Violence in Fragments: Relating to the Transformation of Public Violence in Turkey since 2013 through Images 

Note: This presentation will be in the form of a video-essay, to which this text is meant to be an introduction and a facilitator.

Where to begin and where to end? The urge to talk about what we have been living is strong, yet we cannot help but ask the question: who are we to talk about it? Where were we when all of these were happening – when we learnt from insistent phone calls from friends and relatives that a bomb had exploded on a street that we had passed by a few hours ago, when entire neighborhoods were terrorized by legitimately armed and well-organized authorities, when we survived an attack because we were too lazy or too scared to show up on a certain occasion? Who are we to speak when we are the ones who have survived, sometimes by chance and sometimes by cowardice – what to do with the shame of the survivor? (Agamben:1999, p. 97) And there is more to it: how are we to talk about violence, about what violence does to us; when all we do in the face of it is to restrict ourselves, to try to see less of it, to try to take care of ourselves and our lives, to minimize the damage, to let others suffer if someone has to suffer? How can we claim to understand what violence does to us, when it scatters our lives and our companionships, when it sends us running home, running away, leaving us with fragments of images, fragments of stories, fragments of the event which we are never able to grasp in their totality?

Whenever we attempt to think about violence, these are the questions that come hurling at us. They are paralyzing. We start by saying “we, who have been living in Turkey during the unnamed, ongoing, ever-changing period of insecurity that started in 2013 with the Gezi Resistance” and yet we are unable to complete the sentence because endless parentheses are necessary to render this sentence impeccable. And impeccable we want to be – the medium needs to be smooth for the message to get across. But why Gezi? Don’t we see that the history of Turkey is a history of normalized violence, where various means and systematics of violence were employed to reshape and discipline populations, to form and to maintain a certain order, long before the year 2013? Gezi Resistance was not really the first time that the good citizen living in the western urban centers of Turkey became the target of state violence. The post-Gezi period was not the first time on this land where the so-called public order turned dysfunctional, irrelevant, even venomous vis-à-vis its components. Yet we know – everybody knows, and the history that came after the event confirms – that something had started with the Gezi Resistance. 

We are not able to grasp the real in its totality. When a bomb explodes in a street or when a dissident is murdered by a “legal bullet”, in the words of Yusuf Hayaloğlu, we do not comprehend the event through a careful examination of factual information relating to that event. Even if we have the chance to watch all the footages related to the event and listen to the accounts of everyone who was there – which is hardly ever the case – we cannot smell the blood. We cannot hear the blast and the shattering glass. Hardly anyone talks about hundreds of dead birds lying on the ground after an explosion. Some of us will hear the sound, some of us will feel the heat, and some others will learn about it from an untimely phone call from a distant friend. “Are you alright?” Our reality necessarily remains fragmented. Yet we assume a common reality, and we assume to know it in its totality.

Hannah Arendt – following the Leibnizian tradition – argues that such common reality is established by bringing together the opinions and experiences of each individual pertaining to a thing or to an event, by rational public discussion that deliberatively combines these experiences into factual truth. (Arendt:1961, p. 336) This, however, is a prescription and not a description. It is more often through images that we relate to public events. Machiavelli was probably not the first person to realize that politics essentially rests on the tension between the seeming and the actual. (Machiavelli:2004, ch. XV) In that age it might be assumed that images travelled not always and only as images but mostly as narratives, and that they travelled at a slower pace. an age where there is an overload of images and where we are surrounded by screens, it can only be expected that images will travel much faster than reasonable and careful discussions. The truth of an event – the adequate information pertaining to the reality – might be established by public authorities some time after the event, but we do not wait for the conclusion of discussions to decide upon the truth. We establish our truths on the go, as we advance in time, and we establish them through images. This is the case especially when violence is exercised in public, by the public, against the public – for in such instances it is the very ground on which deliberation is supposed to take place that becomes uninhabitable for some parties of the encounter. Fragmented images of the event are the only thing that can be relied upon, when we have arrived to the safety of a shelter, when we are scrolling through news websites and social media to find out about what has happened. 

The reality of a violent encounter will be constituted mainly over the images pertaining to that encounter, and it is through the image that we will get closer to understanding it. But this does not mean that the image is loyal to the truth of the event – quite to the contrary. Images connect to greater narratives, to other images. They make meanings and meanings make them. They constitute a ground of struggle which again is played out by power(s) in a bid to build and rebuild regimes of truth. Images change, contexts change, as do our relationship to them. In this work we try to remember that all of these truths are made up, and we try to remain loyal to our truth instead. The truth is that never a catharsis came out of any of these violent encounters, that we were continuously shattered by each and every one of them, and that the meanings we make out of them are merely attempts at bringing our pieces together. We are not able to see the big picture, as it is often suggested in Turkey. So we stick to the small picture, which is a plurality of the ways how violence has come to be image-d and imagined in our daily lives. 

fragment 1: poor images of clashes

Image 3: A still from Geziparkarchives where the cameraperson tries to run with the crowd. 

The Gezi Resistance in June 2013 looked promising about a new Turkey that would be released from its century-long shackles of dividedness, polarization and intrasocietal animosity. The streets were full of joyful, light-minded people who were not only participating but also recording, streaming, taking photographs to contribute to the collective memory of what they were going through. Gezi was also the moment when a great effort for a counter-archiving/anarchiving took off, with protesters audio-visually documenting “everything that was happening” in a bid to challenge the hegemonic memory politics. 

In praise of ‘poor images’ (Steyerl: 2012, p. 32), this fragment will gather footages from “Geziparkarchives”, a collectively produced audiovisual torrent archive, where the camera itself is subjected to violence. We collect the encounters between the camera, the teargas and the water cannons; the blurry, foggy, coughing moments of violence which are normally considered the ‘residues’ of an archive, pieces that would have no value for most of the editors. However, these are the very moments when protesters/video-activists encountered and documented the violence directly, during clashes.Thus, we aim to question what these poor images of violent encounters can tell us about hierarchies of images and/or violence – in a world, where you can watch wars in HD quality. Being aesthetically and formally different from standart images of police violence, this fragment may reveal something “in its abstraction”, that could be “a visual idea in its very becoming”. (Steyerl:2012, p. 32) Maybe in that way, by using the “Wretched of the Screen, the debris of audiovisual production, the trash that washes up on the digital economies’ shores.”, we can “create an alternative to economy of images of violence.” (ibid. p.32)

fragment 2: ethics of hesitation 

What to show? How to do it? What should be the ethics of violent images? “Even the francophone and anglo-saxon écoles are different,” says Céline, explaining their general difference in attitude towards showing or not showing images of violence in circulation. “Don’t you think some of the images are almost identical,” says the other, stating that we should gather Gezi and July 15 images to compare and contrast. “Like you wouldn’t know which ones belong to which.” “No, you would know,” says the other. They laugh. The debate continues, not a thing is agreed upon. “It is a long and dense/tense period from Gezi Resistance to July 15, 2016. If we talk about violence, there is a long lasting list of attacks, bombings, police violence and more.” “There is no footage from Soma,” says Sanem. Esra reminds her about the attacks on the villagers who had lost their loved ones in the mine. “What about Cizre, Suruç?” “There are few images from the destruction of Sur.” “We cannot use them all.” “I don’t want to screen them all,” says one of us. “I have been watching all these videos, the bombings, the attacks, and I wish I did not have to. I wish I didn’t have to see them. I also wish they had not happened but my friends were there in front of the train station on October 10.” “It is not often that I watch those images.” “I do not know that smell of burning bodies.” “Is it ethically correct to screen them in an academic conference? What if there is someone who has been in one or more of these places, or if anyone get traumatized?” Well, haven’t we been reliving that moment of explosion over and over again, in Suruç, when it was played in a loop on TV screens?” “We cannot explain all these. And this is just a part of it.” “Maybe we can censor. We are used to it after all!” “I don’t watch these. It makes me sick.” Tanks passing over civil bodies, hundreds of injured being teargassed, youngsters  being beaten to dead. Images flow on the screen as the discussion goes on. “No, it is not easy to watch, not easy to show, even not easy to talk about these things, but this is what we have been through.”

In the second fragment, we will try to bring up the internal discussion that we have been having during the preparation of the video, not for the sake of self-reflexivity and revealing the video-making process but also because we could not reach a consensus on these issues. We could not decide upon what to show and how to show what we show. Where to start and where to end. How should violence be re-presented, mediated through images, what will be our method to do it? The never-ending hesitation and ever-lasting internal conversations within the group become part of the work. 

fragment 3:  screened command on screens

Image 3: A screenshot of live stream of CNN Turk on the night of July 15,2016, where President Erdoğan connected via facetime and urged the Turkish nation to take to the streets to defend their country. 

On July 15, 2016, some images and news started to circulate in social media, hinting at a series of quite extraordinary and incomprehensible incidents around the country. According to the rumors, there was a coup d’état taking place. The army had blockaded the Bosphorus Bridge (now renamed as the 15 July Martyrs’ Bridge), tanks were on the streets. It was just a rumour, a suspense up until Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appeared on a screen in the hands of the anchorperson Hande Fırat on CNN Turk, and urged the people to take the streets, to go and occupy the airports, the squares to defend their country and their democracy. The President’s facetime speech turned these rumours into reality. Lots of people were killed, many injured, and for those who were not physically harmed, the ‘terror’ of the night remained. Just five days after the coup attempt, a state of emergency was imposed for three months to begin with – and has not ended since that day. Starting from that night, the face of violence has changed, along with the way we related to that violence, the normalization of everyday violence, the normalization of the state of exception. 

This might be the weirdest moment ever on Turkish TV – the president’s face on the smartphone screen of the anchorperson, the connection occasionally being cut because of incoming calls. What is even more interesting is that the original footage cannot be reached – we could only find footages of this footage being recorded from other screens. This highly mediated nature of the “President’s call for democracy” made us think twice about screens and screened memories/moments – this supremely important and absurd moment when the command was screened via Facetime in the nicely nail-polished hands of Hande Fırat, in a screen split between a close-up of Erdoğan’s face on an Iphone and the face of the anchor-person speaking not to the camera but to the President that she was literally holding in her hand.

Fragment 4- the pretty faces of violence 

Image: A screenshot from TV programme 

 

At first sight, there is nothing in this image that seems to be related with violence. This is a daily magazine show on a pro-government TV channel, called Söylemezsem Olmaz (roughly translatable as “I absolutely have to say it”), aired every weekday at 8:30 am. The presenters here are checking the Instagram accounts of celebrities living in, or connected to Turkey; to find out who has and who has not been posting support messages about the “Operation Olive Branch”, the military operation that has been started by the Turkish Military Forces into north-western Syria in late January 2018. Celebrity accounts are checked to find out whether they have posted support messages – and where a celebrity is found to have posted a support message, it is inquired whether these messages are genuine, dependent on the public persona of that celebrity. When a celebrity is found out not to have posted a support message it is checked whether they have been posting anything at all. The presenters discuss at length about the conditions under which being against war is acceptable, against which incidents the celebrities should react and how, and set the rules for the public conduct of celebrities in the conditions of war – “which is not a war but an operation for peace and serenity”. This fragment demonstrates the point that has been reached in the normalization of violence – it is not only to be tolerated, but to be actively supported. 

Bibliography

Agamben, Giorgio. Ce qui reste d’Auschwitz: l’archive et le témoin,” Homo Sacer III”. Vol. 3. Rivages, 1999.

Arendt, Hannah. Between Past and Future. Penguin USA, 1961.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Pocket Books: Classics Edition. 2004.

Steyerl, Hito, and Franco Berardi. “In defense of the poor image.” The wretched of the screen. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012.

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