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Anti-Erdogan Protests Continue, Not Covered by Western Media

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On September 9, 2013, a second wave of Gezi protests began, as protestors gathered in support of the June boycott held by Middle Eastern Technical University (METU) students, which resulted in the deaths of 2 young men.

The June boycott was of a government road project that would cut down thousands of trees near campus.

The September 9 protest was also a demand for justice in the deaths of the students.  Ahmet Atakan, 22, died during this protest.  There are conflicting reports about his cause of death.

A video of the September protest was posted on Twitter.

The protests against the road project continue but are not receiving coverage by Western media. Mass demonstrations are also taking place in Kadikoy, Dikmen, Armutlu, and Izmir.

Bianet reported that approximately 5,000 protestors assembled in Kadikoy, and 2,000 at AKP Headquarters in Izmir on September 11. At least eight journalists were injured in these September 11 protests.

Bianet also reported the occurrence of several other smaller protests across Turkey.

On the surface, the road project protests appear to be environmental in nature; however, the Al-Monitor Turkey-Pulse reported on September 12 that “the main factors behind the second wave of protests appear to be distrust of government and state institutions and a widespread conviction that the police enjoy impunity for the crimes they perpetrate.”

The Al-Monitor further reports that when protestors are detained, they yell out their names to be documented, out of distrust of authorities and fear of “forced disappearance.”

Since the Gezi protests began, 43 police officers have been given disciplinary penalties for excessive use of force. Seven people have died, including one policeman and six protestors.

In addition to excessive police force, there have been reports of sexual harassment toward female protestors. On September 11, a female college student was taken into custody during a protest and claimed that she was verbally and sexually harassed by 200 police officers while detained.

In Kadikoy, an Advocate claimed that two female protestors, one of whom was wearing a plaster cast on her foot, were strip-searched by police.

The Hurriyet Daily News reported the personal account of a male student protestor detained in June. He said he witnessed police sexually harassing female protestors taken into custody.

The Hurriyet Daily News will also document the story of Pinar, a female victim who was dragged and beaten by police and not helped by other police bystanders, over the next 2 weeks.

The Al-Monitor adds, “Many cannot help but ponder Erdogan’s words: “Women are women, men are men; is it possible for them to be equal?” Gender equality is not a term the patriarchal Turkish state enjoys, hence, as usual, women have paid extra costs to join the protests. But this time, the movement needs women to remain legitimate.”

Erdo?an also said in June, "There is a problem called Twitter right now and you can find every kind of lie there," Erdogan proclaimed Sunday. "The thing that is called social media is the biggest trouble for society right now."  Twenty Twitter accounts related to the summer Gezi protests were monitored and the Interior Ministry has prepared a report, which claims the tweets “manipulated the protests and spread false news.”

In May 2013, the first wave of protests began, sparked by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdo?an’s plan to redevelop Gezi Park in Taksim Square. Erdo?an planned to turn the secular Taksim Square into an Ottoman-themed shopping center, with luxury flats and a mosque, as well as a model of 19th Century Ottoman-era barracks. Secularists viewed this plan as the removal of Ataturk’s legacy and history.

The small sit-in in Gezi Park eventually grew to include tens of thousands of protestors.

UNC Chapel Hill  Professor Zeynip Tufekci was in Taksim for the first wave of protests and documented the unity shown among many different people: “Gezi protests participation included people ranging from nationalist/traditional Kemalists to Kurdish political parties, from the  ”internet generation” youth (as they are referred to here) to feminists, from “revolutionary muslims” to many ordinary citizens who do not fit into any of these categories.” Occupy Gezi also was present, and had a companion US presence to show solidarity.

The unity shown among diverse people who are coming together to stand against the authoritarian government is the heart of the Gezi story.

Prior to the onset of the first wave of protests, opposition had been mounting in response to Erdo?an’s moves toward Sharia governance.

One example of this is the recent reinstatement of a 10 month prison sentence for blasphemy that was issued to famed pianist Fazil Say. The original sentence, issued in April 2013, was for “insulting religious beliefs held by a section of the society,”

Opposition had also been brewing at Middle Eastern Technical University (METU).

On December 18, 2012, METU students protested Erdo?an’s arrival for the launch of the Göktürk 2 satellite in Ankara. Student protestors clashed with police and 45 students were prosecuted in February, 2013.

A lawyer for the METU students told Bianet, "There is an understanding that PM Erdogan cannot be protested. We find this problematic and refuse it."

At the December protest, Bar?? Bar???k was struck in the head by a tear gas canister and suffered brain damage.

Bianet also reported a statement by a group of METU students: "AKP government's attacks on METU indeed targets universities and public opposition. AKP is trying to oppress universities and public opposition. But we managed to confront their attacks and we will continue our struggle in the future as well.”

A Turkish prosecutor is requesting 6-year prison sentences for 45 of the students who took part in the December protest. The Treasury is also set to sue the Gezi protestors for damage to public property.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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