Berkin Elvan remained in a coma for 269 days. He is now dead. Berkin taught us a lesson even after he passed away. His funeral attracted a large number of people; people from different backgrounds attended that funeral. They joined the ceremony in an effort to pay tribute to Berkin.
But those who attended the funeral also sent another message as well: They wanted to live in a freer Turkey.
People were able to remain calm during the funeral, but things got out of control when he was buried. Some of those who attended the funeral protested against the government. The police responded, and this led to violence. At the time I was writing this column, I saw reports indicating that a police officer in Tunceli and a protester in Okmeydanı had died.
No lesson was drawn
Berkin tried to stay alive for 269 days. The developments over the last two days confirm that the government has not learnt anything from the Gezi protests over this nine-month period. I should say the problem it is experiencing has gotten even worse.
Nine months ago the government, instead of understanding the concerns and fears over the interference in people's lifestyles raised by the protesters in the Gezi uprising, preferred a discourse and attitude in which it ignored and even insulted them. This was a deliberate choice by the government, which considered it an opportunity to attract a larger number of votes in the March 30 local elections. Since late 2011, the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) democratic moves and openings at the macro level have been replaced by choices and policies based on conservative and right-wing identity politics in the micro field. Attempts to ban abortion and C-sections, the restriction of alcohol consumption, impositions on expressions of cultural, religious or even sexual identities in the public sphere and growing conservatism have appeared to impose norms on those who are considered outsiders or different.
The peaceful protests and demonstrations were mainly an expression of opposition to these issues and impositions. What was raised and expressed were these concerns and fears. Instead of understanding these concerns, the government and the prime minister attempted to define what happened. They referred to a number of factors to explain these events, including external forces, an interest lobby and even innocent theater dramas.
But none of these explanations or excuses attempted to understand what people were reacting to. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has relied on a dichotomy of the “others” and the “insiders” to refer to his supporters since the Gezi protests. He still relies on this same discourse in the aftermath of Dec. 17.
This preference by the AK Party was due to setbacks in foreign policy. The religious brotherhood discourse developed after the Arab awakening and regional leadership based on sectarian identity were seriously damaged first in Syria and later in Egypt. On this basis, the political language that emerged during the Gezi protests became the preference of a political administration which wanted to become a hegemon actor in the Middle East but failed to achieve this goal of reinforcing these religious and sectarian ties within. The prime minister's political style supported this attitude.
The allegations that alcohol was consumed in mosques and that a woman wearing a headscarf was attacked in Kabataş were repeated at political rallies during election campaigns. But it became evident that these allegations were not true. In brief, the primary goal of the political administration since the Gezi protests was to consolidate its support base before the local, presidential and parliamentary elections based on a religious discourse and religious symbols. Public surveys actually showed that they were successful in their efforts.
And then came Dec. 17. On this date, various serious allegations over corruption and bribery were raised. The government avoided taking legal steps to deal with the charges; instead, it viewed these investigations as a coup attempt and subsequently relied on unusual measures. In addition, the judiciary was also subordinated to the government. The political administration further introduced serious measures that would restrict people's sphere of freedoms and rights.
It also attempted to constrain the activities of the Hizmet movement in both the public and private spheres. The prime minister committed a hate crime against the movement and its members, leveling harsh criticism against them. Erdoğan, who did not hesitate to strongly react to secular circles during the Gezi protests, is now doing the same with conservative circles after Dec. 17.
The AK Party has become more state-oriented, which expanded the sphere of the state. And this remains the case; the political and social sphere will shrink. Now the AK Party is trying to transform society by relying on the state apparatus it controls. And it views March 30 as a test. The prime minister now wants support not only for himself but also for the new order he is creating.
The prime minister of AK Party supporters
Erdoğan considers it sufficient to be the prime minister of his supporters rather than the entire country. He assumes his political legitimacy is ensured by AK Party voters alone. This has led to serious division among people. The AK Party may win 38 percent of the vote in the March 30 local elections, but this will not prevent the psychological division of Turkey.
For this reason, Berkin's death was a start that brought people out onto the streets again. The reaction on the streets to Berkin's death is a reflection of the psychological partition in Turkey.
What I mean is not a geographical partition. This is a division we are experiencing in our minds along cultural and sectarian terms.
It seems as though this fever will not soon be alleviated and that this psychological division will not be adequately addressed. Unfortunately, the government is greatly responsible for this tragic state of affairs.
*Murat Aksoy is a journalist and writer based in İstanbul.