News / Middle East

Turkish Funerals Fan Flames of Political Discord

Demonstrators clash with riot police following the funeral of Berkin Elvan, who had been in a coma after a police tear-gas canister struck him in the head last year, in Istanbul, March 12, 2014.
Demonstrators clash with riot police following the funeral of Berkin Elvan, who had been in a coma after a police tear-gas canister struck him in the head last year, in Istanbul, March 12, 2014.
Dorian Jones
The recent deaths of three young men connected to political unrest in Turkey have caused growing concerns about rising political violence and polarization during hotly contested local elections. The prime minister alleges the unrest is part of a conspiracy against him and democracy, while critics accuse his party of deliberately raising the political temperature. Either way, observers warn that Turkey is facing its worst period of political tension in decades.

Funerals took place last week for three young men killed during political unrest.

Fifteen-year-old Berkin Elvan was buried after nine months in a coma. He was hit by a police gas canister during last year's anti government unrest. Twenty-two-year-old Burak Can Karamanoğlu was allegedly shot dead by a fringe left-wing group. A young police officer also died of a heart attack while on duty during the unrest.

With Turkey in the midst of critical local elections, Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar of Carnegie Europe, says the deaths mark a watershed in tensions - much like the 1970s, when daily clashes between rival left- and right-wing groups claimed many lives.

"Every society has a threshold of absorption regarding polarization, and Turkish society has seemingly reached that level. We are talking about a very polarized atmosphere the likes of which we have not really seen in this country except in the late 70s, which incidentally had led to the military coup," said Ulgen.

Despite growing concerns about the deepening political polarization, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan went on the offensive during a political rally on Friday, criticizing 15-year-old Berkin Elvan.

"This kid with steel marbles in his pockets, with a slingshot in his hand, his face covered with a scarf, and who had been drawn in by terror organizations," described him Erdogan.

Observers say there have been no reports of the police finding a slingshot on Elvan. His family strongly denies Erdogan's accusation.

The prime minister’s comments drew a storm of controversy and condemnation. Turkey’s Medical Association on Sunday issued a statement expressing concern about Erdogan’s “emotional state.” But political columnist Asla Aydintasbas of the Turkish newspaper Milliyet says ratcheting up of tensions maybe a shrewd electoral tactic.

"He is using a tactic in this election campaign that he has used in previous elections, which is to paint a front against him that is trying to destroy the will of the people. In previous elections he used to put coup plotters, PKK. Now there are foreigners, interest lobbies, big bad business there are evil doers that are out to prevent the will of people," said Aydintasbas.

Turkey’s pro Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party also is facing rising political violence.

Earlier this month, thousands of Turkish nationalists attacked its offices in several provincial cities. They accuse the party of supporting the Kurdish rebel group PKK that has fought the Turkish state for decades for greater minority rights. Ertugrul Kurkcu, the HDP leader, says his party is facing a systematic campaign to run out of the elections.

"We are still suffering yesterday. There were two attacks in several parts of Istanbul and therefore it's not ended. This is actually aimed at pushing us out of the local election campaign and we are going to resist it" said Kurkcu.

Kurkcu accuses the government of only taking half-hearted measures to protect it.

Political commentator Soli Ozel says he worries about the long-term repercussions of the current political tensions.

"I am afraid of is that by the time we’ve got out of this crisis, we will have harmed ourselves inordinately and the recuperation will take a lot longer as a society," said Ozel.

With only two weeks left until Turkey’s local elections, observers warn that the country’s future is looking murkier than ever.

You May Like

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs