The year was 1966. The poet Hasan Hüseyin Korkmazgil pens his famous poem ‘Kızılırmak’. He leaves no publishing house door unknocked in the endeavour to have it published in book form. But, in vain. Publishing houses find the poem ‘Kızılırmak’ to be objectionable. So, he publishes the poem in a magazine in slightly censored form. With its publication in the magazine, the poem creates ripples. A bold publisher brings out the poem ‘Kızılırmak’ in book form. With the book breaking sales records, Hasan Hüseyin is the main guest at poetry matinees and student forums. And, one day, there is a knock on his door by the political police. Following a speedy trial, he is sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and one year in exile under Article 142. The right-wing press is overjoyed at Hasan Hüseyin’s ‘Kızılırmak’ poem being penalised. The following day they carry the story under the headline: ‘The Kızılırmak freezes.’ However, the supreme judiciary quashes the court ruling. Two committees of experts set up by the court see nothing criminal in the poem. Although the prosecutor persists in seeking a custodial sentence, Hasan Hüseyin is acquitted. This time, the left-wing newspapers run the parodic headline: ‘The Kızılırmak floods.’
The year is 2017. A CHP Istanbul MP is handed down a life sentence in the intelligence agency lorries trial, subsequently commuted to 25 years. His party, the CHP, is all but stupefied by this harsh sentence. How could it not be stupefied? Leaving to one side whether it is a crime to report the intelligence agency lorries, there exists no evidence that Enis Berberoğlu supplied the images. The CHP’s Central Executive Committee convenes extraordinarily under the chairship of General Chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and resolves on the ‘Justice March’. Thousands of people, party affiliates and not, accompany Kılıçdaroğlu on the road he has embarked on from Ankara to Istanbul. This time the CHP, like the Kızılırmak, overflows its dykes and floods.
Tens of thousands marching
On the march that I joined leaving Hendek, Kılıçdaroğlu’s companions on the road carried banners on which they devoted the Liverpool supporters’ chant of ‘You’ll never walk alone’ to Kılıçdaroğlu. And, indeed, tens of thousands of people were marching in Kılıçdaroğlu’s wake in the blistering heat.
Many a march has passed down into world political history. Some have taken to the roads to save their souls from a tyrant’s fury, and others to demolish a tyrant’s throne. And some have taken to the road for ‘Justice’. Some marches have seen the number of marchers increase incrementally along the way, while their number has more than halved on others.
In Turkish political history, mention of intercity marches immediately brings to mind the 68-generation’s march starting in Samsun and ending on 10 November at Atatürk’s Mausoleum or the march in which Zonguldak miners set out for Ankara and got as far as Mengen. However, the first march was staged by Çorum municipal workers headed by Abdullah Baştürk. The march that saw workers belonging to the Genel-İş union, protesting at dismissals and wage reductions, set out barefoot from Çorum concluded on 3 August 1966 at Atatürk’s Mausoleum. Although the lawsuit that the workers brought against the mayor ended in the worker’s favour, when the mayor failed to comply with the court ruling, the workers this time set out for Istanbul on 15 August. Large groups joined the Çorum municipal workers at Düzce, the scene nowadays of provocative acts towards the Justice March launched by Kılıçdaroğlu in which dung was tipped at the site of an overnight stop, and Bolu. The worker’s march that swelled in İzmit as it attracted mass interest and participation created a huge stir at that time.
Seekers of justice come
Similar scenes are witnessed on Kılıçdaroğlu’s march. Kılıçdaroğlu’s procession, having set out from Ankara, attracts participation along the route it passes through. Moreover, this participation is not just from his own party faithful, but seekers of ‘justice’ from all walks spontaneously join the procession.
I recommend that those who sneeringly say, ‘What on earth are they going to achieve by marching?’ take a look at history. Gandhi’s ‘Salt March’, for instance. It not only left a deep dent in the British salt monopoly, but at the same time lit the fuse for the independence struggle.
In Iran, the march they called the ‘Lesser Exodus’ that clerics, small businessmen and merchants launched in 1905 from Tehran in the direction of the city of Rey with the demand for the establishing of a ‘House of Justice’, the ending of state oppression of the people and for foreign civil servants to be removed from their posts, ended with the Shah conceding to their demands. With the Shah then reneging on his promise, this time a larger body of people, made up of clerics, small businessmen, students and workers, started to march in the direction of Qom. It ended, not just with the establishing of a House of Justice and the removing of foreign civil servants from their posts, but with the proclamation of constitutionality.
Nobody can discern in advance what the results of the march that Kılıçdaroğlu has launched will be. This march will not only arouse sentiments of ‘conscience’ and ‘justice’ among the masses in Turkey, but it has forged close ties within the 49% camp in the last referendum. The echo it has created abroad is an added bonus.
Kılıçdaroğlu is pushing ahead on his 451-kilometre road without break. Gandhi’s march was 400 kilometres. It is common knowledge that the longest march in world political history was Mao’s 12,500-kilometre march that lasted 370 days. The next longest march was made by Mullah Mustafa Barzani, who marched to Barzan province and then the 1090 km to Baku to evade Iranian forces following the destruction of the Mahabad Republic of Kurdistan. What these two marches had in common was that they were made to evade their own enemies and seek salvation.
Yesterday, the seekers of ‘justice’ walked in the blistering heat. As the wait ended and the march procession approached, the T-shirts and trousers of those in the front rows were sticking to them with sweat. It was as if they had fallen into a pool, rather than having sweated. Kılıçdaroğlu is keeping up a fairly brisk walking pace. You can’t keep step with him. He is so motivated that he did not notice me despite walking side by side for some time. An age passes before he asks, ‘Oh – when did you come?’ On the hoof, I ask, ‘What is your plan of action after Maltepe?’ Kılıçdaroğlu’s reply is, ‘We will look at the unfolding situation and set out a new road map accordingly.’
There are frequent cases of people taking ill and fainting in the heat. Ambulances constantly ferry the sick to hospital.
No opportunity given to provocateurs
The CHP administration and organisation is pulling out all the stops over the march to prevent any incident from breaking out or the crowds from being provoked. For a while, I left Kılıçdaroğlu’s side and mixed in with the body of marchers. While marching together for a few kilometres, there were those from cars passing on the neighbouring lane who honked their horns and gave support, and also those who made the Rabia sign, gave the grey wolf gesture and made catcalls. A youth in the group in front of us copped it badly from the group marching along with him when he gestures at a lorry driver who had made the Rabia sign and given a catcall. And when he protested, he was ejected from the procession.
The CHP organisation is in a state of mobilisation for the march. There is participation from all provinces. A huge crowd is also waiting to meet Kılıçdaroğlu in Istanbul. They are experiencing the exuberance of moving from talk to action. What with thousands of civil servants sacked and academics removed from their posts under decrees with the force of law and the operations mounted against Cumhuriyet and Sözcü, for Enis Berberoğlu then to be detained came as the final straw. And Kılıçdaroğlu, saying, ‘Let’s stage this walk, so help me God,’ opted for a march as the most naive but effective means of protest and, in a sense, propaganda, too.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s new road map