Protesting the Death of a Turkish Boy

Jose Zelaya
Grade: 9
School of Information Technology @ Eastside High School

[3rd Place, 9th and 10th Grade Contest, 2014]

           Last year in June, a 14 year old boy named Berkin Elvan was struck in the head by tear gas canister in Istanbul. After being in a coma for 269 days, Elvan died on Tuesday March 11, at the age of 15. He was one of eight people to be killed during last year’s anti-government protest at Gezi Park. This led to yet another protest in Turkey with thousands of people in many cities including Istanbul and Ankara. This time they were protesting the death of a 15 year old who was hurt with tear gas when he left his house to buy a loaf of bread for his family. These protesters thought Elvan deserved some justice. His funeral took place the day after his death on Wednesday, March 12. Consequently, the death of Berkin Elvan has become a symbol for Turkey’s record of police violence and impunity.[1]

          During the protest, people were shouting and saying that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was a murderer. Riot police arrived and fired water cannons and tear gas to stop the crowd from protesting. In return, protesters used stones and fireworks against the police. A lot of people suffered from tear gas, and some of them were killed. Many were hurt and taken to local hospitals. President Abdullah Gul sent condolences to Berkin’s family. However, Erdogan, unlike Gul, didn’t send any condolences, instead he criticized the protesters. Erdogan did not want to take any responsibility for what happened to Berkin.  He blamed the protesters for the fact that the police had to use tear gas.[2]

            His response was that the protesters didn’t know anything about democracy, and all they wanted was chaos in order to receive a result.  He alerted them saying that they will get a response during the elections on March 30. During those elections, he was able to extend his 11 years in power. He stated that all his opponents were going to pay for what they have done. He accused Fethullah Gulen, who was a political supported, of making allegations against him. He threatened to arrest masses of people who opposed him. He seems more interested in revenge than in finding a peaceful settlement to the unrest in his country. [3]

          This aggressive stance is will only endanger Turkey’s relationship with the United States and other pro-democratic nations. I believe that if this continues, one day the United States and Turkey will break their relationship and end it. Erdogan’s actions are putting the United States and Turkey against each other.

          In order to prevent alienating Turkey from other nations, Erdogan’s needs to seek reconciliation and not revenge.   Why? Let’s go back to what happened to Berkin Elvan. He was hurt with tear gas last year during an anti-government protest. He was in coma for nine months and passed away on March 11. What had he done to deserve this? All he did was walk to the store just to buy a loaf of bread, and as a result he became a victim of police violence. From my point of view, Berkin’s family deserves justice.  The least the prime minister can do it issue an apology to the boy’s family. Erdogan might not be happy about taking responsibilities, but he has to. Knowing how dangerous the use of tear gas can be, the police have to be careful when using.  In addition, it is not just about taking responsibility, but it is about being obligated to the people he has sworn to serve. The people of Turkey deserve to live a happy and peaceful life, but that is presently not the case.  All these anti-government protests that have been going on in Turkey are for a reason. The people are not happy with the government, and many hold the government responsible for Berkin Elvan’s death.  

          The Turkish people want to live a peaceful existence.  Opposing parties need to meet to seek a common solution to social issues that exist in the country.  Violence by either side solves nothing. It only promotes more violence.  Both sides need to make concessions, and a first step would be for Turkey’s prime minister to seek reconciliation and not revenge. The Turkish government needs to serve the will of the people and to protect the rights of its citizens. The Turkish people, like all people, deserve to live in peace.

[1] Watson, Ivan. "Fresh Protests Break out in Turkey after Comatose Boy Dies." CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 14 Apr. 2014

[2] Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan Links Dead Teen Berkin Alvan to 'terrorist' Groups." The Sydney Morning Herald. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

[3] "Prime Minister Erdogan’s Revenge." The New York Times. 31 Mar. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.