Socialist Worker

Death of boy hit by tear gas canister brings rage to streets of Turkey

The funeral of a young protester has brought anger at the government back onto the streets of Turkey, writes Ron Margulies

Issue No. 2395

Hundreds of thousands were out in the streets of Turkish cities last week.

This was a funeral, not explicitly a protest against the government. But it was directly linked to the Gezi Park protests of last June. 

Today, the park remains a park. But the violence of the police during the Gezi events was horrendous. 

As the demonstrations spread from Istanbul to every city in the country, so did the indiscriminate use of pepper gas—fired in metal canisters—and water cannons. 

Seven people died. Hundreds were blinded and otherwise injured when hit by these canisters.

One youngster of 14, Berkin Elvan, was hit and went into a coma. He had been out on his way to the grocers to buy bread. He died last week, now aged 15, after 269 days.

The utter senselessness and tragedy of his death struck a chord way beyond those who had suffered police violence last summer.

Anger against the government has been building up since the Gezi events, and this also turned the funeral into one of the biggest events ever in Istanbul.

Prime minister Erdogan had branded the Gezi protesters as vandals, marginal groups, and people trying to overthrow a legitimate government.

He had praised the police, and refused to utter a single word of regret about those who died. This may have gone down well with his core support, but it hardened opposition to his increasingly authoritarian style.


Then in December all hell broke loose when prosecutors took legal action against four government ministers for corruption and bribery involving billions of Turkish lira.

Erdogan’s response was to deny any wrong-doing. He claimed, once again, that this was an attempt to overthrow his government.

This time, he blamed the followers of Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic cleric who lives in the US and has a huge following in Turkey.

The Gülen people were certainly involved in exposing government corruption. But there are two problems with Erdogan’s defence.

First, everyone knows that the government and Gülen have been allies until recently, and it was Erdogan who allowed the cleric’s followers to rise to high positions in the judiciary and the police.

Second, the allegiance of the prosecutors makes no difference to the cases they have built against the corrupt ministers. What matters is the corruption, not the motives of those who expose it.

Since December, Erdogan has been waging war against the Gülen people. In doing so, he is wreaking havoc with the judicial system and democracy.

His main aim is to stop further allegations of corruption from surfacing. Hardly anyone in the country believes the existing allegations to be untrue. Yet the government continues to act as if these are simply Gülen lies.

To prove that the judiciary consists of liars, the government has now released army generals and others who were tried and sentenced for planning military takeovers. Some of these people are proven killers.

The parliamentary opposition to Erdogan’s party is nationalistic and Islamophobic. It therefore cannot attract any of his supporters. 

Mass anger with the government, which exploded both at Gezi and at the funeral last week, has yet to produce a political vehicle which presents an alternative both to Erdogan’s authoritarian conservatism and to the opposition’s nationalism. 

Creating such an alternative is the task we face.

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