Turkey: Ethnic Tension Rises Further as Street Clashes Erupt in Istanbul

In the aftermath of a clash between army and separatist Kurdish PKK militants which claimed the lives of over a dozen from both sides earlier this month, ethnic tension in Turkey continues to grow. Marches in the already tense Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul broke out into larger scale street fighting on the night of 21st July 2011, when ultra-nationalist Turkish groups marched to the pro-PKK BDP party office and attempted to attack it. Police were deployed and after a few hours of clashes, were able take control of the area. Social media played a large role both in the making and in the reporting of the incident as many of the marchers organised themselves through social networks, such as Facebook.

One of the Facebook pages used to gather more people on the way for the march to BDP office in the night of 21st July was 58 bulvar zeytinburnu. A Youtube video showing the ultra-nationalist marchers shouting “Martyrs can be Never Dead! Homeland can Never be Divided!” in the streets of Zeytinburnu was posted earlier on the page:

This particular video garnered over a hundred “like”s and comments; some supporting, some denouncing.

After the incident, another Facebook page “Zeytinburnu Mehmetçikleri” (i.e. “Zeytinburnu Soldiers”) was created and garnered over 6000 “like”s within a day. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s saying, “Ne Mutlu Türküm diyene” (“How happy is the one who says ‘I am Turk’”) was used in many of the comments on the page.

Despite some news agencies later reporting that the ultra-nationalist march was spontaneous, videos of the march captured by eyewitnesses show an organised march, with large Turkish flags and music; such as the following by ozanisildar:

Nevertheless, İclal Turan who was present at the clashes stated [tr] that the march didn’t look spontaneous to her:

haberlerde genellikle “bdp'lilere tepki gösteren mahalleli” diyor ama bnm sokaklarda gördüğüm organize olmuş ülkücü bir grup

“in news they have generally stated that [marchers were] ‘town folk reacting to BDP supporters’, but what I saw in the streets was an organised Ülkücü [ultra-nationalist] group.”

She also mentioned [tr] the events in Zeytinburnu having started three days ago and has been on-going since then:

zeytinburnu'ndaki olaylar 3 gün önce bdp'lilerin mahalede çöpleri yakıp evleri taşlaması ile başladı, sonra ülkücüler ayaklandı hala sürüor.

Events in Zeytinburnu started 3 days ago with BDP supporters burning trash [cans] and stoning houses, then Ülkücü’s rose up [and] it is still going on.

Photographs of the events, shot by Ferdi Türk, show that most in the ultra-nationalist crowd had sticks:

Ultra-nationalist crowd with sticks

Ultra-nationalist crowd with sticks, Istanbul, Turkey. Image by Twitpic user @ferditurk

Ultra-nationalist crowd marching, Istanbul, Turkey.

Ultra-nationalist crowd marching, Istanbul, Turkey. Image by Twitpic user @ferditurk

Apparently the crowd also attacked private property around the area in which they had gathered:

Stores, cars, and many other kinds of private property, around the area of the clashes, were damaged.

Stores, cars, and many other kinds of private property, around the area of the clashes, were damaged. Istanbul, Turkey. Image by Twitpic user @ferditurk

Alper Budka, a journalist who was at the scene of the incidents reported on Twitter [tr] that police were deployed to prevent clashes and the attacks:

Polis, kalabalığa biber gazıyla karşılık verdi. Bu sırada caddeye doğru bi havai fişek patladı. Vatandaşlar dükkanlara kaçıştı

Police responded to the crowd with pepper spray. At this moment a firework was thrown towards the [main] street. [Ordinary] Citizens ran away to stores.

He also mentioned [tr] that riot police were deployed:

Ardından 70-80 kişilik takviye çevik kuvvet ekibi geldi. Kalabalık dağılmıştı fakat biraz sonra yeniden aynı yerde toplandlar. Hala ordalar

Later on an additional 70-80 riot police arrived. Crowd were dispersed but they gathered again in the same spot shortly after. They are still there.

İclal Turan reported [tr] the use of pepper spray:

her şey bir yana polisin biber gazı kullandığı yer insanların akşam gezdiği, yürüdüğü bi yer. küçücük çocuklar gaza maruz kaldı, ağladılar!

In spite of everything, the place where police used pepper spray was somewhere people walk around, chill out at evenings. Small children were exposed to the gas, they cried!

A resident of Zeytinburnu, gregorumsamsam reported [tr] that police helicopters were patrolling the area once the crowds were dispersed:

Zeytinburnu'nda olaylar nihayet duruldu galiba. sadece devriye gezen helikopterlerin sesi var şu an.

Events in Zeytinburnu are finally over, [I] guess. There is only the sound of patrolling helicopters right now.

hty96, a Youtube user, posted a video of the clashes between some people from the crowd and the police:


As the clashes between pro-PKK Kurdish groups and ultra-nationalist Turkish groups have been going on in Zeytinburnu for days since the incident on the night of 21st July, some have blamed both sides for being manipulated to order to increase the ethnic tension in the country. Sinan Dirlik commented [tr]:

zeytinburnundan günlerdir içsavaş provası uğraşındaki türk ve kürt sersemler. yangın her yeri sardığında mı rahatlayacaksınız?

Turkish and Kurdish fools attempting a rehearsal for civil war in Zeytinburnu for days. Will you be relieved when fire has spread everywhere?

Some have claimed that regarding both sides equally liable is not fair in this situation. kafa_radyo said [tr], for example:

iki tarafa da esit mesafeli olalim demek erki elinde bulunduran ezileni yok etmesine zimnen ortak olmak anlamina geliyor.

saying “let’s be equidistant to both sides”, implicitly means complicity in destruction of the oppressed by the powerful.

Gülçin Avşar, criticising the general use of violence by different parties in Zeytinburnu, commented [tr]:

Zeytinburnu savaş alanına dönmüş.. Hâlâ yakıp yıkarak o çok mukaddes amaçlarına ulaşacaklarını düşünenlerin olması ne hazin…

Zeytinburnu was turned into a battlefield. How sad is that there are still some who believe they can achieve their oh so holy goals by vandalising, destroying…

There is still fear of more violence in Zeytinburnu and a lot of rumours, a resident gregorumsamsam commented [tr]:

bu arada söylentiler doğru ise bugün Zeytinburnu'da olaylar daha da büyüyecekmiş. bu sefer diğer ilçelerden bdp'liler geliyormuş.

If rumours are right, affairs in Zeytinburnu will grow even more. it is said that BDP supporters from other districts will be coming this time.

He also mentioned [tr] how many residents of the district are going away temporarily:

çoğu kişi diğer ilçelerdeki akrabalarına gidiyor. bir mal benim ya ben evde bekliyicem inadına. annemler bile gidiyor be.

Many people are going to their relatives in other districts. Being the only stupid I will stay at home, stubbornly. Even my mother [and family] are going.

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