A leading, internationally acclaimed member of the new generation of film directors in Turkey, Zeki Demirkubuz, who was highly critical of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government during the Gezi Park protests, told Sunday's Zaman that the government chose to blame the cemaat (the Hizmet or Gülen movement) in the period following the Dec. 17 investigation to distract society's attention from its own mistakes and contradictions. According to him, the government cannot admit to the corruption and came up with a “plot against the government” argument.
Highly critical of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Demirkubuz argues that the government began to abuse its increasing power and is doing the same things and hopes to achieve the same things by relying on their majority that the junta members attempted by means of military intervention. Claiming that the Gezi Park protests and the Dec. 17 corruption investigation will be remembered a century from now, Demirkubuz said that leaders who believe they are entitled to everything are not remembered.
According to Demirkubuz, the Gezi Park protests were a reaction to Erdoğan's rude style, his ridicule of the people and his “I can do whatever I want” attitude. Critical of the government's labeling protesters as terrorists, Demirkubuz makes a comparison to protests in Egypt and Ukraine and asks what makes their protest legitimate while the protests in Turkey are pronounced illegitimate.
Demirkubuz says that the humiliation of the late Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan during Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern military coup is what brought the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to power. According to him, people's sense of justice could not stand what was done to Erbakan, namely, the pressure of the military forcing him into resignation. However, Demirkubuz says that ironically, the “reactionary threat” that was listed as the greatest threat by the soldiers in the Feb. 28 coup era is still the number one threat during the government of the people who were considered the threat at that time.
According to Demirkubuz, the polarization that occurred during the Gezi protests was a deliberate attempt by the government to consolidate the AK Party base because its structure is “artificial and top-down” and one which has betrayed even the National View (Millî Görüş) movement. For him, in terms of the sense of belonging, the base of the cemaat is larger than that of the AK Party.
Demirkubuz believes that all the “good things” that the government did prior to the 2010 referendum were to guarantee its position, rather than celebrating the rule of law and justice, as evidenced by the fact that the prosecutors who were called heroes yesterday are called traitors today. Demirkubuz urged society to go through an exercise of self-criticism in terms of the preference for power over freedoms.
On Twitter, you mentioned a concept called “Kolpa varoluşlar cenneti” (Paradise of false beings). Where exactly is this paradise?
Turkey. And really, anywhere that people try to pretend that things that don't really exist actually do exist. Here, being able to possess “valuable things” is so easy; you just take shelter under a simple symbol. You say “I'm Turkish,” “I'm Kurdish,” “I'm Muslim,” “I'm a rightist,” “I'm a leftist,” and this is how you embrace a new rhetoric for yourself. But the truth, of course, is that in order to really claim valuable things that you can be proud of, you need to work for them and to experience pain for them. When it comes to symbols and identities, you don't actually have to give anything up. These are existences into which we are born by accident; we had no influence on that into which we were born. In addition, no matter how valuable the heritage into which we are born is, it says nothing about what sort of people we are or what sort of sense of morality and ethics we might have. It is only useful to show who we are or to describe ourselves. Your identity only tells others who you are, not what kind of person you are. But in Turkey, these identities -- these false existences -- have been made so prominent that we begin to forget that the person we are looking at and thinking about is simply a person.
Things that will be completely forgotten in a few years are talked about as though the world depends on them. Many things mentioned today as though they are deadly will not even be remembered tomorrow, and if they are remembered, it will only be with great embarrassment.
Are you saying basically that people who express themselves through power, not through human and moral merits, but with the use of identities, will not be remembered?
People decide here what sort of person they will be later. For example, let's think of the 1980s and the 1990s. What are those who thought of themselves as the owners of everything and who thought that without them, the people of the country would be nothing doing now? No one even remembers who those people are anymore. The same thing is going to happen with a different round of people we see doing similar things today. What happened in the wake of Gezi and the Dec. 17 corruption operation will be remembered a century from now. This is now a part of Turkish history. As for them, at most they will be remembered for Ali Ismail [Korkmaz, a student protester who died as a result of injuries suffered in a beating at a Gezi Park protest in 2013], who they killed in the back streets, or for those six youths that were murdered. Even [former President] Suleyman Demirel has been forgotten. Does history really remember those who nailed Jesus Christ to the cross? No, but it remembers Jesus Christ. Those who are not regretful for their actions are condemned to be forgotten, which is why those who direct their energies towards fake existences suddenly disappear the day their power disappears.
So was the energy of the protests we saw in Gezi derived in some way from the oppression and badness it encountered?
Of course. But there is another dimension to Gezi that is completely independent of the ruling party we have today. Gezi was also a result of the pressures rooted in the guardian authority in place for the past 50 years in Turkey. A person who is constantly belittled, discounted and scared remains quiet. He bows his head and may appear to accept all that is happening, but at the same time, the emotions he experiences never go away; they remain locked away in the labyrinths of his spirit.
The experiences in the wake of the Sept. 12  referendum combined with the behavior of Erdoğan over the past three years, which turned into tyranny but in the guise of democracy, well, this all made Gezi inescapable. Had the trees in Gezi not sparked those events, some other incident, some other insult to people would have. It definitely would have happened in another form.
So when the government says things like “The trees were just excuse,” in a way, they are right.
At that particular point, what we need to question is this: Why was it that such an uprising did not take place when Erdal Eren's [a 17-year-old student radical who was hanged as a terrorist by the military regime as part of the 1980 coup] age was made out to be older so that he could be [legally] executed on Sept. 12, or during the open executions taking place on the streets during the 1990s, but rather took place against the government of Erdoğan? Why did such an uprising take place against this government? The real reason is quite simple.
Neither the coup supporters of the 1980s nor the deep state authorities of the 1990s ever wound up promising justice to people, and thus, no one felt tricked. In the East, much more terrible things happened in the prisons and in the streets, but no one has ever joked with the people on the level that this government has. Throughout recent history in Turkey, people have experienced real pain, but the general spirit has not been in as much pain as we see today. This government is trying to do the same things the junta supporters tried with the Sept. 12 coup, but instead they try it through the ballot box and power, and the more power they obtain, the more shameless they become. The more power they obtain, and the fewer legal -- or even illegal -- threats they face from the military, the more things get out of control. They came in with the promise of democracy, a new constitution and freedom, but even people like me, who voted “yes” on the Sept. 12 referendum, have been exploited by them. The things that they promised have been used for power and their own interests.
The AK Party had already been in power for seven or eight years before the referendum, right? So why didn't Gezi take place earlier?
People were behaving very tolerantly because of the guardian authority, the pressures, and the 2000 economic crisis, everything that preceded this government. And so no one raised their voice against so much bad stuff, so much unemployment, rising prices, the fact that large companies were taking advantage of people.
People pretended not to see all the cronyism, all the anti-secular practices being put into place. But only up to a point, of course. In the end, humans are not as easy and cheap in their existences as those in power might like to believe. You cannot just explain everything away by blaming “interest lobbies.” This is really belittling your fellow human beings when you do this. When Gezi happened, we saw young guys like Ali İsmail -- as well as rich, poor, every kind of person -- spill into the streets, knowing the risk of being hit by a bullet. So when people resist tyranny and unfairness in Egypt or in the Ukraine they are right, but when they do so in Turkey, they are terrorists? A sense of justice does not change just because the geography or conditions change. Whether or not a person is a nationalist, a Kemalist, a member of a sect or something else, is important only up to a certain point. Gezi was a response to Erdoğan's churlish attitude, the way in which he simply belittled people. This is not what we call politics. After all, in life, the principle needs to be this: The importance of someone's death should not be measured through the amount of fear they created, but rather the awareness of humanity they triggered in people. It should not be forgotten that everything has its own value, but the lowest and the highest points are reached through human But according to the AK Party government, Gezi was born out of a conspiracy from abroad and was a movement based on dark motivations. Do you support these ideas?
Nothing in life is pure. From the moment we are born, we are responsible for our actions. From this vantage point, neither Gezi nor anything else in life can really be called pure. But despite all this, Gezi still remains the most innocent and honorable movement we have seen yet in the history of this country. People need to look first at their own experiences. Of course the government is not going to shoulder its own mistakes and of course it was going to say some things. In Turkey, realities are always relative in nature and they are based on power; everything is debated and weighed in the shadows of power. That is why the real truths need to be rescued from being overshadowed by the agenda of the day or short term interests and instead brought out and calculated in terms of long term interests and time frames. Never forget, Deniz Gezmiş [a leftist revolutionary student accused of “attempting to change the constitution by force” in 1972] was hanged as a terrorist in this country!
'Human morality is a real thing'
What was the subconscious mindset that allowed Deniz Gezmiş to be hanged, or what was it afterwards?
When you look at it from the perspective of the conditions of those days, you see one reality, while if you look at it from today's conditions, you see another altogether. That is why the thing we call conscience is the art of finding the truth through comparing yesterday and today with a feeling for justice. Human morality is a real thing. Those with a sense of morality are remembered.
So do you think that when people or ideas that have been made into “the other” for a long time finally come into power they take on a whole different identity?
Let us read things not through the lens of the oppressed or innocent like Ali İsmail, but rather through the lens of the powerful. For example, did Erdoğan not go to prison because of a poem that he read? At that time, there was an authority in place, with the MGK [National Security Council] and the military at the helm. Alright, but according to the MGK controlling things during the Feb. 28 [the Feb. 28, 1997 coup] period, the first and second most serious threats in place were reactionaryism and divisiveness. So where are we now, here in 2014? Let me sum it up in a thumbnail sketch: The same reactionaryism seen as a first degree threat in 1997 by the MGK is today still the number one threat under this ruling party. And the same ones seen as the number two threat in those days are today the first class citizens of this country. How did this contradiction in terms occur though? That is what was behind what unfolded in the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption operation from a different angle. When realities are this relative, this power-based, this passing, they cannot be real.
What a tragic finding that is…
When you add it all up, my own personal capacity for embarrassment is surpassed by these political developments. I have stopped even trying to make sense of what is happening. People normally try to develop their sense of reason in the face of what they are presented with; they try to make sense of things. But these days, one can no longer even do this. Things were like this a bit in the past, but we are nowadays approaching a limit from which any return is becoming more and more difficult.
'Reactionaryism is still the top threat'
So does all this -- this loss of perspective -- apply more to the leaders or to the people of the country?
It applies to both, though I guess more to the leaders. When the Muslim identity was being oppressed during the whole Feb. 28 process, reactionaryism was the number one threat. Today it is the Muslims --in other words, the so-called reactionaries who were such a threat around the time of Feb. 28 -- who are in power, but reactionaryism is still the top threat. If there is a reasonable explanation for how this could be, I'm ready to listen. Look, evil makes its way around the whole world as a factor, looking for an object to which it can attach itself. It's not even important who or what this object might be. Ideologies, ideas, politics complete one another and those who are opposed to one another are actually all standing in the same ranks. Sometimes this is military authority, sometimes it's [former President İsmet] İnönü, sometimes it's Demirel and sometimes it's Erdoğan and so on. But what remains constant is evil. In fact, sometimes this badness, this evil, might say, “This guy represents my existence better,” and then it adds whomever that might be to the list of objects. Then those who are the objects of this evil begin to discount the people of the country, or to turn them into “the other.” These are actually all the same people.
Isn't it a bit abstract to explain everything that has happened as being connected to a completely lost sense of morality?
Well, let's make it more concrete then. Around 90 years -- some of them filled with mistakes, others right on the mark -- passed since the formation of the republic until this elected government.Throughout these 90 years, two separate powers were in balance, one being the military with its military strength and the other being Muslims that hold societal power in their hands. The country has essentially used this balance to handle itself over the course of these years. The military would carry out coups and “bring order to society,” then in the wake of this would come obligatory elections with negative reactions being expressed each time by the society over what had happened. Somehow, we made it all the way to 2000 in this fashion. As a result of all this military authority -- and in particular, in reaction to the demeaning stances adopted toward [former Prime Minister] Necmettin Erbakan during the Feb. 28 process -- the AK Party government came to power. Because, even the most stupid societies in the world are not that stupid. What was done to Erbakan tested everyone's sense of justice. And so it was that this balance -- which made things bad between the majority Muslim sensibility and the military, but at the same time prevented things from becoming worse in the country -- lasted up until the operations launched against the military and the latest referendum. And so it was that a new era began for Turkey when the AK Party ascended to the main stage, having pushed back the military, and was without any competitors. But, of course, the real new era began for Erdoğan and his government. At this point, either they were going to move forward with full knowledge of history, make a completely new constitution and create a new social contract that boosted democracy and freedoms – standing their ground on the side of all that was good and right and true -- or they were going to behave like victims who were actually in love with their torturers and decide to imitate the ways of their torturers -- and pick up all that power and strength on the way -- despite the fact that those people had caused them so much pain. But they aspired to something else and wound up directing this country for 11 years under the Sept. 12  constitution. Even the junta group was only able to lead the country for three years with that constitution. And so, this visionless government turned not toward the promises it made with regard to membership in the European Union or a new constitution, but rather toward a new phenomenon altogether: civilian authority.
Creating an AK Party voter base
So you're saying that the AK Party was born out of the tyranny used against Erbakan…
Erdoğan and [President] Abdullah Gül's departure from the side of Necmettin Erbakan possesses in its nature many similarities to the treason shown by the government now to the Gülen movement. These are situations which are almost better understood and analyzed not through the lens of politics, but through William Shakespeare's plays and themes. They may hurl insults at AK Party deputies leaving the party now, but how quickly they've apparently forgotten how they departed from the ranks of the Fazilet Party [FP]. The AK Party government was formed through consensus. At the beginning, the weakest link was Erdoğan and his team. They didn't even have a basic voter base. The fact that Gezi arrived at the point it did, that society became this tense and polarized, was all the result of the AK Party trying to create its own voter base. In this country, there are leftists, nationalists and the Gülen movement, and these are blocks that do not shift according to the conditions in place. In fact, if we examined the situation from the angle of a feeling of belonging, the Gülen movement has a larger base than the AK Party does. This is because the AK Party's structure is from the top down, is false and came later, in general. Because the AK Party, like the ANAP [now the Motherland Party], it lacks a main fulcrum. It is not based on any particular tradition. They even betrayed the National View ideology.
Let's not be unfair; up until the 2010 referendum, did the AK Party not, in fact, take extremely democratic steps?
Well, one always needs to focus not on what has already done, but what one will do in the future. A person's history begins not with birth, but with the day he or she experiences the greatest pain, or the greatest shame, or commits the greatest sin, or the highest honor. Up until the 2010 referendum, or until the military was pushed out of the way, they did many good things. But the real reason behind these good things turned out to be obligatory; when the AK Party had removed the military as a risk to them, they turned towards their greatest goal: the Gülen movement. Even their stance when it came to EU membership showed that their intentions were no good. Until they were rid of the military and anyone else who might threaten them, the AK Party seemed highly supportive of EU membership, but then for the past five years, until the most recent fears began to make themselves clear, they didn't even mention Europe at all. In other words, the good things they did until the referendum were not done with the desire to see justice and the rule of law revived, and were not aimed at reckoning with actions from the past, but rather were all done in an attempt to secure their own position. And this is the most important factor. The AK Party is incredibly rational; they will do whatever is necessary for their own benefit -- whether good or bad -- without blinking once. Prosecutors hailed just yesterday as national heroes are today being labeled traitors. Am I misremembering something? Didn't the prime minister attend the Turkish Olympiad around the time of Gezi, even though the event was coordinated by a group he now refers to as the “parallel state?” Did he not once heap praise upon the same Fethullah Gülen whom he today he refers to as a “false prophet?”
So then you believe the AK Party miscalculated some things recently? Because it does seem that initiating warfare against the same referendum that made it strong was the wrong strategy…
They forgot some things. Human nature, human disposition... They did not properly calculate either the Dec. 17 corruption operation or Gezi.
Of course, it's also true that no one could have really calculated either Gezi or the Dec. 17 operation before they happened. For a party that had become so strong, they were really wounded by these events. The same clerks, police, or prosecutors about whom they had become used to saying, “I pay your salary,” were suddenly so strong. It was difficult to deal with for them.
Could the reason behind their extreme aggressiveness actually be the AK Party's own sense that it has been treated unfairly?
It is really a shame for this to be said when there are so many allegations and so much corruption at hand. So much death, so much pain; how could the government feel that it has been treated unfairly? If Gezi was an uprising that had leaned upon the military or some other power, this government would be out by now. Just take a look at the history of Turkey. The AK Party is not lost inside the depths of the state. There is now a sense of oppression that has been created by those who were once oppressed in this country.
Obscuring the real questions
If that is the case, why is it that in the wake of Gezi, a war was started with the Gülen movement?
Because if the government hadn't placed all these mistakes and contradictions on the shoulders of the Gülen movement, it would have been forced to face them on its own. If it hadn't called Dec. 17 an “operation against the government,” what would it have said?
What it should have said was: “Did I become engaged in corruption? Let this be investigated, let justice be served.” But because it was unable to say this, it accused the Gülen movement, aiming to thus obscure the real questions at hand.
What we get from what you've said is that this country first experienced many years of military authority, then it became civilianized, but this civilianization never took root either morally or in terms of real experiences.
What we have really seen is that the AK Party does not have any other life knowledge. Its measure of democracy lasted only until it got rid of the military authority. Into the empty space left by military authority was born not a civil democracy, but rather a civil authority, and this is what we are facing now.
During the Ergenekon and Balyoz [Sledgehammer] trials, [Deputy Prime Minister] Bülent Arınç and Erdoğan would sometimes say, “We can't handle this, we are hurt inside.” I wonder whether they were calculating what we see today. Might there be some sort of third authority stage that follows in the wake of military and then civil authority? This I do not know. Otherwise, if we can just make it through this period, perhaps it means we are in the clear. But the first thing that needs to happen is that we get rid of this civil authority. It will end.
But this civil authority or power that you mention, it arrives at power through the ballot box, does it not?
Yes, but when you are talking about a ballot box, you are not talking about Aladdin's lamp or anything.
There is no genie that emerges from a ballot box, asking you what you wish for and then making it come true. What emerges from the ballot box is more like either İnönü or Demirel, or someone like Erdoğan. If someone who arrived at power via a ballot box and democracy tried to do the same bad things that the coup supporters of Sept. 12 [coup] tried to do, what difference does it make? Ballot boxes are just an excuse then. Why is it that in Europe the arrival and departure of ruling governments do not turn into debates over the regime? Why do the ruling governments in the EU not operate according to secret agendas? The AK Party has hit the people of this county on the head with the ballot box. What are we looking at, the oppressed Erdoğan who went to prison for a poem he read in public, or the constantly insulting, oppressive Erdoğan? Which one is the real Erdoğan? Mixed with evil, power becomes a real tool. What it really means is that while you may be downtrodden under the forces of power, the moment you possess them yourself, you become the tool of that same power.
'Tool of evil'
Is there no solution to this dilemma in one person or in society?
People can rid themselves of this dilemma. But we need to retain a sense of judgment and we need to have the basic sense of morality that allows us to listen to our consciences. Evil is complicated and devilish. Good is a pure phenomenon. True goodness can be forgotten easily due to the spread of evil. Which is actually why evil has become like a very basic ideology. Of course, if you look at daily life, you can't find anyone who praises evil. Ruling parties know this and trick people through good acts. This is because ruling parties have become like the tools of evil. We can really only find true goodness after facing up to the evilness.
So you are saying that the mechanism of a ruling party can become the tool of evil?
Despite the passage of so many thousands of years, it has become an unchanging rule of human nature: the most organized, terrible version of evil is a ruling power. There is, after all, a limit to the sheer volume of evil one person can carry out. But is a state limited in this way? We know from history what such powerful states and leaderships are capable of.
Humans are condemned to the problems that stem from their very creation, is that what we could say then?
Of course it is humans that have caused states to become such enormous tools for evil. You can't just pass over this. That is also why history has seen countries come to the idea of the separation of powers in leadership. People have sought shelter from the sheer power and force of what one leadership can do through the separation of powers.
Alright, so how can this break -- both politically and socially -- end happily for society?
If this is the same country I have known now for 50 years, miracles do not happen here. For example, let's say I have a leftist sense of morality. When tyranny against the leftists comes to an end, so does my leftism because tyranny and politics of evil are all carried out via ideologies. There is nothing that lacks a conscience that can be of any value. I might be treated unfairly and be oppressed, and this is important. But what is more important is how I react to it. What is good and right do not come to this society because they are requested, sadly, but because they have to. But to regain a pluralistic, participatory constitution that will prevent us from harming each other would certainly solve quite a few of our problems.
Do you really have no hope for Turkey?
I know that in the end, everything will be okay, but that first, there will be more pain. In this sense, we will once again be left alone to face an embarrassing history that no one else wants to shoulder. And our lives will be over. This is tragic, actually. The same tyranny shown toward leftists, Kurds and rightists yesterday is today being shown toward members of the Gülen movement. And just as the intelligentsia retain doubts about their own motives, the ignorant are completely sure of themselves in equal measure.
Does nothing ever change? Are we experiencing a kind of deja vu here?
Sometimes it seems as though things are changing and sometimes it seems we are just spinning around the same topics over and over. In the '90s, there was the Manisa case [several police officers were sentenced to 85 years in prison after torturing 16 teenagers while in police custody, but the officers were acquitted of the charges]. At that time, the government went from court to court and city to city in an attempt to obscure the case and protect the torturers. And so the case involving Ali İsmail in Eskişehir being tried in court in Kayseri is like a kind of deja vu. I grew up with stories of leftists being exiled. Later, I learned in the 1990s that Muslims had also been victims of exile. In the 2000s, it seems we've all forgotten this, but now we are witnessing the greatest of all these incidents in the combined history of the republic. And it is all under the hand of the AK Party government. It is as though the 1940s, 1960s, 1980s and 1990s have been combined and mixed up with one another. An inner reckoning needs to take place in this country and with this society. This society has always pursued power and has always lost its freedoms, turning them over to one power or another. No absolute supreme legal power has been formed. No social contracts have been created. Perhaps the time has come to create one though. If someone is intent on dividing the country, then let it go ahead and be divided, but not according to religion, belief or class, but rather according to whether or not people have consciences.
The only director with two films to be shown at the same time at Cannes
Award winning director Zeki Demirkubuz's trilogy “Karanlık Üzerine Öyküler” (Stories about Darkness) saw its first two films “Yazgı” (Destiny) and “İtiraf” (Admission) both screened in 2002 as part of the Cannes Film Festival's “Un Certain Regard” section. He is the only film director with that distinction.
Published on Sunday's Zaman, 16 February 2014, Sunday