Bianet: “You are the sole owner of everywhere you are” Mustafa Sütlaş

Nowadays, land and inhabited spaces are images of the “money” that needs to augment itself through their use and market values.


When I arrived in İstanbul, I immediately went to one of the forums held in the parks. I wanted to witness the point reached in the course of a month. The attendees’ contribution, enthusiasm, sincerity, seriousness, authenticity impressed me as it did before. I followed with pleasure those who spoke, their attitudes while speaking, the listeners, and their reactions to speakers. Then I said to myself, “We are on the right track.”

Urban transformation and ownership [property]

The agenda of the forum on the night I visited was urban transformation and examples of struggles against it. People who were involved in these struggles at different localities were there to tell their experiences and where they were at the moment. Dialogues revolved around how people struggled against and intervened in rentier sectors, as agents of capitalism, based on their efforts to protect their life spaces and their futures.

I did not have a single property in my life. I have always objected to proprietary relations on land, building, and life spaces, or I did not want to be personally involved in those relations. But at that moment I imagined myself as a ‘property owner.’ I thought about how would I experience all these as an owner.

I wondered what I would have done if I had inherited a building or piece of land, if urban transformation rentiers attempted to seize it and to transform it in the way they wanted, if their efforts of ‘gentrification’ by expelling me and my social environment made me someone affected by their attempts.

I spent a considerable amount of time there contemplating on these efforts as a person influenced by them. Then I realized that both despair and rebellion were complementing and giving birth to each other and that they were two different appearances of the same mental state.

 ’Y's are everywhere

At that moment I saw one of the ‘y’s about whom I wrote previously. S/he was laying down in a dimly lit location in the park, with her/his coarse woolen cloth s/he seemed to be in unison with the land. S/he was attentively following the discussions with passion but without moving.

I could not help myself and approached her/him. I said, “Hello,” with a voice only s/he could hear and sat down next to her/him. S/he responded in the same manner.

The forum took two hours and we listened to it without saying a word.

When it was over and people were dispersing s/he was the first to begin talking:

S/he said, “You are always finding a way to write about us,” and added, “This pleases us.”

There was a short period of silence. S/he looked around as if s/he was afraid of what s/he was going to say.

“However, when you write our lives become more difficult. Now they watch us more closely and constantly.”

I apologized and said that it was not my aim to make their lives harder.

S/he went silent again and thought for a while:

“Would you also write if I tell you what I think about what has been discussed tonight?”

S/he continued to speak, as s/he was sure that my response would be yes.

We need to give up ownership

“You listened to the discussions and to examples of struggles. They lay claims based on the existing property regime; on the inviolability and sacredness of property; on the previous state of the city. According to this perspective, the struggle should aim at ‘protecting and defending’ what one owns.”

“Because every single moment of life is a struggle. In every situation, there is an ongoing struggle between the good and the bad, rightful and unjust, those who favor reason and stupidities, progressives and regressives, property owners and thieves, swindlers, plunderers. But this time, maybe for the first time, all these struggles have been experienced simultaneously, in the same space and during the confrontations of the same people. I do not want to make despair absolute and widespread, but I can’t help but express a truth that I see: as I see it this struggle will end up in the loss of what has been tried to protect.”

“In other words, this struggle will not mean to reach the set goals. There will be only one positive outcome of the struggle, which is the increase in the number of ‘forums’ and their participants as well as in the quality of contributions as a result of what has been learned during the process and the new connections formed. Slowly everywhere will become a ‘forum.’”

In fact, what has been imagined in this new situation will be the elements of the social structure that will be reached for in the future.

“A new phenomenon, ‘temporary accommodation,’ will emerge to replace property and habitation as a form of use based on the right to life and shelter. We are practicing this; we live in this way. Actually, this way fits better with humans and nature.”

“Instead of protecting the owned property, a new motto should emerge such as ‘you are the sole of where you are until you leave; it is your duty to find new places and to leave.’ The life should be reorganized in understanding, sharing, and living this fact.”

The truth about the novel “Skyscraper”


Then s/he mentioned Tahsin Yücel’s novel “Skyscraper” that I have read and found important.

“What has been related in the novel may happen even before the presence of the narrative which is 2074. Social struggles of today will only postpone the date.”

“For this reason I believe in the necessity of not giving up, of continuing the struggle in collaboration without tiring because the process of struggle is more important for what is going to be experienced and learned than its actual goals.”

While s/he was speaking I remembered what had been said on urban transformation and reactions to it earlier during the forum.

S/he began to talk about the historical evolution of ‘property’ as if s/he read my mind. It was pleasurable to listen to facts that I already knew in a different context and from a different perspective.

“When humanity transitioned to sedentary life and when societies with classes emerged, the land and life spaces became properties. The first owner of that property was ‘god,’ whose number reduced from hundreds and thousands to one. Everything on the land including the humans living on it belonged to the god. The property did not have deeds; it was impossible to transfer it or to bequeath it. ”

“Time passed and so came slave ownership. Those with ‘power’ expropriated some parts of the property. They claimed the rights to use and govern those parts based on the authority that they claimed as coming from god. They embarked upon wars and conquests in order to expand their property.”

“A day came and they beat each other. They showed they were above one another and they became emperors and kings. This time everything became the ‘property of the king’ who was the shadow of god on earth.”

One of the essential steps towards capitalism, which emerged from feudal society, was the fact that those individuals who were neither ‘god’ nor ‘king’ were able to own property.

“This right to property was an important condition and opportunity for capitalism to emerge, establish, and expand. This right and authority was a locomotive in uprooting of the feudal system not only in material life but also in the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual internalization of material life. The process culminated in capital gain through first dividing of property into small pieces and its subsequent concentration.”

“However today the transference of surplus value produced by labor to the capital is not enough for the growth of the capital itself. In the globalization of capital, money became a motor, an instrument, and an element that reproduces itself. It gathers all sovereignties into itself. The money, a being created by humans but which became an uncontrollable Frankenstein, is the ‘new god.’”

“This power transforms property as it transforms everything. Nowadays, land spaces mean something beyond their use and market values.”

“The sweet living room, with its pink frilled curtains, television, dining table, and couch, now has a characteristic beyond these.”

“It is identical with the ‘money’ that has no other goal than to increase itself. I think it is not impossible to change this historical evolution anymore.”

“There is not much difference between Temel Diker’s, a constructor from the Black Sea region depicted in Yücel’s novel, expropriation of Hikmet Hoca’s two-story townhouse, which he inherited from his father, in Taksim through police force and legal processes in order to build a skyscraper and urban transformation practices in İstanbul and all around Turkey. One is imagination and the other is real, but they are the same. Accordingly, the outcome is certain!”

Well, but what will happen?

“First of all, whatever the outcome, the struggle needs to keep on for the experiences and for things that can be learned through it. But there is another thing to do:

“Which is a necessary phase in order to be able to build the future society and its life practices. This is what we are doing with our practices and acts. In every location where the private property is rooted up collective life spaces and communities should be built by squatting on those life spaces.”

“The Gezi protest was a life space created on these premises; it belonged to everybody, but mostly those who were there, those who were living there. The parks are in a similar situation now. In the parks, there is not yet permanent collective life as it was the case in the Gezi, but it is obvious that the process will evolve towards that direction.”

“They will not let this happen as in Gezi. They will try to prevent the emergence of collectives with force, destruction, and killings. But they will not succeed in preventing collective spaces to become permanent in the process, similar to the process in which the money came to dominate private properties.”

“Following from the current conditions, squatting on other public spaces will increase and expand. This is an absolute and unpreventable outcome as is the rising of the sun everyday.”

“They will expel these collectivities from those newly-squatted spaces. However, just as the expelling from Gezi transformed all parks into ‘Gezi,’ the same will happen in this case as well.”

“The society of the future will be a dual one. The first will be the ‘primitive communal society’ including ‘robot human herds’ who are nothing but raw materials from the perspective of capitalism and who are severely oppressed to be exploited. The second group will include those who will govern money and this new system.”

“Everybody will have to chose either of these groups, not because they want to but as a result of imposing conditions. One day a new history will be made by the people who create the kernel of the new life now in the parks, squares, and spaces.”

S/he would continue talking but I excused myself.

Attitudes and discourse need to change


S/he said to me, “I know what I am telling you sounds too unfounded, but unfortunately such are the realities. What will come next is obvious. I want to add one last thing. I would like to tell these to the public during the forum, but the audience would most probably, like you, find what I say too unfounded and maybe they would ask me to finish my speech. Telling these to you would increase the chance that they would reach the public because you have been writing on this and I heard that you have been reading a lot.”

Then s/he continued:

“I believe that the participants of these forums still do not think enough about what they do, experience, and what is going on. They are not aware of the true extent of what they do and where we are.”

“This lack of awareness and analysis and not ‘theorizing’ what is going on prevent them from seeing what is going to happen in the future and accordingly from deciding on what they should do.”

“The summaries of experiences in different parts of the world are available. Figures such as Zizek, Hardt, Negri have provided theoretical analyses. We need to read these more, to understand them, and to modify them to fit our own situation. Being in touch with the world and being aware of others is important.”

“As it was the case during tonight’s forum, there is a tendency to analyze the topic according to previously learned and existing dogmas. The reason for this is the fact that those who are trained for and familiar with these situations and who provide the continuity of the situations come from older political organizations and structures. They talk more and longer.”

“When they are the only speakers, they undertake analyses based on what they already know and this slows down the transformation and causes disengagement. Even concrete events are discussed within abstract terms.”

S/he understood that I wanted to leave. “Okay, it is getting late. This is enough for tonight. We can meet and talk again.”

When I rose to my feet, s/he pulled her/his poncho over her/his head. I looked back after a couple of steps, s/he was almost in unison with the ground. I think that was exactly what s/he wanted to say. The only thing urban transformation cannot do is to prevent this union.

Mustafa Sütlaş
10 August 2013S