Protests were reported in 31 cities across Turkey on Wednesday. Demonstrators mourned the death of teenager Berkin Elvan who became a symbol for anti-government protesters last summer after he was hit on the head by a tear gas canister on his way to buy bread.
“It is not Allah who has taken my son away. It is [Prime Minister Recep] Tayyip Erdoğan,” said the 15-year-old’s mother, Gülsüm Elvan.
Her son died on March 11 after nine weeks in a coma, but his death has reawakened the dormant Occupy Gezi movement, which began in June with environmental activists refusing to vacate an Istanbul park that was slated to become a shopping mall. Though the movement started with a fight to preserve rapidly disappearing public space in Turkey’s cultural capital it went on to embrace a wide range of social justice demands as it snowballed into mass force; including gay rights, freedom of speech, protections for Turkey’s minorities, and the redistribution of wealth.
The protests on Wednesday indicate that Occupy Gezi continues present the most significant threat to power that Erdoğan has faced throughout his decade-plus rule. In his first remarks since Berkin Elvan passed away, the prime minister stated Wednesday that the boy’s death, “will not negatively affect the economy.” Meanwhile state repression was severe.
Clashes between protesters and police using tear gas and water cannon injured about 8,000 people according to the Turkish Medical Association. One hundred and four demonstrators sustained serious head injuries and 11 lost an eye, most after being hit by plastic bullets fired by the police.
Statement: Kara Kizil (Red and Black) Istanbul & Servet Dusmani (Enemies of the Wealthy)
Published on March 12, when news of Elvan’s death had just begun to draw the first demonstrators into the street the previous day.
Berkin Elvan is Immortal!
“I gave the orders” – Tayyip Erdogan, June 23, 2013.
“It is not Allah, but Erdogan who took my son from me” – Gulsum Elvan, March 11, 2014.
15 year old Berkin Elvan has passed away this morning (March 11), 268 days after he was shot in the head by the police with a tear gas canister during the 2013 Gezi rebellion. He was being kept in an induced coma since the head injury and his condition had taken a turn for the worse a few days ago due to complications. He was down to 16 kg.’s of body weight when he died. The leftist boy of the Alevite religious minority is the latest and youngest of the Gezi martyrs.
No government official showed interest in Berkin’s status till yesterday, when President Abdullah Gul managed a lousy phone call to Berkin’s father, Sami Elvan, asking if there was anything he could do. Sami Elvan’s only demand of Gul was that he pull back the police from the hospital vicinity. Police had been harassing Berkin’s supporters who were invited there by the Elvan family. Such harassment included seizing sleeping bags and making arrests. Police only retreated this morning from the hospital in their vehicles under pressure from an increasingly angry group of Berkin’s supporters, but not before causing one fresh case of head trauma in an individual, by the same means through which Berkin was murdered; tear gas canister aimed at the head from a short distance. Said individual’s current health status is stable.
Berkin’s suspected murderers, the policemen who were attacking the crowds in the poor and left-wing neighborhood of Okmeydani where Berkin was injured on June 15, 2013 are now facing charges in court. As per their statements in court so far, the officers, including their chief who was in charge of the operation, seem to be suffering from collective amnesia regarding the events of the day, in typical fashion. It is highly unlikely they will be sentenced in any significant manner, considering the lack of any serious sentencing or disciplining so far of officials responsible for the prior Gezi protest deaths.
What adds insult to injury is the December revelation that many high-ranking AKP government members, including ministers and most importantly the prime minister Tayyip Erdogan himself, have been enriching themselves and their close circles massively through bribes and other illegal and shadowy activities. EU minister Egemen Bagis, minister of interior Muammer Guler, environmental and urban minister Erdogan Bayraktar, and minister of economy Zafer Caglayan were forced to resign upon the scandal.
The criminal investigation targeted the sons of some of these ministers, who were running the show, and was closing down on Tayyip Erdogan’s son Bilal Erdogan, before it was aborted by Tayyip Erdogan himself through a massive purge and reshuffling of police chiefs throughout the country and new laws passed in a hurry that crippled and purged the judiciary. Erdogan has thus rendered himself immune to the law and coupled with his tight control over the media it is fair to say that he has turned the country into his personal dictatorship. Leaked audio recordings of phone tap evidence from the aborted corruption and graft investigation of December have since been floating on the internet, and new material is still being released daily. This also constitutes one of the main reasons why the Erdogan government is eager to increasingly censor the internet in Turkey.
The audacity and scale of the criminal enrichment of the children of the ruling political families of Turkey presents a stark contrast to the fate of the murdered children of the Gezi rebellion who are of poor and often oppressed minority backgrounds, including Berkin Elvan.
The streets are bubbling with protest and anger as the police continues to violently attack people in the same manner that killed Berkin. There is already a photo of a police officer firing his pistol from a police car, over the heads of a mass of people marching on one of the Istanbul highways. A small number of lumpen government sympathizers in Ankara have attacked and wounded a demonstrator with a cleaver (signature weapon of such raging conservative “shopkeepers”).
Protests and mass walkouts are taking place at universities and high schools. Barricades are going up in left-leaning campuses and poor neighborhoods to defend against police machinery. Dozens of demonstrations are being called and people are converging on central districts tonight. Vigils and sit-downs are taking place in various locations. A massive funeral procession is expected to take place tomorrow on March 12 at noon, amid high tension.
The media is not and cannot be expected to provide proper coverage of the issue and upcoming events. The world must know the reality of Berkin’s death and the reality of the political situation in Turkey.
There is no justice and there can be no peace!