“Love is Anarchist” The Short-lived Experiment in Turkey’s Oppositional Press, Sokak (1989–1990)

In the book, Tuğrul Eryılmaz: 68’li ve Gazeteci (Tuğrul Eryılmaz: A member of the ‘68 generation and a Journalist), Eryılmaz, the editor-in-chief of Sokak magazine, declares “Although we aimed to be mainstream, Sokak is considered the alternative media of the time (the 1980s). Honestly, we were not sure what we were doing. In any case, right-wingers would not embrace such a magazine; it was an indecent platform in their eyes, (…), but we were more troubled by the reaction of the orthodox left. They never supported us. Far from it, I remember them running hostile articles, calling us the 5th arm of the bourgeoisie.” [1] Lack of comradeship and advocacy, as expressed by Eryılmaz, was one of the many challenges that characterized Sokak’s short life. Yet, undoubtedly, the same exclusion provided a fertile ground for Sokak magazine to institute a unique perspective and influence in the Turkey of the 1980s.

Founded in 1989 under the chief-editorship of Tuğrul Eryılmaz, the weekly magazine Sokak (meaning “street” in Turkish) with its financial structure and alignment with critical views of the time, was a particular case in the Turkish media. Earlier, the editor of the weekly Nokta—one of the most popular news magazines of the 1980s—Eryılmaz and his colleagues had decided to launch a new magazine free of any ties to the media conglomerates of the period: “First, we had to find a place in Cağaloğlu. [2] They advised us to contact a lawyer who had an office there; he was going to move out soon. The lawyer was Enver Nalbant, known to be a former member of the Devrimci Öğrenciler Birliği [Revolutionary Student Union, founded in1968], and the lawyer of Deniz Gezmiş. Gezmiş was a founding member of the Revolutionary Student Union and People’s Liberation Army of Turkey, founded in 1970. He was a close friend of Yaşar Kemal, a prominent novelist known for his advocacy of minority rights.” [3] Gezmiş was executed after the coup d’état in 1971. Eventually, Nalbant gave over the office space in question free of charge, and also provided the capital which would become the primary source of income for the duration of the magazine’s short-lived existence. Launching a system-critical publication, primarily through solidarity between like-minded people, was an exception in the 1980s. At the time, the media in Turkey was going through a top-down transformation due to neoliberal economic policies. As non-media entrepreneurs started investing in the sector, owing to an ambition to become immediate players in the new political and economic order, clients were replacing readers, and the headquarters were moving out of the city center—and therefore, away from the sites where most of the prominent political events emerged and thus, could be easily documented—to the outskirts of Istanbul. [4] The outcomes of the press’ structural shift towards a corporate mindset further accentuated Sokak’s unique position as a publication founded by journalists and its persistence to continue working in the city’s traditional press center.

New Channels of Resistance After September 12

To better understand the story of Sokak and the circumstances it began publishing under, we must go back to the early 1980s. Referred to as the “trauma of September 12,” the third and the most severe coup d’état in Turkey had long-lasting effects; restructuring the social, political, and economic conditions irreversibly. On September 12, 1980, Kenan Evren, the Chief of General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces, declared that the state organs were unable to function and fulfill their role, and therefore the military was seizing all power in the country. Given the long history of coup d’états in Turkey, “September 12” might be seen as a learned reaction to political uncertainty, or to the wind of change, growing in the country. Indeed, the polarization within the right- and left-wing groups, especially between 1976 and 1980, was at its extreme. By the late 1970s, there were around 35 leftist factions, spanning from pro-Soviet followers to Maoists, Hoxhaists to independents, and several influential ultranationalist rightist groups, all in close ties with political parties, as well as Kurdish ethnic separatist organizations. Armed conflicts, bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations of prominent writers, politicians, and journalists, as well as unsolved mass murders, not only in larger cities but also in smaller Anatolian towns, led to a certain paralyzation in the country. The source of such radicalism can be traced back to the 1968 student movements and their intense influence on university campuses in the country. The March 1971 military intervention aimed to suppress these movements, but on the contrary, it created “martyrs” or “symbols”, which led to a much harsher environment in the later years. [5] However, it would be misleading to link the military intervention only to the conflict between these rival groups. Around the same time, the country was on the verge of crises due to rising energy prices, import restrictions, external debt, a growing black market, a shortage of consumer goods, high inflation and unemployment, as well as the instability caused by short-lived minority governments.

The military regime that started on September 12, 1980 and continued until the general elections of November 9, 1983, dissolved all the political parties and oppositions, and especially targeted leftist groups. It tried around 7,000 people with death penalties as a possible outcome, executed 50, arrested 650,000, blacklisted 1,683,000, whilst many disappeared, were tortured, sent to exile, or stripped of their citizenships. [6] The military regime regulated public and private life by means of intense oppression of rights and freedoms. Although the junta stated that the intervention would “safeguard the integrity of the country (…) to reestablish the existence and authority of the state and to eliminate the factors that hinder smooth working of the democratic order,” [7] the intellectual scene, including journalists, writers, academics, artists, and thinkers was dispersed, and muted. [8] At the beginning of 1980s, an economic transformation was underway. Eight months prior to the coup d’état, there was a push for reforms through the “January 24 Decisions,”—a stability package introduced by the government of President Turgut Özal—that would facilitate Turkey’s gradual transition to a free market system and its pursuit of taking an advantageous position in the new global economy. Throughout the decade, the continued link between the military and the government actors remained unharmed; perhaps this was most evident in the relationship between Kenan Evren and Turgut Özal. Evren led the military coup and served as the president until the end of 1989, while Özal drafted the “January 24 Decisions,” a few months before the coup d’état, and during the military regime he was the Deputy Prime Minister responsible for the economy. In May 1983, Özal founded the centre-right party, ANAP (The Motherland Party), and became prime minister after the general elections in 1983. While Özal’s vision of capitalism encompassed an “outward and forward-looking society”, his focus on the protection of free-market entailed a constraint on democratic processes, making it possible to maintain a direct and quick decision-making style without giving way to dissident voices. [9]

Of course, it is not possible to list all the effects of these hegemonic structures on the collective and individual histories, especially of victims and witnesses. [10] However, one issue that politically engaged individuals of the pre-coup period repeatedly emphasized was that in the early 1980s, it was nearly impossible to organize any cultural event or any form of meeting in the public space with more than a few people. That is to say, the coup d’état—and the re-empowerment of the military in politics during the decade—traumatized the whole society so much that it generated discomfort and a sense of mistrust, which would, provide us with the framework to understand the isolation of Sokak. Thus, it would be illuminating to describe the first half of the decade as an incubation period for critical views.

To better understand the repression of critical thinking in the 1980s, it is also important to look at the changes in the higher education system introduced after September 12, specifically the establishment of the Yükseköğretim Kurulu (YÖK, Higher Education Council, founded in 1981). During the events leading to the coup d’état, particularly between 1976 and 1980, universities were at the heart of critical thinking and freedom of expression, and they were intensely politicized. Consequently, they were also at the center of the conflict and violence between right- and left-wing students. Eager to forestall this politicization, YÖK’s primary role was to limit the universities’ autonomy and ban the activities of the student organizations. This newly centralized system also allowed the President to directly influence and shape the Council of Higher Education, the Inter-University Board, the Senate, and the University Administrative Board, including the appointment of rectors. Additionally, through this new body, universities faced severe financial cuts and were forced to find alternative financial incomes. [11] Private universities also started opening during those years, in line with the massive privatization dictated by the transition to neoliberalism. YÖK expelled seventy academics, and hundreds left their positions due to the Martial Law Act No. 1402, which stated that the junta could dismiss public personnel whose work was suspicious or whose services were not useful for the public. [12] Excluded from academia, the same way as leftists politicians were excluded from politics, intellectuals began to seek alternative ways—initially to survive and—to practice critical thinking in newly emerging media outlets and alternative education structures. They even contributed as authors to encyclopedias, which was a thriving publishing activity at the time, and to the advertising industry.

BİLAR, the first open and free university, was one of the examples of this intellectual scene growing outside of universities. BİLAR Center of Science was founded as a commercial enterprise, taking advantage of privileges and exemptions afforded to it by the private sector. The institution, which opened in 1986 under the legal name Ekin-BİLAR Corporation with writer Aziz Nesin as its chairperson, carried out cultural and educational activities. [13] It hosted interdisciplinary seminars and symposia including “The Individual and Society,” “Solidarity in Trade Unionism,” “Marxism and the National Question,” “Bureaucracy and Power,” “Centers of Power, Centers of Resistance,” “Postmodernism,” “Psychoanalytic Thought,” “Utopias of Freedom,” and “The Question of Democracy in the Third World.” [14] It aimed to study Marxism taking an approach that departed from the orthodox views, such as focusing on the success of capitalism and the limitations of the classical Marxist thought, or on practical issues around the national question and understanding power and resistance through the writings of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari; and, for the first time, provided a platform for issues such as feminism, gender, sexual orientation, environment, and popular culture, all of which were to be discussed from academic viewpoints. As Nazım Hikmet Richard Dikbaş, one of the students of BİLAR recalls, “(the courses at BİLAR) were the only way to give birth to new tools and methods.” [15]

BİLSAK [Science and Art Institution] was another cultural center founded in 1984. Following in the footsteps of YAZKO (Writers’ Cooperation), which published the first magazine, Yazko Somut (Yazko Tangible), with a page dedicated to feminist discussions, [16] BİLSAK attracted visitors from different backgrounds and age groups. It was a meeting place with exhibitions, public programs on feminism, environmentalism, the new left, theatre, painting workshops, and opportunities for socializing at its bar and restaurant. Like BİLAR, BİLSAK was a commercial enterprise with 170 partners, most of whom were either artists or scientists. In an interview, the founder, Mustafa Kemal Ağaoğlu described corporate entities as flexible structures that were tested and proven to work. [17] For the actors who had lived the coup d’état in 1980 and had seen the permanent suspension of associations and foundations, commercial enterprises were a safeguard. The heritage of privately funded institutions and event-based organizations, which became visible from the 1990s, can also be traced back to these successful models that sought independence from state control. The examples of BİLAR and BİLSAK indicate that by the mid-1980s, the strong state tradition of education in Turkey was starting to be challenged with these new “tactics.” Intellectuals, academics, and citizens who demanded social and political change were finding ways to reposition and to initiate safe, small-or medium-scale platforms for the establishment of civil society and for voicing criticism.

The expansion of academic thought in the newly emerging organizations, such as BİLAR and BİLSAK, was also the manifestation of the changes that occurred in the political field. Despite the restrictions to freedom of speech and press, implemented through the 1982 Constitution, the second half of the 1980s saw the contestation of the state ideology by a diverse range of actors, such as Kurds, Islamists, feminists, LGBTI individuals, etc. Hence, the mixture of state control and economic liberalism, ironically and unintendedly, paved the way for the means through which “others” attained visibility to a degree. [18] The military regime’s eradication of the pre-1980 “axes of politics”—manifested in labor organizations and unions—was undoubtedly instrumental in the fragmentation of the political landscape as such. Neoliberal policies, guarded both by the military regime and its successors throughout the decade, further entrenched this fragmentation in the political climate as they exposed society to the conditions determined by the market. Combined with the growth of the urban population in Istanbul, due to increasing immigration since 1955, this trajectory opened up new channels for both governance and resistance.

The concept of identity politics, a manifestation of the above mentioned fragmentation in politics and society, came into being during this period and in Turkey, and initially took the form of a struggle for human rights. With the foundation of TAYAD (Solidarity Association of Prisoners’ Families) and the Human Rights Association in 1986, cases of abuse of power and violation of rights became evident. As scholar Tanıl Bora explains:

There was a new type cultivated by the Human Rights Association: who works for the struggle for human rights, and who had become engaged with it not as a smaller part of a major political activity or through her/his victim position—or without such a requirement—but as a cause in and of itself. [19] 

Founded three years later, Sokak explored the same trajectory from human rights to identity politics. “We (the founders) sat down to address our priorities,” declares Tuğrul Eryılmaz. “The first thing that came to mind was the violation of rights, which still exists by the way (…). ‘If we uphold and defend human rights, and covertly insert popular culture here and there, it will be OK,’ we thought.” [20]

No doubt, the emphasis on human rights and its violations generated a broad enough scope for Sokak to represent a diverse range of identities and movements. However, it was far from being the first to cover the suppressed factions of society—Nokta İnsanlar, a weekly news magazine founded in 1982 and renamed in 1983 as Nokta, and Yeni Gündem, a news magazine founded in 1984, had also featured issues related to feminists and LGBTI rights. Nonetheless, Sokak went further to provide these movements with a platform and also to cover relevant news stories. As Eryılmaz states in his account of the magazine’s preparatory process: “We were also aware that we could not be extremely progressive with the political issues since it was only 1989. The societal opposition I am talking about was like this: we would include any group that had revolted.” [21] The intention was to create a meeting point for different causes in line with the editorial emphasis on human rights: “One, who focuses on feminists, will maybe glimpse at Kurds; the ones focusing on Kurds, will maybe glimpse at Kazlıçeşme.” [22] [23]

This inclusive editorial approach was also evident in the magazine’s assertive headlines: “Will You Still Keep Your Silence? They are Killing Turkey!” [24] “‘No to Sexual Assault’ Campaign Launches: Claim Your Own Body,” [25] “Therapy for Gays: Same to Us.”[26] These caption s speak to the reader as if part of a call to action, rather than only chronicling the news. Seemingly in an effort to live up to its name, Sokak functioned as the public sphere where the suppressed groups of society could represent themselves. This representation encompassed how these groups resisted the apolitical positions appointed by the post-coup era’s military regime and the neoliberal economic policies of the1980s. As Eryılmaz put it: “First of all, we announced that we wouldn’t have any ties to party politics and we didn’t care at all about the factions of the people. [27] (In Turkey) feminism was already on its way then. The Kurdish political movement [28] was there; the socialists were raising hell to decide whether they were coming together or not. There was also the gay and lesbian thing at the time. In other words, we thought everything was ready (to establish Sokak).” [29]

The ensuing representation of diversity in the magazine testifies to feminist scholar Deniz Kandiyoti’s suggestion of “the disintegration of social identities” and “their complicated public expressions” in the society of the 1980s’ as opposed to the dominance of a social view based on the breach between urban and rural in the previous decades. [30]

Carnival as a tactic

This new fragmentation within society was due to the country’s transition into neoliberal economy and the need to find new means to be politically active in the absence of the possibility for an unfractured dissident front in the post-coup era. As neoliberalism started to infiltrate every segment of society, the resistance had to widen its scope to respond accordingly. This manifested itself in new forms of protest, which brings Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of carnival to mind, as Leszek Koczanowicz suggests. He states that the Russian literary theorist, Bakhtin’s, interpretation of the medieval carnival as “a site of resistance of the official political culture” [31] may be discovered in the efforts to find new channels for resistance in the 1980s, in Turkey. Young cultural critics of the period, such as Bülent Somay and Nurdan Gürbilek (both born in 1956), debated the possibility of adopting festivals as a way of dissidence or harnessing the subversive force of laughter. [32]

Sokak, March 18-24, 1990. “Is Democracy A Banana?: The State discovered the terrorists” “Quality sex with the famous: Margaret Thatcher, Kennedys, Jean-Jacques Rousseau” “Amasra Do Not Want A Thermal Power Plant” Archive of Tuğrul Eryılmaz

An overview of the Sokak issues reveals how the magazine employed laughter and a carnivalesque approach by combining playful texts and zine-like layouts, as methods of dissidence. During the presidential election of 1989, a stripped-down model wearing a Batman mask was featured with the caption “Our Candidate for the Presidency.” The March 18–24, 1990 cover of the magazine came out with a headline “Is Democracy a Banana?: The State Discovered the Terrorists,” focusing on how the state detained journalists, closed down magazines, imprisoned scientists, and even threatened members of the parliament—from Eastern cities of Turkey—in the name of stopping ongoing terrorism. Right next to this headline sits an illustration of Thatcher dressed as a Greek goddess with a caption “Quality Sex with the Famous: Margaret Thatcher, Kennedys, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.” Thatcher was not unfamiliar to the public at the time. Hailed as the first British leader visiting Turkey since Winston Churchill in 1943, [33] Thatcher—along with Ronald Reagan—represented the economic approach upholding the protection of the free market, and neo-conservative thinking to that effect, which set the framework for the highly effective policies of prime minister Turgut Özal. [34]

Sokak, October 1-7, 1989, 7. Redesigned by Esen Karol, for the exhibition How did we get here, SALT Beyoğlu and SALT Galata, 2015.

Sokak’s playful approach to local and international news, alongside with the ongoing discussion, extended towards new and humoristic methods, as evidenced in the parodic board game envisioning the difficulties a student most likely would face during and after university registration. [35] Moreover, there were vignettes – illustrations with slogans – featured in most of the issues, spread across the pages, sometimes breaking the flow of the articles to attract attention to the magazine’s stance on current affairs. These vignettes conveyed slogans such as “Do Not Forget September 12,” “Peace Bird or War Bird, It Is Your Choice,” “It Is Allowed by the Law, Strike the Whore!” [36] “Don’t Tap My Phone,” and “The World Will Belong to the Streets.”

Of course, these vignettes and other playful means of making critical journalism were only possible as a result of the magazine’s DIY [do-it-yourself] approach to design. Following the editorial team’s instruction to dismiss rules altogether, [37] art director Murat Öneş worked on a layout reminiscent of zines, creating a cut-and-paste look using a great variety of typefaces together. However, it would not suffice to acknowledge the freedom allowed to Öneş, as the sole reason for this aesthetic choice. It is worth noting that the DIY approach recalls the punk zines of the West, in circulation from the end of the 1970s to the 1990s, and the newly emerging punk subculture in the country. Even though Sokak’s frequent coverage of subjects related to the 1960s’ counterculture—which punk repudiated—makes it harder to acknowledge it as part of punk culture, the connotations of its chaotic design are conspicuous. Adopting punk musicians’ provocative visual language, Sokak had rejected the established rules of design. This stance provided them with a free and limitless space to transmit punk’s “political voice.” [38]

It should also be noted that Sokak’s adoption of such “political” voice—with regards to its design and content—evinces far more complicated dynamics than mere appropriation. Comparing punk rock to a “black historical hole (…) that made the decade explode in every foreseeable direction,” cultural critic Diedrich Diederichsen maintains that punk culture was not the property of the global-north-west, but it emerged in different parts of the world, though not necessarily concurrent in all instances. [39] In response to the defeat of social democracy and its components inherited from the 1968 movement, at the hands of a neoliberal agenda mainly devised by Thatcher and Reagan, [40] punk culture rendered the “crisis” visible through stylistic and aesthetic choices. Media theorist and sociologist Dick Hebdige states that: “The punks appropriated the rhetoric of crisis which had filled the airwaves and the editorials throughout the period and translated it into tangible (and visible) terms. […] The various stylistic ensembles adopted by the punks were undoubtedly expressive of genuine aggression, frustration and anxiety. But these statements, no matter how strangely constructed, were cast in a language which was generally available—a language which was current.” [41]

Even though Hebdige refers to the United Kingdom of the late 1970s and the course of events in the Western hemisphere, the feeling of gloom, aggression, frustration, and anxiety still informed Sokak’s coverage of the youth. A case worth attention is Yılmaz Odabaşı’s feature in Sokak, “The Broken Ones of Hançepek,” on the new subculture developed among the youth of Diyarbakır, a major city in the Southeastern region. The author compares young people harming themselves publicly with razors, or other sharp objects, to punks: “These kids are Diyarbakır’s socio-cultural equivalents to punks, skinheads, etc., the extensions of those movements’ reality and their less-developed counterparts. We can categorize them as the post-September 12 generation, who failed to figure out the reasons behind the severe political pressure and the goings-on during their teens and maturation years. There is just one common aspect of their lives: Fear! The need to fear the police and the State.” [42]

However, Odabaşı’s criticism supposing that the 1980s’ generation failed to politically reflect on its situation does not represent the overall approach of Sokak, which claimed to give voice to young people on various levels. The magazine often described itself as a platform that allowed young people to speak directly without being unencumbered. “Live from Youth,” the weekly series of panel discussions held by the magazine was introduced in such a manner. “What does the youth talk about? What do they discuss? Where and how do they look? From time to time, Sokak would bring together discussion groups with young participants and pass on their feelings, problems, suggestions, and dilemmas,” [43] the introduction reads. It is interesting to see how one of the participants embraced the contempt towards his own generation. “It is a fact that all of us are like semi-intellectuals or semi-enlightened as the generation of September 12!” [44] he says, almost echoing Odabaşı’s article and showing how the anxiety inflicted upon the generation reinforces their despair.

Building Alliances, from Homes to Streets

The magazine’s assertion to be the youth’s voice is also apparent in sections on street style clothing and its embracing of popular culture, a rarity in the politically engaged publications of the period. In a decade, when established intellectuals criticized the young for being “suppressed, apolitical and depoliticized” and demonstrating an “Americanized lifestyle” due to the rise of globalisation, [45] Sokak adopted an original position and welcomed this newly developing culture, alongside the generational anxiety stemming from the repressive political climate, the discontent of neoliberalism, and the disapproval of previous generations. Academic, critic, and performance artist Tuna Erdem describes the decade, in which she came of age, as follows:

Throughout those uncanny and in-between years (the 1980s), when I became aware of the possibility of a world existing beyond the family nest, where one takes the first steps towards becoming ‘I’ and reaches the threshold to explore the possibilities of becoming ‘we’, I was getting the impression that I belonged to ‘the members of the 80s’ generation.’ Those were the impressions that made my boat capsize on the verge of a journey towards this big world, that pulled out the ground from beneath my feet while I was getting ready to take my first timid steps, that made me think of my defects and how I deserved to be left out of circulation, that made me feel like a hopeless case and a useless person who had been born in the wrong place and time, and that made me believe all my efforts would have been to no avail, no matter how hard I had tried.[46]

In addition to pieces on the global popular culture such as house music or voguing (a modern house dance), Sokak featured interviews with, and announcements of emerging punk or metal bands. The history of pop music in the country was also represented. On the cover of the “March 8 International Women’s Day” issue, instead of using a photograph from the marches, the editors chose to feature a nude pose of Özcan Tekgül, a famous actor and belly dancer active from the 1950s to the 1980s; criticizing the hierarchical structure of the feminist movement.

Sokak, March 4-10, 1989. “Operation before March 8: Woman terror organization is crashed. The weapons confiscated in the kitchen and bedroom of the organization were delivered to justice.” “Slaves of bread” Archive of Tuğrul Eryılmaz

Rather than a mere continuation of the contemporaneous academic interest in popular culture—as the pieces tended to be more celebratory than analytical—Sokak’s coverage of pop appears to be an extension of its acknowledgment of daily life as a political field. Everyday life, including pop, was framed as a field for struggle by the editorial team as the regime ruptured other means to be politically engaged, and power had infiltrated through the pores of everyday activities in the neoliberal age. [47] This is most obvious in Sokak’s “Know Your Rights” section, where the readers were encouraged to seek justice while carrying out their daily activities.

“Know Your Rights,” borrowed its name from The Clash’s famous 1982 song with the same title. Drafted by İştar Gözaydın, a professor of law and politics and the founder of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly in Turkey [48], “Know Your Rights” primarily concentrated on constitutional violations. The recurring page exemplified easy-to-understand, familiar case studies—from police stations to compulsory military service, from rights of housewives to those of kids and transvestites. It acted as a guideline against the 1982 Constitution for all of its readers belonging to different age groups, income levels, occupations, and political views.

In the oppressive climate of the decade, where public space was militarized and demonstrations were banned, [49] press campaigns and petitions played an essential role in the resistance to the status quo. Sokak, with the mission of spreading the voice of the street, announced and popularized these calls on topics ranging from conscientious objection to sexual harassment in the brothels, from the rights of the iron-steel workers to the freedom of press, and many other examples. Practicing campaign journalism during the aftermath of the coup d’état required attentiveness towards the heavy censorship mechanisms at work, especially given the fact that in the short history of Sokak, it was prohibited and threatened to be withdrawn numerous times. For instance, as a way to prevent a possible intervention from the official authorities, Sokak found it necessary to choose the title “No to Compulsory Military Service” instead of “No to Military Service” for their campaign in support of the conscientious objector Tayfun Gönül. [50]

Sokak, August 27-September 3, 1989, 7. “Terror in Prisons: We won’t let you kill them” Photograph: Mehtap Yücel Page redesigned by Esen Karol, for the exhibition How did we get here, SALT Beyoğlu and SALT Galata, 2015. Archive of Tuğrul Eryılmaz

In its August 1989 issue, Sokak covered the ongoing hunger strikes in the prisons and launched a campaign, titled “We won’t let you kill.” The campaign text started with these sentences: “The State has clearly declared war against prisoners. We are asking: How has the State obtained such authorization? Which official positions are taken by the murderers? Who took the decision to transfer prisoners who are on the brink of death as a result of hunger strikes?” [51] The inhumane prison conditions, the ongoing torturing, and the abuses of rights were familiar to Sokak’s readers. The magazine featured a series titled “Letters to Lali Berte,”—a wordplay on la liberté—in which they published letters by political prisoners. The hunger strikes, which began in late 1988 as a response to the “August 1 Circular” and continued in 1989, led to a political crisis. Introduced by the Ministry of Justice, the “August 1 Circular” brought a series of restrictions to prisons, such as the compulsory wearing of uniforms, a reduction of the period prisoners were allowed to spend in the common area, the exclusive use of the Turkish language during visits, and the inspection of letters and telegraphs. The circular was perceived as the first step in the transition to a system of isolation and resulted in hunger strikes, quickly expanding to a number of prisons around the country. Sokak’s “We Won’t Let You Kill” call was among the many reactions expressed in the country. One of them was the socialist feminists’ protest, known as the “Women in Black,” where participants of the demonstration challenged the public space regulations by blocking the Cağaloğlu Square and reading a press release condemning the convicts’ deaths.

Second-Wave Feminism and Sokak

This was not the first time that Sokak and the second-wave feminists stood side by side; by 1989, women’s struggle had already gained public visibility and resulted in policy changes concerning rights and freedoms. Early in 1981, educated urban women, the majority of whom had taken part in the various political struggles of the 1970s, started gathering at their homes—due to the continuing prohibition of assembly in the country—for “Consciousness Raising Meetings.” The following year, the word “feminism” was first introduced at a four-day symposium organized by YAZKO (Writers’ Cooperative). The symposium paved the way for the feminist women’s page in the cooperative’s magazine, Yazko Somut, which unfortunately only existed for six months. By the late 1980s, second-wave feminists had already founded two significant magazines, Feminist (1987–1990), and Kaktüs (1988–1990). [52] Women’s struggle in the 1980s strengthened and accelerated the formation of civil society for two main reasons: first, they responded rather quickly to the repressive regime of the coup d’état, and secondly, they introduced “a new language” which was unfamiliar to the power actors of the state. In events such as the “Rally for Solidarity Against Domestic Violence,” [53] “Solidarity Against Domestic Violence,” [54] and “Modern Woman Temporary Museum” [55] women occupied—and liberated—the public spaces; circumventing restrictions by using new tactics of disobedience in the form of “festivals” or “exhibitions.” Having emanated from the discussion of domestic injustice and oppression in “Consciousness Raising Meetings,” second-wave feminists left the confines of private space and took to the streets. The newly emerged areas of political interest necessitated novel ways of resistance. Thus, the feminists’ adoption of methods such as organizing festivals or exhibitions along with more traditional types of protest such as marches, reveals the widening of politics towards the issues of everyday life.

From its first issue to the last, Sokak published a variety of stories on second-wave feminism, including emerging Islamic feminism and Kurdish feminism. The main focus of the editors was to support the ones who were left alone, whose voices were not heard, who were not organized and were underrepresented, as expressed by Tuğrul Eryılmaz. [56] This was evident in the choice of topics that the magazine covered; featuring interviews with actors disregarded due to political reasons, who could no longer afford their rents, Kurdish women who were forced to speak Turkish after moving to Istanbul, transvestites on equality of opportunity, mothers of political prisoners, research dossiers on sex workers, as well as articles on the history of nylon stockings and tampons. The magazine’s take on feminism even extended to popular culture as seen in the feature “Love is Anarchist” about the sensational relationship between a football player and a famous female actor of the period. [57]

The aim to support the underrepresented could be considered the main principle determining Sokak’s overall policy. Despite its financial restraints, Sokak had an office in the Southeastern region. As Eryılmaz explained: “That is what I always say: If you employ someone who hasn’t personally suffered, there’s always a chance that you’ll make a mistake. It won’t matter if you’re a great journalist or not. Also, in a way, this is our thing. We want people to speak for themselves and to try doing this without any mediators. We have to open an office in the Southeast.” [58]

Call for Action – Environmental Issues

Environmental and urban issues were presented with a strong emphasis in the magazine. Class politics and minorities informed the magazine’s coverage of ecology, development, and urbanscape. “Sokak diligently bears down on the planning corruption incited on the ridges of Sarıyer-Kilyos during Dalan’s mayorship.” The introduction is for Sokak’s feature “There is More Green than Green” about the villas being constructed on the rim of the Bosphorus, a major green site in Istanbul. The article starts with a cynical tone: “The way to save Bosphorus is at hand: Villas! That is, if you don’t build villas, there will come the shanties. If you want to annihilate nature, at least do it with taste.” Towards the end of the article, the mocking tone is replaced with a feeling of urgency: “At this tragicomic moment, Sokak is ready to get together with the ones on the street and fight for our rights to enjoy Sarıyer on Sundays. Istanbul lovers! Why are you still waiting to raise your voice?” [59]

This urgency determines the general tone of Sokak’s coverage of environmental and urban issues. Neither nature, nor city are abstract concepts in these features: both are battlefields for different actors confronting each other on the bases of class or identity. The piece “Will You Still Remain Silent? They are Killing Turkey!” [60] was significant in its presentation of the governing forces that created the environmental crisis. Predating the environmentalist practices of the following years, the Sokak issue traced the sources of projects damaging nature and the urbanscape. The participation of stakeholders such as municipalities, ministries, other government-affiliated organizations, as well as the private enterprises in the construction of power plants, highways, dams, etc. were revealed within the context of a call to action.

Featuring at least one piece about the environment or city planning almost in each issue, Sokak rendered visible the response to the transformations affecting both urban and rural areas at the time. The resistance around environmental issues was one of the fundamental pillars of the civil movements, not only because it provided a platform for dissidence in the lack of any other means to be politically engaged, but also, and most importantly, it was a reaction against neoliberal projects transforming both rural areas and the urban landscape. Bedrettin Dalan, the mayor of Istanbul from 1984 to 1989, was a defining figure behind these transformations. As a member of ANAP (The Motherland Party), he strove to transform Istanbul into a global metropolis that would take its place among the global cities. To this end, he implemented urban renewal projects throughout his mayorship which changed the urban landscape and had enormous effects on the socio-cultural surroundings. [61] Thanks to his large-scale infrastructural development and housing projects, he had become the epitome of urban transformation and received criticism from the politically engaged civic groups of the period. [62]

Even though the 1970s had also seen protests revolving around environmental issues, [63] the neoliberal policies of the 1980s extended the scope of the movement, when the government intensified urban transformation and industrialization projects. At the same time, concerns over “ecological destruction” were growing within the society. Construction in the coastal regions, the establishment of thermal power plants, and singular cases, such as the Turkish state’s inadequate response to the Chernobyl disaster, or plans to build up touristic facilities on the breeding ground of Caretta carettas (loggerhead sea turtles) in the Aegean town of Dalyan, created a reaction among the public and incited protests.[64] As seen from Sokak’s stance on the topic, the environmentalist cause had close ties to the transformation of the economic structure in the 1980s.

Fight for LGBTI Rights

These ties were also instrumental to the movement’s affinities to other causes, which was especially important as the changes in the urban landscape had severe repercussions for the repressed factions of the society. [65] It is interesting to see how some of Sokak’s stories on LGBTI individuals also touched upon urban issues. The feature titled “Civils Implementing Martial Law” about the law enforcement’s complacency (or encouragement) of nationalist attacks towards trans sex workers and their clients in Cihangir (Beyoğlu, Istanbul) also testifies to the transformation of the district. [66] The trans activist and sex worker Demet Demir’s account of her own past in the magazine also revealed the crucial part the city played in LGBTI stories: “I chose a new place to live: Taksim [in Beyoğlu]. This was a place where everybody was more tolerant of one another, and it was also like a decrepit cage.” The article “Children of a Lesser God” was also worthy of attention as Demir recounted how she was banished from her former (1970s) revolutionary circle due to her sexual orientation. [67] Featured in the magazine’s first issue, the article anticipates the path it would take in future issues. In a persistent manner, Sokak went on to cover topics related to LGBTI individuals in the following issues via both featuring local news and translations from international media, and highlighted the critical view of sexuality as a political field.

The End of Sokak

Though modest in terms of its finances and circulation, Sokak proved to be a highly influential magazine. It was probably the first publication accessible nation-wide to cover newly emerging identity politics to such an extent. Moreover, Sokak was one of the few magazines that responded to the rupture of the traditional left–right axis that came into perspective in the 1980s, and included the actors of identity politics that will be of importance in the following decade. In retrospect, Sokak’s launch in 1989, a pivotal year in political history, seems to be more than a coincidence. Marking the end of the Cold War Era, the year 1989 witnessed severe transformations both in local and international scenes, which can be witnessed in Sokak’s pages.

In addition to its documentation of a critical period in Turkish political history, Sokak also introduced a new model for journalism in Turkey; autonomous, radical, and inclusive. Its approach towards differences still informs the dissident Turkish press, as seen in the daily Cumhuriyet’s attempt to revive Sokak in the form of a weekend supplement, in 2015. This short-lived effort to reinstate Sokak, even to the extent of using its former visual identity, is a testament to the magazine’s long-lasting effect in Turkish press. While Sokak’s non-traditional structure of sponsorship and lack of advertisement revenue led to an early closure, its staff, along with some of the interviewees featured in the magazine, went on to play significant roles in the press, academia, culture, and political activism. In his interview with Asu Maro, Tuğrul Eryılmaz admits that after the very first issues of Sokak, they knew very well that it would not last long. Although the financial difficulties were the primary reason for its closure, the hostile media environment contributed greatly. Sokak’s content was much ahead of its time, and the team behind it tried to survive without any allies.

About the authors

Erman Ata Uncu is an art writer and researcher based in Istanbul. He is graduated from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University’s Sociology Department and received his master’s degree in Film Studies from the University of Amsterdam. He was a reporter for Radikal daily and contributed to publications including Istanbul Art News, Art Unlimited, Milliyet Sanat, Duvar English, Divan, Altyazı, and Argonotlar. He worked as an editor for the Sakıp Sabancı Museum and as a research assistant at SALT for the exhibition How did we get here (September 3-November 29, 2015) realized under the framework of L’Internationale’s five-year program The Uses of Art-The Legacy of 1848 and 1989.

Merve Elveren is a curator based in Istanbul. With an emphasis on the social and cultural landscape of the 1980s and 1990s in Turkey, her research-based curatorial practice examines critical discussions and new institutional formations around shifting political urgencies. Between August 2011 and September 2018, Elveren was part of Research & Programs at SALT. Some of her projects realized at SALT include A Promised Exhibition — Gülsün Karamustafa (co-curated with Duygu Demir, 2013), How did we get here (2015), Continuity Error — Aydan Murtezaoğlu and Bülent Şangar (2018). Elveren is the curator of the Guest Programme of the 39th EVA International-Ireland’s Biennial (2020-2021) titled Little did they know and currently working on the archives of Women’s Library and Information Centre Foundation. She is the recipient of the 2018 Independent Vision Award for Curatorial Achievement, awarded by ICI, New York.

[1] Asu Maro, Tuğrul Eryılmaz: 68’li ve Gazeteci (Istanbul: İletişim Publishing, 2018), 179.

[2] Babıâli in the Cağaloğlu district of Istanbul was known as the center of Turkish print media. Up until the late 1980s the headquarters of the newspapers, magazines, publishing and printing houses were all located in Babıâli.

[3] Maro, Tuğrul Eryılmaz, 172.

[4] Bilge Yeşil, Media in New Turkey: The Origins of an Authoritarian Neoliberal State (Oxfordshire: University of Illinois Press, 2016), 35.

[5] Sabri Sayari, “Political Violence and Terrorism in Turkey, 1976–80: A Retrospective Analysis,” Terrorism and Political Violence 22, no. 2 (2010): 202.

[6] Derya Fırat, “Sites of Memory of the 1980 Military Coup in Turkey,” in Excavating Memory: Sites of Remembering and Forgetting, eds. Maria Theresia Starzmann and John R. Roby (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016), 42.

[7] Metin Heper, The State Tradition in Turkey (Hull: Eothen Press, 1985), 131.

[8] An exception to this reticence is the petition campaign “Observations and Requests Pertaining to the Democratic Order in Turkey” widely known as the “Petition of Intellectuals” led by Aziz Nesin, a prominent author, in 1984. The text signed by 1,256 people had some of the strongest repercussions in the 1980s due to its content and the diversity of its signees ranging from established academics to popular culture figures. Predating the emergence of civil society, this text might be seen as the forerunner of petition campaigning, a form of protest that went on to become hugely popular in the following years.

[9] Ziya Öniş, “Turgut Özal and His Economic Legacy: Turkish Neo-Liberalism in Critical Perspective,” Middle Eastern Studies 40, no. 4 (July 2004): 119–120.

[10] For detailed interviews with the victims, witnesses and the perpetrators see Elif Karacan, Remembering the 1980 Turkish Military Coup d‘État: Memory, Violence, and Trauma (Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2016).

[11] Nejla Kurul Tural, “Universities and Academic Life in Turkey: Changes and Challenges,” International Journal of Educational Policies 1, no. 1 (2007): 63–78.

[12] Christopher Houston, “Pacification, Resistance, Reconstruction: Coup d’État, City of the Fearful, 1980-1983” in Istanbul, City of the Fearless (Oakland: University of the California Press, 2020), 188.

[13] Information gathered in 2015, by the authors, from the archives of the Aziz Nesin Foundation for the exhibition How did we get here (SALT, 2015). Unfortunately, there is no academic research on BİLAR Corporation.

[14] The syllabus is taken from Gülnur Savran’s personal archive for the exhibition How did we get here (SALT, 2015).

[15] Nazım Hikmet Richard Dikbaş, “BİLAR Corporation,” in The Long 1980s: Constellations of Art, Politics and Identities – A Collection of Microhistories, eds. Nick Aikens, Teresa Grandas, Nav Haq, Beatriz Herráez, and Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez (Amsterdam: Valiz, 2018), 89–91.

[16] Deniz Depe, “Türkiye’nin İlk ve Tek Yazarlar Kooperatifi YAZKO ve Yazko Edebiyat Dergisi,” Türklük Bilimi Araştırmaları 36 (2014): 83–108.

[17] “Bilim ve Sanat Etkinlikleri / BİLSAK: Restoran’dan Sanata,” Nokta, April 14, 1985, 59.

[18] Yeşil, Media in New Turkey, 27.

[19] Tanıl Bora, Cereyanlar: Türkiye’de Siyasi İdeolojiler (Istanbul: İletişim Publishing, 2017), 687.

[20] Maro, Tuğrul Eryılmaz, 174.

[21] Maro, Tuğrul Eryılmaz, 175.

[22] The district of Kazlıçeşme in Istanbul, where the tanneries were historically located, had witnessed one of the major urban renewal projects of the period. In 1987 around 3,500 tannery workers organized a strike due to the heavy workload and health risking conditions of the factories. The workers also took part in the “August 1 Circular” protests.

[23] Maro, Tuğrul Eryılmaz, 173.

[24] Can San, “Türkiye’yi Öldürüyorlar,” Sokak, October 8–14, 1989, 7.

[25] Asuman Suner, “Sarkıntılığa Hayır Kampanyası Başlıyor: Bedeninize Sahip Çıkın,” Sokak, October 8–14, 1989, 7.

[26] In spite of the possible allusions to conversion therapy, the caption refers to a counseling line for gays in the United Kingdom. “Eşcinsellere Terapi: Darısı Başımıza,” Sokak, August 27–September 3, 1989, 1.

[27] Sokak was criticized several times for supporting the Kurdish political movement. This criticism became stronger after its second and third issues (September 3–9, 1989 and September 10–16, 1989) when they published the first interview of Abdullah Öcalan, the founding member and leader of Kurdistan Workers’ Party, conducted by Yalçın Küçük.

[28] The Kurdish political movement has emerged in the 19th century during the Ottoman Empire. After centuries of nationalist struggles, insurrections, rapprochements and organizational transformations, in the 1980s the movement expanded and eventually adopted a more organized structure to call attention to the ongoing systemic violence and injustices.

[29] Maro, Tuğrul Eryılmaz, 173.

[30] Deniz Kandiyoti, “Giriş: Parçaları Yorumlamak,” in Kültür Fragmanları: Türkiye’de Gündelik Hayat, eds. Deniz Kandiyoti and Ayşe Saktanber (İstanbul: Metis Yayınları, 2003), 18-19.

[31] Leszek Koczanowicz, Politics of Dialogue: Non-Consensual Democracy and Critical Community (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 79.

[32] Bora, Cereyanlar, 717.

[33] “Thatcher in Turkey for Three-day Visit,” Los Angeles Times, April 7, 1988, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1988-04-07-mn-1497-story.html.

[34] Ziya Öniş, “Turgut Özal and His Economic Legacy: Turkish Neo-Liberalism in Critical Perspective,” Middle Eastern Studies 40, no. 4 (July 2004): 120.

[35] “Üniversite Oyunu,” Sokak, October 1–7, 1989, 6.

[36] This slogan refers to Article 438 of the Turkish Penal Code, reducing the sentence given to rapists by one-third, if the victim was a sex worker. The law was repealed in 1990.

[37] From the interview conducted with Tuğrul Eryılmaz, January 4, 2015 for the exhibition How did we get here (SALT, 2015).

[38] Teal Triggs, “Scissors and Glue: Punk Fanzines and the Creation of a DIY Aesthetic,” Journal of Design History 19, no. 1 (Spring 2006): 70.

[39] Diedrich Diederichsen, “From Anti-Social-Liberal Punk to Intersectional AIDS Activism (Sub-)Culture and Politics in Eighties Europe,” in The Long 1980s: Constellations of Art, Politics and Identities – A Collection of Microhistories, eds. Nick Aikens, Teresa Grandas, Nav Haq, Beatriz Herráez, and Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez (Amsterdam: Valiz, 2018), 31–33.

[40] Diedrich Diederichsen, “From Anti-Social-Liberal Punk,” 32–33.

[41] Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (London: Routledge, 1987), 87.

[42] Yılmaz Odabaşı, “Hançepek Kırıkları,” Sokak, February 13–24, 1990, 7.

[43] “Ahlâksızlara İhtiyaç Var!,” Sokak, August 27–September 3, 1989, 30.

[44] Ahlâksızlara İhtiyaç Var!,” 30.

[45] Demet Lüküslü, Türkiye’de “Gençlik Miti”: 1980 Sonrası Türkiye Gençliği, (Istanbul: İletişim Publishing, 2009), 120.

[46] Tuna Erdem, “Alacakaranlık Kuşağı,” Defter 2, no. 37 (Summer 1999): 71–82.

[47] Bora, Cereyanlar, 717.

[48] The Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly was founded in 1990 in Prague, it is a non-profit organization dedicated to human rights and democracy in Europe.

[49] Fırat, “Sites of Memory,” 42.

[50] Maro, Tuğrul Eryılmaz, 176.

[51] Sokak, August 27–September 3, 1989, 6–7.

[52] For the chronology of second-wave feminism in Turkey, see Zülbiye Esra Avcı, “1980 Sonrası Türkiye’de Kadın Sivil Toplum Kuruluşları ve Türk Hukuk Sistemine Etkileri (Women’s Non-Governmental Organizations in Turkey After 1980 and Their Effects on the Turkish Legal System,” (Masters thesis, Ankara University, 2011), 39–43.

[53] “Rally for Solidarity Against Domestic Violence (Dayağa Karşı Dayanışma Yürüyüşü),” May 17, 1987, Kadıköy Yoğurtçu Park, Istanbul.

[54] “Solidarity Against Domestic Violence (Dayağa Karşı Dayanışma),” October 4, 1987, Chora Museum, Istanbul.

[55] Modern Woman Temporary Museum (Geçici Modern Kadın Müzesi),” March 8, 1988, Cağaloğlu, Istanbul.

[56] Abdülkadir Çetin, “Kamusal Alan ve Kamusal Mekan Olarak Sokak (Sokak as a Public Sphere and Public Space),” (Masters thesis, Ankara University, 2006), 114.

[57] Sokak, October 8–14, 1989, 7.

[58] Maro, Tuğrul Eryılmaz, 175.

[59] Sokak, January 28–February 3, 1990, 2.

[60] Can San, “Türkiye’yi Öldürüyorlar,” Sokak, October 8–14, 1989, 7.

[61] Çağlar Keyder and Ayşe Öncü, “Globalization of a Third-World Metropolis: Istanbul in the 1980’s,” Review (Fernand Braudel Center) 17, no. 3 (Summer 1994): 383–421.

[62] Interview conducted with Murat Çelikkan, March 11, 2015 for the exhibition How did we get here (SALT, 2015).

[63] Barış Gençer Baykan, “Radikal Demokrat Yeşiller: 80’ler Türkiyesi’nin Siyasi Buzkıranı,” [unpublished article].

[64] Ibid.

[65] For instance, the experience of the Radical Democrats’ Green Party, founded by İbrahim Eren in the late 1980s, demonstrates that the paths of the LGBTI activists and environmentalists converged on several occasions. The first LGBTI demonstration in Turkey, the hunger strike triggered by the escalating police violence against gay and trans sex workers took place in 1987 in Taksim’s Gezi Park, and continued in Eren’s house. The party had become the first political organization that provided LGBTI individuals with autonomy. Ahmet Güneş, “İlk Eylemden Bugüne LGBTİ Hareketi,” P24 Platform for Independent Journalism, July 2, 2020, http://platform24.org/objective/365/ilk-eylemden-bugune-lgbti-hareketi.

[66] “Sivil Sıkı Yönetim,” Sokak, August 27–September 3, 1989, 1.

[67] “Başka Tanrının Çocukları,” Sokak, August 27–September 3, 1989, 1.

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