Tensions as Berkin Elvan is laid to rest

Yesterday, we carried news of fifteen year old Berkin Elvan’s death. He weighed less than 36 pounds at the time of his death.  In Turkey and in cities throughout the world protests have been held in mourning and in anger.  In Istanbul, thousands converged to participate on his funeral procession.

Photograph of the funeral procession from Amnesty researcher, Andrew Gardner's twitter feed

Photograph of the funeral procession from Amnesty researcher, Andrew Gardner’s twitter feed

Turkish politicians  have appealed for calm and many have expressed their grief.  Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, telephoned the Elvan family to offer his condolences.   As recounted by the BBC,

President Abdullah Gul expressed his sadness and appealed for calm, urging everyone “to do everything to prevent this from happening again”.

He said Turkey was going through difficult days and that the “mind of the state has become overwhelmed by anger and hatred.” He added: “Little 15-year-old Berkin Elvan is the latest victim of this atmosphere.”

Vice Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc is quoted  as stating that “Turkey is in mourning” due to Berkin’s death.

As one of my colleagues noted, however, amidst these many statements, Turkish politicians have been remarkably silent on their determination to find the culprits in Berkin’s death.  Amnesty notes that

In the nine months that have passed [since Berkin was first injured], the police officers responsible for firing the tear gas canister have not been identified. The protracted and ineffective investigation into his case is typical of those opened following allegations of police abuses during the weeks of Gezi Park protests. In response to the thousands of complaints only two criminal prosecutions have been opened against police officers.

Amnesty’s Andrew Gardner, who is currently in Istanbul monitoring events, notes that “The death of Berkin Elvan must be a wake-up call for the Turkish authorities who have condoned abusive force by the police for too long.”

Unfortunately, there is very little evidence that Turkish officials are getting the message.  Investigations are not being carried out with any urgency and, with Turkey’s culture of impunity intact, the police are free to continue abuses.

According to press reports, two protestors were injured in the town of Mersin when they were struck by a armoured water cannon vehicle (TOMA), while at Middle East Technical University, in Ankara, police used tear gas and water cannon, and some students were beaten with truncheons.  Access to Gezi Park is, once again, restricted.

Even as I write this, Andrew Gardner’s twitter feed reports that the police are using tear gas against crowds following Berkin’s funeral.

Howard Eissenstat
St. Lawrence University

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