Tensions ran high in Turkish parliament on Feb. 18 during a debate on a court’s ruling earlier in the day to acquit nine defendants in the landmark Gezi Park case.
Mehmet Muş, the parliamentary group leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said that although his party “respected” the court’s decision, they considered the 2013 Gezi Park protests to be “vandalism” and “thuggery.”
“Burning down the vehicles and defacing public property is not a method of seeking rights; it is vandalism,” Muş said.
The 2013 Gezi demonstrations were held over the future of Gezi Park, a rare green space in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square, which was slated for redevelopment into a shopping mall.
The discontent soon blossomed into nationwide protests against the government. Once the Gezi Park occupiers’ tents were burned down by government employees and the protesters were forcefully dispersed by the police force, people took the streets in the thousands and displayed solidarity with those who were subjected to the police violence.
Only then some marginal groups targeted official buildings, burning down public transportation vehicles and police cars. But, the main body of the crowd did not approve or take part in the violent resistance against the police, and constant calls were issued pleading nonviolent means even against the violent police.
The Turkish Bar Association says due to the police crackdown, 15 people were killed and about 5,000 more were arrested during the protests.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) group deputy chairperson Engin Altay reacted against AKP MP Muş’s “vandalism” remark, saying that it was in fact the government’s harsh response against Gezi Park occupiers that constituted as “vandalism.”
“The real vandalism is deliberately burning those tents in which people were sleeping in as they were using their right to show reaction and to protest,” Altay said.
“If you are looking for a vandal, you will look at the government employees who have done this at Gezi Park. If the government allows this – and it did – then the AKP government has resorted to vandalism.”
Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) group deputy chairperson Saruhan Oluç also took the floor during the discussion, similarly saying that it was the government officials that had “provoked” the protests which had started initially in a peaceful manner.
“If vandalism is going to be talked about, then we need to speak of the then-police chief of Istanbul, Hüseyin Çapkın, and the then-governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu, who have both received sentences for membership to FETÖ,” Oluç said, referring to the acronym of Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).
“You need to look for [vandalism] in government executives which have provoked the protests that had started in a very peaceful manner at the time,” Oluç said.
Following Altay and Oluç’s remarks, Muş took the floor again, this time referring to the Gezi Park protests as “thuggery.” “The court does not say there is no crime; it has given its acquittal decision on the grounds that there is no concrete evidence [against the defendants]. Were the tents burned down for 10 days? This is thuggery; this is how we perceive the issue,” he said.
Altay this time reacted against Muş’s “thuggery” remark, saying the latter had accused 30 million people of being “bandits” with his statement. “Gezi was everywhere. It is the state that has criminalized and terrorized a movement that started with a good purpose and a genuine sensitivity on environment. Muş also knows that agents and provocateurs were the ones that put on masks and burned down the municipality buses [during the protests],” said Altay.
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