Response to KYK* Cut: We will keep fighting in strong solidarity

Translated by F. Cansu Tapan

As the government strives to spread hate speech targeting LGBTI+’s, brutal interventions against Pride March and a majority of the LGBTI+ events have taken place almost everywhere in the country. One of the cities where those interventions and bans** have occurred so excessively is Ankara. Despite ongoing blockings for years, Pride March was held this year on June 29, in Ankara. The first demonstration in Tunalı Hilmi Street was blocked by police intervention through which several people were also detained. All the same, another group more crowded than the former marched in Kuğulu Park.

İlay, a medical student, is one of the demonstrators who participated in Pride March on June 29 in Ankara and were violently detained by being beaten up. Their student loan was cut off in August on the grounds of “being involved in an incident with police forces”. We have interviewed with İlay about what they has just gone through.

İlay says that their loan was cut off without any notification to them and they has learned it when they has contacted to Higher Education Credit and Hostels Institution Scholarship (KYK). Stating that they is not the only person whose loan has been cut off because of being a dissident, they calls everybody for fighting against that injustice and police violence. They also adds that holding the march which couldn’t occur for years is a remarkable attainment they had, which also strengthens the belief that the following Pride March is to be held with a bigger crowd next year. İlay says that quite the contrary, deterring policies of the government has made their much more resistant.

CSSA: After you participated in Pride March in Ankara, your student loan has been cut off. What happened in the demonstration that day? Can you tell us about what you have experienced?

İlay: First of all, let me talk about how we organized Pride March in Ankara. In Ankara, Pride Marches cannot be hold for years. The ones that could were demonstrations which occurred in May but not in June as usual for Pride and generally in METU (Middle East Technical University). It has been the first action after a long break. That is why what we were doing has made us so excited. Didn’t we have any concerns at the outset? Of course, we did. Especially in Ankara, we are well aware of police violence and we have grasped well what we might face up to. But then the excitement for making it happen prevailed over everything else and we decided to share it at least with our acquaintances without issuing a clarion call. Even if a small crowd would gather, we should have done it in order to say that “you see, it can be achieved as well.” Then, while informing our friends, we realized that we were really crowded. That is to say, we are not a small group of people. Of course, such a big crowd was very encouraging for us and thanks to that, all our concerns disappeared at once. Thus, the night before, we decided to spread it through posters for the others who want to participate. We organized the march in one day, indeed. We had planned to make it in Seymenler. One hour before the march started, we heard that police blockaded the Seymenler Park. Later on, they started to leave. Then, we immediately determined another location and decided to march along Tunalı Hilmi Street. After that, we all started to gather in Tunalı Hilmi. There were still other groups that we knew to come and participate. Then, we saw that patrols from Security Section were rushing to us while shouting. For that reason, we were compelled to start the march without waiting for the arrival of the others. We marched nearly ten minutes and it was really beautiful. A ten-minute march sounds short but under those circumstances, it was quite a long time for us. We chanted our slogans and spoke everything we wanted to say. It was a great march. After that, we -almost twenty people in number were blockaded by the police. As the blockade started, they also started to torture simultaneously. In the very beginning of the police blockade, an activist friend of us- also a cardiac patient with high blood pressure was shot by tear gas at close range and fainted there. To get her out of the blockade and to provide medical intervention for her, I immediately went to negotiate with police. When I was trying to explain the situation- saying that my friend has serious medical problems and needs medical treatment and she must urgently be got out of there, another police officer with a badge of security section unexpectedly pulled my hair and dropped me onto the ground. Then, before I stood up, riot police started to hit me with riot shields. I couldn’t grasp what happened while getting tortured. Then, I stood up and saw that they were taking me to the police vehicle for detention. I was dragged there by five police officers pulling my hair. The vehicle was for two-seater but we were five people in there. It was incredibly hot and since there was no ventilation, we couldn’t breathe properly. In the area, next to the vehicle we were in, there was a big bus for detention. We asked for getting on that bus for many times since we couldn’t breathe. They just laughed. Our demand was funny and ignorable for them given that the ones who couldn’t breathe were us but not them. Then, we were taken to the police station after the hospital. We got waited for exactly three hours in the garden of the police station. We warned many times that it was on the police records and they were unauthorized to make us wait in the parking area. Even though we said that it was all illegal and they should take us into the police station, we couldn’t get any response. Later we learned that they got waited us for the reason that they didn’t want to allow our lawyers wearing rainbow masks in. Then, during the statement, we saw that our lawyers were still wearing rainbow masks. It was such a beautiful moment for all of us. In the police station, they were undertaking body search as a routine. When we got there, the police officer doing my body search started to undertake strip search. At first instance, I failed to understand what I was going through. Being shocked, I got confused at first. Then, I withdrew myself. I said that she couldn’t carry out the search in that way and it was a strip search which absolutely amounts to harassment. In response, because of my assigned sex, she weirdly mumbled “we are both women, so what? It is not perversion.” I insisted that I wouldn’t let her but she shouted at me, walked over me and wanted to continue strip search. In the room, there was a detained friend of mine and we resisted together. In result, they couldn’t continue and conduct strip search. In general, it was like this. That day, what put me in a psychologically bad mood was the strip search case. To be harassed is psychologically devastating and what I have experienced there was exactly harassment. 

Leaving aside that, we achieved to hold Pride March in Ankara where it hasn’t occurred for years. By the way, when we were in detention, the group which couldn’t meet with us was much more crowded than we were. They were more than 40 people. They gathered in Kuğulu Park and issued the press release. They marched without any police intervention. Therefore, it is a remarkable gain for us. Indeed, we thus held Pride March more than once and we were in the streets together with many crowds rather than just one. It is an incredible achievement. We sit and think “If we are capable to organize such a crowded demonstration in one day, then next year we can hold a much more crowded and much more planful demonstration bigger than this year. Much more colorful, much more crowded.” To that end, we should reduce the intensity of police violence through exposing the torture we faced there and ongoing legal actions so that we can set safe spaces next year. 

CSSA: Well, how did you discover that your loan has been cut off? Did you get an official notice? Are you planning to sue for the stay of execution?

İlay: Neither I got an official notice nor anyone had contact with me. My student loan is usually paid on the exact day every month. I realized that my loan wasn’t paid though two days passed after that day. I called Higher Education Credit and Hostels Institution and asked the reason for my loan’s not being paid. I was just told “your student loan has been cut off because you had an issue with police forces.” They didn’t need to give further information. I didn’t receive an official notice, either. That is how I learned it.

Now, my lawyer and I are preparing to sue for the stay of execution. However, to be honest, I have some concerns about it. As I mentioned before, most of the resisting students have faced up to KYK cut. There is a friend of mine whose loan has been cut off, too. She has sued for the stay of execution and won the case. The unpaid loan has been paid all together.  Nonetheless, a few days later, the stay of execution got cancelled and they requested her to repay all the money they paid. If it is not paid back, they levy an execution. For that reason, unfortunately, legal acts don’t reassure me. For now, I think the most forceful solution is to make this case more public. That is to say, I want everyone to see that people fighting for their own rights are getting deterred from their fundamental rights as being mistreated. Let the government’s attitude ruin- the attitude suggesting that “I may deprive you of whatever I want.” It must be ruined, now. 

CSSA: As you have just mentioned, students supporting Boğaziçi resistance have confronted with a similar situation, as well. You are also in a similar situation. What do you think about it? According to you, what can be done if it becomes a systematic way of deterrence?

İlay: As you said truly, we systematically feel the oppressive treatment of the government everyday and everywhere. Be it upon our families, universities or our rights- the right to education, economic and legal rights. We feel it everywhere. In other words, it means that they deprived us of our fundamental rights in every area. We are already fighting for the rights we got deprived of. To cease our resistance, they want to extort more rights of us than before. In contrast, it makes us stronger and more engaged in fighting. In fact, as I said, it has no deterring effect on us. Since we are in unity and solidarity while fighting, we are trying all together to compensate for the rights we are deprived of in some way even if not sustainable. For instance, after KYK cut, several volunteers have come forward to support me economically. I am grateful to them. I can possibly endure that difficult period together with them. It is not sustainable though. In the end, if the point at issue is state apparatus, then it must be in charge of protecting our rights and make a firm basis to reassure us. That is why students get KYK scholarship.  For instance, my grant is a loan with repayment. When we consider the current circumstances in Turkey, it is a small amount of money not enough to meet my expenses. Small though it may be, it helps. We meet our basic needs through it. Even if it is to be repaid, state guarantees that it will be paid every month. So we think “it will be paid regularly.” Then, we see that they cut it off without any notification. At this stage, there is no establishment left to provide securance. We know what they intend through oppression. They intend to deter us from fighting but it is vain. So we are in such an absurd and complicated situation.

CSSA: You have shared your experience on Twitter and called for solidarity. Did the atmosphere of solidarity you expected come out? How did you feel?

İlay: I came across an atmosphere of solidarity much bigger than I expected. I hardly guess that my tweet would spread to that extent. As I said, I posted that tweet when I was furious.  I also posted it to expose what happened but it spread to an incredible extent and became much more public than I expected. I received beautiful solidarity messages from people, LGBTI+ or not. Many offered to provide legal support. There were some volunteers who wanted to provide financial support. Besides, LGBTI+’s living abroad didn’t keep silent about the situation. They also showed so much support. As I said, it has strengthened me unbelievably. Instead of giving up fighting, actually, I got into it further. That is to say, we have the solidarity we expected among a rather small mass of people everday. We have it being involved in activism. However, it is a wonderful feeling that such a big group’s suddenly saying that we are with you. It is something linking one with fighting. 

CSSA: Well, is there anything you want to add or to call for?

İlay: I want to add a few things- they are unconnected though. First of all, as I said before I am not the only student whose grant has been cut off. It is quite common as a practice. For instance, even my housemate’s grant has been cut off.  Her KYK grant has not been paid for months, either. It has become an instrument used to oppress all the students participating in the fight and clamouring for their rights. Therefore, to make it more public, I invite people to show their solidarity. There are so many students having financial difficulties since their grant has been cut off. I want to call people for showing solidarity with them. I want to tell something specifically about Ankara. In Ankara, especially we confront with brutal police violence when we want to demonstrate, march and read press release. That violence is not just restricted to locations where demonstrations take place. It does not end there. While we are walking in the street, we are subjected to threats, insults and abuse. We expose it everyday. We are making denunciations of them but they are left unanswered and to no effect. It has reached to a degree which encourages perpetrating polices. That is to say, in the eyes of perpetrators, it is something legitimatizing their violence and abuse.  Places where we demonstrate are not places where police secure us. In contrast, those are places where police legitimatize their violence and torture. We must say “no” to that all together. As long as we don’t, male-dominated legal system will not put an end to that. Since the government directly contributes to that violence, it will not stop it, either. So we must be more unified and stand against that. I think it must be more public. That is what I want to add to my interview.

* Higher Education Credit and Hostels Institution Scholarship
** Here is our piece about the unlawfulness of the bans on LGBTI+ activities in Ankara and their effect on university campuses.