We talked with one of the Yesil Gazete editors, Dr. Savas Comlek, about the infirmaries in the park and what happenned during his detention. He was taken into custody on June 16 and released the same day,
How did you become involved with the Gezi Parki protests?
I want to live in a better city. In recent years, the city of Istanbul, our home, has been plundered by an understanding who sees everything as the almighty dollar. Under the name of urban renewal, the city is turning into a concrete jungle, they are sacrificing the last forest to the 3.rd bridge over the Bosporus for revenues. They don’t hesitate from wiping out the historical and cultural memories of the city by acts like demolishing Emek Theater and turning it into a shopping mall, despite the immense negative response given to the decision. I cannot put up with such demolitions and the disasters that follow eachother anymore. My anger has accumulated, like all Istanbulites, against the imperious government and its bodies who disregard the people’s legitimate demands.
When did you start attending the Gezi Parki protests? What have you seen?
As far as I know, Taksim Platform has been trying to have its voice heard through various events for about a year. As an Istanbulite, I was involved in the process by attending the weekly festivities on Saturdays to protect Gezi Park. Everything that happened at Gezi until the people -who were exercising one of their most basic human rights: to “protest and demonstrate”, and who with the most innocent demands put up tents to protect Gezi Park- were thrown out with an unparalled violence was not very different from previous protests that have been happening in Istanbul for years.
Surely, where there is violence, there will always be people getting injured. As a medical doctor who has taken the hippocratic oath, I attended the protests with the desire to help those who need it. On some days, the police violence that was perpetrated by the government reached such a high level that, we were obliged to set up infirmaries inside Gezi Park or have voluntary medics work nearby.
How did you work in these infirmaries, what kind of health problems have you encountered?
In the beginning, we were mainly seeing respiration problems due to pepper spray and tear gas, burns, and especially eye irritations. Actually, in the beginning I didn’t have much connection with the infirmaries. After the police left, there was almost no need for doctors or infirmaries at Gezi Park and Taksim Square. Afterall, it was the police who were the main reason of the violence. I preferred being at the Gezi Orchard or the music ateliers. A commune was formed in Gezi. We were building a utopia, where there was no money, where the rights of nature were being respected and an alternative life based on solidarity and sharing was built. Already, many doctors and other health professionals were working hard to support the sentinel Gezi protestors. But it’s not possible to describe with words what happened on the night of June 11 when the violence peaked. It was as if we were in a dystopian film set in a surrealistic atmosphere or in those movies about the defense of Stalingrad where soldiers in the trenches wait their deaths.
Dozens of heavily injured people were brought to the infirmaries after tens of thousands of people who had gathered on the square were attacked with tear gas. The tear gas cannisters or crackers were directly being aimed and fired at people by the police. There were so many people whose heads were injured, whose shoulders were broken, whose ankles and arms were broken that I put on the first doctor’s coat I was able to find and worked all night with my colleagues. I am telling this hoping that what we lived through on the night of June 11th will go down into history. What is state violence? What do police do? What kind of a thing is war? Everybody who was there understood it and saw it. Tear gas cannisters were thrown into infirmaries. Policemen were aiming directly at ambulances with tear gas shells and breaking their windows. It is not possible that the police didn’t know that the place we were in was an infirmary and that there were injured people there. We had written it everywhere; plus with helicopters and civil policemen (police in disguise) they were able to record where everything was.
What kind of sanctions did the Health Department use against the people who worked at infirmaries?
We found out that the Ministry of Health opened an investigation about the doctors who volunteered at Gezi. It is not possible to understand that the Health Department would open an investigation instead of bringing aid as the Health Department or Kizilay (the Red Crescent) to the people in need of medical care no matter who they are during a crisis. In spite of medical ethics or medical morals that have been in use for thousands of years, it is possibly an unprecedented attitude in world history that a Health Department would try to prevent voluntary medical service let alone providing it.
The investigation couldn’t go ahead because the TTB (Turkish Doctors Association) refused to comply with the requests of the Health Department on this matter. Of course we don’t know yet, what kind of absurd sanctions would be in place in the days ahead of us.
We know that the infirmaries are closed, when and how they were closed?
The state violence peaked on June 15, when the police tear gassed the infirmaries and tried to take the injured into custody. After that, the infirmaries were shut down. But people were still getting injured or even dying. It is not possible that a doctor wouldn’t oppose this violence, wouldn’t try to help the people who need it. Thereby, after the infirmaries were closed, we continued to help people whereever we were.
How were you taken into custody?
Actually we didn’t know that martial rule was declared in Istanbul. It took us a while to understand that an illegal martial rule was being carried out in Istanbul. We went to Beyoglu both to support the protests at Gezi Parki and to eat profitefoles and drink tea and chat with our friends at the Hazzopulo Passage. When the police attacked the place where we were with tear gas, we put on our gas masks and continued drinking our tea. After a while we started hearing screams for help. There were people who got injured, who had a hardtime respirating because of the gas. First we helped those. Then we left the place we were at, hoping to help people who need it at small voluntary infirmaries nearby, which people had formed in their houses or work places. We encountered the police on an empty road nearby Tarlabasi Police Station. They didn’t let us pass by. When they saw our gas masks, although I told them that I was a doctor, they took me into custody along with 4 women, 3 nurses and one lawyer.
What happened while you were being taken into custody? Were you brutalized?
The anger on the faces of the police, the anger reflected in their voices while dragging me was incomprehensible. When they took off their gas masks I saw, as much as possible, that their eyes were all red, their skin had burnt due to tear gas. They didn’t like it at all when they heard that I was a doctor. They all talked like little Tayyips. They said “if you are a doctor, what are you doing here.”
They squeezed my arms to the degree of breaking it while saying “you say we are fascists, we will show you what a fascist is.” I told them to be calm, I resisted although they tried to trip me up many times. When we approched the police station, as if they gained more self confidence, in front of their friends who were gathered in front of the station, they tried to bang my head against the bus that was parked there. After that, they tried to bang my head again against the electrical pole. Finally, they put my face against the wall of the police station. When I resisted, they stepped back a little. They handed me to the police that were inside the station. I asked them what they were doing, that they probably watched a lot of American films, that they didn’t have the right to do this. They seized my gas mask and goggles. They did a half-way body search. Then, took me to the cafeteria that was inside the police station.
Did you talk with the police officers inside the police station? How was their attitude?
I was quite worried, even got angry, not for myself, but for my female friends who were taken into custody with me. Because at the entrance of the station, both uniformed and plain clothes officers altogether harassed my female friends with vulgar, sexist curses. In the station cafeteria, I asked for the supervisors of the police who handled me. Swinging the club in his hands, he said he was the supervisor and to tell him what I wanted to tell. I asked him why they were mistreating us, told him that I was a doctor and that I have spent the 20 years of my life serving the people of my country. I told him that I wanted to learn who he was. The police who said he was a supervisor told me his first name, but not his last name. He was afraid that I would file a complaint about him. He told me that they have been sleepless for days, that they couldn’t go home, haven’t eat enough for days. When I told him that, as they know too, that the government and the protestors had come to an agreement twice, and that both times the government had violated the agreement and provoked the people with an unjust and unacceptable violence, they said;
“Yeah, but , they hemmed and hawed”.
I found out later that, they had cameras around, that it wasn’t possible for them to speak. They listened to me silently when I told them that it was the current government who set them to work in bad work conditons, that what had been happening wasn’t the responsibility of the protestors. From the expressions on their faces I felt that they never pondered these thoughts before.
What do you think is the reason that the police is implementing such an uncontrolled violence?
I don’t think it is a coincedence that the police’s work conditions are against human rights. The government and the experts who manage these kinds of social events want police to be so tired, so exhausted and angry that they cannot think rationally. This way, they will get more angry and attack even the peaceful protestors with an irrational violence. Even if the intention isn’t this, the result is completely like this…The police seem to have forgotton that their employer is the government, they have a hard time admitting it even when they hear it is the government who make them work for days under inhumane conditions. When I was released I first checked if my female friends were released or not and then I went back to the police station to thank the police officer who chatted with me. I told them that we will improve their work conditions, if we come into power. They were very surprised when they heard this sentence.
How can we establish a dialogue with the police, how can we get together?
As far as I was able to follow, the police supervisors forbid the police officers to talk to the protestors. Yet, I personally witnessed during all the protests that when you establish a dialogue, the violence drops. But, it appears that the police establishment has a serious lack of education about the basic human rights, especially that of freedom of assembly. Though, when we think about how ignorant our prime minister is on this subject, I don’t know if it is possible to expect more from these young police officers. If you ask me, it is beneficial to establish a dialogue whereever there is an encounter with the police, especially when they are out of their uniforms and don’t have their guns. It is not possible to create peace in a society when the police forgets that they pursue professional jobs and they are not trained as militants and get unleashed by this or that government when the time comes. In a real peaceful society it is not even acceptable that the uniforms and guns of the police are visible.
There were no police at Gezi and in Taksim during those 15 days, how was the security provided?
When Taksim and Gezi Park were under police control, there used to be dozens of petty crime committed or harassment cases would occur everyday. During those15 days, when the police were not there, there were hundreds of thousands of people everyday in Taksim and Gezi Park yet there was not a single petty crime or harassment. And this shows that security is not ensured by police. Besides, during this time, hundreds of thousands of people reached Taksim, which was necessarily pedestrianized, without a traffic problem. So the solution to the traffic problem is the pedestrianization of Taksim.
What is your conclusion about this experimen? What can you say lastly?
Gezi Parki experiment, was a wonderful experiment that anwered questions like what kind of society do we want, what kind of a city do we want to live in. This is only the beginning, our fight will go on.
Interview: Büşra Akman – Yeşil Gazete
19 Haziran 2013
This post is also available in: Turkish