Howard Eissenstat is an Assistant Professor of History at St. Lawrence University, in Canton, NY as well as serving as a Country Specialist on Turkey for Amnesty International USA. He earned his doctorate in Modern Middle Eastern History from UCLA in 2007. In addition to his scholarly work, Dr. Eissenstat writes frequently on contemporary Turkish politics, foreign policy, and human rights issues. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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What Hakan Yaman most wants for his birthday – what he most deserves – is justice from the state that has so tragically failed him. Today, you can help him get it with a birthday greeting through twitter.
Yaman, the father of two, is one of the thousands of victims of shocking police violence which Amnesty has described in its new report on the suppression of freedom in Turkey during the Gezi protests. Yaman, himself, was not even a protester, but simply returning home from work during the course of the protests. Mistaken for a protester, he was attacked by police who beat him, and dragged him on top of a street fire. Before leaving him, one police officer gouged one of his eyes out.
A riot police fires tear gas at demonstrators during a protest in Istanbul, Turkey (Photo Credit: Bulent Doruk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images).
In Turkey, police violence against peaceful protestors continues. It is time for the world community to make its condemnation clear, not only through words, but through action. In this, Turkey’s most important ally, the United States, should take the lead.
In June and July, the world was galvanized by scenes of police violence against peaceful protestors in Turkey. Turkish police rained more than a hundred thousand tear gas canisters on its own citizens as they exercised their basic rights of freedom of expression and assembly. Hundreds of thousands of concerned individuals across the globe raised their voices against the abuses.
A Turkish police officer beats a demonstrator as people try to stop him during a protest near the entrance of Taksim Square in Istanbul (Photo Credit: Gurcan Ozturk/AFP/Getty Images).
The saying is almost the same in Turkish, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. On June 29, the New York Times published an op-ed by Turkish EU Minister, Egemen Bağış, in which he defended Turkey by arguing that the Gezi protests were evidence of Turkey’s mature democracy, describing protestors as a manifestation of a “vibrant civil society.” As noted in a brilliant take-down by my colleague at Amnesty USA, Bill Jones, this is the same Bağış who a few short weeks earlier had warned, at the height of the protests:
From now on, the state will unfortunately have to consider everyone who remains there a supporter or member of a terror organization…
Our prime minister has already assured [activists] about their aim with the protests. The protests from now on will play into the hands of some separatist organizations that want to break the peace and prioritize vandalism and terrorism.
Turkish gendarmerie and riot police fire water cannon and tear gas as they clash with hundreds of protesters trying to enter a courthouse in Silivri near Istanbul (Photo Credit: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images).
The Ergenekon trial, which came to a close this week, is without question, one of the most important court cases in Turkish history. The case involved an alleged coup plot against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the successful prosecution would seem another chapter in the AKP’s important efforts in reigning in illegal and anti-democratic actions by the Turkish armed services.
I’d like this to be a simple story of military power being brought under the control of an elected civilian government. Unfortunately, the Ergenekon story is also one of missed opportunities and justice denied. The Ergenekon trial had enormous potential to uncover the crimes of the past and set the tone for real justice in the new Turkey. It failed on both these accounts.
Turkish policeman detain a protestor during a protest on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul (Photo Credit: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images).
Ugly police violence and repression of freedom of speech and of assembly continue in Turkey, where attempts to stage protests in Taksim Square have been repeatedly suppressed with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets in the past few days.
The toll has been heavy. As an Amnesty statement released on July 9 notes, “[according] to the Istanbul Medical Association at least 30 people were injured yesterday including a 17 year-old… who is in a critical condition with head injuries after he was hit with a gas canister.”
Meanwhile, 19-year-old Ali İsmail Korkmaz succumbed to his wounds this week, the fifth confirmed death in the violence. According to newspaper reports, Korkmaz was injured during protests in Eskişehir on June 2, when he attempted to escape police tear gas and was “brutally beaten by a group wearing civilian clothes.” No arrests have been made in the case. He was nineteen years old.
Taksim Square under police control today (Photo Courtesty: Ahmet Şık/ NarPhotos).
I [miss] the days I used social media to connect with my high school friends. In #istanbul, it’s only used to ask “are you safe” these days
So writes one of my friends in Istanbul today after a weekend of some of the most shocking police violence that Turkey has seen in years. It will take many days, weeks, and perhaps years to understand the full cost and ramifications of the storming of Taksim Square that occurred Saturday night.
We do not know yet, for example, how many were injured, but the promiscuous use of water cannon and tear gas against protesters, by-standers, journalists, and medical personnel suggests the numbers will be very large. There are additional reports, which I have not yet been able to confirm, of the use of plastic bullets. Tear gas was hurled into buildings like the Divan Hotel, where people sought refuge. Video footage shows a water cannon was directed at the inner courtyard of the German Hospital down the road from Taksim.
Demonstrators try to escape from riot police on June 11, 2013 on Taksim square in Istanbul. Riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to clear protesters as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned he would show ‘no more tolerance’ for the unrelenting mass demonstrations against his Islamic-rooted government (Photo Credit: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images).
As international condemnation of Turkish police repression against peaceful protesters continues, the Turkish government doubled down today with an early morning raid on Taksim Square.
Istanbul’s Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu assured the public that the intervention was only to remove some banners. Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey reports “[when] we met with the Governor this afternoon, he continued to insist that the police were using appropriate force in pursuit of legitimate goals. Neither of these claims is consistent with the reality on the ground.”
Since May 31, more than 4,000 protesters have been injured as Turkish police continue to use excessive force in an attempt to disperse them. Amnesty International has seen a growing body of evidence of police brutality, including extensive use of teargas and water cannons against nonviolent protesters. Video footage taken at the scene of demonstrations has shown police officers kicking visibly defenseless protesters and even beating them with batons.
During the first days of the crisis, Amnesty International’s office, located in the heart of the Istanbul protest zone, stayed open around the clock, while volunteer doctors treated injured protesters. Amnesty staff and volunteers have risked their personal safety to document abuses and ensure that the world receives accurate information about the events unfolding in Turkey.