Istanbul (Turkey): Don Quixote Occupies the Windmill


Yeldeğirmeni (The Windmill) Solidarity, a local group based in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district, occupied a half-constructed apartment building abandoned for 15 years, calling it Don Quixote. bianet interviewed group activists who spoke up on their story.

Activists from Yeldeğirmeni (The Windmill) Solidarity occupied a half-constructed apartment building abandoned for 15 years, calling it Don Quixote.

The story broke as police forces paid a “visit” to the building for investigation.

bianet observed that activists put frames in some of windows and a workshop initiated by an activist student group from Amsterdam is still underway. While the building is open to visitors between 8 am and 11 pm, no activists stay at the building overnight.

bianet interviewed Selin G., Kubilay Çelik and artist Talat Doğanoğlu from Yeldeğirmeni Solidarity about the story of Don Quixote building.

“We embellished what they left as trash”

Even though the group was initially formed during Gezi Resistance, a tact agreement between neighborhood-dwellers has always been in place.

The first Yeldeğirmeni forum was organized at a parking lot where one can observe the transformation with the rainbow colors on the walls.

The idea came from Doğanoğlu. “It was the end of August. Talat came and said: Let’s clean the mass inside. We took out massive bags of construction dust from the building,” Selin G. said.

Even though the motivation seems to be the need for finding a place to organize forums in the winter time, activists also have the faith that “another world is possible”.

“For me, this is an artistic intervention,” said Doğanoğlu, an artists who has been living in the building right across the street.

“The situation of the building vexed me. I wanted to underline that. We will embellish what they call as trash. Until they rebuild it to a level that it can serve people again.”

“Bags from the bakery, tea from neighbors”

The aforementioned building is under construction for 15 years. While there were complications with the contractor, the construction permit was cancelled after 1999 earthquake. The building was later on abandoned by its land owners and contractors.

The group members removed the municipality seal and replaced it with a door and lock. Activists told bianet that the abandoned building pose no serious risk, calling it “safe”.

“While bakers provided bags to collect the construction dust, neighborhood-dwellers provided tea and good,” said Selin G.

While the neighborhood is called Yeldeğirmeni (Windmill), it is no surprise that the building is called Don Quixote – a name that was coined by Doğanoğlu.

“The name is open to change, though. It can be Hacivat Karagöz next month. Other can offer further renovations. It will be a dynamic space here.”

From Amsterdam to Yeldeğirmeni

While the renovations are underway in the building, “hearing by the word of the mouth”, an activist student group from Amsterdam requested for a workshop.

“We are not the decision-makers. We told them to do whatever they wanted. We also said we could help if they needed,” Doğanoğlu said.

While the building then became “international”, it is still possible to see the traces of the works on various walls around the neighborhood.

The building, however, was raided by a fleet of police vehicles on the morning of Eid.

“We know these kids. They cleaned up here. What do you want from them? We have no complaint here,” said the neighborhood-dwellers.

Doğanoğlu clarified the “real” motivation behind the police raid.

“They were wondering what we were doing here. They asked whether it was related to Gezi. I told them that it wasn’t Gezi but it was motivated by a courageous act related to Gezi. Then they left.”

“We didn’t need to make any further effort to have the word out. They already did it for us. It was actually like Gezi per se. If the first intervention was adequate, there would be no second or third circles. With each police intervention, the circle got bigger and bigger.”

“Don Quixote is just an example”

bianet also asked activists on their upcoming activities in the building. While the building is aimed to provide basic support for neighborhood’s problems, activists list some of the activities as follows: children’s playroom, library, carpentry and art workshops.

While nearby local businesses provide electricity, activists plan to set up sun panels to tackle the heating issue.

There are also piles of stationary and books donations to be sent to Van province.

Working on to prepare the kid’s room, Selin G. said they could also help the children with their homework.

Çelik, on the other hand, mentioned “Gifts and solidarity” room where people will be able to leave their unwanted items to a room where others can take if needed.

“This is not place that we got permission from. There are no decision-takers here. There will be an activity board and everyone will fill in their schedule there.”

Activists say that Don Quixote was just an example and they hoped to see other occupied buildings in different neighborhoods and cities according to people’s needs. (BK/BM)

Published October 22nd 2013 on Bianet