Violence and new tragedy in Turkey

It has been an ugly month in Turkey.  First, shocking scenes of excessive force and the virtual lockdown of Turkey’s largest city on May 1.  Then the great national tragedy of the Soma mining disaster and the Turkish government’s ham-fisted efforts to suppress demonstrations in its aftermath.  Stacking tragedy upon tragedy, yesterday, in the Okmeydani district of Istanbul, Uğur Kurt was shot in the head as he attended a funeral at a cemevi (a Alevi place of worship). 

According to an Amnesty statement released today:

Reports indicate that police opened fire with live ammunition after youths threw a Molotov cocktail at the “scorpion” armoured car that they were travelling in. A statement by the Istanbul Governor confirmed that police used weapons with live ammunition.

Amnesty noted that “international human rights standards require that firearms are used only as a last resort if all other means are found to be ineffective to counter an immediate threat to life” and voiced concern “at reports that a crime scene investigation has not been undertaken, 24 hours after the first incident took place.”

As clashes between youths and the police raged through the night, there were reports of many more injuries and another person was killed, this time struck by a tear gas canister in his right eye.  He died later at a hospital.  There is strong evidence to suggest that Turkish security services regularly – and illegally – aim tear gas canisters directly at individuals.

Amnesty has long criticized this and other dangerous tactics employed by the Turkish security services which result in unnecessary injury and death.  Amnesty has called on international suppliers to suspend shipments of such items until until “the Turkish authorities can guarantee protesters’ right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.”  Unfortunately, as reported by Ilhan Taner, the United States is apparently committed to continue these shipments, despite a clear record of Turkish abuse.

Today’s statement goes on to highlight that these recent protests are the direct result of previous examples of excessive force by Turkish police:

The two deaths in Okmeydanı come following a period in Turkey in which police have continually used excessive force at the scene of demonstrations. Four people had died at the scene of demonstrations as a direct result of abusive force by police since the beginning of June 2013. The failure of the authorities to conduct prompt and effective investigations into police abuses has contributed to rising anger.

The four who died at the scene of demonstrations include Berkin Elvan, a 15 year-old who died on 11 March 2014 following injuries he sustained at a protest in June 2013. All the evidence suggests that he was hit in the head by a tear gas canister fired by police from close range. A criminal investigation into the killing of Berkin Elvan remains stalled.

As of this writing, a second night of protests in beginning, with violence reported in a number of cities.

Amnesty International calls on the authorities to ensure that prompt, effective, and impartial investigations are undertaken into the full circumstances of both deaths and to ensure that any subsequent use of force adheres strictly to the principles of necessity and proportionality set out in international human rights standards.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, for his part, voiced defiance.  As reported by the AP:

“We won’t remain silent against the blood mongers who use (the mine disaster) as an excuse to break, ravage, attack police and commit murder,” Erdogan said in a speech to members of his ruling party. “Do you expect police to stand idly by and watch? I am amazed at their patience.”

As for Elvan, Erdogan said: “Are we to hold a ceremony every time there’s a death? He died and it’s over.”

See here for additional video footage and coverage gathered from the New York Times.

Howard Eissenstat
St. Lawrence University



This entry was posted in Amnesty International, Erdogan, Excessive Force, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Expression, Gezi Park, Minorities, Religious Freedom, Taksim, Turkey, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.