[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News]
Two nasty episodes of “student protests” took place in Turkey in the past week. And they showed that both the Turkish police and the Turkish protestors need to learn some manners.
The first episode was in Dolmabahçe, Istanbul, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held a meeting with rectors of universities from all around the country. A large group of students gathered outside, claiming a right to join the meeting, for they “had a word to say about the future of universities.” The police blocked these unwelcome guests, and they tried to force their way in, with sticks in their hands.
In response, police were ordered to “disperse the crowd,” which they did all too brutality. Several students got hurt by batons and pepper spray. A 19-year-old pregnant woman was kicked while she was on the ground, and she is said to have lost her unborn baby. The force the police used was certainly “disproportionate,” and outright brutal. I condemn it wholeheartedly.
This heavy-handedness, unfortunately, has characterized the Turkish police for ages. Things were much worse in the past century, where torture was one of their favorite pastimes. There has been much improvement in that regards, thanks to the European Union process and the current government, but police brutality during public unrest goes largely unchanged.
From the government side, two important comments came on this issue. First, the prime minister made a rather disappointing remark, noting that the police “must do its job,” and that the students had no right to insist to join a meeting that they were not invited to. (The latter argument made sense, but the former ignored the brutality of the police.) The second comment, which came from Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, was more reassuring. He conceded that the police used “disproportionate force against unarmed students,” and the violence against the 19-year-old pregnant woman was “a crime.”
So, my hope is that the Arınç view on this matter will also be the government view, and steps will be taken to restrain the police.
The second episode of the past week was in Ankara, at the renowned Political Science Faculty – the crucible of the age-old blend between Kemalism and Marxist socialism. A panel on constitutional reform was organized here, and the two speakers were Sühely Batum of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and Burhan Kuzu of the incumbent Justice and Development Party, or AKP. When the latter came to the stage, a group calling itself “University Collective,” stood up and started to protest. A little later they all yelled “defol!” (“get out!”), and began throwing eggs at Mr. Kuzu, whose was lucky to be shielded by the umbrellas of his entourage.
After being the target of several dozens of eggs, the shocked Mr. Kuzu left the hall, calling his protestors, “idiots.”
Personally, I can’t comment on the mental level of the “university collectives,” and similar militant groups, but I can well say that they are uncivilized and vulgar. They certainly have a right to protest anything they dislike, but they don’t have the right to silence speakers, and prevent other students listening to them. No wonder even Süheyl Batum, who is closer to them politically, said that what they did amounted to “fascism” — although he backed off a bit the next day.
These militant students do such things all the time. About a month ago, they egged an advertiser, who had come to their campus to speak about business, chanting “capitalist, get out!” Their aim is really not to raise a protest, let alone a criticism, but to create intellectual “liberated zones,” in which only their ideology will be heard. The same is true for their right-wing versions as well — with whom I had the privilege to get acquainted a few weeks ago thanks to a hangman’s noose they threw at me.
Such militant students are not always innocent when it comes to their clashes with the police. The latter, as I said, can easily get brutal, but the students sometimes provoke this intentionally, by throwing rocks at them or vandalizing neighborhoods. There have been cases that they have hurt the police officers badly, too. In a famous scene in the late 90s, an officer was beaten almost to death in Istanbul by May Day protestors. The result of such incidents is sort of a blood feud between Turkish police and the Turkish left.
At the end of the day, it seems that our society needs more civility in all sides. The police needs to be trained against, and if needed, punished for, excessive use of force. And the government should not shy away from accepting that need.
Meanwhile, the Turkish media, most of which is dominated by the leftist students of the previous decades, should give up its love affair with the anti-government protestors, and not assume that they are always right. Chanting “down with capitalism” doesn’t make anybody automatically virtuous. Behaving as civilized human being does.