Archive for March 2014
Yesterday Berkin Elvan, age 15, died in Istanbul. He had spent nine months in a coma after being hit in the head by a gas canister when he went on an errand to buy bread. His death sparked demonstrations at Turkish universities and cities around the country. Many of the protests were quite large and resulted in violent clashes between police and protesters.
Berkin was a child bystander, making his innocence in his fate undeniable. Thus far, PM Erdogan has remained silent on his death, though other high government officials, including President Gul, have expressed their condolences. I will be curious to see how, if at all, Erdogan tries to spin this death so it is connected to one of his long list of enemies. Perhaps we are about the see the uncovering of the bread lobby.
Like shoeboxes before it, bread has become a symbol of protest against the government. As sociologist Zeynep Tufekci pointed out in her must read post on yesterday’s events, bread has a deep social significance in Turkey. You quite literally cannot eat a meal in Turkey without an accompanying pile of bread. Bread symbolizes life and nourishment in Turkey, more so than in other cultures. The use of bread during demonstrations yesterday not only represents the circumstances of Berkin’s death, but his short life itself.
Since December 17, Turkey has been embroiled in a government corruption scandal in which both PM Erdogan and his son Bilal have been implicated. Tapes of phone conversations between Erdogan and his son as well as high ranking members of the media and government are being gradually leaked on the internet via anonymous sources. During one particularly infamous series of leaked phone calls, Erdogan is purportedly heard telling his son to get rid millions (it is claimed up to a billion) dollars in cash before investigators can find it. Erdogan’s protection of his own son, while he was coldly complicit in the death of another person’s son, was an unspoken undertone in yesterday’s protests. Berkin’s mother made the provocative statement that “It wasn’t God who took my son, it was Erdogan.”
As I wrote previously, Turkey has been on edge, just waiting for a spark to reignite the “resistance.” It is too early to predict whether Berkin’s death will spark a demi-revolution a la Ukraine or fizzle out like many of the protests over the past year. Berkin’s funeral, which his family has made a public event, is scheduled for 3 pm Istanbul time (9 EST due to daylight savings). The reaction of the police to the crowds gathered to mourn will speak to the level of insecurity of the government. A government that is confident of its control over its population and its hold on power does not tear gas the funeral of a child.