The Gezi families

 
 
Parents of Ali İsmail Korkmaz cry over their son’s coffin on July 11. (Photo: DHA)
 
 
 
 
Ali İsmail Korkmaz was only 19 when he died this week of cerebral hemorrhage. The first-year university student was brutally beaten up by a group of people dressed in civilian clothes on June 2 as he was running from the police that used tear gas and water cannon to disperse a protest he had joined in the central Anatolian province of Eskişehir. He fought for his life for 38 days at a hospital before finally succumbing to death on July 10. His death brought the death toll from weeks-long Gezi Park protests to 5.

34-year-old Lobna Allami, hit in the head by a gas canister fired by the police in the Gezi Park on the first day of weeks-long protests, is one of the very first victims. Allami was among the small group of environmentalists who had camped out at the Gezi Park to protest plans to demolish it. The heavy-handed police intervention against the group on May 31, which even the government admitted was excessive, was a catalyst that quickly turned an environmentalist sit-in at the park into nation-wide anti-government protests.

After two brain surgeries and staying in coma for 24 days, Allami is now paralyzed on one side and unable to talk. She is one of the nearly 8,000 people injured in the Gezi events.

Korkmaz and Allami are among the most publicized cases of Gezi casualties. Most of the remaining thousands are just numbers making up the Gezi statistics, without a name or a face. But the agony that families of Korkmaz and Allami have expressed indicates the depth of desperation and feeling of alienation that families grappling with similar affliction across Turkey are dealing with.

In a show of solidarity, mothers of two other protesters killed during Gezi events, 26-year-old Ethem Sarısülük and 22-year-old Abdullah Cömert , joined Korkmaz’s mother at her son’s funeral in the family’s hometown, Hatay. No one from the government, the Governor’s Office or other state institutions was there.

The mayor of Eskişehir, a politician from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has contacted Korkmaz’s family to extend his get-well wishes but no one from the Governor’s Office or the Police Department has done the same, father Şahap Korkmaz lamented in an interview he gave days before his son’s death.

“The people of Eskişehir are supporting us,” he said in the July 3 interview. “Ali’s friends who live close to the hospital gave us their home when they left for their hometown for the summer holiday so that we could stay there. Every day, people come and say they are praying for us, that they are ready to help us. We are praying together with them. We are waiting for my son to get well and attackers to be identified and face justice,” he said.

That last wish, however, seems to be problematic, to the further chagrin of the family. Korkmaz complained in the same interview that his son could not get any treatment for about 20 hours because doctors insisted that he should first testify to the police due to the circumstances surrounding his injuring. His son was admitted to hospital only after he, helped by his cousins, went to a police station and testified about what happened the night before. The father Korkmaz also claimed that security camera recording from the alley where his son was attacked was tampered with, resulting in loss of a critical 15-20-minute part from the footage from a camera of a nearby hotel. The police, who obtained the recording from the hotel and gave it to the prosecutors, say some parts are missing because the hotel owner turned off electricity as a precautionary measure to protect his business.

Footage showing some protesters running from the police beaten up by unidentified people in Eskişehir. Lawyers for Korkmaz family say the missing part in the recording may have shown the attack on Ali İsmail Korkmaz.

Given the fact that Gezi protests were joined by millions of people across Turkey, it is hard to describe them as a “marginal” event, despite Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s firm conviction that they are. People attending the protests did include hardcore protesters from leftist or other extremist groups but a big majority were the people who were taking to the streets for the very first time to make a political point.

Ali, who was studying to become an English language teacher, was not an activist either, according to his father. He and his roommates were trying to move to a new apartment those days and they were returning home that night after signing a rental contract for their new house. When they saw there was a protest going on, they joined it out of curiosity, said the father.

Allami, according to her sister, was no different. “Idealist and emotional,” Allami’s sister, Fatin, described her in another interview.* “She likes to travel, she rides horses, swims, scuba dives, sky dives but afraid of planes, she cleans forests from garbage, cleans beaches, she takes wounded cats on the streets to veterinary, she takes care of them, feeds them.”

“… She was a kid on the street. With shorts, shirt and light shoes. Not a terrorist exchanging fire with police, or an anarchist. A person who is sitting in Cihangir on a summer day and saying ‘Don’t touch my park, Don’t touch my lifestyle!’”

Like Korkmaz’s family, Allami family has also received no word of sympathy from the officials, even though the protest Lobna took part in was characterized by the government as a peaceful one by honest environmentalists.

“She is just sitting; then you come and shoot her. You make her suffer unimaginable pains. You leave her with a very hard memory that can’t be forgotten in a lifetime and don’t even call to say ‘Get well soon, how have you become?’ Is this humanity?” asked Fatin Allami.

Gezi families’ pain is real. And as authorities and a big part of the media refuse to acknowledge their plight, they feel not only agonized but also alienated and ostracized. Leaving aside the obvious humanitarian concerns it raises, a policy of turning a blind eye to the suffering of thousands of families across Turkey and refusal to meet their legitimate demands for justice for their loved ones is politically harmful. Anyone who is concerned with containing the social and political fallout from the Gezi protests and restoring social peace should be worried upon hearing what the families are saying.

“Maybe they were afraid of our reaction,” said Fatin Allami of state authorities’ failure to contact them. “Or maybe I’m too naive and they think ‘They got what they deserved’.”

*To read the interview in English, click here.

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