Supporters of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) wanting to demonstrate on the occasion of Nevruz, a spring festival mostly celebrated by Kurds in Turkey that usually starts on March 21, turned İstanbul's zeytinburnu district into a battle zone on Sunday, burning fires on streets, vandalizing lamp posts and garbage containers, and stoning police officers.
Protesters barricaded roads near Kazlıçeşme Square in Zeytinburnu and threw stones at security forces as police used tear gas and high-pressure water hoses to disperse the group. Passengers in cars and buses passing by the area were also affected by the tear gas. Police also stepped up security on all forms of public transportation that can be used to reach Kazlıçeşme, searching and checking the identity cards of suspicious individuals.
Tram operators were also instructed not to stop at Topkapı, the stop nearest to Kazlıçeşme. A police helicopter was also used to secure the area. The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) had requested permission to organize Nevruz celebrations on Sunday, March 18, instead of on the day of Nevruz itself, March 21. However, authorities in İstanbul and the predominantly Kurdish province of Diyarbakır refused to grant authorization for Sunday, saying celebrations should be held on Wednesday, March 21.
Intelligence reports have suggested the PKK plans to stage bloody attacks during Nevruz, which is celebrated by at least 100,000 people on the streets of Diyarbakır alone. Large amounts of explosives have been found in several Turkish cities in recent weeks, which police say were being stored for use for violent attacks to be staged by the terrorist PKK during this year’s annual spring festival of Nevruz.
Storeowners in Zeytinburnu were distraught over the violence, as many of them had shattered windows. Most stores had to be closed for the day. Tear gas affected ordinary citizens and passersby. Some of the illegal protestors burning garbage containers also set pine trees in the area on fire by throwing Molotov cocktails. Firefighters were eventually able to contain the fire.
BDP Deputy Chairs Gültan Kışanak and Filiz Koçari, and head of the party’s parliamentary group Pervin Buldan were also among the protestors. The group, traveling in the direction of Kazlıçeşme, was stopped by a police barricade. Kışanak told officials that the group wanted to make a press statement at Kazlıçeşme. Police officers had to use tear gas and water canons on the group, which also included BDP İstanbul deputies Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Sebahat Tuncel, BDP Muş deputy Sırrı Sakık, Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP) leader Alper Taş and Socialist Democracy Party (SDP) leader Rıdvan Turan.
İstanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu made a statement, saying those who were trying to celebrate Nevruz earlier this year to make trouble. He said the violent demonstrations did not match the spirit of friendship and brotherhood associated with Nevruz. “We won’t give the opportunity to those who want to defy the spirit of Nevruz,” he said, speaking at the Edirnekapı Martyr’s Cemetery to mark March 18, the anniversary of the Çanakkale Victory.
He said Nevruz celebrations should be held on March 21, the day of Nevruz, a festival traditionally not marked by most Turks, although it is widely celebrated in parts of Central Asia, most Turkish republics and other countries in the region such as Iran.
The governor also gave information on the security measures taken at different parts of the city. “Information we have received indicates that there will be attempts [at agitation] in various places. Of course, we will be on the alert at all times.”
Meanwhile, the protestors in Zeytinburnu didn’t only clash with the police but also with some area residents, as a neighborhood group attacked the demonstrators, who were breaking store windows and attacking buildings in the area.
Similar incidents occurred in Diyarbakır, particularly in the Bağlar district, where tens of thousands gathered at Nevruz Park to celebrate. During the celebrations, eight vehicles owned by a GSM operator were set on fire. Firefighters were blocked by the demonstrators from extinguishing the flames.
BDP Chairman Selahattin Demirtaş and deputies Altan Tan, Leyla Zana, Hasip Kaplan, Aysel Tuğluk and Ayla Akat Ata were also present during this demonstration. There was an attack in Şanlıurfa province at a shopping mall. A large number of protestors who attacked members of the police force with stones were detained.