The first person we met with upon arriving in Istanbul last June was the father of Berkin Elvan – a 14-year-old boy who left his home to buy bread during the Gezi Park protests and was hit in the head by a tear gas canister fired by police. Berkin was in a coma until today when he died of his wounds. In talking to his father, we weren’t sure if the man would be willing to be identified or appear in photos we might use in our subsequent report. On the contrary, Mr. Elvan was not afraid of being identified – his greater fear was that his son’s story would not be told.
He proudly showed us his son’s school ID and told us that Berkin’s schoolmates had delayed their graduation ceremony to wait for Berkin to be able to participate. People rallied around Berkin’s cause, using the Twitter hashtag #DirenBerkin – meaning "stay strong Berkin." Mr. Elvan said that when his son recovered he planned to rename him in honor of Ethem Sarisülük, a protester who had been killed by police during the unrest. Sadly, now Berkin joins Ethem as a symbol of a regime willing to kill its children to quiet dissent.
Supporters of the Elvan family had gathered outside the hospital in Berkin’s final days – and even that show of support could not be tolerated by security forces. With no apparent shame or awareness of how their actions echoed the very way that Berkin was injured, police again used tear gas to control the crowds that had assembled. Unbelievably, a man was hit in the head with a tear gas canister just outside the hospital where Berkin had died.
The Turkish government and its security forces have proven that they are incapable of responsible use of tear gas, and instead are using it as a lethal weapon against their own people. As we recently saw in Bahrain, a unified effort to stop shipments of tear gas to abusive states can be successful. We should also be demanding a moratorium on the use of tear gas in Turkey. Given the regime's misuse of tear gas, it is time to honor Berkin and all those who have died needlessly by prohibiting the use of this dangerous weapon in Turkey.