27 year-old Samet Fırat Soydemir has difficulty speaking about the death of his friend during the recent protest in the Turkish town of Haytay.
According to video clips, the 19 year-old was severely beaten by police and government supporters and later died from a head concussion.
Soydemir is one of the founders of the youth movement in Haytay. The movement is not only engaged in civil society development and raising youth issues in his home town of Haytay but throughout Turkey. As a programs specialist with Mustafa Kemal University who also directs a local career center, Soydemir often organizes Turkish students with the aim of forging a stronger civil society.
Below, Soydemir describes how his friend's death affected him:
"Turkey is in need of major changes that must be carried out by young people and students. But when a 19 year-old boy participates in a protest due to my encouragement and is killed, I feel responsible. I can’t look into the eyes of his parents since I was the one who planted the seeds of free thought in him. He gave his life in the name of ideas that perhaps weren’t worth his life. Three of the six Gezi protest victims died in Haytay. This says a lot about how the protest movement was widely received here in Haytay.
One of those killed was the most active member of our group. The press attempted to prescribe him as an average citizen, but he was a conscious citizen; someone with international experience who was devoted to this country. He was incapable of committing acts of violence. He studied at the college and wanted to become a teacher. Nine policemen brutally beat him but none have yet to be arrested and criminal charges haven’t been filed."
What are your priorities in terms of changes that must be made in Turkey? Where will the change come from?
Turkey is your typical Eurasian country, a mixture of various cultures and traditions. From history we know that this area was a crossroads for different cultures and civilizations. I do not believe that what exists in Turkey today only belongs to the Turkish people. It is an expanse of land that bears the inheritance of a large part of humanity. No one can deny this. We have a patriarchal society here and it is very difficult to break down the walls and stereotypes. I believe that Turkish students and the youth must take the intuitive and responsibility to a greater degree. But we must not politicize them for it only leads to a conflict of interest. They can also have problems with their families.
Our aim is to assemble young people from different backgrounds and interests and to unite them in the name of one ideal. In this way, we are trying to build a conscious society whose every member can be part of the other. We believe that one day the youth will understand that they are responsible for very many decisions and they can bring about change.
During the latest Gezi Park events we saw that thousands of youth were ready to come out onto the streets in a day. What do you think was their main motivation?
I actively participated in the protests for the first three days. And Haytay was one of the most intense sites for this movement in all Turkey. It isn’t surprising that the protest movement sparked do quickly in Haytay. This city is a melting pot of different cultures and peoples. But if I am to be sincere, after a few days the protest completely veered from its true objective and began to serve other aims.
It transformed into a chaotic situation that continues until today. The Gezi Park protests began due to environmental issues, but degenerated into ethnic conflict, especially in Haytay, given that there are large camps here for Syrian refugees. There are more than 150,000 refugees now in Haytay. There is also a much smaller minority of Bashar Assad supporters living here.
Conflicts between the refugees and Alawites often break out and the city suffers. Explosions and bands of armed individuals in civilian clothes have made us paranoid. This also played a role in getting the people to protest. At the same time, we don’t want to be the victim of foreign secret services and programs. What, for example, was the German Greens Party member Claudia Roth doing at the protests in Gezi Park? It was problematic for me and that’s why I stopped going. Our protest has nothing to do with European diplomats. Our protest is a domestic matter.
As a young activist and citizen, what are your primary goals and how to you plan to achieve them?
It is quite difficult to have goals in Turkey today, because all the funds and resources are in the hands of the conservatives. I don’t feel like an equal citizen in my country and do not receive any assistance from my government, other than the persecution. But I also know the hardships faced by those who leave. I had the opportunity to travel to several countries but never felt as complete as I do here in my country.
I want to live in my country and perhaps become a political figure in the future. Right now, I’m not ready for it, but later on I would like to introduce reforms in this country that I love so much. Sure, I would also like the option of living comfortably; of doing scientific work…I don’t know. It’s tough making plans for the future in Turkey today; everything is unstable.
I will probably continue to struggle until they come and put me in prison.