2016 – Istanbul Convergence

The Peoples’ Movements Summer Convergence was organized this July in Istanbul by LeftEast, 54+, and Bogazici University’s Sociology Faculty. It took place under arresting circumstances: amidst an unsuccessful military coup and its immediate aftermath. While we had chosen Istanbul as the site of our convergence in part out of recognition of the city’s centrality to current conflicts and in solidarity with Turkey’s deeply embattled leftist community, none of us could have guessed just how germane our plan for discussion would be to current events. 

15th July: [a surprising] Welcome The armed rebellion by elements of the Turkish armed forces broke out in the early evening of July 15, the first night of our convergence. The next day, our first formal discussion session started only two hours behind schedule. We remained in Istanbul throughout the tense period in which government forces put down the insurrection and the state took its first steps toward consolidating power. Participants even continued joining us from abroad over the following days, as our ongoing discussion of the violence of the contemporary neoliberal order unfolded.

Our convergence thus started off on an unusual footing, once the general introductions on Friday afternoon were complete, and warplanes began flying ominously low in the sky above our dormitory on the Bogazici campus. The first intensive discussion of our event happened during the night and into the morning on Saturday, and once we had gotten some sleep, carried over into breakfast before the first panel: it concerned the coup attempt itself and what it would mean for the Left. Poring over newspapers from our different countries late on Friday night and analyzing Hurriyet, the only Turkish daily available to us the next day, gave us a context for discussing divergent yet comparable narratives of nationhood, legitimacy and security, which in part framed the panel we held early that afternoon.

16th July: Thinking at the Intersection of Periphery, Violence, and People’s Movements Our formal discussions began with a documentary screening on the refugee crisis by two short films made by one of the participants who has gone along the Balkan route. It was follwed and contextualized further by an overview of racial and religious dimensions of early republican Turkish nationhood, and the reflections on the institutional history of solidarity between Left-wing groups in the Balkan and the Anatolian regions. We examined the past and future of direct linkages among leftists in our territories, asking how such links can come into being without the mediation of the western metropole. This question formed a good background to the lively debate that ensued over the paradigm of decoloniality, as lucidly presented by some of our Romanian participants in the ensuing session. We debated the prospect of delinking from an ideological world system held together by the “core” and reconnecting to regional particulars in order to construct a more locally compelling anti-capitalism in thought and practice. Some participants voiced concerns about potential conservative cooptation of the decolonial paradigm and brought up examples of putatively anti-colonial rhetoric employed by the ultra-right movements across the region, which combine it with ethno nationalism. In response, decoloniality’s defenders distinguished their viewpoint from reflexive anti-westernism of the kind that merely inverts the valuation between East and West while keeping capitalist social relations intact.

The session was interrupted by a text message from President Erdogan calling all loyal “children of the Turkish nation” out into the streets to “lay claim to their democracy.” This would be another hallmark of our days in Istanbul: the state mobilizing crowds of flag-waving supporters to cement Erdogan’s hold on public space and call for vengeance. The groups we occasionally dodged while on our way to film screenings and meetings with feminists and a center for Syrian refugees materialized the menace to which most of our discussion was directed: “national unity” acting to stamp out all resistance to a no-holds-barred capitalism with conservative cultural underpinnings. That evening we had a meeting scheduled for an Alevite neighborhood, but we had to cancel going there – while the community was ready to receive us, we realized that in times in which they would be vulnerable to attacks by the right, the presence of some forty visitors would have been overbearing in the distressful time to come. Luckily, this was the only event in our program that the attempted coup d’etat made us reschedule, and it gave us time to explore the neighborhood intersection between Bebek and Rumelihisarı neighborhoods on the bosphorous, while watching cars of government supporters with national and ultranationalistic (grey wolf) flags drive around in frenzy.

17th July: War, Displacement, and Neoliberal Violence On the next day we heard a report from the Kurdish national movement which we then connected to presentations by activists who have worked in war-ridden (Ukraine) or post-war (former Yugoslav countries) contexts. While seemingly different in scope and stakes, all these struggles presented peoples arrested in big conflict between superpowers, in which local populations are vulnerable to arbitrary displays of power by brutal physical and ‘soft’ economic forces. We then connected the displacement and wars in the past with the ongoing work with migrants and refugees–indeed, considering the different valences of these two concepts–hoping to slip between the cracks of the international security regime. A presentation from a Romanian participant connected different migrant waves/generations in Europe – the way in which discourses on Romanian migrants in the past are situationally similar or different to those on Middle Eastern migrants in Europe.

This was the first evening in which we went to downtown Istanbul, where we were hosted by an activist space. Together with local activists we saw a film directed by one of those migrants himself, and considered briefly the aesthetics of solidarity, or what kinds of representations of refugees help position them as subjects of their own experience rather than mere objects of empathy, who can very easily become objects of aversion. We also watched documentary footage from different social movements in the recent history of Turkey from the 1970s up to the Gezi protests, and the way different groups reclaimed public spaces in the struggle for decent wages, for human rights, and against police brutality, that brought together workers from different ethnic groups together. Our visit to a Syrian community center highlighted issues of trust surrounding interactions between migrants under pressure and the political and humanitarian organizations–both leftist and mainstream-liberal–that claim to fight for their cause. Participants involved in migrant solidarity work in Eastern Europe benefited from the perspective of Syrians who have been caring for their own countrymen and -women for years.

18th July: Feminist Struggles at the Centre of War and Conservative-Neoliberalism The third day of our convergence placed women front and center. An Istanbul colleague examined the extreme challenges that the urban war between the Turkish state and Kurdish guerrilla fighters poses to the traditional practices of womanhood and the ways in which women in the region have asserted themselves in this desperate situation. With the help of another Turkish feminist, we assessed the difficulties the women’s movement has encountered in its attempts to bridge the gap between “lifestyles” heavily thematized in an era of much conflict between “secular” and “religious conservative” factions. Contributions from Georgia, Russia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Croatia showed different strategies employed by women workers and artistic feminist collectives to bridge the gap between different struggles. On a visit to a feminist center in the evening we received a full debriefing on the plight of women in the “new Turkey” and  the struggle feminist groups to work on issues of protection against domestic violence not only among the ethnic Turkish population, but also among minority and migrant women, who also need to both protect the negative image of their groups and men to the public, and thus remain extremely vulnerable and isolated in situations of domestic abuse.

19th July, Day 4: Forming People’s Movements The fourth full day of the convergence, we tackled the question of the actually existing movements and strategies that we apply on the ground to sustain our groups in times of crisis, precarity, and displacement that many of us suffer though in vert different forms. With examples from artist and food sovereignty collectives and practices from Turkey and Hungary, Montenegro and Bosnia to kick-start the discussion, we went on to debate the challenge of creating sustainable structures outside the market economy. We spoke of ways productive and reproductive labour has been used in our movements. We tackled issues of symbolical (self-)representation of the past and present of the movements we feel aligned to – historically and in our own activism – and the difficulty not to feel our small victories as insignificant, and the defeats we suffer as overwhelming.

While this discussion and our debate on how to extend the new community and solidarity we created in Istanbul beyond the convergence in time and space, it was strange how our convergence coinciding with the collective trauma of the coup attempt put us in a position of actively doing something at the very moment of crisis. Rather than just being spectators – a condition that over the past few years has become increasingly debilitating – we now find ourselves in the quandary of how to translate sometimes microscopic or speculative action of transnational solidarity into something effective without committing either self-defeating acts of sacrifice or on the other hand empty rituals of self-congratulation that risk nothing and have no effect. We do not know – individually or collectivelly – how to square this circle. But we know our only chance is to keep on trying.

Program – People’s Movements: Violence and Solidarity in the Southeastern Peripheries of Europe: An Encounter in Istanbul, hosted by Bogazici University Sociology Department, July 15-20, 2016*
*scroll down for reading list



source: Ali Turunz, Belgrade 2016

15th July, Day 0: Welcome. Our opening conversation will tie together our key themes towards lines of common analysis and comparison, and moments of reflection and engagement. We will ask and elaborate together: What do we mean by periphery? What do we mean by violence? What do we mean by people’s movements? Who are we? What are our political horizons?

16th July, Day 1: Thinking at the Intersection of Periphery, Violence, and People’s Movements. We will collectively re-engage the notion of periphery defined in relation to the core within global relations of power, exploitation and inequality. We will seek to identify social-historical commonalities and differences within and between our respective regions and the implications of their self-understanding/self-positioning within the core-periphery power dynamic of the modern/colonial capitalist world-system. We will ask and elaborate together: What is the relation between the physical violence of war and the structural violence of neoliberalisation, including class domination and the “symbolic” violence of racism and xenophobia. In what ways do migratory conducts reflect and reinforce dominant core-periphery understandings and positionings? How is migration connected to labor regimes?

17th July, Day 2: War, Displacement, and Neoliberal Violence. We will explore the intersections of war and neoliberal capitalism in the context of forced migration. We will discuss: In what ways the on-going war in Syria and armed conflict in Turkey; as well as the strategic repositioning of the post-socialist countries as the external border of Europe affect geopolitical relations among Turkey, Eastern Europe, and the European Union (including increasing militarisation, surveillance and lethal reinforcement of borders) affect civilizational hierarchies? How do we address in our praxis the production of precariousness and the ‘super-exploitation’ of refugees and migrants across the peripheries and the rise of racist and nationalist movements? What is the role that activist groups and labor movements can play through solidarity with refugees and other migrants? Can we see activism along the Balkan route as a new form of internationalism and Balkan federation as a historical inspiration?

18th July, Day 3: Feminist Struggles at the Centre of War and Conservative-Neoliberalism. We will discuss the gendered and sexualised dimensions of violence of war and the reemergence across the peripheries of a conservative neoliberalism; as well as old and new feminist movements in Turkey, the Balkans and Eastern Europe.  We ask: how do we connect activism around the feminisation of the semi-legal rural and urban labour market(s), flexibilization of female labor, thriving sex trafficking, arranged marriage practices, as violence against women? What kinds of “counter-education” projects can work to supplant the kind of identity-formation and knowledge-construction taking place in schools? How do we engage education as an emancipatory collective social practice in the face of market-friendly social engineering and cultivation of neo-traditional, conservative, and nationalist sentiments? How does feminism relate to LGBT/Queer advocacy in traditionally conservative countries or in those experiencing a resurgence of machismo after the collapse of state socialism?

19th July, Day 4: Forming People’s Movements. We will draw our themes together to discuss existing and alternative forms of solidarities and popular mobilisations aiming to counter the rise of right-wing populism and nationalist movements in the neoliberal era, and to further tactical and strategic avenues for developing resistances in the periphery. We will discuss: How does the common narrative on the Western/regional Left influence our own struggle at home? What lessons are there from the Left in the South and East? How do the new geopolitical happenings influence our work in a day-to-day manner? What narratives and practices of solidarity and decoloniality do we deem effective and successful in our local context? How do we choose between humanitarian action and strategies of rupture and conflict? How can we counteract the liberal effort to use current events to strengthen Europe as a point of moral superiority and eternal return? How do we prevent return of phallocentric Germany-led Europe in a re-articulation of neoliberalism /re-masculinisation of societies? How do we approach populism as a strategy for conservative and nationalist mobilization, while also keeping in mind the various left-wing popular/populist movements and their emancipatory language and practice?


source: The Rolling Stone

20st July, Day 5: What is to be done? Over breakfast together, we will focus on problems of organising, translation, alienation, and mobilisation. How can we continue to work to imagine and enact transnational tactics to disrupt liberal-capitalist spatial regulation and hierarchies and produce transformative action? What are the historical and political-economic barriers that hinder cooperation among activists across our countries, and how can forge routes of transnationalism and solidarity across them? How do we – often-isolated tiny movements – work to stop the new wars? How are internationalist leftists in peripheral countries to engage “anti-imperialist” arguments that function to justify nationalist and authoritarian systems? Who is our main antagonist in our national/international contexts? Are they other left or pseudo left groups, liberals, government, the west, empire, or capitalism? How is this decided – historically, strategically, and contingently?

Reading list
We ask that you do your best to read these all so that we have some common ground to refer to

General Background Readings Regarding the Convergence Themes
–Mezzadro and Neilson, Border as a Method or the Multiplication of Labor. .PDF
–Harsha Walia, Undoing Border Imperialism. Introduction (pp. 9-17) .PDF
–Apostolova, R. Of Refugees and Migrants: Stigma, Politics, and Boundary Work at the Borders of Europe  ASA Culture Section Blog
–Zuhal Yeşilyurt Gündüz: “The “New Turkey”: Fetishizing Growth with Fatal Results,” Monthly Review

On Thinking at the Intersection of Periphery, Violence, and People’s Movements
Peripheralizing Europe Statement (from last year’s summer convergence)
–R Grosfoguel “Transmodernity, Border Thinking, and Global coloniality” in Eurozine
–Chase-Dunn et al. “Understanding Waves of Globalization and Resistance in Capitalist World System…” .PDF

On War, Displacement, and Neoliberal Violence
– Cihan Tugal, “In Turkey, the regime slides from soft to hard totalitarianism” OpenDemocracy
–Nazan Ustundag, “New Wars and Autonomous Self-Defense” Jadaliyya
–Ishchenko, V. “Ukraine’s Fractures” New Left Review

On Feminist Struggles at the Centre of War and Conservative-Neoliberalism
–Ghodsee, K. and Zaharijevic, A. Fantasies of feminist history in eastern EuropeA response to S.Drakulic, Eurozine
–Eirini Avramopoulou Signing Dissent in the name of ‘woman’: reflections on female activist coalitions in Istanbul, Turkey Eπιθεώρηση Κοινωνικών Ερευνών

On Forming People’s Movements, and What is to be done?
–Veda Popovici and Ovidiu Pop. ‘From over here, in the periphery: a decolonial method for Romanian cultural and political discourses‘. Gazeta De Artă Politică / LeftEast
–Samir Amin “The Return of Fascism in Contemporary Capitalism” Monthly Review
–Haydar Darici, “The Kurdish Self-Governance Movement in Turkey’s South East: an Interview with Haydar Darici” LeftEast

Further related resources which we recommend
We had a hard time keeping the reading list reasonably short, and these are the other readings that we think are useful. It will be great if you read these too!

On the general topics of the convergence
–Agamben, “We Refugees” .PDF
–Wendy Brown, “’Desiring Walls’ in Walled States and Walled Sovereignty
–Cihan Tugal’s NLR: “NATO’s Islamists: Hegemony and Americanization in Turkey” New Left Review
–Zivkovic A. “The future lasts a long time: a short history of European integration in the ex-Yugoslavia” LeftEast

On Thinking at the Intersection of Periphery, Violence, and People’s Movements.
–Helyzet public sociology group (Gagyi, Gerocs, Szabo, Szarvas) Beyond Moral Interpretations of the EU ‘Migration Crisis’: Hungary and the Global Economic Division of Labor, LeftEast
–Balibar E Borderland Europe and the challenge of migration Open Democracy
– Reconfiguring Periphery: Localizing Spatial Dependencies of Capitalism in West Asia and North Africa, Introduction

On War, Displacement, and Neoliberal Violence.
–Sandro Mezzadra  MLC 2015 Keynote: What’s at stake in the Mobility of Labour? Borders, Migration, Contemporary Capitalism .PDF
–Yildiz E “On Erdogan’s ‘Ordinary Things’: The Soma Massacre, the Spine Tower, and the Corporate-State’s Fitrat in Turkey” Jadaliyya
–Balibar E “Europe and the Refugees” Open Democracy
Kurds, Labor and the Left: an interview with Erdem Yoruk , LeftEast
–Rastko Mocnik, On the margins of Europe an interview with Rastko Mocnik (starts p 39)
–Bojcun Marko, Origins of the ukrainian crisis , Commons

On Feminist Struggles at the Centre of War and Conservative-Neoliberalism.
 Drakulic, S. How women survived post-communism (and didn’t laugh) Eurozine
–Kapur R Human Rights in the 21st Century: Take a Walk on the Dark Side Sydney Law Review
– Rexhepi P “From Orientalism to Homonationalism: Queer Politics, Islamophobia and Europeanization in Kosovo” Southeastern Europe .PDF

On Forming People’s Movements, and What is to be done?
– Gagyi A ““Coloniality of power” in East Central Europe: external penetration as internal force in post-socialist Hungarian politics” Journal of World-Systems Research (forthcoming) .PDF
– Zivkovic A. & Medenica M.  Balkans for the people of the Balkans LeftEast
– Cirjan, D. Did it Ever Happen? Social Movements and the Politics of Spontaneous Consensus in Post-Socialist Romania LeftEast
– Pavlasek M Refugees and voluntering; beyond a culture of giving,  LeftEast
– Amin S Audacity, more audacity , PamBazouka
– Interview with Boris Buden  Antifascism as Platitude LeftEast

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