Killer On The Loose

Berkin Elvan
On 16 June last year, the day after the 3-week-old and peaceful occupation of Gezi Park was forcibly ended in a hail of teargas, 14-year-old Berkin Elvan stepped out in his nearby neighbourhood to buy a loaf of bread and never came home. Instead, after being shot in the head with a teargas canister, he spent the next 9 months in a coma, turned 15 in January, and died Tuesday, 11 March. The tragic news of the belated victim of the 2013 protests — internationally condemned for excessive use of teargas by the police — brought on nationwide mourning and further protests. Over two days and across 53 provinces, some two million people marched in anger and grief. Likewise, similar outpourings took place place across the world in demonstrations from London to Washington. On 12 March, the funeral procession looked like this as it passed through Şişli in İstanbul:

Berkin Elvan funeral procession in Şişli, İstanbul on 12 March, 2014
On the day before, when Berkin passed away, the elected 60-year-old Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, stayed silent. True to form, it was no different from his reaction to the other well-documented Gezi fatalities. A stark contrast, by the way, to the glossy tears he shed live on TV for Esma, an Egyptian teenage girl killed during Morsi’s military-backed ouster. He said nothing the day Berkin Elvan died, but he passed comment the next day, the day of the funeral. It went like this: Continue reading “Killer On The Loose”

Mass Torture On The Streets Of Turkey

FOLLOWING ON FROM the recent incriminating report from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) comes Amnesty International’s detailed investigation into this year’s unprecedented anti-government demonstrations. Released early October & weighing in at over twice the size of the PHR study, Amnesty’s in-depth research on the protests that engulfed the country throughout June goes even further in presenting evidence to reach the same, yet necessary, conclusion. In a crack-ridden nutshell, the report — ‘Gezi Park Protests: Brutal Denial of the Right to Peaceful Assembly in Turkey‘ — affirms that government-backed human rights abuses took place on a massive scale. Across 72 pages, Amnesty documents the many victims of systematic violence at the hands of the state police, corroborating its case against the ruling party by making clear Turkey’s obligations, under both national & international law, to protect — not effectively crush — the basic democratic right to protest peacefully: Continue reading “Mass Torture On The Streets Of Turkey”

‘Cruel, Inhuman, Degrading Treatment On A Massive Scale’

THE RECENT RELEASE OF the aptly-titled ‘Contempt for Freedom’ by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) documents in great detail the disproportionate use of force by the Turkish state police in response to the anti-government protests this year. The unparalleled demonstrations in June were ignited by the ferocious police attacks on a sit-in in Taksim’s Gezi Park in late May. Over the course of one week, what began as a peaceful occupation to halt an unauthorized dig to make way for a controversial shopping mall, rapidly escalated into nationwide unrest, driven by shocking reports & images of excessive police action flooding social media, alongside a largely silent mainstream Turkish media &, not least, by an overly blunt reaction from the ruling AKP.

As the accompanying press release from the New York-based NGO outlines, police “attacked independent medical personnel who courageously provided care to the injured in accordance with international medical ethical standards and Turkish law.” In addition to violating the principle of medical neutrality — tantamount to a serious breach of the Geneva Conventions — PHR’s conclusion points to Turkish police deliberately firing tear gas canisters directly at protesters as a systemic mode of attack.

Published on Weds. 25.09.13, the 32-page report bases its findings on research conducted from 25 June to 2 July in İstanbul, the heart of the protests, & in the capital, Ankara. Working primarily with the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) & the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV), the PHR team reviewed 169 cases of physical & psychological evidence, as well as interviewing 53 victims & witnesses of police violence. The damning conclusion: Continue reading “‘Cruel, Inhuman, Degrading Treatment On A Massive Scale’”

The Roots Of The Gezi Trees Lie In ‘Ekümenopolis’

NO ONE SAW GEZI Park coming. Least of all the government. After more than a decade in power, the ruling Justice & Development Party (or AKP, by their Turkish acronym) literally tried to bulldoze over İstanbul residents’ rightful concerns for their local environment. And when that didn’t work, out came the teargas. For many citizens, at least 2.5 million who protested in June in all but two of Turkey’s 81 cities, the rallying cry was that it was never about a park. Acknowledged nationally & internationally (except by the government & its febrile supporters), the cause of the unprecedented unrest was state-sanctioned police brutality and, by extension, the arrogance of the prime minister. But before the excessive use of teargas, the beatings, & the tent-burning morphed a 4-day-old park sit-in into the political faultline that is now Gezi, initially it was all about trees & peaceful resistance to the AKP steamroller of blind urban development. And if one person did see that coming, it was filmmaker İmre Azem. Continue reading “The Roots Of The Gezi Trees Lie In ‘Ekümenopolis’”