissociation.
Now, the dissociation that started in 2008 is becoming deeper also due to the effects of the economic crisis plus the coronavirus crisis. The class-based seizure that the government is based on has also intensified. The offers, opportunities and means of banks in Turkey – by political decisions - are presented to the “sacred class.” The unwillingness in lockdowns in the pandemic, the reason why the “normalization” started in shopping malls before mosques have a meaning when looked from this view.
Let us look at the common points in the last two packages: Postponement of tax and debt payments, loans with lower than market level interest rates and with enormous repayment advantages.
In fact, according to banking data, half of the loans given in April have gone to small businesses. During the same month, more than 300,000 micro-enterprises became new clients for banks. While millions of people’s jobs were dragged to uncertainty, priority and urgency were given to small business owners that somehow “hold” the neighborhoods and micro-enterprises that oppress the worker. The TOBB, The Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey, and TESK, Turkish Confederation of Tradesmen and Craftsmen, were made happy, first and foremost.
Thus, since the AKP is not able to open an umbrella that would cover everyone, it reinforces the point where it can give a “wheel alignment adjustment” to everyone. It can see now that the magnificent election results are a thing of the past, so it is polishing its message of “It was not the power of the ballot box but actually the power of the street that took me here.” It also puts watchmen (bekçi) to guard the street –the newly formed police-like force appointed by the government.