Last week, President Erdoğan condemned the killing of George Floyd, tweeting: “The racist and fascist approach that led to the death of George Floyd in the US city of Minneapolis not only deeply saddened all of us, but it has also become one of the most painful manifestations of the unjust order we stand against across the world.”
He added, “Turkey always stands against all attacks targeting humanity, no matter where, under what pretext or in what form they are committed.”
The same President Erdoğan depicted Berkin Elvan, age 15, who died after the police shot him in the street at the Gezi protests, as a terrorist and made the crowds boo Elvan’s family back in 2014.
As the protests in the US continued to grow and the military police stepped in, President Erdoğan was silent, but his communications director Fahrettin Altun condemned the wounding of TRT World journalists covering the protests, reminding the US of press freedom.
Now this must be a joke. Turkey is one of the biggest oppressors of the press; around 100 journalists are in jail. Some Kurdish journalists have been jailed on the grounds of “being a terrorist” just for covering protests and press releases.
The torture and killing of African American citizen George Floyd by the police on May 27 coincided with the seventh anniversary of the Gezi protests. Those protests started after civilians tried to prevent the cutting of the trees in Gezi Park in Taksim so that a shopping mall could be built. As peaceful protests grew, the military police cracked down, using force on protesters. During the Gezi protests, which spread around every city in Turkey except one, a total of 10 people died, 56 people were severely injured (including brain damage and the loss of eyes) and thousands were injured because of police brutality.
Berkin Elvan, who lived in the Alevi district of Okmeydanı in Istanbul, got shot with a rubber bullet and went into a coma for months. He died after 269 days in the hospital.
Another violent crime during the protests was the death of Ali İsmail Korkmaz, age 19, in Eskişehir. He was battered by the police and a group of civilians, and he died of brain hemorrhage after 38 days in a coma. Erdoğan, who was the Prime Minister back then, claimed that the security forces were very patient and restrained, even saying that “the police made history.”
During the past seven years, none of the victim’s families were able to find justice in court. Not only in Korkmaz and Elvan’s cases, but in all of them, the police were heavily protected by the judiciary. Only a few members of the police got minor sentences.
Meanwhile, thousands of protesters were tried. Some were fined, but all were acquitted in the end. However, Erdoğan and the AKP never stopped claiming that Gezi was an organized upheaval to overthrow the government.
The latest well-known Gezi case is also known as the Kavala case. Businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, alongside 18 right activists and artists, was acquitted in February of this year. If they had been convicted, they would have faced aggravated life sentences. But Kavala, who was accused of another crime, this time about the coup attempt, has still not been released. His acquittal has also been contested by a Turkish prosecutor.
Disproportionate use of force by the Turkish police does not start nor end with Gezi. There are other cases of killing and the use of torture by the security forces. Usually, the victims are Kurds or Alevis that are accused after their deaths of being terrorists.
For instance, university student Kemal Kurkut was gunned down by the police during Newroz celebrations in Diyarbakır in 2017. While the murder took place in front of the cameras, the proceedings over the past three years have come to a dead end. Kurkut’s brother recently talked to Gazete Duvar, saying he does not expect justice. Sadly, he is right: almost all such crimes committed by the security forces end with impunity.
These cases are not identical to the racism issue in the US and the murder of Floyd. But when it comes to police brutality and use of violence against opponents, who can picture the president of Turkey as a democratic, peaceful and just political figure?