The Spirit of 1968 and the Apoist Youth Movement

Today, the crisis of the system requires of us a revolutionary transformation of societal organisation; that which is closer to freedom, equality and democracy.

 

 

 

 

Zerdeşt TOLHILDAN

We are currently going through a very historical period. This period is especially important for the revolutionary youth movement of Turkey and the Kurdistan freedom movement. The month of May carries many spiritual meanings for the revolutionary front. Wherever we look during this month we see legendary struggles and lives sacrificed as a result of them. This is why we name the month of May as “the month of martyrs”.

This does not only apply to the revolutionary youth of Kurdistan and Turkey but for revolutionary youths all around the world. The fact that the global youth movements of the sixties peaked in the month of May in 1968, proves our initial point. The youth of today must take a closer look at the developments that took place around the globe towards the end of the sixties because an understanding of these developments that emphasised the societal roles and responsibilities of the revolutionary youth will shed light on our current responsibilities. Today, the crisis of the system requires of us a revolutionary transformation of societal organisation; that which is closer to freedom, equality and democracy.

The Youth of the Sixties

The sixties was a time in which the quest for freedom and the struggle for it had intensified. After the First and Second World Wars that the hegemonic system had put humanity through, the world was going through ecological, economical, social and political depression. Those hegemons who came out of the Second World War with relative success accelerated imperialist expansion and began to violently suppress the struggles of independence undertaken by the various peoples around the globe. The people of Vietnam and Korea, affected by the revolution in China, began their struggle of liberation. Cuba liberated itself. However, after the USA’s frustration in Cuba, it concentrated on a military offensive in Vietnam, who had just succeeded in ousting French imperialists from Vietnam. America’s offensive against the Vietnamese liberation movement encouraged the people of the world to struggle against imperialism, not least the people of Kampuchea, Laos and Thailand. This enthralled the revolutionary youths of the world and the youths from countries that held imperialist ambitions organised under anti-imperialist movements. The revolutionary youth movement of France is an example of this. The Vietnam War and its repercussions, France’s insistence on military engagement, the consequential economic meltdown and the inability of the government to offer basic social services to its own people triggered social upheavals. The youth of France grasped the revolutionary initiative.

There previously existed anti-system struggles and movements. However, increasingly these movements that had struggled under different names in different parts of the world, in the face of changing global balances had, more often than not, been internalised by the system. These movements, affected by the attraction of power, could not save themselves from defying their own principles. The internalisation of counter revolutionary practices by the Social democrats of the West, the communists of the East and the national liberationist movements across the world made a new anti-capitalist movement a priority for revolutionary youths. This was the birth of the 1968 youth movement. Many organisations deeming themselves “anti-capitalist” were being questioned for their passive stance in relation to the Vietnam War. The slackness of these movements and the degeneration that came with it was the main criticism brought by the 1968 youth movement against these so-called “anti-capitalist” movements. The 1968 youth movement, that began in France and spread all across the world, claimed that these movements were, consciously or unconsciously, accomplices of the crimes of the system. This is what separated the 1968 youth movement with all the other movements of the time.

The Revolutionary Youth Movement of Turkey

This movement that began in France sent a shockwave across the world. The revolutionary youth movement of Turkey was also among those affected by this shockwave. Alongside this affect, the internal political situation in Turkey offered a suitable atmosphere for political activism. The military coup of 1960 was carried out under the slogan of “democracy and freedom” against the then single party regime led by the Democrat Party government. This paved the way for a wider scope of organisation for social movements. There was an increase in discontent among student and youth organisations, not to mention an increase in trade union activity. However, what separated Turkey’s revolutionary youth movement of 1968 from its predecessors was its non-reformist devotion to socialism. Their struggle was not merely to change or enhance the system, but to revolutionise it.

The initial arena of revolutionary activity was the Federation of Thought Clubs (FKF). However, it did not take long for the creation of a more direct umbrella organisation called Dev-Genc (Revolutionary Youth). The FKF signalled a break off from traditional state institutions where the youth could organise more freely; Dev-Genc was later a major turning point in the course of revolutionary action. University campuses became the frontline in the struggle against the system and the movement spread with each protest. This rhythm peaked during the landmark protests against the American military’s stationing of the 6th Fleet to Turkey. There were major protests in the universities of Istanbul and Ankara. The police force was terrorising the streets and the universities. However, the revolutionary youth movement was showing no signs of backing down and when Turkish security forces murdered a young revolutionary called Vedat Demircioglu at Istanbul Technical University, this only served to infuriate the revolutionary youth movement. Eventually the protests succeeded and the American soldiers belonging to the 6th Fleet were forced to leave the country.

The revolutionary youth movement of Turkey gave birth to historical revolutionaries. Deniz Gezmis, Mahir Cayan, Ibrahim Kaypakkaya and Sinan Cemgil have engraved their names in the hearts of all succeeding revolutionaries of the region. Deniz’s emphasis – while on the gallows – of the “fraternity of peoples and the unity of their struggle”, Mahir’s resistance until his last breath and Ibrahim’s relentless struggle in the face of horrific torture is what the spirit of 1968 is formed of. Only if this spirit is understood, inherited and internalised can a movement of a similar stature be formed; thus becoming a force for social change.

The Apoist Youth Movement

Despite state suppression, torture and massacres the revolutionary movement of Turkey once again brought the Kurdish issue to the fore. On these grounds the Apoist youth movement, who from its outset had promised to inherit the revolutionary flag from Deniz, Mahir and Ibrahim, began to take the centre stage of the struggle. Kurdish youngsters had always been active on the revolutionary scene. However, the inception of the Apoist youth movement and the consequent birth of the PKK became the apex of the struggle for freedom. The leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan (Apo) was determined to continue the struggle of Deniz Gezmis who was hanged, Mahir Cayan who was massacred and Ibrahim Kaypakkaya who was brutally tortured and killed. What started with a group of a handful of loyal friends has now become a struggle taken up by millions.

Almost all of these young revolutionaries were between the ages of 20 and 25. Though their ages were small, their ambitions and ideals were cosmic. Even though there was hardly any sensible foundation for the establishment of such a mass movement, the initial cadres that formed the nucleus of the organisation showed tremendous belief and determination in creating something out of almost nothing; by nothing we mean materially, because morally and ideationally they were to inherit the rich spirit of the revolutionary youth movement of 1968 in France and the ideals of revolutionary martyrs such as Deniz, Mahir and Ibrahim. This inheritance was the basis of their ideals which were a free and independent country and a liveable world.

Just as the system had previously attempted to manipulate the revolutionary youth movements across the world, this was also the case with the Apoist youth movement. The military coup of 1980 was designed to completely eradicate the wounded revolutionary movement of Turkey and in the process, quash the then adolescent Apoist youth movement. The state terrorised the streets with unprecedented brutality. Many movements could not withstand the pressure, some fled to Europe in a strategic step to maintain their existence; however, the Apoist movement remained in the Middle East and raised the struggle to the next level. While a certain number of the initial cadres had left the country to establish relations in the Middle East, a significant number of cadres remained in Turkey to continue the struggle within the heart of the enemy. The Apoist movement developed from their-on and has subsequently not only brought the Kurdish people close to freedom, but has also become a beacon for socialism and internationalism across the Middle East and a hope to all peoples of the world.

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