Turkey: International Working Women’s Day Rally Attacked by the Police

On Sunday March 6, Turkish police forces commemorated International Working Women’s Day in their own way – by using truncheons and tear gas on demonstrators. Around one thousand people took part in the gathering organised by revolutionary left groups to mark the International Working Women’s Day, which took place at the Beyazit Square, Istanbul. The demonstrators were then tear-gassed, kicked and beaten by the police. Many people were left injured. There were so many cops and the attack was so sudden that the demonstrators were not able to resist the attack.

There was also another group of around 500 demonstrators who intended to march to the Square from a nearby street. That group was also blocked and attacked by the police prior to the beginning of the gathering. There the demonstrators clashed with the police and more than 60 people were arrested.

The mood was already tense before the beginning of the gathering in Beyazit. The police even attempted to prevent the gathering from happening, claiming that it was unauthorised. In fact this was merely a pretext to attack the demonstration as it is no longer a requirement to obtain permission from the authorities to stage a protest. However, in practice the authorities regularly infringe upon this new right. The demonstrators refused to acknowledge this pretext and stood firm. The attempt was eventually foiled. However the police threatened to attack the demonstrators if the gathering did not end in exactly one hour. In this way they forced the gathering to begin half an hour earlier than previously announced and they eventually did what they promised. They were also constantly harassing and provoking the demonstrators (for instance, by making police dogs bark right next to the protesters) during the whole gathering, keeping the tension high.

In fact such police attacks are quite normal in Turkey. What made this attack so pronounced was the fact that three EU officials who were on a three day visit to Turkey for talks with government officials seized upon the incidence with a view to strengthen their position in the talks.

The EU delegation issued a statement saying they were “shocked by images of the police beating women and young people”. They added: “On the eve of a visit by the EU during which the rights of women will be an important issue, we are concerned to see such disproportionate force used against demonstrators.”

It soon turned into a diplomatic issue at the hands of bourgeois politicians. The foreign minister had to promise an inquiry. But this is always the same story. There have been many such inquiries which only serve to clear the police and put the blame on the protestors. The prime minister and justice minister have already hinted what the outcome of the inquiry may be through their reactionary statements. The governor of Istanbul and other high officials followed in joining them. This is bourgeois democracy a la Turca.

In fact the gathering was one of three rallies held in Istanbul over the weekend to mark International Working Women’s Day. The first rally was held on Saturday by feminists, reformist parties and members of the Kurdish movement. Around five thousand people gathered in Kadikoy, the overwhelming majority of whom were Kurdish women. This rally was held under the name “Women’s Day Rally” as against “International Working Women’s Day” and the main thing about it was that men were not permitted to participate.

A second rally was held on Sunday at the same place, Kadikoy, by the small women’s front organisation of a small revolutionary leftist group. This rally was the smallest one among the three, which was joined by around two or three hundred people.

The third rally, the one that was held in Beyazit and was viciously attacked by the police, was held jointly by a number of revolutionary leftist groups. Unfortunately the rally was not very strong and had not been very well organised. This splitting of the event on Working Women’s Day into three different rallies, which had not been done until this year, ended up weakening the entire movement.

This fragmentation was a result of a split in the run-up to the rally. Although there have been controversies every year within the organising committee, these have not led to separate rallies until this year. For the first time there was a split between the revolutionary left groups on the one hand and the feminists, reformists and the Kurdish movement on the other.

This split was the result of two arguments: the first was on the name of the day, i.e. on whether it should be “Women’s Day” or “Working Women’s Day”, and the second was on whether men should be allowed to participate in the march and rally. The coalition of feminists, reformists and the Kurdish movement, led by feminists, favoured the use of the term “Women’s Day” and wanted to exclude the participation of men, while the revolutionary left groups claimed the historical tradition of the day and favoured the use of the term “Working Women’s Day” and stood for the participation of men.

This was clearly a split along class lines; a split between a working class position and a petty bourgeois position, which, in principle, is good and necessary. However, the timing of such a move is also important. One needs to gather sufficient forces before undertaking such a tactic. This needs serious preparatory work.

The unfortunate thing is that although in reality the feminists are the weakest element among the various tendencies, their ideological influence over the reformists and the Kurdish movement is strong. Bearing in mind that most of the unions are quite indifferent to the issue, the decisive element in terms of size and numbers, i.e. the Kurdish movement, tends towards the feminists. This makes the feminists appear much stronger than they really are.

While this must be regarded as shameful on the part of most of the revolutionary left, it points, on the other hand, to the burning tasks of working class revolutionaries. As revolutionaries, we must patiently work to win over the mass organisations of the working class, i.e. the trade unions, and wider sections of the class to the revolutionary working class position on the women’s question, as well as on other issues. Without doing this, at least to a sizeable extent, splits in the movement will not be successful as this last experience shows. This is the lesson for genuine working class revolutionaries.