In defense of the “defense march”

With regards to all protest movements, from the Gezi movement of 2013 to the “Justice March” of 2017, the government fears the prospect of people taking to the streets.

Heads of bar associations from across the country have a led a march from different provinces across the country to Ankara. This march was legitimate, both in terms of its justification and its form. Like dozens of other demonstrators, the participants in this march were met with unjust, unlawful and disproportional state violence. 

Invoking further arguments to demonstrate the legitimacy of this march is unnecessary. Anyone who dares question this deserves a slap in the face. In fact, efforts to obstruct the exercising of such a right, and assaults against people exercising their rights should always be met with astonishment and public indignation. One should never fall into the trap of “What did you expect?” The greatest enemy against freedom and human rights is a public that has become numb to injustice. 

The government is constantly attempting to further bolster its powers. Few are spared by the siege. Freedoms and rights of all kinds are under threat. This need to “regulate, control and establish order” applies to all professional associations, including the bar associations. The control and order the head of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB), Metin Feyzioğlu, had set out for the march did not satisfy the government.

The government is not content enough with the fact that almost the entire judiciary has become a mere branch of the executive. Besides, the concept of “defense” has been criminalized. Abiding by the law is no longer a criterion. Voicing one’s discontent is no longer tolerated. That is especially the case when an organized and established professional group whose ties with society are historic. The government perceives this as an even greater threat. 

Prior to the current tensions, the bar associations had suffered numerous legal, political and moral scandals. The association began having problems after the government made it a target. After lawyers reacted to a discriminatory declaration about LBGT+ individuals from the head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), the President himself embarked on this crusade against them. 

The protest turned into a fiasco. As the police arrested and manhandled heads of bars at the gates of Ankara, the head of the Turkish Bars Association (TBB) Metin Feyzioğlu posted photos of himself visiting Atatürk’s mausoleum at the heart of the city alongside other heads of bars he said he had “convinced to join the struggle.” While some heads of bars spent the night in the rain, food deliveries to them were stopped and the cafés the protestors used to go to the toilet were fined. When Feyzioğlu, the head of the bar association approached the lawyers at the gates of the city, they turned their backs against him. Those scenes were embarrassing and shameful. 

When such events occur, people tend to forget the unacceptable nature of the government’s reactions. In fact, the same questions and claims surface all over again. “Had they not intervened, this would not have become an event. What benefit does the government get out of this?” Such claims and misguided judgments spread until they become conspiracy theories.  

The turmoil and uproar caused by the repression offsets its benefits. So why does the government act like this?

With regards to all protest movements, from the Gezi movement of 2013 to the “Justice March” of 2017, the government fears the prospect of people taking to the streets. 

These incidents serve as models across the world. Rather than being remembered for the disgraceful repression they suffered, they are remembered in terms of their handling or mismanagement at the hands of the government. They serve as inspirations to political rulers worldwide.

Out of all those incidents – a majority of which are de facto defeats for the government - successful outcomes are scarcely remembered. This is a consequence of the government’s unreasonable interventions. Though the Gezi Park still stands to this day, the movement is largely remembered for the way the government repressed it and the authoritarian slide that ensued. The Justice March, meanwhile, is not remembered for its outcome but mostly for its initial motivation, which faded.  

Contrary to what one might think, the use of non-proportional repressive force succeeds in undermining the positive outcome of protest movements. More than the outcome of the marches and protests, people remember the increasingly tough and unwarranted responses of the government. 

In light of this, the recent “defense march” should not be remembered for the performance of the state who attempted to halt it through scandals. It should instead be remembered as an example of a group’s determined struggle. Not giving up the struggle and continuing to defend oneself constitute achievements in themselves. The determination and solidarity that were displayed all along should have a greater place in our minds.

September 14, 2021 Election threshold engineering