A guest post from an ERASMUS exchange student, currently studying in Turkey. The student’s name has been withheld.
15 year old Berkin Elvan was hit by a tear gas canister in May 2013 after being caught up in a protest on Taksim square which was aiming to protect Gezi Park in Istanbul. This peaceful protest soon escalated to a full blown anti – government stand-off, resulting in the deaths of 8 people, including one police officer. As a result of being hit by a tear gas canister Berkin was put in a coma and consequently died on the 11th of March 2014.
Istanbul and many other major cities in Turkey have erupted into passionate protest due to the death of Berkin. Running battles between police and protesters are ongoing all over turkey; it appears at first look that the biggest areas of dissent are situated in Istanbul and Ankara and are set to continue for the rest of this month. It is rumoured that even larger protest are planned for May Day.
The Turkish police are notorious for their heavy handed tactics when it comes to combating political unrest, today has not been any different. Extreme measure of tear gas and water cannons appear to be the first response by riot police. This has also spurred more people to take to the streets.
Dissent has also been on the increase since the ruling party AKP threatened to create measures which would result in the banning of social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube .The AKP Prime Minister Erdogan comment that “We are Determined on this subject. We will not leave this Nation at the mercy of YouTube and Facebook.”
From witnessing glimpses of the unrest it can be seen that protesters are from all sections of society, students and young people, professionals and working class people.
Istanbul is a city of ferocious football rivalry which often results in violence, yet these public out cries for liberty have appeared to unite, Besiktas, Galatasaray and Fenebahce supporters. This in effect shows the true power of ordinary people when united around a common goal. Opposition parties are prominent at the protests playing an organisational role.
The state’s violent repression once again of these peaceful protests shows the real nature of the AKP regime, the youth and the working class as a whole needs to develop its own alternative and assert itself.
The protest are reminiscent of the student protests in 2011 in Britain , in which young people took to the streets to defend our education rights, Even though the main bulk of the protesters in Turkey are students It can argued that their cause is perhaps more vital to the future of the Turkish nation than the events in the UK, although the AKP has strong support in more conservative, especially rural areas of Turkey. This may cause issues in the future, but for the present we should hope for a quick and peaceful resolution to the unrest in Turkey, in which liberty is restored to people of all beliefs and backgrounds.