Freedom Of AssemblyFreedom of AssociationViolation Of Rights

The housing rights protests in Ankara and the 12th of December ‘We Can’t Find Shelter’ Movement gathering

İbrahim Demiryürek

Click to read in Kurdish or Turkish.

Students talked about the shelter demonstrations in Ankara, the arrests during the protest, and the following rights violations.

After the We Can’t Find Shelter Movement held its first vigil in Istanbul on September 19, 2021, the students who could not find shelter in Ankara started their vigils that would last for several days as of the night of September 22, 2021.

The obstacles and detentions faced by students who wanted to convey their demands to the Parliament were cited as reasons for being expelled from the dormitory, cutting their scholarships, and hindering their right to education.

We interviewed Gülten Şevval Sarı and Ozan Deniz Ödemiş, who are among these students.

The first vigil in Ankara

On the night of September 22, 2021, Ankara police did not let a group of young people who wanted to start a vigil in Kuğulu Park. Expressing that they had nowhere to go, the law enforcement officers said they would not allow them to stay in the park and on the streets and started following the march that would last for hours.

Besides the group that walked for hours on the streets of Kızılay under police pursuit, the first vigil of the We Can’t Find Shelter Movement continued in Kuğulu Park with a second group. In the following days, vigils continued in various parks and streets in Istanbul, Ankara, and all over the country.

Police banned the march to the Parliament and arrested students

We Can’t Find Shelter Movement took a break from vigils and called to march to the Parliament in Ankara on December 12 to convey four demands for a stronger central meeting and solution to the housing problem, which are to increase the capacities of the dormitories, provide support programs for student houses, control rents, control apartment prices. 

Hundreds of students who couldn’t find shelter wanted to reach Ankara from Istanbul, Izmir, and various provinces to meet in Ulus Square and walk to their addressee, the Parliament, whom they demanded to solve the housing problem.

The night before December 12, 2021, the Ankara Governor’s Office declared an opinion contrary to the laws and international conventions to which the Republic of Turkey is a party, stating that the march to be held is “not deemed appropriate.” Thereupon, buses departing from Istanbul and Izmir were stopped at the provincial border of Ankara, and young people who wanted to meet in Ulus Square were detained under torture. The Ankara Police Department had illegally and arbitrarily usurped the freedom of travel of the young people who were deprived of their housing rights, as the governor’s office did not approve.

Meanwhile, Ulus Square, where the meeting was called, was besieged by the police. Students who could not find shelter, who started walking from various streets of Kızılay to Ulus Square in Ankara, were detained in groups by torture but continued their demonstration despite all the attacks of the police.

Twenty-three young people were detained during the protests on the streets of Ankara on 12 December. The number of young people arrested on the Ankara border and the streets of Kızılay reached 90.

“At the end of the day, I was homeless”

Young people who wanted to march to the Parliament by exercising their right to assemble and demonstrate were detained by torture in return on 12 December “punished.” The universities started investigations against them, the Credit and Hostels Institution (KYK) cut their loans and scholarships, and they were expelled from their dormitories which not even met humane living conditions. Thus, the right to education of those whose rights to shelter, assemble, and demonstrate were usurped was also violated.

Gülten Şevval Sarı and Ozan Deniz Ödemiş, whose rights were violated after 12 December, talked about their experiences.

Could you briefly introduce yourself?

Gülten Şevval Sarı (G.Ş.S.): Hello, I am Gülten Şevval Sarı. I am a 3rd-year student at Ankara University Faculty of Law.

Ozan Deniz Ödemiş (O.D.Ö.): I’m Ozan Deniz. I am a 4th-year student at Ankara University Faculty of Political Sciences. I spent the first year of my three-year school life in a private dormitory, the second year in the family home due to the pandemic, and the third year homeless. The quota of the KYK dormitory was not available to me anyway. So at the end of the road, I started by saying, “I will stay in the dormitory for a year, then I will rent a house; it makes more sense financially,”  I was left homeless and dormless. Because this plan, which was logical two years ago, became illogical two years later. Rents were too high. Basic needs such as food, heating, and shelter became unmet. In addition, the price of the private dormitory I stayed in had doubled, reaching an amount of three thousand Turkish Liras (TL). My family nor I could afford this amount. So I was homeless and dormless. During the 3rd grade, I tried to both work and study. After saving money for a year, luckily, two of my friends and I found a house we could rent. There was now a place where I could live, even if it was a house on level minus 1 with a bathroom with flies. That is my accomodation story.

“They didn’t want us to say ‘we can’t find shelter’, we arrested under torture”

Can you explain what happened on December 12, 2021?

G.Ş.S.: The demonstrations on December 12 were held to make the voices of students who have left their hometowns and come to another city for university education or those who have housing problems or cannot even enroll in the university due to housing problems to be heard. Ironically, the Ankara Governor’s Office did not find these demonstrations appropriate in terms of “Public well-being, peace, and security of the province.” Our friends from different cities were arbitrarily detained before they even entered Ankara, disregarding their travel rights, and then sent back to their towns. In Ankara, the police forces poured into Kızılay didn’t want us to say, “we can’t find shelter,” and arrest us under torture.

O.D.Ö.: Of course, I am not the only student who cannot live in this country. Hundreds of thousands of people cannot find shelter. They cannot live under qualified and humane conditions if they can find a place. Everyone has a problem with their home, dormitory, or apartment. While the issue of accessing the right to housing is on one side, big problems arise when you find a house. We have to work instead of being a student due to the trouble of paying the rent, installments, kitchen expenses, and bills because our scholarships and loans are not enough.

We wanted to walk from Ulus to the Parliament on 12 December, when the Ministry of Youth and Sports 2022 budget was discussed, to raise a voice against all these problems, to ask for all these problems to be solved, and to tell our hundreds of thousands of friends with whom we share the same problem, that ‘you are not alone.’ Unfortunately, however, the police prevented us from going to Ulus, let alone marching to the Parliament, and stopped the buses of our friends coming from Istanbul and Izmir at the Ankara border.

They told our friends that they could not enter the city. Where is the freedom of travel? Our friends put up determined resistance, but our friends were detained because the government’s police were stronger.

While going to the meeting place in Ankara, we realized that the police almost surrounded Ulus. After seeing this siege and learning that our friends from outside the city were not allowed into the city, we made a sudden decision to move our protest to Kızılay, Yüksel Street. We said, “If they don’t allow us to enter Ulus, we can make our voices heard everywhere.” However, we got arrested by being beaten, tortured, and dragged in handcuffs. They cannot intimidate us. We are not afraid of being detained; we are scared of being homeless.

“I was kicked out of dormitory for saying ‘we can’t find shelter’”

Following your arrest, have you suffered violations such as an investigation at school, cuts in your KYK Credit/scholarship, or expulsion from the dormitory?

G.Ş.S.: After the December 12 protest, I learned that my KYK scholarship was converted into a loan and cut off. While the 850 TL KYK loan was not even enough for half the monthly dormitory fee, they wanted to discipline us like this. About a month after my scholarship was terminated, I learned that I was expelled from the dormitory because I said, “I can’t find shelter,” and that I had to vacate the dormitory within 24 hours. After being kicked out of the dormitory, I couldn’t rent a house due to the high rent, and I was homeless for about three months. They think they can scare and intimidate us with all these sanctions. We will never give up, and we will continue to raise our voices.

O.D.Ö.: On December 12, investigations were opened against us in our schools, as if we were the ones who committed the crime, as if those who pursue policies that make students homeless, or those who try to prevent students from speaking out by detaining them, are not guilty. Our friends who received KYK credits/scholarships and participated in the demonstrations were terminated. Our friends who stayed in the dormitory were evacuated from the dormitory. In other words, the people who came to support their friends who could not find shelter were also left without shelter. Our friends could not find a place to stay for months. The government wanted to intimidate us. They said: “If you support those who cannot afford to live, you will not be able to shelter, too; if you support those who have no scholarship, you will end up without a scholarship, too; and if you support debtors, you will be indebted, too.” Our struggle is precisely for this strategy to fail. This strategy even disrupts human relations. When some of your friends don’t even greet you for not being able to shelter and shouting about it, you realize that this is a struggle not only for economic and physical needs but also for improving human relations.

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