Two people died from injuries sustained during violent protests over a 15-year-old victim of police violence in Okmeydanı during events that began on Thursday and continued on Friday.
Riot police were in Okmeydanı on Friday to disperse groups that had set up barricades from which they threw stones.
Police used tear gas and water cannon and brought down posters reading “murderer police” after the protesters dispersed. The police also took down posters put up by illegal groups calling on residents of the area to bring firearms. Illegal left-wing groups are active in Okmeydanı, a working-class district.
Uğur Kurt, a 34-year-old who was waiting to attend a funeral outside a cemevi, an Alevi house of worship, was hit by a stray bullet allegedly from a police weapon and died in hospital on Thursday night. Another person, identified Friday afternoon as Ayhan Yılmaz (42), who was seen lying on the ground unconscious with two police officers in front of him in photographs that were shared on social media on Thursday, also died on Friday after being wounded by a fragmentation grenade caused by a handmade bomb, the İstanbul Governor’s Office said.
“Two citizens were seriously injured last night from a fragmentation grenade. Unfortunately, one of them died today,” Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu told reporters.
Eight other people were injured during clashes late on Thursday, but none of them were in critical condition.
Crowds were protesting on Thursday over a recent mining disaster in Soma in which 301 miners died and over the death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who died in March following a long coma after being hit by a tear gas canister shot by the police during last year’s Gezi protests.
The prosecutor reached the scene of Kurt’s death exactly 27 hours after the incident, Evrim Deniz Karatana, a lawyer representing the Kurt family, said.
Officials said ballistics tests were being run on the bullet taken from Kurt’s body during his autopsy, adding that the results would be matched against the guns of 20 police officers on duty in the area at the time of the incident.
Ceyhun Kurt, a cousin of the victim, told reporters: “All we want is to hold our funeral uneventfully. He was someone who was just living his life, going from home to work and work to home.” He said Kurt had a 2-year-old son and a wife. Saying they are Alevis, Ceyhun Kurt said the Alevi community will not allow those who are trying to stir up ethnic violence to do so.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Ankara deputy Özcan Yeniçeri said the shooting was the work of a professional provocateur. He said he had no doubt its masterminds were the same group trying to polarize Turks and Kurds.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, addressing his party’s provincial chairs on Friday, did not comment on Kurt’s death, noting however that the police have been very “patient” with the protesters.
Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on Friday expressed his concern over the incidents. “The prime minister is dragging the country into a fire. There is extreme polarization and we are worried about the future of Turkey if this continues. His language, his style, how he divides people — these cannot be accepted.”
He accused Erdoğan, who has not expressed any concern over the two deaths and accused the protesters of violence, of caring only about the damage to property during protests. He said he was also opposed to violence against police officers. “The police are also our children. Their duty is to ensure peace in society.”
The violence in Okmeydanı has stirred fears of further unrest as the anniversary of last year’s anti-government Gezi protests approaches.
Governor Mutlu called for calm “for the security of the nation” after protesters throwing petrol bombs and stones clashed with riot police in Okmeydanı on Thursday.
The violence in the neighborhood, which has seen periodic unrest since the 1990s, comes almost a year after protests in İstanbul triggered a summer of nationwide demonstrations which challenged Prime Minister Erdoğan’s decade-old rule.
Erdoğan, who is expected to stand in a presidential election in August, has had a difficult 12 months, with last year’s protests, a corruption scandal dogging his inner circle and last week’s mine disaster drawing renewed criticism of his leadership.
His government will be anxious to avoid a repeat of last summer’s scenes, when a police crackdown on a demonstration against the redevelopment of an İstanbul park at the end of May triggered weeks of street protests in major cities.
The head of the Alevi group Hacı Bektaş Veli Association, Ercan Geçmez was at the Okmeydanı cemevi on Friday, where Kurt had been shot. He called on the country’s Alevis to act with common sense and on the Sunni majority not to remain silent. “[Kurt] was killed by direct police fire at a cemevi where he came to attend the funeral of a fellow resident of his village,” he said, referring to the shooting as a hate crime.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç told Parliament that prosecutors would investigate Kurt’s death. He also said men in balaclavas were throwing petrol bombs at the police in Okmeydanı. “May God protect the members of our police force,” he said.
He said it is the government’s responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of innocent citizens, but the government will continue its fight against those who “want to burn our police officers alive.” He also called on citizens to fight those who are against the police as much as they can.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s major Alevi associations, including the Alevi Bektaşi Federation Pir Sultan Abdal Association, the Alevi Culture Associations, the Hacı Bektaş Veli Anadolu Culture Foundation, the Federation of Alevi Foundations, the Federation of Alevi Associations and the Confederation of European Alevi Associations — which together represent hundreds of Alevi organizations — announced in a joint statement on Friday that they will be holding protests and making public statements in İstanbul, Ankara, İzmir and other cities on Sunday.