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

Report: $60 Billion Leaves Africa Illegally Each Year

Report by joint UN and African Union panel says African countries need to take concrete measures to stop illegal money flow from continent each year More

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Some analysts say Russian Tu-95 bombers were flying near British airspace to warn Britain about an inquest into a murdered Russian spy More

Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

He rejects concerns about how the West might perceive his leadership, saying he's focused on African development More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relationsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
January 31, 2015 10:50 PM
Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Neighborhood Divided Over Conflict

People in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts find themselves squarely in the path of advancing Russian-backed rebels, who want to take back the territory they held at the beginning of the conflict last year. Many local residents are afraid, but others would welcome the change, even when a rebel shell lands in their neighborhood. From the Luhansk district, 15 kilometers from where the Ukrainian government marks the front line, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid