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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More