In Turkey, tensions soared on 11 and 12 March when tens of thousands of people took to the streets and gathered to mourn the death of Berkin Elvan. He died after being in a coma for nine months. Last June he was hit on the head by a tear-gas canister while going to buy bread during the protests against the prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He was a symbol for the police brutality that, among others, caused the Gezi-protests of last year to escalate. These protests started as a relatively small environmentalist movement to save Istanbul's central Gezi Park but evolved into a nationwide wave of protests against Erdoğan, who is seen as increasingly authoritarian.
Among the protesters were students and parents, but also members of a variety of Turkish parties: the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) and the Kemalist Youth Union of Turkey (TGB), as well as the workers' party and the anarchists. Posters showed photos of the eight victims of the Gezi-protests. During and after the funeral mourners and protesters in several Turkish cities clashed with the riot police. In Ankara and Istanbul, they had started hurling stones at polices busses to which the police responded by firing tear-gas and rubber bullets, and using water cannons. In Istanbul, crowds shouting anti-government slogans lit fires as they made their way to a cemetery for the burial of 15-year-old Elvan. Many people were injured, among which one man who was hit by a water cannon from a two metres distance. He is still hospitalised.
Arrests and two deaths
The police arrested many people, among which 36 children in Ankara. The children were interrogated by a prosecutor from the Juvenile Crimes Investigation Unit and were released the same day. Two people died during the protests, although not necessarily because of police brutality. One man suffered from a heart attack during the clashes and another young man was killed by a stray bullet. It remains unclear who fired the bullet. On 13 March, the young man was buried in Istanbul. Thousands of people again gathered to mourn and express their discontent with the government. No incidents have been reported.
The young man’s death is already used politically as the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Canikli has accused the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kılıçdaroğlu of murdering the young man. He labelled those who are responsible for the killing as “vandals” affiliated with “illegal organizations.” Alleging that the main opposition leader “is always behind these organizations that terrorize the streets,” Canikli also claimed that the CHP deputies “support criminals.”
Government reactions to the death of Berkin Elvan
President Gül and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç expressed their condolences and deep sadness over the loss of Berkin. Meanwhile, pro-government media hinted that the timing of Berkin’s death was suspicious and said that he was "intentionally unplugged on the eve of local elections." Berkin’s father Sami Elvan rejected the allegations. PM Erdoğan also expressed his sadness, but he hastened to add as well that the death of Berkin “will not negatively affect the economy”, when as a reaction to the unrest the Turkish lira dropped.
By Merel Berkelmans
Sources: Al Jazeera, Hurriyet Daily I, Good Morning Turkey I, Hurriyet Daily II, Hurriyet Daily III, Good Morning Turkey II,
Photo: Deutsche Welle, Reuters