‘The Europe’ we know has gone. In fact, it never existed. Maybe it existed for those who were living on the edge of Europe, trying to reach Europe mentally, economically, and politically, or trying to reach it physically on smuggling boats. It was a sanctuary of human rights and democracy that we could look up to, imitate and, in return, be approved of. It was a land of freedom where an asylum-seeker could buy a loaf of bread without being shot.
How fooled we were! How majestically we were fooled.
Decades ago, in her seminal book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt gave warnings about Europe. Through the concept called ‘the boomerang effect’, Arendt explained the process through which European imperialism in Africa and Asia created the idea of supreme race, hierarchical colonial relations, and brutal ways of dealing with ‘the different’, ‘the lower’. It engendered a new politics and transferred these new political ideas and methods to the Continent. The rest of the story is well-known: racial classifications, ethnic division, war, and the Holocaust. In other words, colonialism hit Europe back, just like a boomerang. Arendt alsowarned us in relation to another issue: what ‘we’ are, who ‘we’ are to become is reflected upon how ‘we’ deal with those who are not ‘us’. Similarly, what the European Union is about to become can be seen in its dealings with refugees and Turkey.
The EU’s attempts to stop individuals from obtaining protection begun at the beginning of the 1990s with the legally questionable ‘safe third country’ and ‘host third country’ clauses as well as the Dublin Conventions. It accelerated with the atmosphere of urgency following the terrorist attacks in the USA and Europe. Border controls were integrated into the fight against terrorism. The EU made visa facilitation offers to North African states through the European Neighbourhood Policy to convince them to become ‘Europe’s dumping area’ for irregular migrants, many of whom could be legitimate asylum seekers according to international law; instead, they were detained under inhumane conditions and subsequently repatriated, even if their lives were at risk. The EU also offered regional protection programmes in North and Sub-Saharan Africa that would ‘improve the management of refugee flows’ so that asylum seekers would not attempt to go to the EU. ‘Asylum-seeker’, ‘refugee’, and ‘illegal migrant’ have all been mixed and mashed in the same basket as ‘the different’, ‘the poor’, and ‘those liars who want to exploit our social services’: those who should be stopped outside the EU borders.
The EU has not been ashamed of any political bribe to achieve this end. It offered its neighbours ‘visa facilitation’ regimes if they accepted to work with the EU in preventing individuals from seeking protection, safety, and a new life in Europe. To this end, it worked with the authoritarian regimes of Mubarak, Ben Ali, and Qaddafi until they were toppled by their own people. Now it has made a similar pay-out offer to Turkey, a country that is daily sliding further and further into authoritarianism. Turkey ranks at 138 in the global Press Freedom Index, 98 in the Democracy Index, 3.53 of 10 in the Index of Civil Rights and Freedoms, and 130 in the Gender Equality Index. In November 2015, the EU agreed to pay 3 billion Euros to Turkey to keep refugees within this borders and enable European countries to send them back to Turkey, all while promising ‘to think about’ visa facilitation for Turkish nationals.
The days when ‘we’, who looked up to Europe as an ideal and called it ‘normative power’, a different type of power whose strength was derived from its dedication to human rights, democracy, and freedoms, have long gone. What is left for the EU? What kind of power is it, if it is certainly not ‘normative’? In fact, the EU has never been proven to be a ‘normative power’ for refugees who are drowning in the Mediterranean. It was, and is, a mirage of democracy and human rights for its ‘EU citizens’, not for those who are fleeing for protection to its borders. The question is, how long will the EU be able to keep this mirage alive for its own citizens? When will the boomerang that Arendt argued decades ago hit back at ‘the home’ again? The signs are already alarming in the new curfew state in France or Victor Orban’s Hungary.
Both EU citizens and non-EU citizens are faced with choices that will greatly impact their common future. What type of common future this will be is a pressing question in the EU’s ‘dark times’.
In the 1990s, the gatherings in Belgrade of Women in Black against the brutality towards peoples of Yugoslavia provoked many men to reveal a sexism blended with ethnic nationalism and militarism. For example, a church ofﬁcial declared the protesting women to be ‘enemies of the Serbian people’. In 1991, a Serbian ofﬁcial explicitly stated that the Women in Black ‘can go to Croatia to be violated by the Croatian army’. Surely, these attacks against Women in Black in Serbia were not very different from anti-war and anti-violence women movements from Israel to Turkey. What is the reason for such demeaning attacks? What are these women doing that ‘justifies’, in the eye of some men, their ‘violation’ by the enemy? What makes them ‘the enemy’? The reason is that the resistance of women offers an alternative understanding of security, and through this, an alternative community, way of life, allocation of resources, or, simply put, a new type of power relations. Security is not a fantasy; it is a political project. Different ways of thinking and doing security are constitutive to what types of individuals we want to be, what types of communities we want to live in, and how political, social, and economic resources are allocated. In other words, how we think about security is intrinsically related to how we think about politics in local and global contexts. For this reason, security scholars and practitioners never solely deal with ‘security’; instead, they make a normative choice about what kind of political project they want to take part in.
Women in Black, which has a respectful history of transnational resistance, can be a useful example to show how global resistance movements can challenge violent, otherizing, dehumanizing, and discriminatory political projects. An alternative political project of resistance surely needs an alternative thinking of security. Indeed, the resistance of Women in Black became the target of sexist and nationalist violence because it offered an alternative political project by challenging what was presented as ‘security’. What steps did they take?
The first step of the protestors’ political project was to develop a holistic way of understanding insecurity through their own individual experiences, formed within the social structures during the preceding years of the war. An activist stated in 1994 that:
‘the institutional manifestations of the growing militarization are the increasing number of regular and paramilitary units, the enormous military budget, and the wartime economy, whereas the promotion of militaristic values, symbols and language, necrophilia, mystiﬁcation of death, the strict division into female and male roles and the political marginalization of women are its ideological manifestations’.
Nationalist political projects to create ethnically homogenous nations were not simply achieved through materialist policies to ‘secure’ the ethnic group. The very ethnic group to be ‘secured’ had to be constructed through social policies where women (and men) were expected to play their part by adopting certain language and practices. A participant in a workshop organized by Women in Black in Belgrade, in 1997, highlighted the importance of the role of women in articulating security for nationalist political projects:
‘Militarization is performed via numerous institutions and mechanisms. The media and the entire educational system reduce women to the ‘weaker sex’, thus implying a need for us to be ‘protected’. They instill fear to control us more easily. Through us, women, the authorities strengthen militarism. We supposedly cannot face difﬁcult situations, we justify all forms of violence and machismo: we justify the military in war and we justify the police because with their protection, we ostensibly feel safe from attacks by delinquents.’
In this political project, security was articulated as the protection of ‘what is valued’ most—the ethnic nation—against what was constructed as the ‘other’. Therefore, security was inevitably associated with threats, risks, fear of the ‘different’, and distrust. As a result, security became a fantasy in this political project where the state was always expected to secure the nation.
The second step to challenge the nationalist political project was to broaden the sphere of politics in Serbia. Women in Black tried to broaden the political arena beyond the Parliament and beyond the discourses and activities of dominant political elites. In 1997, they stated that:
‘We want to change what’s happening in Parliament, but politics is not only what’s happening in Parliament. In a certain sense, this is a marked change in the relation toward politics. Political parties believe that only they carry out politics, while everything else is social bodies. The feminist movement is indeed political.’
Through this step, female resistance aimed to politicize what was represented as ‘social’, in other words, apolitical. Squares, streets, and small cafés were respatialized as political spaces of resistance. Their bodies, wearing black, became their political message. They also had different ideas about how to conduct politics. They stated that:
‘politics is not only gaining power and winning elections. There are also new forms of communication. The way in which we exist is changing politics … the fact that we are here, that we are together, having crossed borders, encouraging one another, is indeed an attempt to change politics.’
By broadening politics, the protestors also rejected the role tailored for women in nationalist projects. This is the third step of the alternative political project. For example, to this aim, in August 1991 several thousands of mothers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia gathered in front of the General Headquarters of the Yugoslav National Army. In a speech, the women explicated their resistance to the identity and roles imposed on them by the nationalist elites. They:
‘rejected the traditional roles assigned to them by the patriarchal system: the martyr, who cries for her sons within the four walls of her home, with her neighbours, and at the graveside; and the heroine who sheds no tears, not even at the graveside.’
However, rejecting patriarchal/militarist/nationalist roles was not enough. The alternative political project was materialized through deconstructing what was presented as ‘the other’ against whom security was sought. The fourth step is understanding ‘the other’ through developing empathy. On the ﬁfth anniversary of the ﬁrst protest of Women in Black, it was declared that ‘we wanted to re-establish trust as soon as possible; through letters, small encounters, large international meetings. We attempted to create a space for stating and recognizing differences.’
Through workshops and seminars where women were invited from all over Yugoslavia, the resistance involved giving a human face to ‘the enemy’: ‘we know that every war destroys the conditions conducive to listening to the other’s story. By losing his/her individuality, the Other becomes a threat, responsible for the whole collective story rather than for individual actions.’ They brought refugees from all sides of the ﬁghting to make the point that the pain and suffering of women and men does not change depending on nationality. Knowing the Other’s story is an assault against the nationalist political projects through the generation of empathy between individuals and groups.
Through these four steps, Women in Black proposed an alternative political project in which communal and individual identities were not constructed against the ‘other’. Security in this political project of resistance was not about fear, risk, and extermination of the enemy. In contrast, what was worth securing was the common life where differences could coexist equally. In August 1991, Jelka Imsirovic and Nadezya Cetkovic from Belgrade Women’s Lobby highlighted what was worth securing in Yugoslavia: ‘After this war all the ethnic groups, members of various religious groups, of different political choices etc. will have to live together in this land. The war will darken the future even for our grandchildren. Common life is possible. The differences between us are our richness.’ Another protestor agreed: ‘patriarchal fraternity pretends to value differences, while we women strive for equality within differences’.
For Women in Black, security was not a fantasy. Nor was it simply about threat constructions and physical and non-physical violence. They developed an alternative politics with new methods, and the security thinking for this new project was also different. Surely, this new thinking is not immune to criticism. However, it is an experience for global resistance movements regarding how they can challenge the status quo of insecurities. Equally, it is a reminder for security scholars that they make a political and normative choice about what type of political project they take part in when they ‘study’ security.
- This blog post is an updated summary of my published article: Ali Bilgic (2014) ‘What is good about security? Politics of Security during the Dissolution of Yugoslavia’, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, vol. 16 no: 2, pp. 260-278.
- The references for the accounts of members of Women in Black can be retrieved from the article.
In 1950s, Armenian children from all around Turkey came to Istanbul to study at the Gedikpasa Armenian Protestant Primary School. While many would return to their villages and towns by the end of the year, Armenian orphans stayed in Istanbul and spent the long, hot summer days in the garden of the Church and sleeping in the basement dormitory. In order to create a home for the orphans, the Church foundation found land in Tuzla, which was close to the sea, unoccupied, and coloured with all shades of green. They bought the land from the previous Turkish owner by following the letter of the law. According to the 1936 regulations, minority foundations in Turkey had the right to obtain property as long as they informed the state, which ensured that there was nothing illegal in the buying of land by the Armenian Foundation.
Thirty Armenian orphans, aged between 8 and 12, helped the workers to build a new orphanage. They carried water in small buckets, transferred bricks, and helped workers to prepare the cement. They weeded the paths and planted trees on their own. They were building a new home, a sanctuary where they could communicate freely in their language and practice their religion: Camp Armen.
However, all changed in 1974, the year of Turkey’s military operation in Cyprus. The hostility towards the Greek minority somehow expanded to involve all non-Muslims, who had come to constitute ‘different’, problematic, and possibly untrustworthy groups within the predominantly Muslim and Turkish society since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire; or at least, they had been perceived thus by the state, whose policies towards minorities are now well-documented. A new law introduced in 1974 banned the foundations of ‘the foreigners’ from acquiring lands in Turkey. The interesting point is that Armenian minorities were also considered ‘foreigners’.
The unavoidable end was at hand. The legal battle between 1979 and 1983 ended with the defeat of the Foundation, which had to return the land to the previous owner, who reoccupied the land with a ready-built complex, on which he had not spent a cent. The legal efforts of the Foundation continued. However, on 6 May 2015, a few weeks after the centennial of 1915, teams arrived for the demolition of the orphanage, although protests have stopped them for now. The owner aims to build a hotel with a sea view on the land whose value has immensely increased recently as the result of the predominance of the construction-based capital accumulation in contemporary Turkey.
The Camp Armen was not the sole victim of urban transformation. Taksim Square, which was the locus of left-wing opposition in the 1960s and 1970s, has been another target. In 1977, when Turkey was in political turmoil, 1 May celebrations were targeted by ‘unknown’ assailants who left 34 protestors killed. Afterwards, Taksim Square was closed to public protests. When the current Justice and Development government announced the Taksim Pedestrian Project in 2011, its plan was to reconstruct the Topçu barracks (Ottoman-style barracks), thus replacing the only green oasis in central Istanbul: Gezi Park. The ‘barracks’ would, in fact, be a shopping mall in the cloak of old barracks. Taksim, which is now a concrete mass, is still part of the left wing political memory as part of its identity.
The cases of demolition of history, city, and memory and their substitution with hotels, villas, business centres, and malls are countless in Turkey. What I would like to underline in the case of Camp Armen is a dimension of neoliberal urbanization that is sometimes lost in the intensity of economic discussions: how urbanization is appropriated in the nation-state context in order to reproduce the marginalization and silencing of the ‘different’ and the ‘deviant’. As argued by critical scholars and activists Hardt and Negri, different type of relationship exists between neoliberal Empire and ‘the difference’. Unlike the former nation-state, Empire does not terminate the different and the deviant. Rather, it values the different; it co-opts, categorizes, and manages it so that solidarity cannot flourish in such a postmodern moment, and so that the new neoliberal elite with their capital move freely. Urban transformation projects in the developed and developing world have been one of the platforms through which Empire reproduces itself with construction bubbles, shopping malls, and massive construction plans such the Canal Istanbul, a project to slash the land into two to construct an artificial canal.
This is not always the case. The Camp Armen experience and many other examples point to neoliberalism being appropriated in order to realize the traditional nation-state political project, which aims to assimilate the different in favour of national homogenization. The legal and political foundations of the dissolution of the Camp or the Taksim Pedestrian Project were set up long before the arrival of Empire, in the 1980s aggressive neoliberal turn with Turgut Özal. The marginalization of non-Muslim and non-Turkish minorities and the silencing of the left (even if it is the soft social democratic version) have been constitutive pillars of exclusionary and oppressive politics in Turkey, as countless reports of NGOs, academic works, and political events have demonstrated. Neoliberal urban transformation is doing the last trick: it decouples the ‘different’ from the space with which it is associated. The orphanage was one of the centres where Armenian identity could be reconstructed in Turkey. So was the Halki Seminary for Turkey’s Greek population. The closure of these institutions was part of the marginalization of the ethnically and religiously ‘different’. The following ‘land grabbing’ of the neoliberal urban transformation has constituted a new phase of respatializing the land in the way that the different cannot be reproduced through/in it.
Another consequence is that the memory of the city can be erased; at least those parts that the neoliberal state, which is in company with the modern nation-state, would like to be ‘cleansed’. The new neoliberal city becomes the city of shopping malls, hotels, business centres, and gated communities, without opposition and difference. In this way, the nation-state is reproduced through the city without the memory of the different and without the space where the different can survive. I believe that the Camp Armen experience should urge us to rethink the productive relations between the two forms of the state: one is the Empire and the other is the traditional, which coexist in a symbiotic relationship. While the neoliberal state gives the traditional nation-state a homogenous nation through urban transformation, the latter provides the political and legal set-up for the new neoliberal local elites to become stronger.
One of the orphans living in Camp Armen met his future wife there. This orphan, journalist Hrant Dink, was murdered in 2007. Following his murder, his wife Rakel urged all of us ‘to question the darkness which converts a baby into a murderer’. The darkness is still with us with a neoliberal touch. In 1915, the territory was cleansed; in 2015, the memory is to be ‘cleansed’. However, neoliberal urban transformation cannot ‘cleanse’ the infamy of 1915 and 2015.
Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Empire. Harvard University Press, 2009.