Gezi Park protests, seven years later

A long interview with the former Turkish President Abdullah Gül was published on Feb. 18 in the Turkish daily Karar. Gül touched upon a variety of subjects ranging from the failure of political Islam to the relevance of presidential system of governance for Turkey instead of the parliamentary system, to foreign policy issues such as Turkey’s Syria and Egypt policies, to the relations with Russia and the purchase of Russian S-400 air defence system. 

Of course, each of the subjects he referred to deserves a separate article. But this article will focus on the Gezi Park protests, another subject he touched upon in his interview. In March 2013, activists initiated a sit-in in Istanbul to protest an urban development plan that required cutting of several trees in the park. 

Then the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan thought that the protests might get out of control if they were not repressed at the outset while other senior decision makers believed that repression was not necessary and that an arrangement could be worked out between the security forces and the environmentalists. 

Erdoğan was in an official visit to Algeria at the height of the protests. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç who was the acting prime minister him in his absence said that disproportional reaction of the police at the outset of the protests had angered the protesters, but now the reactions were subsiding. 

In his interview, Gül, referring to Gezi protests, recalled a statement he had made at that time saying: “When journalists asked my opinion, I told them that I was proud of the Gezi demonstrations. Everyone was surprised to hear that. These events had proven that we had changed the style of protests in our country. While, in the past, people were demonstrating for serious causes such as human rights, murders or corruption, they now go to the streets to prevent cutting trees or protecting the environment. We transformed Turkey’s problems into problems like the ones similar to Britain or the United States. When the social events are not properly managed, terror organisations use it to commit vandalism”.

Gül’s comments coincided with the date of a criminal court hearing where several journalists and human rights activists were being tried for their alleged involvement in the Gezi protests. Indictments against some of them included ‘aggravated life imprisonment’ which corresponded to capital punishment in the previous penal code. They were accused of attempting to overthrow Turkey’s government. Some of the accused were serving prison sentences for several years. Some were abroad when they were indicted and they did not return to Turkey. They were tried in absentia. On Feb. 18 this week, they all were acquitted. The final verdict is received with a general relief in Turkey and beyond its borders. 

The injustice inflicted on the accused cannot be easily compensated. The harm caused to their health will remain indelible for ever. Gül’s statement was not scheduled to coincide with the date of the hearing, but if it was known beforehand, some measures could have been taken to make the acquittal more difficult. 

One of the defendants was Osman Kavala, chairman of the board of Anadolu Kültür Company and an internationally known philanthropist. His surpassed record of all defendants. His indictment included a catalogue of accusations ranging from ‘damaging the public property’, ‘damaging the shrines and cemeteries’, ‘unlawful possession of hazardous material’, ‘wounding a person’, ‘acts against the protection of cultural and environmental assets’, ‘infraction to the law on fire arms’ and ‘qualified looting’. 

The prosecution asked up to 3,158 years of a prison sentence for Kavala, but the court, after dragging its feet for years, eventually concluded there was no convincing reason to keep him in prison. 

As if the slow functioning of the judiciary was not enough, Kavala’s release was prevented by a new arrest warrant issued for him by a prosecutor who accuses him, this time, for his alleged involvement in the coup attempt of 2016 to overthrow Turkey’s government. 

More news came after acquittal. Upon a statement by the president Erdoğan, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors authorised that an investigation be initiated for three judges who acquitted Kavala.  

Meanwhile, we still claim that judiciary is independent in Turkey.


© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.