In response to the increasing violence during civilian protests in Turkey during the past week, a group of 18 “Concerned Georgetown Turkish Students” have assembled to ask the Georgetown community to demand that the Turkish government stop police violence and listen and respond to the civilian demands.
In a letter addressed to students, the group writes “We would like to call your attention to the recent protests in Turkey, because we believe that the government is inflicting great injustice upon its own people through political channels, the police force and the media.”
Protests began in Istanbul on May 28 over plans to redevelop Gezi Park into a shopping complex and quickly spread around major cities in the country as a sign of long-held resentment against the government led by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, which protestors say has grown increasingly authoritarian.
The BBC reports that there have been two deaths during the protests, and the Turkish Human Rights Association calculates the number of protesters injured at over 2,800 and the number of detained at 791.
In spite of the magnitude of the protests, the group of Concerned Georgetown Turkish Students argue that censorship tactics enacted by Erdogan’s government have silenced national media, which has so far failed to broadcast both the protests and the police brutality occurring in the past few days all around Turkey.
“As these protests were going on during Saturday and Sunday nights, CNN Turk was showing penguin documentaries and the rest of the major media outlets were broadcasting T.V. shows or cooking programs,” Kaan Inan (SFS ’14) wrote in an email to Vox. “Only one channel, Halk TV, a channel that I had not heard of before Friday, was adequately covering the protests.”
Inan, who participated in protests in three different locations, is particularly concerned with the violence police forces have shown towards civilians in Taksim and Beşiktaş.
“When I say police violence, I am talking about police specifically targeting protestors’ heads with tear gas bombs, 10-20 policemen beating both men and women after individually cornering them, and police throwing multiple gas bombs into apartments because residents were helping and sheltering protestors,” Inan wrote. “These [acts] show that gas bombs and water bombs were not used for self-defense or to disperse the crowd, but to punish and hurt individuals for protesting.”
Reputed police violence is only part of what this group of Georgetown students is trying to raise awareness about. Intervention in the legal system, forced gentrification in the name of urban development, investigating and arresting of journalists and academics for their opinions and research, and controlling Deans of universities are some of the policies that Ceyda Erten (SFS ’13) believes have increased popular discontent towards the current Turkish government.
“Of course the government has done successful policies as well—the economy is the most obvious example. However, separating economic development from what the society demands leads to an incomplete understanding of a country,” Erten wrote in an email to Vox.
Cem Yolbulan (SFS ’13) agrees and calls on the international community to not be misguided by the economic growth that Turkey has gone through in the past few years. “Many scholars, analysts, and students in the United States, including Georgetown, tend to applaud the ‘thriving economy’ of Turkey or the so-called ‘democratization process’ taking place. However, for most of the time, their analyses ignore the day-to-day media censorship, lack of human rights, and personal freedoms.”
For his part, Prime Minister Erdogan dismissed the protesters, saying that they were organized by extremist groups. Asked if he had heard the protesters’ message, Erdogan responded aggressively, “What is the message? I want to hear it from you.”
“What can a softened tone be like? Can you tell me?” he said.
The concerned Georgetown students request that their peers raise awareness on social media and call the Turkish embassy to their home country. “It is our hope that those responsible for allowing this massive violence against innocents to perpetuate, such as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, resign their posts. And we need international support to get our voices heard,” they write. “We are counting on the intellectual prowess and human sensitivity of the amazing Georgetown community.”
Read their full letter, reproduced below.
Dear Georgetown Community,
We would like to call your attention to the recent protests in Turkey, because we believe that the government is inflicting great injustice upon its own people through political channels, the police force and the media. We really need your help; you can make all the difference.
A peaceful sit-in in Istanbul’s Taksim Square in protest of the attempted demolition of a beautiful public park to be replaced by a commercial shopping mall faced violent police crackdown on May 31st. The protests have spread across Turkey in an escalating fashion, fueled by police violence, and the ruling AKP’s polarizing rhetoric, led by our prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Innocent protestors are suffering as a result of excessive and targeted use of tear gas bombs, rubber bullets, and water bombs by the Turkish Police. The democratic right to peaceful protest has been destroyed by our government, blinded by a mentality that justifies the oppression of Turkish citizens with differing views, and the abuse of human rights in general. The issue is of universal relevance as it threatens our basic rights and democratic principles. The AKP government is utilizing the police force to limit the protestors’ freedom of expression through the use of excessive and disproportionate force.
The national Turkish media has been silent as a result of the crippling censorship tactics executed by the government. None of the major media outlets has broadcasted the protests over the first three days of police brutality. Social media, which is not used by the majority of the older population, has been the only source of unfiltered information. Prime Minster Erdogan, declared that social media is a pain on all nation’s back’s, revealing his authoritarian views regarding freedom of the press. Given that the Turkish people are left in the dark with very little recourse, we must call on the rest of the world to pay attention to our plight and stand in solidarity with us, with all those fighting for democracy.
Governments all across the world, international media, we need your support. With international encouragement, the Turkish government will be forced to finally listen and respond to the peaceful, rightful voice of its own people. It is our hope that those responsible for allowing this massive violence against innocents to perpetuate, such as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, resign their posts. And we need international support to get our voices heard.
What you can do:
- Get informed, here’s a useful link to get started: http://occupyturkey2013.tumblr.com/
- Spread the word using Facebook and Twitter. Twitter hashtags: #direngezi #direngeziparki #occupygezi #direnankara #direnanadolu
- Call or send a letter to the Turkish Embassy in your country, and ask them why the government is using excessive force against its own people. http://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-in/turkey
- Join the Amnesty International’s efforts to “end abuse and reveal extent of injuries” : http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=519905
We are counting on the intellectual prowess and human sensitivity of the amazing Georgetown community. Please stand with us. Please speak up with us.
With wishes that peace, freedom and kindness prevail everywhere, always,
Concerned Georgetown Turkish Students
Ecem Acar MSB’ 12
Elif Akyıldız MSB’ 12
Ceren Ateş SFS’ 14
Alp Bebasa MSB’ 11
Joel Bebasa COL’ 16
Ceyda Bıçakçı COL’ 13
Merjan Bubernack MSB’ 15
Irem Cesur MSB’ 15
Ceyda Erten SFS’ 13
Çiğdem Eskiocak, MSB’ 12
Berk Guler COL’ 14
Kaan İnan SFS’ 14
Nazlı Kırali MSB’ 11
Hilal Özgündüz COL’ 16
Pınar Sarıtaş MSB’ 13
Erol Sayman MSB’ 13
Riana Meral Terney SFS’ 13
Cem Yolbulan SFS’ 13