The Kids Are Alright (And So Are the Mothers)

Curator's Note

Gezi Park Protests brought many formerly passive citizens out on the streets, and while not all of them were young, there was certainly a feeling of the “apolitical youth” being awakened. This was further strengthened by various graffiti: “Don’t worry mom, I’m not in the front, we’re all walking together” “No mom, we’re in the back” and “Don’t be afraid mom, my friend is with me.” Research done inside the park showed that the average age there was 28, by no means young enough to confirm the perception of teenagers reporting to their “mom”s. But the discourse of youth was firmly established and reinforced by the authorities, especially by the city’s governor Hüseyin Mutlu, repeatedly referring to the “young people” and “our children” in the park. This patronizing tone was also adopted by PM Erdoğan in his frequent and divisive speeches, causing many to liken him to a harsh father scolding his children; and raising discussions about the power relations between the rulers and the public in Turkey. All of this culminated in an announcement made by Governor Mutlu shortly before the final crackdown on the park. He called out to “families,” asking them to come and pick up their children, stating that their safety could no longer be guaranteed. Beside the fact that the demonstrators’ safety had never really been a concern for the police, this belittling statement also contained a covert yet very clear threat to all protestors. However, like most official declarations, this also backfired. Soon after, a group of mothers formed a human chain at the park, walking all across Gezi and bringing their demonstration to Taksim Square, where they chanted “Moms are here!” in response – as seen in the video.

Despite my title however, one should remember that not all kids are alright. In addition to the six young men killed during the protests, the youngest victim of police brutality, Berkin Elvan (then 14) remains in a coma since being shot in the head with a gas canister on June 15, the day after the park was cleared. It was Fathers’ Day, and Berkin was on his way to buy bread, instructed by his mom.


Hi Melis, thanks for this informative and touching post. My question is about the popular representations of the mother figure in Turkey. Do you think the authorities' call to mothers resonate with the dominant representations? And when the mothers showed up in the park--a political act in and of itself-- did it rupture the hegemonic conceptualization of the mother as the guardian of children, families and maybe by way of extension even the society? If so, in what ways?

Thanks Bilge, for your kind words and for putting this week together. I'd say that Turkish mothers are seen and represented as extremely concerned about their kids' well-being and rather controlling. The bonds between the mother and the child are considered to be much closer and stronger than those with the father. I think the authorities' call to parents does resonate with dominant representations of parents ascontrolling, and of children as an extension of their parents, and not as unique individuals. The call was actually to parents, not only to mothers. I think the march of the mothers was completely unexpected for the authorities. Mothers are not seen as political figures necessarily, and parents of the post-1980 coup era have often preached their children to stay out of anything political. And yet, it does resonate with the image of the self-sacrificing mother as the protector of her children at any cost. While it may seem somewhat irrelevant, I'd like to give the example of the mother figure in the Romanian film, Child's Pose, which many in the audience here have found to be extremely similar to a certain class of Turkish mothers.

Melis, thanks for this piece! Your post reminded me of another reaction act of mothers in Turkey; "The Saturday Mothers", a group of activist Turkish women whose children got lost during detention. For the last 15 years, "Saturday Mothers" have been meeting every Saturday in Galatasaray, Beyoglu (walking distance to Gezi Park, hardly a coincidence in my opinion, as Gezi Park is in the centre of a highly politicised neighbourhood in Istanbul). Their persistence raised awareness on persecution and torture in Turkey. I believe "Gezi Mothers", just like "Saturday mothers" also showed once more that the resistance is not for youngsters only. Mothers were there not only as shields to protect their kids, but also as politically aware citizens who were protesting the oppressive government.

Yes Beste, thanks for bringing them up! Saturday Mothers were inspired by Mothers of Plaza de Maio in Argentina, and were (are) similarly looking for justice for their children. This also brings to my mind a Turkish saying "Ağlarsa anam ağlar, gerisi yalan ağlar" which can be loosely translated as "My mother is the only one who will truly cry for me, all else is lies."

I totally agree that the state acts as a father figure in the society underlying the moral basis of the patriarchal repression. Shameless political figures such as Prime Minister Erdogan or Governor Mutlu rely on this very moral separation, male-female, young-old. I also agree that moms went to protests not just as moms but also as equal citizens demanding the same rights as their daughters or sons are demanding. My concern is that the emphasis on"mother" figure may not necessarily break this patriarchal relationship in the society. Again as society which is organized not only by the gender roles, but also age spectrum. Do you think that there is still a radical possibility here in the mother-children dynamic at the protests? Thank you!

Hi Hakan,thanks for your comment and question. But I'm not sure about what you mean exactly by "a radical possibility in the mother-children dynamic," could you expand that? I'm also not sure about how the age factor works, but I'm thinking while writing here. On the one hand, there is the very patronizing discourse that is obvious in all the speeches, as well as in much of the reporting done about Gezi. The young (I'd say anyone below 25 or anyone who does not have a family of his/her own - see the recent attack by Erdoğan on Bahçeli for "not even having children") are looked down upon and not really considered individuals. On the other hand, there is a widespread ageism against anyone over a certain age, maybe 60. That's one of the reasons why the mothers made such big news, as anyone of a certain age, certainly women, are not really expected to play a visible public role. Obviously, there are many public figures, especially politicians of that age, but they've all been around from much earlier on. Or maybe it is indeed because they are men.

Patriarchy establishes a strict order by vertically categorizing the social according to age, in certain cases more so than gendered stratification. For instance, when father is not present (or dead) first brother usually takes the top of the family hierarchy. When kids are young, mother takes this role - but only temporarily: mother literally / metaphorically has a reproductive role in the very family structure. That is perhaps why they made the news at Gezi. Mothers who were supposed to be the voice of the "reason", were the ones who were in the front lines. That simply contradicted the idea of family institution. In that regard, when I said 'radical possibility' I was referring to re-formulation of "family" as an institution as a whole, which is already deeply connected to the state apparatus. By resisting side-by-side, mother+daughter develops a new form of subjectivity, potentially a radical one. That is, a new political unity counteract against 'protective mother' discourse, transforms her and her daughter, challenges the social order. Which is a good thing.

That would certainly be a good thing, but I doubt this particular event would function in that direction. In fact, I believe it was often seen very much within the "‘protective mother’ discourse" as you called it. It was presented to some extent as if the mothers were stepping forward because their children were in danger. And yet, as I mentioned in the original text, many people who were in the protests from the beginning were old enough to be, or were indeed, mothers. I'd like to hear what the others think about this as well.

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