Sevilay Celenk: There has been an attempt to erase “peace” from our vocabulary
With the submission of candidate lists to the Supreme Election Board, the public’s attention has turned to the names nominated by the parties for parliamentary seats. One of the important names nominated during this process is Sevilay Celenk, the Green Left Party's candidate for Diyarbakir deputy.
Celenk was dismissed from her position on January 6, 2017, by Decree Law No. 679 due to her being a signatory of the peace declaration while she was a faculty member at the Department of Radio, Television, and Cinema at Ankara University's Faculty of Communication. She served as the chairman of the Political Science Graduate Union, one of Turkey's institutions with historical weight in the field of civil society, between 2012 and 2014.
We spoke with feminist writer and academic Celenk, who has been involved in the women’s rights struggle for a long time, about her nomination from Diyarbakir, the city where she spent her childhood, the termination of her employment, the Kurdish question, and the women's struggle that continues to grow in the face of all the attacks.
‘IT MAKES ME PROUD AND EXCITED TO FIGHT WITH THE GREEN LEFT PARTY’
Previously, you were a member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Consultation Board. In the upcoming elections, you became the 6th place candidate for the Diyarbakir constituency of the Green Left Party. How did your candidacy process go?
This candidacy process was difficult for all parties. There are alliances, components, and many applications. There is also great interest in politics from women, which is a very positive situation. I know that this process has been meticulously carried out and has been a challenging process for the Green Left Party and the Labor and Freedom Alliance in general. The transition process to the Green Left Party, the possibility of political bans, those who come from components, etc. All of these required serious work to create the candidate lists, which was acknowledged today by the Co-Chairs of the HDP, Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar, during the candidate introduction meeting. When my circle asked me whether I was considering candidacy during this process and if the party had made any suggestions in this regard, I expressed that I felt ready to participate in politics this period if the party had a proposal in this direction and that I believed that I could contribute. I knew there were suggestions in this direction for the party. I am also a member of the HDP Consultation Board. I thought, "I'm already here. I will provide support in any way I can," and if my contribution at the level of candidacy is considered, we can negotiate it, and that's how I got involved in this process. I was very honored. The Green Left Party is a great source of hope for these elections. It is a source of pride and excitement to be a part of the Green Left Party and to fight in the election process.
'THE ONLY THING THAT HASN'T CHANGED IS THE INSISTENCE ON DEMANDING PEACE'
In 2017, you were one of the 21 academics who were expelled from Ankara University by a decree law (KHK) due to signing a peace petition. At that time, you criticized the existing war policies and demanded peace. What has changed and or stayed unchanged since then? What do you think about the Kurdish question and peace?
If we look at what hasn't changed, the insistence on a demand for peace has remained the same from that period until today. The Academics for Peace went through trying times. They never expressed this difficulty in a language of victimization that was separate from its political nature. But of course, it was a challenging process. The working lives of peace-signatory academics, their living environments here, and many areas in which they realized themselves were taken away from them all of a sudden. However, they did not step back and did not give in. They stood behind the demand for peace. I am just one of them. That is what hasn't changed. On the other hand, there are things that are getting progressively worse. There is no limit to seeing the demand for peace as a criminal demand [in this country]. After June 7th and October 10th, we witnessed more clearly that the concept of "peace" was seen as a dangerous notion day by day. There was an attempt to remove the word "peace" from our vocabulary. The changing dimension of the issue is that the idea of peace is being pushed far behind in the agenda.
What is needed is not only a demand for peace in the context of the Kurdish issue, but a societal peace. The different segments of society have been polarized against each other to such an extent that a much broader demand for societal peace needs to be expressed much more strongly, and a great effort must be made by everyone for a democratic Turkey. Of course, one of the most important pillars of this is the Kurdish issue.
At the time that you were expelled, you were an associate professor and were on track become a professor. The school administration told you, "If you withdraw your signature [from the petition], we will promote you to a professor." Despite this, you did not withdraw your signature, and you were subsequently suspended. This attitude also reveals the transformation of academia during the AKP period. One of the areas where the government has launched the most attacks is academia. What do you think about the transformation of academia, and what kind of academia do you envision in the event that there is a change of government?
There is a certain attitude within the alliance regarding the peace signatories. The AKP-MHP ruling coalition’s position is clear, but this government will change. From the perspective of the Nation Alliance, Kilicdaroglu has already promised that the Academics for Peace will be reinstated at their jobs within a week. On the other hand, this return is essentially the result of our own struggle. Therefore, there is no need for this to be a promise. We have already won our legal battle. Based on the reasoned decision of the Supreme Court that signing a petition for peace is within the scope of freedom of expression, we should have returned to our duties after being acquitted in our trials. Our return is related to our legal struggle and strong stance. We will return and try to revive the notion of the university and academia, which has been largely destroyed, especially in the field of social sciences and universities with deep institutional histories. Academia has suffered a great deal of damage. Therefore, we will have to work to reverse this damage and build a university that is autonomous and has academic freedom. It will be a difficult process, but we have not disconnected from each other outside and our solidarity networks have not been stretched. We also have friends in our schools who are waiting for our return and have been in solidarity with us during these processes. With the help of these solidarity networks, a new process will begin upon our return. We will rebuild. The Labor and Freedom Alliance and the Green Left Party are already on the side of saying "We will not be complicit in this crime," [which was the title of the petition] and they promise great hope and effort for this reconstruction.
'DIYARBAKIR WILL TAKE A HUGE BREATH'
You have been nominated as a candidate from Diyarbakir, your hometown. What was Diyarbakir like when you were a child? How does it feel to be nominated from your hometown?
Diyarbakir, like many cities, has undergone profound changes over the years. The cities we all knew from our childhood, with their vineyards and gardens, have transformed due to rapid urbanization. The Diyarbakir of our childhood was relatively small, green, and spacious for a provincial center. It was not too crowded. We happened to be there at that time. I was born in Maden, my mother’s hometown, which is very close to Diyarbakir. But a year or two later, we moved to Diyarbakir, my father's hometown. Diyarbakir has changed and transformed significantly due to forced migrations and village evacuations. But no matter what they do, Diyarbakir is an amazing city. Despite these changes, Diyarbakir remains a magnificent city with a rich and diverse history that is evident in its spirit and grandeur. It has a long and multicultural past, which contributes to its atmosphere of freedom. However, it is also plagued by security policies that have resulted in destruction, rapid and uneven urbanization, and deep poverty, as well as the problems faced by all the forcibly displaced people of the city. Nonetheless, despite these challenges, Diyarbakir remains a beautiful city for everyone. In recent years, these difficulties, like in many other places in Turkey, have turned into an unimaginable level of poverty, a painful struggle for survival. There is a vulnerability to other risks that poverty brings for everyone. There is poverty of women and children. Unemployment, especially unemployment that includes the educated and young population, is a major problem. But Diyarbakir is still Diyarbakir for everyone. That beautiful city...
Despite these changes, Diyarbakir remains a magnificent city with a rich and diverse history that is evident in its spirit and grandeur. It has a long and multicultural past, which contributes to its atmosphere of freedom. However, it is also plagued by security policies that have resulted in destruction, rapid and uneven urbanization, and deep poverty. Nonetheless, despite these challenges, Diyarbakir remains a beautiful city for everyone.
Following the end of the peace process, Diyarbakir was one of the cities that suffered the most from government attacks. There have been numerous political, cultural, social, and societal transformations in the city. What kind of Diyarbakir do you imagine after the election?
After the election, Diyarbakir will finally be able to take a deep breath. The city has suffered a great deal. There have been many times when we have thought "No city should be injured like this." Diyarbakir is a dynamic and powerful city that never gives up the struggle, even if there are also times when it becomes introverted and silent. Based on the experiences of city dwellers, their political reflexes are strong. But there are also moments of silence and introspection within the city. If there is an effort to make the country more democratic as it enters its second century, and everyone does their part, not just in Diyarbakir but throughout Turkey, then the country will become more beautiful. Turkey needs this transformation, and Diyarbakir can play a vital role in achieving it. All of Turkey is in great need of this.
'WOMEN ARE PAVING THE WAY TO UNITY'
During the AKP era, there have been huge attacks on women and their rights. Women's murders are increasing day by day. The government withdrew from the Istanbul Convention overnight. The Law No. 6284 is once again under attack during the election period. There is a great pressure on the women's movement and struggle. Nevertheless, the women’s movement grows every day. What do you think about these attacks and the women's struggle?
The women's struggle is a constantly strengthening and rising struggle by way of unity. While the entire society is divided into small fragments, and politics are sometimes dragged into this handicap, women are paving the way to unity. There is, for example, the Women's Coalition that has been bringing together the women's movement and women's organizations for a long time. It has been fighting for twenty years. Even though it is comparatively new, there is also the ESIK (Women for Equality) platform, which represents many organizations, and which formed during the attacks on the Istanbul Convention.
ESIK is very strong despite being very new. It has kept the Istanbul Convention on the agenda. The recent earthquake has brought more challenging times for women. There, women's organizations have great importance. There are organizations that continue their existence in these networks, such as KAMER, KCDP, or the newest organization, “I Will Choose.” All of these have strengthened us, they were born together and have grown stronger together. They have never given up. They have never given up on the streets, the struggle, and standing together. This is very valuable because women's problems are very real. Violence, femicide, poverty, unemployment, oppression, and reducing women to secondary positions are all very real. Women do not accept any of these and resist them with great struggle.
‘WOMEN WILL CONTINUE THEIR STRUGGLE’
You have been involved in the feminist women's struggle for many years. In Diyarbakir, where you are a candidate, Adalet Kaya, an important figure in the women's struggle, is also on the list. The women's struggle in Diyarbakir has been under attack for a long time. At the same time, in a period where parties such as HUDA PAR and the New Welfare Party, which target women's rights, are expected to be in parliament, what is the importance of feminist women being nominated and being in parliament?
Women have always been in parliament. No period was less risky than another. Male alliances that negotiate over improvements in women's rights through attacks are nothing new. They have always been there. We have always fought against it and will continue to do so. Of course, the AKP-MHP government targeted the accumulation and victories of this movement. They focused on destroying it. But women will not allow this to happen. This is not through the power of any one of us alone. We will carry out this struggle by drawing strength from each other. Even when alliances were being formed, they came up against us attempting to bargain over Law No. 6284. This is not something that will make us step back. Women always knew that the attacks would multiply. But this is not something that will lead us to despair. It will be a difficult struggle, but the women's struggle has always been so. The struggle will continue.