Turkey’s protestors seek justice for Berkin Elvan

The death of a child always makes people feel protective and as an immediate response many poured into the streets to protest police intervention

Ceylan Ozbudak

Published: Updated:

Berkin Elvan was an adorable 14 year-old. By looking at his photos, one can tell how active, sociable and curious he was. Berkin reportedly left home to buy bread during the Gezi protests last June and he was injured when a tear gas canister hit him in the mayhem in his own neighborhood. He was in a coma for 269 days and he passed away this Wednesday in Istanbul.

This has disturbed many people. The death of a child always makes people feel protective and as an immediate response many poured into the streets to protest police intervention. Our beloved Berkin still lives in our hearts.

AK Party spokesperson Bülent Arınç expressed his condolences on behalf of the party immediately. President Abdullah Gül was personally interested in Berkin both at the hospital and following his death and stated that he would take all precautions necessary so that such an event would not happen again.

The police investigation still continues. According to some eyewitnesses who are Berkin’s friends, the tear gas canister hit Berkin after it ricocheted but it seems that the truth will be revealed after the court case.

Hijacking the protests

As was the case in the Gezi protests, some marginal left wing groups and communist organizations hijacked the sincere protests of those who wanted to commemorate Berkin and we suddenly began to see the flags of marginal communist organizations; the same people who deface and vandalize property and throw Molotov cocktails at the police and burn busses.

Had Berkin lived, he would not have wanted people to burn buses, set AK Party election offices on fire or harm citizens with Molotov cocktails in his name. But many people who used Berkin’s name actually exploited the situation to cause anarchy. For these groups, who were on the lookout to attack the government with street protests, this commotion has been a field day.

When I talked about marginal groups hijacking protests before, many in the foreign media targeted me for trying to demonize the protestors. But the bad news of more destruction came on the night of Wednesday. Burak Can Karamanoğlu, a 22-year-old university student, was shot dead in the middle of a fight on Berkin’s street at night.

In the morning, the incident was claimed by DHKP-C, a communist terrorist group, whose flags were in the streets all day long. This is what I have been trying to say since the Gezi protests when I talk about not fuelling the same kind of discourse of these dark groups just for the sake of opposition to the AK Party.

Opposition to political parties does not have to take place in the form of arson, creating angry fronts and over- exaggerating events. Something any Turkish person with a sense of history knows is when the confrontation in the streets begins, young people die.

On the other hand, it has become a custom before every election for some factions to unite as an anti-AK Party coalition and begin to shout slogans. (If we recall the 2007 elections, one million people marched to create an appearance of mass popular discontent against the government under the name of Republican protests) As a result, some supporters of the government were frustrated and attacked poor Berkin in return.

Some began to share pictures of Berkin slinging stones at the police or holding hands with communists under the Cumhuriyet Monument. Berkin was only 14 years old; a child that age can be easily directed toward any political ideology, as his own father stated, especially if he is not educated to avoid anarchy. He could easily be drawn into events simply thinking that this is all a game. Berkin cannot be blamed here.

Polarizing fronts

The ones to be blamed are the people who did not hesitate to pull that child into the frontlines together with militants – if he did engage in those incidents. The ones to blame are those who did not hesitate to politicize a 14-year-old child and put him in harm’s way. And those to blame are people with poisoned minds who provoke incidents under the name of defending their rights.

Opposition to political parties does not have to take place in the form of arson, creating angry fronts and over- exaggerating events. Something any Turkish person with a sense of history knows is when the confrontation in the streets begins, young people die.

Ceylan Ozbudak

They did not hesitate to agitate both the police and the protestors and thus fan the flames of hatred with the hope of getting something out of it. As the case still continues, it is not certain what will happen to the policeman who fired the canister that hit Berkin.

It is difficult to believe that the police would deliberately target a small child among the protestors on purpose. Sometimes, although rare, such incidents happen. As Turkish author Adnan Oktar said: if it is proven that the injury was deliberate, the responsible police officer should be punished according to the related laws.

However, we should also think of the state the police are in, especially when they have worked for days without any sleep in order to prevent any unjust treatment against the public during the Gezi protests, where hundreds of vehicles were set on fire, bus stops were burned down and shops were destroyed.

On one side there are protestors who turned the streets into a battlefield out of anger against the government and on the other side there are people concerned about the safety of their lives and property. When we take the example of the shooting of Burak Can, the 22 year old who was shot in a fight between protestors, we still say we would prefer the police to have been using water cannons to disperse the protestors.

We cannot change destiny, but we can take precautions to spare innocent lives. Thus, we must also develop an empathy towards the police who have not slept for days and have been filmed lying on the streets due to exhaustion. The police are also citizens of this country and it would be wrong to show them as little more than bogeymen.

There is another angle of this equation. The government is trying to protect itself from increasing agitation. This can be understood especially in a country like Turkey, whose recent history is full of military coups and interventions. We have seen many governments being toppled by force despite public support.

Turkey at a crossroad

Turks, by a great majority, would not like to see another military intervention to ever occur in the country. Therefore, it is natural that the government is in an agitated state of mind to prevent going back to those dark days. It wants to prevent not only itself from being overthrown, but also to protect Turkey's democracy itself. The psychology here is to prove that Turkey has achieved a state of democratic maturity, which is not going to be affected by protests in a negative way and is liberal enough to tolerate different opinions.

Of course in this case, where the streets are already stirred up, what needs to be done by the government is to have common sense, use only unifying language to prevent polarization and refrain from provoking commentary. In a country of such rich texture, harboring such diverse ideologies and in such a volatile place like the Middle East, the AK Party has managed to keep the economy more than afloat and has been extraordinarily successful in stopping the bloodshed of PKK terrorism.

If the government can manage to secure the freedom of speech on highest level, soften its discourse one more notch, and appeal more to the lifestyles of young people, there will be little left for criticism.

Turkey is at a crossroad, where an election is at the door with 10 million new first -time voters. In a country of 76 million, 10 million can make a lot of difference. The agitation we are now seeing is due to the realization of this fact by the anti-AK Party groups and the government supporters.

No one wants to see such incidents that give rise to the deaths of innocent young people and as a nation as a whole. Turkey should learn to accept its different colors and differences of opinion. In the process, the best thing the authorities can do is try to empathize more with the people on the street and avoid any language which can be used to provoke fury.

The famous Muslim poet Khalil Gibran wrote, “Say not, I have found the truth, but rather, I have found a truth.” As a matter of fact, we all have different interpretations of incidents, and I make a call for those who care about Turkey to take a step back, stop using divisive language and let society settle down.

Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
Top Content Trending