A massive police crackdown may have put an end to the occupation of Istanbul's Gezi Park last summer, but it wouldn't be correct to say that it put a stop to the protest movement that was born during that occupation. Instead, the Gezi movement has been simmering slowly since last summer, with occasional flareups here and there, waiting for a spark that might reignite it.
That spark might very well have appeared, in the form of Berkin Elvan, a 15-year-old boy who died today after spending 269 days in a coma, brought about after he was apparantly struck in the head at close range by a police tear gas canister. According to his parents, Berkin went out to buy bread on the morning of June 16 and got caught up in the Gezi-related protests that were taking place in his Istanbul neighborhood. He never came home.
Following his death, several protests broke out across Turkey, many of them silent ones that paid tribute to Berkin by having a loaf of bread on display. But, with the Turkish police becoming increasingly intolerant of protest since the Gezi events (an effort by Berkin's mother to make a public statement last July was forcibly broken up) and with public anger building up since then, protests in Istanbul, Ankara and elsewhere turned violent on Tuesday, with the police using water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowds that had gathered to mourn Berkin's death. Reports the Guardian:
On Tuesday morning, police fired teargas to disperse protesters gathered outside the Istanbul hospital where Berkin died, after some people started throwing objects at an armoured police vehicle.
In Ankara, riot police used water cannon and teargas against a crowd of about 2,000 who blocked a highway to mourn the teenager's death and to contest continued police impunity. In several cities, there were sit-ins and silent protests.
According to doctors, Berkin's health had deteriorated gravely and his weight had dropped to 16kg (two and a half stone) in recent weeks.
Announcing his death on Twitter, Berkin's parents wrote: "To our people: We lost our son Berkin Elvan at 7am this morning. Condolences to us all." Gülsüm Elvan, the boy's mother, expressed her anger towards the Turkish government: "Not God took my son away, but [Prime Minister Recep] Tayyip Erdoğan," she said, according to the Turkish press.
Berkin is scheduled to be buried tomorrow and there are likely to be more protests -- and more police crackdowns -- after his funeral. The police reaction to today's protests are another reminder that the government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has become so scared of plots to topple it that any form of protest is now seen as a mortal danger that must be nipped in the bud. At the same time, today's protests -- and the ones that will likely happen tomorrow after Berkin's funeral -- should serve as a reminder to the AKP that the movement that begun during the Gezi protests still has a long way to go before it dies out.