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  • Unity in RuptureWomen against the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  • Begüm Başdaş (bio)

On July 15, 2016, there was a failed coup attempt where more than 260 civilians and soldiers were killed. The president called on people to go out to the streets and stand against the coup. Mosques repeated this call with frequent announcements and calls to prayer. People followed. Thousands went out to the streets with the authority of the government to stop the coup and protect the nation against the putschists who have become its abject. In the aftermath of the failed coup attempt, streets and squares, formerly banned for dissident protestors, were filled with people celebrating the “glorious defense of democracy,” waving Turkish flags, chanting slogans against the coup, and shouting, “Allahu Ekber.” The call to be on the streets during and after the coup attempt ostensibly was for unity.

Many claimed that the people who went out on the streets on the night of the coup attempt and afterward were only men. On social media an image of a man sitting with his legs spread around a tank gun—as if it were a huge erect penis—was circulated to visually represent the masculinity of the religious, nationalist, and militarist defense of the nation against the military coup. Women, however, were also on the streets. Despite the calls made by some religious groups, such as İsmailağa Camiası (2016), which announced on its website that women’s place is home, many women did not heed this call and continued to occupy the streets and squares. On the night of the coup attempt, avideo showed aveiled woman walking toward tanks and resisting soldiers alone. The story and photographs of two women driving a truck carrying men were widely circulated. Democracy vigils, held every day across the country in the following days, included diverse women who joined the celebrations and even brought home-cooked food for others. The testimonies of women who identify themselves as religious or devout Muslim reveal that their mobilization [End Page 186] against the coup was driven by shared fear and anxiety. But there is disagreement among them about what should be next. Some eagerly and publicly support the death penalty for the putschists, while others see it as a violation of human rights. However, many seem to support the government’s purge and drive to protect the president against the coup. The AKP government presents these women as proof of the state’s legitimacy and as the desirable (makbul) citizens of Erdoğan’s “new Turkey.” Women’s active presence on the streets against the coup attempt must be recognized and should not be understood only in the ways the state discourse frames them, but whether this is a glimpse of a different future remains uncertain.

While the woman pilot flying the F16 over Istanbul on July 15 is likened to Sabiha Gökçen, the first woman pilot of the nation-state, who bombed the Kurdish dominated Dersim in 1937, how should we understand the women resisting against the coup now on the streets chanting for the death penalty? Faced with tanks and soldiers at their doorsteps in Western cities’ streets for the first time, there is new hope for a potentiality of a shared understanding of the ongoing war against the Kurds in the east whose everyday experiences are systematically shaped by the immediacy of armed forces. However, despite the resemblance of the experience, the possibility of women’s recognition of each other’s history of injuries and coming together for peace is rather grim.

Within the rhetoric of unity and democracy, the embodied presence and the language of women on the streets do not reflect a coherent experience in which all women feel secure and free. Many feminists, human rights defenders, and women who belong to dissident groups have become even more concerned about being in public spaces. Accounts of women who were attacked and harassed because their clothes were “too revealing” also circulated in the news and social media (Tahaoğlu 2016). Gendered and sexualized violence also underlined the language of many people who were anti–coup plotters. For example, the vice chair of the Trabzonspor...