Thugs above the law: the Turkish police today

Everyone knows the Turkish police are brutal, but the government has no interest in doing anything about it

Everyone knows the Turkish police are brutal, but the government has no interest in doing anything about it

Polis: ya olmasaydıNearly two years ago, a Women’s Day celebration in Istanbul turned very ugly when police decided the women were demonstrating without permission, and were therefore doing it illegally. When the group refused to disperse, officers dived in with pepper spray. 29 women were arrested, countless more were beaten with truncheons. Turkish television filmed it all.

It just so happened that EU leaders were in Istanbul too. They were stunned by the violence, and were shocked further when the government shied away from criticising the police. The press was outraged. Istanbul’s police chief did weakly claim the demonstrators were chanting pro-terrorist slogans, but the damage was done and the force’s already dismal reputation sank that little bit further.

A month later, the national police office did something it hadn’t done before. It launched an advertisement campaign. The intention, no doubt, was to remind those of us who might have forgotten about what the police actually did.

It wasn’t so much a campaign, more a healthy spot of instilling Orwellian fear. I provide my translation below; the attached photograph is of a billboard on Turan Güneş Boulevard in Ankara, taken by me in April 2005.

What if it did not exist?

Perhaps your children
would know only
a dark world

A world of pitch black
where street law applies.

But these are only bad dreams.

Even if you only remember it
in times of woe
the police is always by your side.

Now, I’m sure most of you have seen how the suspected killer of Hrant Dink, Ogün Samast, was not immediately returned to Istanbul upon his arrest. Instead, police officers decided to give the suspect a Turkish flag and have their photo taken with him (see The Guardian’s story). There are also reports Samast was given a hero’s welcome when he eventually was transfered to Istanbul.

Ismet Berkan says in today’s Radikal that the idea of terror being praised by people wearing official uniforms is like a punch in the stomach. But it is the truth. Turkish police already has a notorious history of thuggery; this week, it added to that a conspiracy with murderers. The force will find it very difficult to try and claim the moral highground in this one. After all, if some of its officers seem to think Hrant Dink’s killer is a hero, why should the Turkish people want the police at their side?

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