Thousands of protesters filled the streets of Turkish cities Wednesday, after a fourteen year old Turkish boy died Tuesday morning from injuries sustained during an anti-government rally in 2013. Berkin Elvan went to buy bread last June, but found himself in the middle of the protest where a police tear gas canister struck him in the head. His injuries left him in a coma that ultimately lasted nine months.
More than 100,000 people attended Elvan’s funeral procession Wednesday morning. While the march itself was peaceful, after the ceremony protesters clashed with police as they tried to cut off traffic and reach the central square. Following these skirmishes, a new wave of protests has commenced in over 30 cities. The police responded brutally using tear gas and water cannons to control the crowds, with media reporting two deaths.
The coffin of Berkin Elvan is carried by mourners in Istanbul. (Photo: The Independent UK)
Elvan has become a symbol for anti-government activists with grievances against long time Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan is the founder of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AK) and has held the Prime Minister’s office for over a decade. The protesters who are mostly secular and worried about the increasing Islamization of Turkey first expressed their anger at the prime minister when he announced plans to replace the famous Gezi park in central Istanbul with a mosque. Initial activism and anger over the park spread after the police used excessive force to quell the dissent. Solidarity demonstrations ensued in over 78 different towns.
This new round of protests precedes municipal elections scheduled for later this month. Although the vote is only scheduled to elect local officials, the poll is the first since last year’s demonstration and will be viewed as a referendum on Prime Minister Erdogan and AK. Erdogan views the protests as an attempt to show disorder before the polls open, and upend the democratic process. The opposition on the other hand, denies the claim and vows to remain peaceful.