Turkey protests death of student activist

Ahmed Atakan was a young Turkish student who was killed by the cops on Sept. 10 while protesting the Turkish government’s support of the opponents of the Bashar Al-Assad government in Syria.

His death touched off five nights of protests in Istanbul, Ankara and Antakya (Antioch), where protesters chanting Atakan’s name confronted cops firing tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. The protesters, as seen in TV clips, responded to the cops with fireworks and flare guns, dragging burning barricades into the streets.

The protests in Istanbul centered around Ghezi Square, the locus of major protests in June.

When he was killed, Atakan was participating in a sit-in in the governor’s office in Hatay, a province of Turkey on the Syrian border. Bahar Kimyongür, a journalist from Turkey living in Belgium with close ties to Hatay, told Workers World in a Sept. 10 email that beyond Turkey’s support for the U.S. efforts in Syria, Atakan was also protesting against the “flood of terrorists [into Hatay] who have practiced religious and ethnic cleansing in Syria.”

Two people living in Atakan’s neighborhood in Antakya were killed by the cops in earlier protests against Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan government. According to Kimyongür, Hatay historically has been a very diverse, multi-ethnic, multisect city firmly opposed to the government’s support of U.S. imperialism for the past 30 months.

While the protests in September are smaller than the ones that erupted in June, they have a harder edge and, according to CNN (Sept. 10), appear to be less sectarian. More minorities have come out. Atakan was an Alevis, the largest minority in Turkey, which has historic ties to the Alawites of Syria.

The Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a party which struggles for Kurdish independence, has called on its supporters to join the protests. According to Agence France Presse, the PKK said, “The combat of the people for democracy in Turkey and the combat of the Kurdish people for liberty and democracy will be united.” (Sept. 11) The PKK has also announced that it is suspending the withdrawal of its armed militants from Turkey, since the Turkish government has not kept its promises to reform.

The galvanizing factors of these protests seem to be anger at Erdogan and a call for greater civil liberties. The Turkish government and its allies in Washington have to be worried about the breadth, strength and persistence of these demonstrations. n