The protests in Turkey that captivated the world earlier this year may have diminished in size, along with international media coverage of them, but the grievances that fuelled them remain. This week, anger at another death of a demonstrator – the sixth in under four months – has been expressed in two nights of protests in Istanbul, Ankara, Antakya, and many other places.
A TV station’s video footage and an autopsy report suggest that 22-year-old Ahmet Atakan fell from a building to his death in the midst of a Monday night protest in Turkey’s southern town of Antakya. An investigation has been opened, but it cannot be pro forma – it must be a comprehensive one that can determine all the circumstances around the incident and address the very understandable public concern that there be no cover-up in determining whether it was a tragic accident or something more complicated. Comments from the interior minister exonerating the police before an investigation has been completed are unlikely to inspire confidence.
Atakan’s death is all the more poignant given that the demonstration he participated in – in the Armutlu neighborhood of Antakya – had become a regular Monday night fixture, held to express a number of grievances but chiefly to protest the death of another 22-year-old protester, Abdullah Cömert.
Cömert died on June 3 from serious head injuries in the same neighborhood at the start of the wave of protests around Turkey. While there are strong suspicions that Cömert died as a result of being hit in the head with a teargas canister fired by the police (a wider concern during the protests), over three months later the prosecutor’s office investigating the death is still waiting for the results of an expert report from the Istanbul Forensic Medicine Institute.
It is striking that the police and civilians now indicted for beating to death another protestor, 19-year-old student Ali İsmail Korkmaz, found themselves in the dock largely because of the efforts by journalists talking to witnesses and unearthing the story behind Korkmaz’s death.
Many young people in Turkey are fed up with the pattern: no effective investigation into deaths during demonstrations or into police violence against demonstrators, and no public acknowledgement by the government that this is a serious problem.