Violence Erupted at a Place of Worship in Istanbul's Okmeydani Neighborhood

By Barbaros Kayan

On May 22 protesters gathered in Istanbul's Okmeydani, a neighborhood with a large Alevi population, to rally support for the recent mine disaster in Soma and to demand justice for the death of Berkin Elvan, the 15-year-old who lost his life during the Gezi protests.

The police intervened to disperse the protesters, responding with tear gas and water cannons, and firing bullets in the vicinity of a Cemevi (an Alevi place of worship). Ugur Kurt, an Alevi citizen who was there to attend a funeral, was killed by a stray bullet. In the ensuing clashes, another innocent citizen lost his life. Having long been viewed by the government as "the hotspot for political criminals," Okmeydani is no stranger to police oppression and intervention. But no one expected bullets to be fired at places of worship.

The people of Okmeydani have expressed concern over the fact that the majority of deaths since the beginning of the Gezi protests have been Alevis (eight protesters, including Berkin Elvan who was hit by a tear gas canister). Naturally, the Alevis of Okmeydani—and the Alevis of Turkey in general—fear they have been subjected to state brutality because of their religious and political identity. 

That fear was manifested in the streets of Okmeydani over the weekend. At some point on Friday, balaclava-clad demonstrators joined the street protests, wielding Molotov cocktails and hunting rifles, as well as other weapons. Surprisingly for many, this did not result in a full-on battle with the police. Instead, the cops retreated to the entrance of the neighborhood, firing tear gas and rubber bullets from a distance. The activists retaliated with Molotovs and iron marbles fired from slingshots, disabling the CCTV cameras in the neighborhood. They disappeared in the early hours of the morning.

The Gezi protests raised a general awareness among a section of Turkish society, who have become weary of the mainstream media and have now turned their attention to Okmeydani. Last week's events will no doubt increase state brutality in the neighborhood and at the same time lead to even harsher resistance. Some says Okmeydani could become the new Gazi neighborhood. In the aftermath of recent developments, the police have begun stop and search practices, and arrests and house raids have been on the rise. Dozens of people have been taken into custody after police operations that were backed by special task forces and helicopters. 

Comments