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Contexto Internacional

Print version ISSN 0102-8529On-line version ISSN 1982-0240

Contexto int. vol.39 no.3 Rio de Janeiro Sept./Dec. 2017 

Research Articles

Enacting the International/Reproducing Eurocentrism

Representando o Internacional/Reproduzindo Eurocentrismo

Zeynep Gülşah Çapan1

1Istanbul Bilgi University, Istanbul, Turkey; ORCID iD 0000-0001-8949-3080.


This article focuses on the way in which Eurocentric conceptualisations of the ‘international’ are reproduced in different geopolitical contexts. Even though the Eurocentrism of International Relations has received growing attention, it has predominantly been concerned with unearthing the Eurocentrism of the ‘centre’, overlooking its varied manifestations in other geopolitical contexts. The article seeks to contribute to discussions about Eurocentrism by examining how different conceptualisations of the international are at work at a particular moment, and how these conceptualisations continue to reproduce Eurocentrism. It will focus on the way in which Eurocentric designations of spatial and temporal hierarchies were reproduced in the context of Turkey through a reading of how the ‘Gezi Park protests’ of 2013 and ‘Turkey’ itself were written into the story of the international.

Keywords Eurocentrism; International; Turkey; Narratives; Periodisation


O artigo trata da maneira como conceitualizações eurocêntricas do “internacional” são reproduzidas em diferentes contextos geopolíticos. Embora o eurocentrismo das relações internacionais venha recebendo atenção crecente nos últimos tempos, estudiosos demonstram-se predominantemente preocupados em desenterrar o eurocentrismo do “centro”, acabando por negligenciar suas diversas manifestações em outros contextos geopolíticos. O artigo pretende contribuir para as discussões sobre o eurocentrismo ao sublinhar como diferentes conceitualizações do internacional estão em questão em momentos particulares, e como essas conceitualizações continuam a reproduzir o eurocentrismo. Mais especificamente, o artigo enfoca o modo como as designações eurocêntricas das hierarquias espaciais e temporais foram reproduzidas no contexto da Turquia através da leitura de como as “revoltas Gezi” e a “Turquia” foram escritos na história do internacional.

Palavras-chave Eurocentrismo; Internacional; Turquia; Narrativas; Periodização


This article focuses on the way in which Eurocentric conceptualisations of the ‘international’ are reproduced in different geopolitical contexts. Even though the Eurocentrism of international relations has received growing attention, it has predominantly been concerned with unearthing the Eurocentrism of the ‘centre’, overlooking its varied manifestations in other geopolitical contexts. The article seeks to contribute to discussions about Eurocentrism by examining how different conceptualisations of the international are at work at a particular moment, and how these conceptualisations continue to reproduce Eurocentrism. To this end, it focuses on the way in which Eurocentric designations of spatial and temporal hierarchies were reproduced in the context of Turkey through a reading of how the ‘Gezi Park protests’ of 2013 and ‘Turkey’ itself were written into the story of the international. It starts by reviewing the two ways in which the Eurocentric account of the ‘international’ has been challenged. The first is the underlying role of the colonial past and the constitutive role of actors other than Europe in the development of the international. The second is the way in which the periodisation of the international works to reproduce the Eurocentrism of these accounts. Next, the article focuses on the scripting of ‘Gezi’ and ‘Turkey’. This is done in three sections. The first focuses on the thingification and sacralisation of Gezi, and the way it is situated in a linear progressive narrative of the story of the ‘Turkish nation’. The second focuses on the international enacted through the ‘foreign influences’ narrative, and the historical analogies drawn from that. The third focuses on analogies drawn with European history, and the scripting of ‘Gezi’ and ‘Turkey’ into the ‘international’ through Eurocentric spatial and temporal designations.

Narratives of ‘the international’

There are many definitions and ‘avatars’ of Eurocentrism (Amin 1989; Araújo and Maeso 2015b; Sabaratnam 2013; Wallerstein 1997); it works in different ways and has many variants, whether cultural, historical or epistemic (Sabaratnam 2013). The ways in which Eurocentrism has been a constitutive factor within the discipline of International Relations and conceptualisations of the international system, sovereignty and security have been receiving increasing attention (Bilgin 2010, 2014; Grovogui 2006; Hobson 2012; Jones 2006; Ling 2013; Shilliam 2010; Tickner and Blaney 2013). As Bhambra (2007: 5) explains, Eurocentrism is ‘the belief, implicit or otherwise, in the world historical significance of events believed to have developed endogenously within the cultural-geographical sphere of Europe’. Eurocentrism is the belief that events that have shaped ‘the international’ have originated in Europe whereby Europe has the agency to alter ‘the international’, but such an agency does not exist outside of Europe. This section will focus on two ways in which Eurocentric accounts of the international have been problematised. The first is the way in which the development of the international has been characterised as an entirely European affair. The second is the way in which periodisations of the international have been utilised to reproduce the centrality of Europe.

The development of the international was traditionally characterised as a predominantly European affair. Hedley Bull and Adam Watson, proponents of the English school, argued that the international system was the product of Europe, and ‘because it was in fact Europe and not America, Asia, or Africa that first dominated and, in so doing, unified the world, it is not our perspective but the historical record itself that can be called Eurocentric’ (1984: 2). This perspective demonstrates the way in which the development of the international was predominantly understood as a European story (Buzan 2014; Dunne 1995). However, these accounts were not Eurocentric because these events had happened in Europe, but because other stories had been taken out of the story of international relations (Abu-Lughod 1989; Hobson 2004). Susan Buck-Morss (2009) makes this distinction in her discussion of the Haitian Revolution (Bhambra 2016; Fischer 2004; Gaffield 2015), and argues that the past and the present in that sense have to be separated, because at present, ‘when the Haitian slave revolution might be more thinkable, it is more invisible’ as a consequence of the ‘construction of disciplinary discourses through which knowledge of the past has been inherited’ (Buck-Morss 2009: 50). As such, it was not that the stories of the interactions and connections were ‘unknown’ in the past, but that the rendering of the past within the discipline worked to make these stories invisible. The parts of the story of the international that were made invisible through disciplinary discourses have come under increasing scrutiny. The literature that has focused on the story of the international system and its interaction with the ‘non-west’ has worked to underline how the ‘other’ has always been present, and has explored ‘the ways in which international society was shaped by the interactions between Europe and those it colonized’ (Seth 2011: 174), which presents a story of the international that takes into account its colonial past and its (post)colonial present.

The questioning of the story of the international system has focused on different interactions, connections, encounters and socialisations (Grovogui 1996; Ringmar 2012; Seth 2011; Suzuki 2009; Zarakol 2010). The ‘encounter’ with international society was an important factor in the socialisation of the ‘others’ left out of the narrative. This encounter, and how it shaped the emergence of the notion of ‘the international’ and its conceptual underpinnings, has been an increasing concern. The main premise has been not only to bring ‘the other’ into the narratives, but also to underline its agency.

The second aspect of the Eurocentric accounts of the international is how Eurocentrism is reproduced through the periodisations that delimit the international (Buzan and Lawson 2013, 2014). The story of the international has been premised on a teleological ‘rise of the West’ narrative (Hobson 2004). This narrative periodises the ‘international’ in a specific way in terms of which:

ancient Greece begat Rome, Rome begat Christian Europe, Christian Europe begat the Renaissance, the Renaissance the Enlightenment, the Enlightenment political democracy and the industrial revolution. Industry crossed with democracy, in turn yielded the United States, embodying the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [...] History is thus converted into a tale about the furtherance of virtue, about how the virtuous win out over the bad guys (Wolf 1982: 5).

The conceptualisations of ‘the international’ then follow a certain periodisation that continues from the Concert of Europe to the Unification of Germany, and from that to the First World War, the Second World War, and the Cold War. The story of the international as such is predicated upon a specific story of Europe (Halperin 2006). This story of the international that traces its origins to Ancient Greece and moves in a linear and progressive manner into the present has constituted one of the main building blocks of present understandings of the ‘international’ epochs (Green 1995). As Barkawi and Laffey (2006: 334-335) state, ‘in terms of spatial assumptions, what is most evident about these very conventional and widely accepted periodisations is that world politics is taken to be happening almost exclusively in Europe, or latterly in the Northern hemisphere’, which also means that when the Third World does come into the story, ‘it is derivative of European developments and driven by great power competition and diffusion of European ideas and institutions’. The periodisations themselves, and how specific periods – such as the Cuban Missile Crisis – are characterised, also work to leave out stories that do not have Europe as their central subject (Laffey and Weldes 2008). The story of ‘the international’ automatically excludes ‘events’ that do not ascribe to the categories and language through which the ‘international’ is made intelligible. Historical narratives of the ‘international’ told the story as pertaining solely to Europe, but also periodised it in such a way that every retelling reproduced the main linear historical progression, with Europe at its centre.

Despite the many ways in which these analyses have contributed to our understandings of Eurocentrism, the manner in which this notion is reproduced in different contexts has been largely overlooked. This act of overlooking works to create a linear story of Eurocentrism in narratives of the international where the variegated experiences, and the way in which Eurocentrism is enacted in and through different geopolitical contexts and knowledge systems, does not enter the story. As such, the story of how Eurocentrism works remains incomplete in so far as it does not take into account how it manifests in different geopolitical contexts. The next section will argue that approaching Eurocentrism as a system of knowledge demonstrates more succinctly how Eurocentrism frames different contexts, and how these different contexts and particular moments reproduce Eurocentrism.

Scripting ‘Turkey’

Eurocentrism is a ‘paradigm for interpreting a (past, present and future) reality that uncritically establishes the idea of European and Western historical progress/achievement and its ethical superiority, based on scientific rationality and the construction of the rule of law’ (Araújo and Maeso 2015a: 1). Understood in this way, Eurocentrism creates and reproduces temporal and spatial hierarchisations in the understanding of the international whereby the ‘non-west’ is written as ‘lacking’ and as ‘catching up’ (Chakrabarty 1992, 2009). As a consequence, contexts designated as being outside of ‘Europe’ or the West are written as being between ‘the two poles of the homologous sets of oppositions, despotic/constitutional, medieval/modern, feudal/capitalist’ (Chakrabarty 1992: 6). Within this formulation, we are all ‘headed for the same destination’, but ‘some people were to arrive earlier than the others’ (Chakrabarty 2009: 9). As such, any place spatially designated as being outside ‘the West’ was designated also as temporally behind and following in the footsteps of the events that had happened in ‘Europe’. These Eurocentric spatial and temporal designations were, as discussed in the previous section, employed in the conceptualisations of ‘the international’. The designations are also employed to write the spaces and contexts designated as being outside of Europe into the international.

Turkey is scripted into the international in a manner that reproduces these Eurocentric spatial and temporal designations. The way in which the Ottoman Empire/Turkey socialised into the international system worked to instil ‘Turkey’ with a series of anxieties with respect to the international system, and its status within it (Bilgin 2009; Bilgin and Ince 2015; Zarakol 2010). These anxieties work to write ‘Turkey’ as an in-between space, reproduced through the European gaze as a site between the ‘East’ and the ‘West’, the secular and the religious, the modern and the traditional. It is given an always present ‘liminal’ identity that is produced in and through the Western gaze. This conceptualisation of ‘Turkey’ works to reproduce Eurocentrism in its many avatars (Wallerstein 1997), and being against ‘the West’ works as securing a place for Turkey among ‘ornamental dissenters’ (Nandy 1989: xiv). The understanding of this anxiety and insecurities through these separations (East/West, secular/religious, modern/traditional) overlooks the fact that these separations were themselves ‘willed, or constructed, and not “naturally” occurring’ (Bhambra 2015: 103). The Eurocentric framing of Turkey works to situate Turkey within these spatial and temporal hierarchies. The following three sections will focus on the ways in which an ‘event’ (Gezi protests) was scripted into the story of ‘Turkey’ in a way that, spatially and temporally, situated ‘Turkey’ within Eurocentric conceptualisations of the international. The first section will focus on the construction of ‘Gezi’ as an ‘event’. This is significant in underlining how ‘Gezi’ itself worked to reproduce a specific scripting of Turkey embedded in spatio-temporal hierarchies. The second and third sections will discuss the different conceptualisations of the international at work in discussions about Gezi. These sections will underline how Eurocentrism manifests itself in conceptualisations of the international.

The thingification of Gezi

A timeline of the series of events characterised as the Gezi protests would be as follows (for more detailed timelines, see Cassano 2014; Hurriyet 2013c).

27 May 2013 – Activists gather in Gezi Park.

30 May 2013 – Police operation.

31 May 2013 – Another operation by the police.

30-31 May 2013 – As news of police operations spread, so do the number of protestors.

31 May 2013 – Protests spread to Ankara and Izmir (a different temporal and spatial account of the various protests can continue from these protests).

1 June 2013 – Police leave the square.

2–11 June 2013 – Demonstrations continue.

11 June 2013 – Police attempt to retake square.

12 June 2013 – Demonstrations and clashes continue.

15 June 2013 – Eviction from Gezi Park.

16 June 2013 – No one is allowed to enter the Square.

17 June 2013 – Standing Man protests begin.

Narrative is ‘a discourse that places disparate events in an understandable order’ that does not exist in the evidence, but is imposed upon the events as through emplotment (Munslow 1997: 12). Emplotment refers to the ‘encodation of the facts contained in the chronicle as components of specific kinds of plot structures’ (White 1978: 83). As such, a chronicle of events does not tell a story, but it is how it is narrativised and emplotted into plot structures that does. Narrativisation and emplotment work to include/exclude certain events and include/exclude certain understandings of the ‘event’, making certain understandings of the ‘nation’ and of the ‘international’ possible or impossible (Campbell 1998). A narrative is required in order to present an intelligible sequence of events, yet ‘intelligibility is established through a relations with the other; it moves (or “progresses”) by changing what it makes of its “other” – the Indian, the past, the people, the mad, the child, the Third World’ (De Certeau 1988: 3). As such, all attempts to construct one unitary Gezi and to make it intelligible do so by establishing an ‘other’, and in that instance also create another Gezi. Periodisation requires a singular Gezi and a singular Turkey upon which periods can be inscribed, and inflicts a discourse of violence upon the ‘events’ in order to make them ‘intelligible’ – yet it is this discourse of violence that also works to define the political. As such, periodisation ‘does not refer to a mere back-description that divides history into segments, but to a fundamental political technique – a way to moderate, divide, and regulate – always rendering its services now’ (Davis 2008: 5). Where one begins and how one structures the story of Gezi is an important component of the staging of Gezi.

Thus the question should be: ‘How many Gezis are there?’ How was the Gezi protest(s) staged? There is the Gezi that was and is being narrated by those sympathetic to whatever idea and ideal it is that they identify with it, and those that are not. In that sense, there are at least two Gezis. Yet such a division only works to reinforce an either/or binary and construct an idealised version of events with clearly delineable sides whereby one is the other of the other. And then there is the Gezi that happened, a resistance that occurred, but then can it be constructed as one Gezi that is always the same? Is it more than one, and if, so how many more? A spatio-temporally limited chronology of the Gezi protests would start on 28 May 2013 when activists from Taksim Solidarity started camping in Istanbul Gezi Park in order to prevent it from being replaced with a shopping mall. The end would be on 15 June 2013 when Gezi Park was evacuated and the occupation of the park forcefully ended with the intervention of the police. Even attempting to remain within the spatio-temporality of the Gezi protests brings forth certain issues: does one limit the Gezi protests to the physical occupation of the park? If so, then 28 May–15 June might be plausible, but even then do the 50 or so environmentalists on 28 May actually count as the occupation of the park, or does one start the chronology much later when the park turned into a commune-like space? If the definition will not be limited to the physical occupation of the park, then why start on 28 May at all? Why not take the periodisation back to when Taksim Solidarity started organising meetings and protests against the Taksim renovation project? Though at that point, the question is, why limit the ‘cause’, the ‘aim’ of the Gezi protests to the renovation project? When does the spatiality of Gezi extend beyond the park itself and include within it stories of other protests?

In that vein, defining Gezi temporally between 28 May and 15 June and spatially as consisting of the protests in and around Gezi tells a specific story. A story that divides, ruptures and silences. Starting the story on 28 May results in questions such as ‘Where are the Kurds?’1 since it dismisses events that led to 28 May.2 Furthermore, the framing of these narratives within these terminologies continues to perform a Turkey divided along ethnic and religious lines. It works to essentialise identities and impose a singularity upon them whereby binary oppositions are reproduced. ‘Where are the Kurds?’ implies, ‘Why didn’t “they” join “us”?’ Who is the ‘they’ and who is the ‘us’, which of them are the ‘people’ who represent Gezi, and which are the ‘people’ who constitute Turkey? It is the questioning itself that divides Turkey from the outset.

The story also changes with respect to what becomes included/excluded and how the time frame is delineated if the spatial and temporal story of the Gezi uprisings is written through the history of Gezi Park and the ‘genealogy of “urban transformation” in Istanbul’ (Parla and Ozgul 2016). The Taksim Promenade was created in 1936 as part of a project to construct Western-style public spaces. A fact usually taken out of the story has been how tombstones from the Surp Hagop cemetery were used to build the steps of Gezi Park (Greenhouse 2013; Nalci and Daglioglu 2013). As Parla and Ozgul (2016: 622) state, the cemetery can be thought of as an ‘object of appropriation and the symbol of a process in which Armenian and other minority properties were destroyed, dissected, or scattered’. An amnesia thus continues within the celebratory narratives of Gezi that fails to account for the story of appropriation and urban transformation. Within this framing, ‘the assault against Gezi Park’ was the last link in a chain of appropriations that started with the establishment of ‘Turkey’.

As Butler (1990: 121) states, ‘Every description of the “we” will always do more than describe it; it will constitute and construct an imaginary unity’ which ‘operates through the exclusionary operations that come back to haunt the very claim of representability that it seeks to make’. Moreover, it privileges one ‘event’ over others. ‘Where were you when the most important event in Turkey’s history was taking place?’ is the implied sentiment behind these questions. It continues to create its others as it narrates itself. It further ascribes ‘Gezi’ as a turning point that defines Turkey’s possible futures. It is within such a mindset that Göle (2013: 8) states: ‘The Gezi movement marked a new threshold for democracy.’ As every new event unfolded, there is a date, ‘before’ and ‘after’ Gezi. Why is it that there can’t be more than one ‘turning point’, more than one event with the symbolic power to break boundaries and reinscribe identities? Why the insistence to privilege Gezi as the defining ‘event’ of ‘Turkey’ without questioning the ‘Turkey’ such an inscription performs and conceives in becoming? The spatio-temporal limitation ascribes one story, one Gezi, one turning point, and one Turkey that works to silence other stories and symbolic turning points, and centres one narrative of ‘Turkey’ and its political history as ‘important’. What spaces were opened for discussion and what spaces were not thus reveal a continuing story of the ‘Turkish nation’, and how it is scripted into the international. In that sense, ‘to many Kurdish activists, “a unified front for change in Turkey” may still sound like another neo-colonial way of subjugating Kurdistan’ (Bozcali and Yoltar 2013).

This ‘idea’, whether it really existed or not, is not the focus of the article;3 rather, the focus is how this romantic ‘idea’ and ‘ideal’ of exceptional time becomes embedded in reconceptualisations of the past and imaginaries of the future. The first example of the enactment of the international that will be discussed is the way in which ‘Gezi’ and ‘Turkey’ were written into a spatially and temporally hierarchised international, and located spatially in the ‘Third World’.

Locating ‘Gezi’ and ‘Turkey’ in the Third World

The first aspect of the enactments of the ‘international’ in and through the Gezi protests that will be elaborated is the ‘foreign influences’ narrative and the historical analogies that were drawn through the conceptualisation of the international within that script presented by the Justice and Development Party and then by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The main framework of this discourse was established by the latter. In a speech on 14 June, he stated that

in Taksim, with the excuse of Gezi Park a great open-air theatre has been set up. There are also innocent people on stage, there are sincere young people there. [….] For two weeks in Turkey and in the world the images of Taksim are being shown. Who is pressing this button? The button has been pressed from outside. Gezi Park is the instrument of this job. They are trying to hide the violence and hatred behind this theatre (Hurriyet 2013a).

The ‘foreign influence’, ‘foreign agents’ discourse with reference to Gezi ranged from Germany allegedly not wanting Turkey to build a third airport to the so-called ‘interest-rate lobby’ attempting to stop Turkey’s growth, to foreign influences in a theatre play (Hurriyet 2013a, 2013b, 2013d; Idiz 2013; Zalewski 2013). In that sense, more than one script was at work while enacting the ‘foreign influences’ narrative. The following is an excerpt from an op-ed article in the newspaper Star that encapsulates many of the narratives at work:

Turkey has used very harsh words towards the United Nations, NATO, EU, Germany, US and Israel. These were not easily acceptable words and could not be voiced by anyone other than Turkey. The biggest mistake of Ankara was to think these would go unanswered. […] Turkey is being made to pay the price for a too independent foreign policy. In short, there is a big operation and you can call it ‘Operation Erdogan’. […] Just like with Iran’s Mossadeq in 1953 and Chile’s Allende in 1973, the people are being used again for coup attempts (Laciner 2013).

There are two aspects of these framings that need to be discussed. The first is the historical analogies of Mossadeq in 1953 and Allende in 1973 (Abrahamian 2013; Clark 2013; Gasiorowski and Byrne 2004). These comparisons point to a certain idea of the international being underlined; the importance of the Third World (and situating Turkey within it), the independent leaders who attempted to break free of the impositions of the hierarchical nature of the international system, and how the hierarchy imposed itself and prevented any challenge. As such, there is a story of resistance and hegemony being told here whereby Turkey and the AKP government are located within the resistance.

The second is the way in which the ‘resistance’ of Turkey to the hegemonic structures of the international system is underlined. According to this narrative, it is because of the way Turkey spoke to the hegemonic powers that it is being punished right now. As such, Turkey is not only in the resistance, but is also one of its leaders. These two underlying themes of the op-ed article are related to the grander narrative of ‘Turkey as a rising power’ (Bacik 2013; Cagaptay 2013; Kalin 2011; Oğuzlu 2013; Oğuzlu and Dal 2013; Öniş and Kutlay 2013). This narrative of the threat posed by Turkey as a ‘rising power’ threatening the hegemonic structures of the international system provides the basis for adding many other arguments, such as Germany being threatened by the building of the third airport.

This formulation is premised upon constructing an all-knowing and ever-present ‘international’ that strips the ‘actors’ of any agency (Bilgin 2007). Furthermore, it is a deeply Eurocentric rendering of the international. It is the belief that important events which shape the international are rooted in the West. The underlying feature of such an approach is to prescribe agency to ‘Europe’ or the ‘West’, and remove agency from the ‘Third World’ state in turn. Europe or the West is the maker of history and definer of the international, and Turkey can do nothing but react to it. As such, the argument of Turkey resisting a hegemonic structure itself comes into question whereby it is their conceptualisations of this structure that is part of the reason for its reproduction. Moreover, this narrative of Turkey as a rising power threatening the international system is formulated in order to secure the borders of ‘Turkey’.

A threat is constructed on the ‘outside’ in order to better define the borders of what constitutes the ‘inside’. In that sense, it is through the formulation of a specific international that the characteristics of ‘Turkey’ become more evident. This ‘Turkey’ belongs to the ‘Third World’, and is on the periphery of the international system, attempting to challenge its rules and regulations. What this formulation ignores is the assumptions implicit in the notion of being a ‘rising power’. In order to rise in the hierarchy, one needs to accept the rules of that system, and attempt to work through them. As such, this reproduction of the ‘international’ also reproduces the inherent hierarchies within the international system.

Periodising ‘Gezi’ in European history

The second enactment of ‘the international’ can be ascertained from the writings of columnists and the academic discourse on Gezi. In these discourses, Gezi is embedded in the ‘international’ in two main ways. The first instance of the enactment of the ‘Gezi resistance’ is the references, analogies and comparisons with ‘past’ events ranging from 1848 through 1905 to 1968 (Bhambra and Demir 2009; Körner 2000; Lih 2007; Ozdil 2013; Tugal 2013c). The second instance of enacting the international is the way in which it is embedded in global resistance to the neoliberal international. Both these enactments work to temporally and spatially enact a Eurocentric international.

Comparisons with 1848 (Biamag 2013), 1905 and 1917 (Tugal 2013c), and 1968 (Hur 2013; Jurgens 2013) work to draw parallels and lessons from the past in order make them more intelligible to the audience. Furthermore, each comparison and analogy works to not only define a certain Gezi but also ‘Turkey’ and an ‘international’. Tugal (2013c), situating Gezi within the ‘global wave of 2011’, argues that ‘no 1789, 1917, or 1949 can result from the global wave of 2011’, but rather than the wave of 2011 is ‘like the waves of 1848 and 1905, […] likely to end up in partial and small victories and defeats’. This comparison not only situates ‘Gezi’ and ‘Turkey’ within a linear narrative of ‘the international’, and ‘Gezi’ as a descendant of these revolutions, but the images these dates conjure also narrate a specific Gezi, Turkey, and the international. These constructions become clearer when one analyses ‘revolutions, resistances and revolts’ through the prism of stories we tell (Selbin 2009: 161-183). Selbin (2009) divides these stories into four: the story of civilising and democratising missions, the story of social revolution, the freedom and liberation story, and revolutions of the lost and forgotten. The stories organise the resistances into an overarching narrative. Furthermore, the analogies of Gezi with these revolutions, resistances and rebellions situate it in one of these stories. The year 1905 is counted within the story of ‘Civilizing and Democratizing’ as exemplary of failure (Selbin 2009: 126-128). The year 1848 is mentioned in some versions of the ‘Civilizing and Democratizing’ story (Selbin 2009: 111-113) as the ‘springtime of nations’, but also figures in the story of social revolution, though within the frame of a ‘failure’ (Selbin 2009: 125).

In that vein, looking at the historical analogies formed around Gezi reveals the actors, processes and imagining of Turkey and the international being privileged and performed within the narratives. These analogies embed the story of ‘Gezi’ and ‘Turkey’ into specific stories of ‘civilising and democratising missions’, and ‘the story of social revolution’. The ‘international’ within these narratives is abstracted into a linear progressive narrative of ‘democracy’ and ‘social revolution’, rather than contextualising and historicising the ‘international’ itself (Guillaume 2013). These narratives not only singularise ‘Gezi’, ‘Turkey’ and the ‘international’, but display an unproblematised relationship with the notion of ‘history’ and ‘historiography’ (Munslow 1997) whereby the analogy of this singular Gezi can be made with a singular 1848 and 1968 that unproblematically exists in the past, and is knowable to and retrievable by the commentator. Situating Gezi within the narrative of European revolutions and uprisings in this way works to underline the ‘Europeanness’ not only of Gezi but also of Turkey. As the columnist Kadri Gursel has noted, ‘Those who said that Turks were not European looked at this protest, and found it to be typically European’; and ‘This was not a Middle Eastern revolt, it was a European revolt, and what had generated this revolt was EU-induced change’ (Gardner 2015). Thus, situating Gezi within European revolutions not only makes Gezi a European revolution, and Turkey a European country, but also continues to reproduce the temporal hierarchy of Turkey ‘catching up’ with Europe.

The second current in situating Gezi is to locate it within the ‘international’ resistances such as the Occupy Movements, Arab Spring, and the protests in Greece (Dabashi 2012; Douzinas 2013; Mason 2012). This story works to embed the events within a grander narrative of resistance to the neoliberal international system. Though the local conditions of the protest movements are underlined, it is also embedded within a ‘global’ reaction against neoliberal governmentality (Ilgiz 2013; Tansel 2013; Tugal 2013a). Tugal (2013b: 149), for example, places these disparate forces under the heading ‘the 2009-2013 revolts’, arguing that they were ‘reactions to several aspects of commodification and authoritarianism’, but also underlines that ‘there were variations, especially regarding which aspects came to be emphasised’.

The narratives that focus on the neoliberal international underline the local characteristics of the neoliberal project in Turkey and AKP’s blend of Islamism, neo-liberalism and neo-Ottomanism, which

refers to a political-Islamic hegemonic project that aspires to eradicate the Kemalist/Republican/modernist interpretation of national culture, history, and politics by replacing it with a modern but nostalgic and traditionalist re-interpretation of the Ottoman legacy in a way to erode secularism, civic nationalism, and the idea of progress as the building blocks of the Turkish Republic (Gürcan and Peker 2014: 75-6).

As such, it is a story that embeds the AKP within the narrative of the development of the neoliberal international order, and draws comparisons with the wave of protests in the past few years. These works also largely rely on the framework provided by the discourse of the ‘right to the city’, and discussions of the production of space. In that instance, the notion of the right to the city4 not only limits the spatio-temporality of the definition of Gezi, but also the definition of the ‘international’. Situating Gezi within these international currents works not only to produce a singular ‘Turkey’, but also an ‘international’ defined by neoliberal governmentality (Brown 2003, 2011). There is a tendency to overlook the possibilities of a multitude of ‘internationals’, and discuss whose ‘international’ is it that ‘Gezi’ and ‘Turkey’ are being embedded in.

What is the story of the neoliberal international? Who and what is forgotten if the story is about the right to the city, the fight against neoliberal restructuring, and the neo-Ottoman reimagining of the Kemalist modernising project? This discourse is also connected to the ‘international’ conceived of when discussing the parallels between Gezi and 1848 and/or 1968, whereby the ‘international’ becomes an abstract and singular subject with a linear and progressive story. As such, ‘the international’ in the narratives of Gezi and Turkey is not problematised in a way that regards it ‘as a specific unfolding of selected events’ whereby the question becomes how ‘this specific unfolding organises – and thus hierarchises, prioritises, erases, ignores, and so on- different historiographic rationalisation’ (Guillaume 2013). Moreover, the specific unfolding and organisation of the international that is being written also performs a specific unfolding and organisation of ‘Gezi’ and ‘Turkey’, and vice versa.


The article has discussed the way in which Eurocentric conceptualisations of the international are reproduced in different geopolitical contexts. It has argued that the analysis of Eurocentrism and the way it forms an integral part of the production of knowledge thus needs to take into account the way in which it is re-enacted in the present and not solely at the ‘centre’, but also in other different geopolitical contexts. Eurocentric enactments of the international have been discussed through the spatial and temporal designations through which ‘Gezi’ and ‘Turkey’ were scripted into the international. The aim of the article has been to argue that an analysis of Eurocentrism has to take into account its different workings at particular moments in order to better understand its varied manifestations.


1The extent to which Kurds were part of the protest movement became an important issue, especially with respect to whether or not they were going to situate themselves with or against the AKP government and also with or against the Gezi protests. For further discussion, see Krajeski (2013).

2Some analyses have sought to answer these questions by providing statistics about participants (Yoruk 2014). It should be underlined that seeking to answer this query is in itself problematic, because it legitimises the question and the presuppositions that constitute it.

3For works that discuss the different ways in which the Gezi resistance was able to overcome animosities and create alternative spaces, see Anderson (2013) and Turan (2013).

4Works that use the ‘right to the city’ frequently cite Lefebvre (1996). For a critical assessment of the way in which ‘right to the city’ is used, see De Souza (2010).


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Received: December 21, 2016; Accepted: June 17, 2017

Zeynep Gülşah Çapan is a lecturer in International Relations at Istanbul Bilgi University in Turkey, and a lecturer at the University of Erfurt in Germany. She completed her PhD in International Relations at University of Erfurt. She is the author of Re-Writing International Relations: History and Theory Beyond Eurocentrism in Turkey (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016). She has also published in journals such as the Third World Quarterly, as well as in edited books. She is presently co-editing an edited volume entitled ‘The Politics of Translation in International Relations’. Her research focuses on Eurocentrism, the sociology and historiography of International Relations, and postcolonial and decolonial thought.

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