War and peace in the information age
In 2001, German nonviolent-anarchist newspaper graswurzelrevolution began an ambitious media solidarity project with Turkish antimilitarists. The editors of the project reflect on the challenges and outcomes to date.
otkökü devrimi = graswurzelrevolution = grassroots revolution
A Turkish- and German-speaking voice for a non-violent, anarchist society
"The periodical 'graswurzelrevolution' is the main voice of the grassroots democratic activists." Ralf Vandamme, social scientist (1)
"The group that has most consistently tried to build a social rhizome and comes closest to anarchist ethics is the so-called Non-violent Action. It is not by coincidence that this group's newspaper, a magazine with a relatively wide distribution, is called 'graswurzelrevolution'." Horst Stowasser (2)
The zero issue of 'graswurzelrevolution' (GWR) was published in the summer of 1972 in Augsburg (Bavaria). The "monthly magazine for a non-violent, anarchist society" was inspired by "Peace News" (London), the German-speaking "Direkte Aktion" ("newspaper for anarchism and non-violence"; published from 1965 to 1966 by Wolfgang Zucht and other non-violent activists in Hanover) and the French-speaking "Anarchisme et Nonviolence" (published in Switzerland from 1964 to 1967) (3).
Distributed throughout Germany, the paper describes itself as follows:
"graswurzelrevolution means a fundamental social revolution which intends to abolish all forms of violence and domination by building up power from below. We fight for a world which no longer discriminates against people on the grounds of their gender or sexual orientation, their language, origin, convictions, disabilities, or based on racist or anti-Semitic prejudice. Our aim is to replace hierarchies and capitalism by a self-organized, socialist economic order and to replace the state by a federalist and grassroots democratic society. Up to now, our work has been focussed on anti-militarist and ecological areas. As far as possible, our aims should be reflected and applied in our forms of struggle and organisation. In order to drive back and destroy structures of domination and violence, we use non-violent forms of action. This is the way in which the anarchist paper 'graswurzelrevolution', since 1972, has been striving to broaden and develop the theory and practice of non-violent revolution."
Among other things, GWR organizes, and participates in, solidarity campaigns for (radical) conscientious objectors such as Osman (Ossi) Murat Ülke, with whom GWR has maintained close links and to whose story it has given extensive coverage, thereby contributing to his situation becoming known among a broader public.
In 1970, Ossi was born near the German town of Gummersbach. He spent his childhood and early youth in Germany until he went to live in Turkey at the age of 15. At a press conference in May 1994, he publicly supported four conscientious objectors and in consequence was arrested for the first time. On September 1, 1995, he destroyed his army passport and announced his conscientious objection. In October 1996, he was arrested again and, with a few interruptions, was kept in prison until March 9, 1999. Ossi is a member of the Izmir Association of War Resisters (ISKD) and a non-violent anarchist. Being a conscientious objector, he may be rearrested any time.
Otkökü (Turkish for 'grassroots')
When the coordinating editor of GWR met Ossi in Izmir in summer 2000, together they developed the idea to initiate a joint Turkish-German newspaper project. In December 2000, graswurzelrevolution published an interview with Osman titled "Otkökü - Grassroots movement in Turkey" (4). Following months of preparation and debates in the GWR circle of editors, a donation enabled the publication of the first issue of Otkökü in the format of a daily paper and with a circulation of 5,700 copies, featuring Turkish, Kurdish and German articles.
"Otkökü is a four-page Turkish-German quarterly, intended to create awareness of libertarian and non-violent ideas among the Turkish-speaking communities in Western Europe as well as to support the building of non-violent and libertarian movements and structures in Turkey.
From a legal point of view, Otkökü is part of GWR and is published and edited in Germany. We are well aware of the difficult living and working conditions for grassroots revolutionaries in Turkey. One of them is Osman Murat Ülke, who has taken on the position of Otkökü's coordinating editor. (...) In order to support conscientious objectors, anti-militarists, non-violent activists, libertarians and other members of the non-dogmatic left in Turkey, it is important to create an international counter-public. Otkökü takes part in this effort. Initially planned as a twelve-month newspaper project, Otkökü strives to inspire transnational solidarity. It is intended as a voice of the Turkish-speaking grassroots movement, broadening its basis and international network. We hope to organise a structure for distributing the paper in Turkey as well, as far as this is viable for the groups in Turkey. (...) A large number of Otkökü newspapers will be distributed in places such as Turkish shops, international meeting points, bookstores, cultural centres, universities, cafes, bars, etc." (5)
Among other things, the first issue of Otkökü covered the human rights situation in Turkey, the new F-type prisons and the Ottoman genocide committed against 1.5 million Armenians in 1915.
The responsibilities of Otkökü's Izmir-based coordinating editor include the selection of the topics to be covered, communication with the authors, decisions on articles handed in, the structuring of the contributions and translation work. Layout and proofreading are the responsibility of GWR's Münster-based coordinating editor.
"We hope for the anti-militarist, libertarian, feminist, and other non-dogmatic left-wing groups in Turkey to take part in this decentralised and grassroots-democratic project. Step by step, the network and contacts of the activists and supporters can be extended. (...) We hope to increase awareness of the non-dogmatic left in Turkey and their current situation in Germany, Switzerland and Austria and to strengthen our links with the Turkish-speaking community." This is what we wrote in March 2001.
Repression: Otkökü is unacceptable to the Turkish authorities
The GWR circle of editors, however, had to face the fact that their hopes to distribute Otkökü in Turkey were crushed at an early stage. A major part of the copies sent to Turkey was confiscated by the Turkish customs authorities and could never be distributed. Otkökü No. 1 never reached its intended recipients; instead it ended up at the Turkish Ministry of the Interior in Ankara.
Living and working in the military state of Turkey, the authors as well as Ossi, the editor, are exposed to continuous threats. In view of this situation, we accepted that Otkökü's distribution in Turkey had to be limited to the small number of local GWR subscribers.
"The articles of Otkökü's second issue have some things in common. All three of them deal with people who have been harmed by practices of domination, in most cases perpetrated by the army. And the background of the three articles is mainly linked to the war in Kurdistan. But the most topical aspect of the texts is their implication that traumas resulting from a war whose end has been officially proclaimed cannot be healed just like that. The articles focus on people who demand that these traumas be made visible. The social atmosphere in Turkey can only recover if we confront these traumas. Even if the realities addressed in our articles are oppressive, at the same time they demonstrate that there is resistance against oblivion, that there is the willingness to build a 'different' future." (Ossi, in: Otkökü 2, June 2001)
At the beginning, left-wing German dailies reported on the suppression of the paper (6). In summer 2001, 6,700 copies of Otkökü were published, 3,000 of them being distributed as standalone newspapers in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. In the following months, however, the number of people willing to distribute the paper decreased.
In response to this development and to the fact that most Turkish migrants in Germany are able to read German texts, Otkökü was transformed into an exclusively German-speaking supplement of the GWR as from September 2002. The Turkish versions of the articles can now be found on the GWR homepage only: www.graswurzel.net.
The original Otkökü concept has failed due to the repression in Turkey. Besides, the paper has been unable to reach a wider audience beyond the GWR readership. Among the 2.5 million Turkish migrants in Germany, Otkökü is widely unknown. There is only little interest in the non-violent libertarian project among the Turkish and Kurdish left-wing movements in this country. Many members of the Turkish diaspora have a Stalinist or Apoist background. To them, an anti-authoritarian paper is simply uninteresting.
In June 2002, Manfred Horn, a Bielefeld-based social scientist, published his thesis titled "German- and Turkish-speaking print and broadcasting media in the Federal Republic of Germany: Between cultural mediation and linguistic pragmatism" (7), dealing, inter alia, with the subject of "Otkökü: A bilingual newspaper". He states: "Otkökü lives up to its claim, formulated by GWR editor Bernd Drücke, of highlighting suppressed topics such as sexual abuse and violations perpetrated by Turkish militaries and police, the opening of a gay-lesbian cultural centre, or anarchism in Turkey. Another topic is the hunger strike, lasting several months, of left-wing political prisoners in Turkey against their incomunicado detention. By covering this subject, Otkökü stands out in clear contrast to the German as well as the Turkish mass media who keep silent on it. (…) The paper tries to create public awareness of different forms of organisation and anti-militarist ways of thinking and to open up an alternative to the dominant Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK). Drücke describes the dilemma with regard to Kurdish conscientious objectors: 'They are not necessarily anti-militarists. Instead, they simply do not want to take up arms against their own people.'
Otkökü is a newspaper with a narrow focus, reporting on movements fitting in with its own ideological ideas of emancipative movements from below. From a marketing point of view, it is a special-interest publication. Thus, public interest in the paper is restricted to a small audience of politically educated individuals and groups of German, Turkish and Kurdish people with an open-minded left-wing attitude. By reporting about social movements, Otkökü tries to inspire the creation of further movements. This kind of agitation, however, can only be successful if the language of the paper is part of the general discourse and if the publication acquires a broad basis. 2,000 copies distributed at universities and international centres are simply not sufficient."
Topics covered by Otkökü include the root causes of refugee movements as well as militarism and human rights, Turkish-libertarian views on the EU and the resistance to the third Gulf War: "War, no! Potatoes, yes!" (8)
"My feedback on Otkökü: a good, interesting project. Keep it up! And do include articles about Turkish people in Germany and their political movements." (Letter to the editor, graswurzelrevolution No. 281 (July 2003))
The end? A new beginning?
Otkökü No. 8, published in June 2003, was the last issue enjoying financial support by the Bildungswerk of DFG/VK Hessen, a German anti-militarist organisation and WRI associate. Since then, there has been a freeze on the project. Provided we can secure further financing, the paper will pick itself up by spring 2004. In addition, the GWR circle of editors would like to produce French- and English-speaking versions of Otkökü in co-operation with newspaper projects in France and Britain.
Countering capitalist globalisation from above by globalising social movements from below? Otkökü is part of this project for change. For a non-violent, anarchist society!
GWR & Otkökü editors
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