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Death of Turkish Teen Wounded by Tear Gas Can Reignites Protests

Berkin Elvan, the 15-year-old hurt in clashes between protesters and police in Istanbul last June, has died, sparking anger across Turkey.
Photo via AFP/Getty Images

The death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, a Turkish boy who was caught up in clashes between demonstrators and police last June, sparked a new round of demonstrations in Istanbul, Ankara, and other cities on Tuesday. The protests lasted throughout day and were continuing into the evening.

The teenager, who was reportedly on his way to buy bread when he was struck in the head by a tear-gas canister, died of his injuries after nine months in a coma, his family announced on Twitter.


“To our people: We lost Berkin Elvan today at 7 AM. Condolences to us all,” the family wrote.

The Turkish teenager — the sixth casualty of the nationwide violence that swept Turkey last summer — has become a symbol of the Gezi Park protests and a rallying point for critics of the government’s harsh response to them. No police officer was ever prosecuted in connection to Elvan’s case.

But police were once again firing tear gas at protesters on Tuesday. In Ankara, a student was hospitalized after being hit in the head with a canister, protesters said.

“A tear canister hit her in the head, the same way that Berkin Elvan was injured,” Gülce Hepdarcan, a 22-year-old student who witnessed the incident told VICE News. “She was in a bad situation.”

As soon as the ambulance's doors closed, Hepdarcan added, police started firing tear gas again.

Hepdarcan tweeted this photo of the scene. “Police didn't even wait for the ambulance to leave to throw gas,” she wrote.

Ve gaz atmak için ambulans?n gitmesini bile bekleyemeyen polis — giacucaracha (@gulcehepdarcan)March 11, 2014

The Gezi Park protests — sparked by plans to tear down a city park in Istanbul’s Taksim Square — quickly escalated into the largest anti-government rallies of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s 11-year rule.

The video below shows demonstrators protesting police brutality, and the violence used against Elvan, clashing with police last July, weeks into his 269-day stay at an intensive care unit at Istanbul’s Okmeydani Hospital.


Protesters rallying against police violence, clashed with police in Istanbul, last July.

Following Tuesday’s announcement of Elvan's death, more violent clashes erupted. In Ankara, the country’s capital, officers used tear gas and a water cannon to disperse a rally of more than 2,000 people. The crowd — mainly students at the Middle East Technical University — had peacefully taken over a busy artery in the city, blocking traffic.

In Istanbul, outside the intensive care unit where the teen was being cared for, officers fired tear gas at protesters who were pounding on a police minivan. The video below shows demonstrators reacting to the teen’s death outside Okmeydani hospital.

A crowd outside Istanbul’s Okmeydani Hospital reacted to the death of Berkin Elvan.

Outside the hospital, Elvan’s mother reportedly blamed Erdogan for her son’s death.

— ?stanbul Indymedia (@Istanbul_Indy)March 11, 2014

Another crowd of about 1,000 gathered in Istanbul outside a place of worship where Elvan’s body was taken after an autopsy. The crowd outside chanted “Murderer state” and “Berkin is everywhere, resistance is everywhere,” Reuters reported.

"We have come here because of the murderer police,” Ahmet Ekinci, a protester there, told Reuters. “They will be held to account. Berkin Elvan's blood will not be left on the ground," said one of those among the crowd.

On Tuesday evening, more demonstrators took to the streets.

"Maybe there are more people in the streets now than at Gezi Park," Hepdarcan told VICE News, referring to last summer's protests. "Because the people are really angry."

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi