Mass Protests in Turkey
This week, thousands of protesters took the streets in dozens of cities in Turkey demonstrating against the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The spark of these protests are from the death of Berkin Elvan, a 15 year-old Turkish teenager who was hit in the head by a tear-gas canister last year during the Gezi protests. Elvan was on his way to buy a loaf of bread and went into a coma until his death last Tuesday morning. The government has not accepted any responsibility for Elvan’s death, and the policemen who were responsible were not questioned and are still on duty (CNN News, “Fresh protests break out in Turkey after boy dies,” 3.11.14). Elvan’s death raised the total death count from last summer to eight, with four a direct result from police violence.
These new protests are a revival of last year’s protest against the bulldozing and commercialization of Gezi Park in Istanbul. Although the movement was initially targeting the “Taksim pedestrianization project,” it slowly turned to a social and political movement against an increasingly authoritarian government. 3.5 million of Turkey’s 80 million people were estimated to have taken part in one of the thousands of demonstrations, and the excessive violence used by the police force left around 8000 people injured, with 104 seriously harmed (The New York Times, “Turkish official apologizes for force used at start of riots,” 6.4.13).
After a 9-month coma, Elvan died, weighing only 16 kilograms. Elvan’s mother, Gulsum Elvan, stated, “It’s not Allah, but PM Erdogan who took my son away.” Last year, when his mother tried to make a statement to the press right after her son was injured, CNN reporters witnessed police using pepper-spray against demonstrators and beating one man with a club. In Istanbul, tens of thousands of people showed up at the hospital Elvan was staying at where police used tear gas to disperse them. In Ankara, around two thousand people gathered to mourn Elvan’s death and to “contest continued police impunity” (The Guardian, “Turkish police fire teargas to quell protests after boy, 15, dies,” 3.11.14).
On the morning of Saturday, Mar. 22, a mudslide struck the town of Oso, Washington, leaving 14 people dead and around 176 people missing. The mudslide was a 1,500-foot-wide segment of a hillside that destroyed around 50 homes and blocked one mile of State Route 530 with debris. The search on Monday consisted of specially trained dogs, firefighters, law enforcement, aircraft and special rescue teams (Fox News, “Authorities expect death toll to rise following massive Washington mudslide,” 3.35.14). Although authorities are still in the process of searching for missing people, they are finding it difficult due to the lack of an exact estimate, as many of the houses destroyed were vacation homes which may or may not have been occupied.
Because of the heaviness of the mud, the extraction of people takes much more effort and the search and rescue teams have to take extra precaution, due to concern of the hillside moving (USA Today, “14 dead, 176 missing in Washington landslide,” 3.25.14). The mud is about 15 feet deep in some places, so the possibility of survivors under the mud is minimal; the square-mile of mud flow is like quicksand, so the rescue teams have only been able to search through drier lands. Many firefighters had to be rescued by rope after sinking up to their armpits when trying to rescue people.
The cause of the mudslide is assumed to be the heavy rainfall, which has been double what it normally is for the past month or so. The same area was struck with a landslide in 2006, causing the area to be named “Hazel Landslide.” John Pennington, director of the country Emergency Department, stated that people were aware of the risk of landslides yet still resided in houses built on the hillside. A geomorphologist said that better information needs to be given to the public about the dangers of mudslides and how big of a risk they pose (ABC News, “Report raises questions about mudslide precautions,” 3.25.14).
Water and some mud started to drain on Sunday afternoon, relieving some of the pressure behind the slide. In the meantime, the threat of flash floods and other landslides still loom over the rescuers, as the land is still very unstable and we currently are not able to predict incoming mudslides.
—Shelia Hu, Guest Reporter