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Remembering Activism: The Cultural Memory of Protest in Europe

Remembering Deniz Gezmiş 1972-

My PhD project studies the cultural afterlife of the urban guerrilla and student leader of the ’68 generation in Turkey, Deniz Gezmiş, who was executed by the 1972 military junta with his friends Yusuf Aslan and Hüseyin İnan. What interests me is the centrality of his figure in Turkish Marxist iconography. Despite the abundance of “martyrs’ from his generation, and the execution of two other comrades alongside him, it is the “storied life” of Gezmiş that stands out, indicating the “principle of scarcity” and selectivity of cultural memory (Rigney 2005). My research examines the reasons for his extreme memorability.

Within this framework, I am especially interested in the role of ‘violence’ in the memory work that produces his hypercanonisation. His militant urban guerrilla identity makes Gezmiş a troubling figure within the contemporary discourse of non-violent activism, especially when we consider how he has become the representative of the youth, tortured and murdered by the state. I am interested in the dynamics between being an agent of violence and a victim of violence in generating commemoration and transmitting hope.