Harriet Fildes
Last updated: 22 January, 2015

Gezi spirit gains renewed force in Turkey

Protesters are once again taking to the streets of Istanbul. A controversial trial over police brutality underpins the movement. Harriet Fildes reports.

In keeping with typical Turkish hospitality, I was welcomed back to Istanbul in style; namely, with fireworks and teargas. Unfortunately, this was by no means a celebration. Protesters and civil activists amassed across Turkey to mourn the perceptibly unjust results of the trail of Ali Ismail Korkmaz, an Alevi protester who was beaten to death by plainclothes men, some of whom later turned out to be undercover police officers. This ongoing trauma began in Eskişehir on the 2nd of June 2013, during the Gezi Park protests, following which Ali Ismail died after spending 38 days in a coma.

DUE TO HIGH LEVELS of domestic and international attention, the trial has been moved on several occasions and it has sparked renewed protests at every turn. This trial has been particularly controversial due to the suspect’s denial of seemingly insurmountable evidence; that of a video tape explicitly showing the suspects fatal beating of Ali Ismail. Notwithstanding this evidence, the accused asserted that this was not in fact Korkmaz in the video but another protester that he only “lightly poked” with his foot.

The accused reiterated many of the core lines of the anti-protest movement. Namely, that they were doing what was necessary to protect Turkey from coups/lobbies/external forces. However, and as with most discursive traps, the more these arguments are used, the less meaning and sway they hold, an assessment which can easily be viewed from my window in Kadıköy where an increasingly disaffected populace are expressing their angst with these arguments using graffiti, protest slogans and sometimes violence.

“…the trial has been moved on several occasions”

Although Mevlüt Saldoğan, the defendant, was in fact sentenced to 10 years in jail, Korkmaz’s family and fellow protesters were angered that Saldoğan was not sentenced for life and that the other accused were given reduced sentences. Gürkan Korkmaz, brother of Ali and the family’s lawyer, is said to be devastated with the results: “We waited a year for justice—we trusted in your justice with patience”.

The father of Berkin Elvan, the 15-year-old boy who was hit in the head by a tear gas canister during Gezi and ended up in a coma for over a year before succumbing to his injuries also attended the trial in support of Korkmaz’s family, presciently stating that “This trial will not end here”, in keeping with one of Gezi’s main slogans “this is just the beginning, the fight goes on”.

The trial has reignited nationwide protests, in continuation of the Gezi spirit but with a more mournful and resigned tone. Protesters, now acutely aware of the dangers they face, seemingly amass simply to be gassed. On Wednesday evening, protesters in Kadıköy were violently attacked and kettled by Turkish Special Forces and responded by throwing fireworks and rocks at the police in an attempt to protect the vast majority of non-violent protesters. A reclamation of public space or more simply, an expression of frustration with the current judicial and political system, these protests look unlikely to end any time soon, nor does the trial which will be taken to the European Court of Human Rights according to the family’s lawyers.