In September, one of our members got a message from a contact in DAF (revolutionary anarchist action) group, based in Anatolia (I used to refer to DAF as being in Turkey, but I was however corrected when I got there; they see Turkey as the oppressive state, which they want nothing to do with!). I quickly piped up and said how interested I would be in going along, mostly as I had met someone from DAF three years earlier, and had been very impressed by them. Luckily I did not have to fight for the chance to go, and on 11 October, I found myself on a flight from Birmingham to Istanbul.
When I got there, I had to find my way to one of DAF’s 26A cafés, based in Taksim (the main district of the European side of Istanbul). I was going to be picked up, but as the Turkish state had invaded Northern Syria a few days before, everyone in DAF was at an emergency meeting. When I got to the 26A café, I was met by several comrades, who gave me food, tea and a long explanation of who they were. I was happy that one of them asked which pronouns I preferred (they/them), and I explained my appreciation of this; they were shocked to hear how some people who call themselves feminists are transphobic in the UK, and started to talk about how this could be possible, also noting how ridiculous this was! Luckily someone noticed how tired I was, and I was shown the commune. This was a two-bed flat, with a living room, bathroom and no kitchen – but as it was based above the 26A café, they did not need one. I found out that seven people lived here, and that they had strict rules around cleanliness, and a no-drug policy because a lot of the local gangs involved with the drugs trade were in the pockets of the state, and would happily beat up anarchists. I was given the living room to sleep in, which had a fold-out sofa bed. That night, I heard the police shouting and probably beating someone up outside; a regular occurrence, I later found out!
Next morning I was woken at 8.30am for a shared breakfast (and more tea), where no one is allowed to start until everyone who is sharing is there. I was told that there was a Saturday Mother’s protest a few streets over at 12pm and they wondered if I would come? I replied that I would, and just before 12, we were off. I was advised to only bring my ID. On the way there, we were patted down by armed police which held a line across the narrow street, and just round the corner there were police in full riot gear lining the side of the street and across it at both ends. We had to squeeze past them to get into the kettled demo, which was outside the human rights association, down a back street. We were handed out pictures of the people who went missing during the 1980’s and 90’s, these were people who were captured by the state, tortured and then murdered. The mothers want justice for their loved ones, and to bring about recognition of militarisation of the Turkish state, and state violence. I was told that they had had over 750 protests, and that they used to have their protests in a square, from which they were banned last year. Each week they talk about a different person who has been disappeared by the state. I was also warned that this is the first protest since the invasion of Northern Syria, and if anyone was to mention it, then the police would be violent. Most of the people there were elderly, and many of the mothers have died, never being able to properly say farewell to their missing love ones, as they were never given their remains to bury.
The speaker started her speech, mentioned that this week's son’s mother had died, so she would talk on her behalf. Shortly into her speech she mentioned the invasion, and instantly there was a shout from the police, and they started pushing forward. At the same time, the police line behind us moved to block off the street leading towards the big square, leaving us one escape route. I was grabbed by the arm by one of the comrades and taken away. They told me that it would be bad for me if my face was recorded as being there, as a foreigner. We waited round the corner and saw an older women come round the corner and collapse, where she was caught and carried into a nearby building by several protesters. The people I was with walked me away, and we went a long route back to the café. I have to admit I was crying at this point as to let out my emotions; in the UK when we see police violence, as anarchists we usually run to it, and are able to let out our anger, unless we are massively outnumbered! But on the mainland UK, the police never use tear gas or rubber bullets on protesters, as of yet! Anyway, back at the café, the anarchists sat down and did a write up of the protest and put it up on social media, sharing the video and pictures that had been taken. Having the café enabled them to have a place to meet and write together.
A little while later that day, we went for a walk down to the harbour and got a boat over to another district, called Kadiköy, on the Asian side of Istanbul. After a disorientating walk through the little crowded streets, we got to the café, to find that a line of riot vans and cops were filling the street. I was told this was unusual, and that there must be a game on in the sports centre on the other side of the street. We sat down at a table, and more tea was ordered and pasta. We were only a couple of meters away from a cop armed with a machine gun. Everyone ignored him, so I tried to as well, though I was very anxious. At this point I will explain the economics of DAF. The cafés are volunteer-run, but all the money that they make is communal; it is for everyone in DAF to pay for what they need to survive, and this includes rent, bills, clothes, and travel money, etc. If you turn up to the café as a an anarchist, the food and drink and free. The rest of the money goes to paying for their publications and activism. A lot of the members lived in shared flats which they call communes, but they didn’t seem crowded, as most of the time everyone hangs out in either of the two cafés or at their workshop space. Whenever DAF are running low on money, then they all go and get work elsewhere for a bit, to help raise the collective fund. It is rather impressive, especially as they have such a range of people involved, from young children and those in high school to workers and older members.
After having our lunch we went to their workshop, a few streets over, passing a few friendly street doggos on the way. People seem to really love the street cats and dogs in Istanbul and leave food and water out for them. In the workshop, I talked to the translator for my talk and explained a few phrases like “cat herding”, in that trying to organise anarchists in the UK is a bit like trying to herd cats; very difficult, this being due to everyone being in separate groups, and the remains of the individualist anarchist ideology. I gave my talk about the AF and anarchism in the UK later that day, but it didn’t seem enough time. There is so much that goes on here, and so many things that have come up that we have had to deal with and learn from. The usual current questions came up (Brexit and Extinction Rebellion), and I went into details on these topics and the problems with them. They seemed to enjoy the talk and we had a picture taken before I ended up in another long talk with my friend Hüsseyin.
This is when I found out that they do not refer to themselves as Turkish! Oops. We talked till late and I learnt more about their anarchist theory; in that they are revolutionary anarchists, holistic (intersectional), and have long discussions so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to theory, so that things can be decided by full consensus. This may seem a long way to do it, but considering we have so many fallings out and splits in the AF, I am starting to wonder if full consensus is a better way to do it.
The next day we went to a memorial back at the workshop. It was in memory of two of their comrades, Tayfun Benol and Ali Kitapci, who died in a union anti-war meeting in Ankara on 10th October 2015. The MIT (Turkish state special intelligence), had given the information about the meeting to ISIS, who suicide-bombed the meeting. It killed 103 people, and while everyone was trying to help one another from the building, the police came in and gassed everyone. It took the first ambulance 30 minutes to arrive. Mercan, another anarchist told me how Tayfun was like a father to a lot of them in DAF, he kept trying to tell her to go back to university, as he never got the chance! Tayfun was father to two of the members of DAF, both of whom came to the memorial. At the memorial we watched a short documentary about Tayfun, and they plan on doing documentaries of all the 103 that were killed. They ended on singing a song about fallen comrades, and how we must continue fighting.
Afterwards, and with much more tea, I was told about how DAF have seen the PKK over the years, from a Marxist organisation, similar to Maoism with Abdullah Öcalan as their leader, a nationalist group they could never support, move towards the democratic confederalism that it practices now. How, after their leader was imprisoned and the headquarters bombed, the Kurdish people within the group started to self-organise, have massive protests, and burn cars. It is now a people’s liberation movement; it's still not anarchist, but it's something that anarchists could get involved with and help to change. Anarchists in 2009, who founded DAF later in the same year, were the first to raise an anarchist flag at Newros (Kurdish new year). They were welcomed, although everyone kept on asking them who had died, as black is the colour of mourning. Every year DAF hold Newros celebrations, something that is banned in Turkey, along with a lot of other cultural things, and many Kurdish people attend. I should point out at this point that DAF is made up of people from many different cultures, including a lot of oppressed ones, and they celebrate these cultures by putting on events for them.
When war first broke out in Syria, a lot of refugees fled into Turkey. The Turkish state responded by going to the border, putting people into camps, bombing local settlements so people couldn’t stay in them, and by arming ISIS members. DAF members went to the border and helped people across the border in both directions; getting those who fled from the war across the border and deeper into Turkey to avoid the camps, and those who wanted to go fight for Rojava and other free regions in Syria. It was difficult, as they had to avoid both the Turkish army and ISIS, and they also had to find mine-free areas so that they could help people through.
DAF had the idea to start up a route for anarchists across Europe to get into Northern Syria to help rebuild the area and support people there, as well as push the whole revolution in a more anarchist direction. However in July 2015, a media declaration of some young anarchists and socialists, who planned to go and take toys for the children stuck in Kobanî, and to stay and help out, was attacked by ISIS, killing 33 people. Not long after this, the border became more difficult to cross, and is now closed for people going either direction. Again it is believed that the Turkish state gave this information to ISIS so that it would be attacked.
I also learnt about other campaigns DAF are involved in, like the conscientious objectors. In Turkey if you're male and in your 20s, you have to do one year of military service. In the years before, a million people might object each year, and would have to go to court to defend themselves. DAF try and find these people and call events to invite them along to, so that they can organise them. DAF have a solicitor member who can help them with these cases. For example, it helps them to say they are a member of a conscientious objectors' association. If the military court thinks you're not a conscientious objector, then they may try and make you join the army, or you can go to prison. It is illegal for them to do this, as Turkey signed a European agreement which says that it is a right to conscientiously object, but a lot of people don’t know this, so DAF try to raise awareness. If you're gay, then you will given a pink paper, which says you're gay and not a proper man, and that you are sick. One man that they helped refused to take the pink paper, and got six months in prison for it. At the end, he got a different piece of paper that told him he was mentally unwell. These papers mean that is impossible for you to get a state job, such as a nurse or teacher. There is a lot of pressure on young men to join the army, and family have ceremonies, like weddings, for when the young men go off to do their service. Those who are from oppressed cultures, like Kurdish, Armenian and Allavi, are usually sent straight to the front, as the state wants them to die. It has become more difficult for DAF to organise conscientious objectors as Erdoğan (the fascist president of Turkey) changed the law on military service to one month if you pay £30,000 Turkish Lira (about £5,000), which is a lot of money for people, or you can do only eight months if you graduate from university. Despite the expense of this, it seems like many have taken it, and there are only around 200,000 objectors each year now.
DAF also do a lot of prison support. From the 60s to the 80s, the left were big in Turkey. A lot of people were unionised and the syndicalist unions were strong. Because of this, a coup happened, and one of the first things the coup wanted to do was to separate the political prisoners from the normal prisoners. As you can expect, there was a lot of protest about this inside and outside the prisons, as they were good places to organise people. Prisoners went on hunger strike, took over the prisons and threatened to kills the guards. The state responded by knocking down the walls and ceilings of the prisons, and throwing in chemical weapons; many were killed or lost limbs in the attacks. The two types of prisons were installed, and that system remains today. I was assured that, despite losing the ability to organise prisoners, it makes it not so bad to go to prison, as you end up in ones which you're politically aligned to. So, as an anarchist you go to anarchist prison, a great way to meet each other and develop anarchist theory and write articles. It is still a prison though, and since Erdoğan got into power (and the coup against him, and following state of emergency), the prisons have become overcrowded, and prisoners' rights seem to have been neglected. Prison rooms built for three people now house 15. Letters never get to prisoners, and visitors are denied. DAF try and support those prisoners who protest these conditions. Recently a Kurdish anarchist comrade went on death strike due to being kept in an overcrowded cell, in the wrong prison (he wasn’t in an anarchist one), and not being allowed to see his family. Due to the publicity given to him by DAF and his death strike, his demands were met and he is now with comrades and allowed to see people. Umat told DAF of a trans-woman prisoner who is being kept in a male prison and they are helping her try to get re-located into a women’s prison. The comrade that told me all of this can no longer go into the prison to visit people, as he is worried that he will get grabbed and sent into the military.
I learnt a little bit about the other groups within DAF, the high school group who fight against exams, the women’s group who fight for so many things as patriarchy is worse there than in the UK. It seems very common for women to get beaten by fathers and by husbands. No-one will rent to you if you're an unmarried couple, or if you're sharing a house with friends. They also have an ecology group; a subject very close to their hearts. And they have a kids' group; they do workshops for kids, including one on how to make films! Their newspaper collective, which publishes every month, spends a week writing and editing, and then another week going to different places to hand them out. They also have several others I didn’t have much time to find out about. Each group it seems has their own magazine and website. I later found out that DAF came together in 2009, forming out of several of these groups. Each group meets weekly, and once a week they have a 9am to 11pm meeting where everyone in DAF comes along, and discusses ideas and plans for the week and upcoming events. They have several talks a month, including talks by internationals like the one I did. They have even invited famous scholars like Dennis Fox, a critical psychologist who I myself have been influenced by.
On my last day, I got a tour of Gezi park and other places of interest to an anarchist. I saw the main streets with their tall buildings, built by Amenians who were then killed or deported by the Turkish state. I also saw the square where the Saturday Mothers used to protest, where now a new building stands, and the rest is cut up by a road, or fenced off with a armoured vehicles filled with armed police inside. They showed me the Ottoman Bank, which was occupied and bombed by Armenian anarchists in 1986. Then there is Gezi park, where massive protests of up to one million people took place, due to Erdoğan wanting to build on it; thought it was saved, it is now cornered off at one end by armoured vehicles. That end, I was told, is where a lot of the main clashes happened with the police. I was shown the cafés which doubled as medical stations; all the doctors and nurses that helped the protesters there lost their jobs, following the 15 day protests. I was shown the patch of grass which was dug up so people could plant pepper and tomato seeds; though none of them took, as it wasn’t long enough! The site where the cultural building used to stand, formerly occupied by the protesters has since been knocked down, due its history of having banners hung from it. And finally, my guide showed me the new big mosque being built on Taksim Square, intended mostly as a bit of a fuck you to the protesters!
To be honest I am rather amazed by DAF. They are very well-organised, and have done so many great and inspiring actions. I feel that they have something that we lack in anarchism in the UK; they are co-ordinated and have political cohesion. I feel that the economy that they have, where everything is shared and being able to be together, enables them to have long discussions and respond quickly to things that happen. This may be out of necessity, as things in the Middle East (their words) are a lot more difficult for them than they are here in the western world. Seeing what they are achieving makes me want to replicate what they do, and makes me adamant that we must be more organised. If we were as organised as them, and with the amount of anarchists we have here, I feel that we would have a very strong movement. ■
Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet - Revolutionary Anarchist Action -DAF