Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Teenager Berkin Elvan loses fight for life, becomes sixth casualty of Gezi Park protests


The parents of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan announced on Twitter this morning that their son has died in hospital. He had been in a coma since last June after a tear gas canister fired by police during the Gezi protests struck him on the head while he was out buying bread from a local shop in Okmeydan, İstanbul.

Elvan’s death brings the number of people killed during the Gezi uprising to six. He had been in a coma for 269 days, becoming a symbol of the heavy-handed police tactics that Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had ordered to combat the anti-government protests, which began over İstanbul's Gezi Park and spread across Turkey last year.

Last week, spokespeople for the family announced that the teenager’s weight had plummeted from 45 kg to just 15 kg during his time in the hospital. His weakened body had recently suffered an epileptic fit and air pockets were found in his lungs.

"It's not God who took my son away but prime minister Erdoğan"

Earlier today, his family posted this message on Twitter: "To our people: We lost Berkin Elvan today at 7am (5am UK time).Condolences to us all".

Crowds had gathered outside Okmeydanı SSK Hospital all last week to offer their support to the family. Over the weekend, Istanbul governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu ordered they be dispersed causing tense scenes. Today there were more clashes when news broke about Elvan’s death, with police again firing tear gas, injuring hospital visitors and those holding a vigil for young Berkin and his family.

Speaking to reporters outside the hospital, his mother Gülsüm Elvan challenged Mr Erdoğan who had praised the police for their "heroism" during the protests.

"It's not God who took my son away but prime minister Erdoğan," she said through tears.

Berkin Elvan was just 14 when he was hit on the head by the tear gas canister. He was one of thousands of people hurt during the protests. Five protesters, Mehmet Ayvalıtaş, Ahmet Cömert, Ethem Sarısülük, Ali İsmail Korkmaz and Ahmet Atakan, also lost their lives during the Gezi protests last summer.

In May last year, a small group of activists had peacefully gathered to protest plans to raze Gezi Park and redevelop it. A brutal police crackdown against protesters quickly morphed into massive anti-government demonstrators that took place across the country – the biggest challenge to prime minister Erdoğan’s authority since he came to power in 2003.

To date, no investigation has been launched into how Elvan sustained his injuries. The first formal contact the family had from the Turkish government was a call from President Gül on 10 March. 

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