The protests which have shaken Turkey in the aftermath of Berkin Elvan’s death at age fifteen have generated many shocking images. Grainy photographs from protests in Roboski/Qileban, however, struck a particular nerve with me because they highlight the extent to which Berkin’s death is one tragedy in a long series of tragedies, one case of impunity in a country where security forces have no expectation that they will be held to account for their abuses.
Berkin, then fourteen, was mortally wounded by a gas canister shot at close range during the Gezi Protests. He lay in a coma for nine months before finally passing away last week.
As Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey describes, the investigation into his death has been shockingly lax:
In failures typical of investigations into police violence in Turkey, the police officers responsible for firing tear gas at Berkin Elvan have not been identified. No CCTV footage of the incident has been found. A single prosecutor was tasked with investigating all the hundreds of complaints into police violence that took place last summer in Istanbul.
For the families of Roboski, in Southeastern Turkey, this all has painful echoes of their own experience. On the night of December 28, 2011, two Turkish F-16s attacked a group of civilians crossing into Turkey from Iraq, killing thirty-four people. All were civilians, eighteen of them were children. The youngest was only twelve years old.
A year later, in December, 2012, Amnesty issued a statement addressing the failures of the investigation and calling on the government to address them:
Significant flaws in the criminal investigation have already been highlighted by Turkish human rights organisations and in by the European Union in its annual progress report on Turkey published in October this year. There was no investigation of the scene, witness statements were not taken and no military officials had been interrogated months after the incident. To date no charges have been brought and the entire investigation has been conducted in secret, with even relatives of the victims been denied any additional information on its progress or findings to date.
Amnesty’s 2013 Annual Report on Turkey makes clear that no progress has been made since then. Turkey has a history of burying its past. Turkey must address this culture of impunity. Until it does, security forces will continue to abuse those they are sworn to protect. And the families of Roboski will continue their vigil.
St. Lawrence University