Huge Street Protests after Death of 15-year-old Police Victim

Lucky me that there is a place to stay near Priene for $35 a night, and that they will feed me in their restaurant even though I’m the only guest. I put in my order shortly after I arrive and before I head to the ruins for the rest of the afternoon. By 7 p.m., my grilled chicken and green salad are ready, with an EFES beer on the side. All tastes great and gives me a protein buzz.

As I eat, the head cook–an unshaven, rough-looking guy with huge hands and a white shock of hair–, a woman close to his age, dressed in typical Turkish matron style (flowery bloomers, running shoes, a bandana, and a sweater) are riveted on the TV. The news has just been announced that a 15 year old boy, Berkin Elvan, has died, nearly nine months after being struck in the head by a police tear gas canister while he was out buying bread for his family. Scenes of his portrait with loaves of bread and flowers beside it are on the streets, surrounded by huge crowds, some of whom weep openly. The gatherings soon turn into protests against the lack of police/state accountability in the boy’s death. Viewers see protesters being hammered by water cannons, tear gas, and Robo-cop police in full riot gear wielding their truncheons. The cook and older woman say, “tsk tsk!” audibly when the demonstrators are being corralled and beaten.

At the boy’s funeral the very next day (as is the Muslim custom, where a body should be buried within 24 hours after death), the crowds in Istanbul (where he lived and died), Ankara, Izmir, and elsewhere are in the hundreds of thousands. Once again, riots and police attempts to impose force are captured by TV cameras, so the Turkish public has a clear and fairly straightforward visual narrative. What is being said to describe the events and scenes is beyond me, of course.

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That night a huge windstorm rakes the Meander river valley.  The pension’s orange trees were full of fruit but by morning it is all on the grass.  I slept fitfully, as one gust of wind after another tossed around poolside furniture, knocked down tree branches on the roof of my cottage, and generally howled like banshees all night long.  By 6:30 a.m. I was up and could tell immediately that the day promised sun.  Breakfast was included  but I left a note saying I would eat it at 9 and not 8, giving me about 90 minutes to revisit Priene with morning light and a moderately strong wind at my heels.  Wonderful and much appreciated to have the colors back.

Anyway, the by-no-means final part of this political saga is that, true to his authoritarian style, PM Erdogan offers no condolences to the family. The day after the funeral, he tells a crowd at a political campaign rally that Berkin had a slingshot, metal balls in his pockets, and was a supporter of a known terrorist organization. When I leave Izmir two days later (after a final night at Hotel Bella) the papers are full of news about the funeral and demonstrations. I snap a couple photos from the front pages and wish the news weren’t quite so dramatic.

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