A Portion of Gas, Please!

Sudden and persistent pain and discomfort in the eyes, constant tearing, feeling there is no air left to breathe in and coughing. Most popular homemade remedies are spraying milk, lemon juice or apple vinegar into your face. More sophisticated is antacid dissolved in water. »Welcome to the first traditional gas festival!« Its most known effect […]

Sudden and persistent pain and discomfort in the eyes, constant tearing, feeling there is no air left to breathe in and coughing. Most popular homemade remedies are spraying milk, lemon juice or apple vinegar into your face. More sophisticated is antacid dissolved in water.

»Welcome to the first traditional festival!«

Its most known effect is stimulating nerves of the transparent upper part of the eyes and mucous membranes of nose, mouth and lungs, causing tears and pain, also vomiting and temporary blindness. Apart from that: triggers panic attacks, skin inflammations, chemical burns, complications of pre-existing respiratory conditions … When is fired directly at people’s bodies, it might also cause very severe injuries or death.

In the middle of this January, 550 000 gas canisters will be delivered to Turkey from South Korea. This is the first part of the 1.9 million pieces of different gas projectiles and bombs Turkey will provide for this year.

Turkey has a rich history of using various chemical »non-lethal« weapons to suppress and disperse protests that reached completely new dimensions in the Gezi protests that started in the last days of May 2013. Only in the first 20 days of the protests 130 000 gas canisters were used by the riot police. If you imagine them being fired one after another, you would be hearing their banging approximately every 13 seconds – for 20 days.

 

»In the summer gas was raining here«

Unrest in Istanbul by Eser Karadağ
Unrest in Istanbul by Eser Karadağ

The demonstrations in Taksim square started to oppose the municipality’s plan to demolish the Gezi Park and replace it with yet another shopping mall in replica of the historical Ottoman military barracks that stood there in 19th century. Despite protesting peacefully, environmental activists were dispersed with excessive force, beaten, sprayed with tear gas, their tents were burned during the night … That violent response sparked the protests that lasted for more than a month and at some point gathered 4 million people around numerous cities in almost all of the country’s provinces to the same call: we will not allow the increasingly authoritarian government to treat us like this!

In foreign media Taksim was shown almost as war zone, one of the news that was presented as particularly outrageous was when police continued to attack protesters with gas when they tried to hide (and take a breath) inside the lobby of Divan Hotel. Even in the earliest stages of the protests, the police violence was already condemned as clearly excessive, violating human rights and various international and national legislation.

 

»Is this street free? No, there is police!«

Nevertheless the ill-treatment of generally peaceful protesters continued. There were 8000 people injured in the Gezi protests, more than hundred people got severe head injuries, 11 lost one of their eyes. Until the middle of July, 5 people died during the protests or succumbed to injuries in the days after.

In the night of 3 June 22-year-old Abdullah Cömert joined the protests in Antakya (southern Turkey) with his friends. While standing and watching an armoured vehicle, he was hit by gas canister in his head. After he fell and suddenly lied in a pool of blood, police continued to fire tear gas at them. Abdullah died the next day.

Unrest in Istanbul by Eser Karadağ
Unrest in Istanbul by Eser Karadağ

In the morning of 16 June 14-year-old Berkin Elvan went to buy bread for breakfast, close to his home in Okmeydanı, a district in Istanbul. Even though he was not participating in the ongoing protests nearby, a policeman shot him from close range, the tear gas canister hit his head and severely injured his brain. »Wake up, Berkin!« echoed around Turkey and his struggle for life became a symbol of Gezi resistance. Not only that there was nobody found responsible or any thorough investigation carried out, Berkin’s parents were mocked by (at that time prime minister, nowadays president) Erdoğan himself in his public speech at his party’s rally, claiming Berkin was influenced by terrorist organizations. After a few days less than 9 months in coma, Berkin died. Large protests that started after his death in many cities faced violent response from the police once again. In Tunceli a police officer died as a result of extreme gas inhalation.


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Photo Credits: Eser Karadağ




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