Bianet: Muhtar and Public Forum Participants Recount: What happened in Yeniköy?

Yeniköy Muhtarı (the elected representative of the neighborhood) says, “We had made plans to gather again tonight. We couldn’t understand why such an aggressive situation occurred”, while, on the other hand, Sibel Yerdeniz says the muhtar himself had told her, “We don’t want you here, go to a different park”.

Following the Gezi Park resistance, yesterday there was an attack at the open democracy forum in Yenikoy Parki, Istanbul. It is reported that two people got injured. Bianet talked to two forum participants, Sibel Yerdeniz and Aysu Doğan as well as the Yeniköy muhtarı, Engin Cevahiroğlu.

Forum participants started gathering at the park around 9.00 pm, and the attack started with a number of people claiming that the purpose of the forum was to prevent the building of a mosque at the park.

Muhtar Cevahiroğlu confirmed that two persons got injured and the incident started with the argument between two people getting out of control. He said, “Before the fight started, we had decided on gathering again tonight at the park.” On the other hand, former Bianet and T24 writer, Sibel Yerdeniz said the muhtar himself had told her, “Tomorrow we don’t want you here, go to a different park”.

We asked Cevahiroğlu to comment on his own words, “You are not from Yeniköy. You came here with the provocation of the Greeks.” Here is what he said: “Those five Greek women used to invite me to their all kinds of events, baptisms and Easter celebrations. This is what upset me. Why would they gather here instead of hearing about the situation first-hand from me? It broke my heart and that is what I told them.”

On the other hand, Doğan who participated at the open democracy forum said, “None of the people who gathered at the park came there because they were against the mosque. They were there to protect the park. Nobody was against a temple. However, prior to the start of the forum, there were comments circulating around such as “I have been a local of Yeniköy for 100 years. You come here and damage our peace. You can only prevent the building of this mosque with a court decision.  If you gather here, then two days later, people who are bothered by you will come gather here. It will lead to a fight. We are warning you because we don’t want you to get hurt.”

Muhtar: It was all good, we were going to gather again.

Yeniköy muhtarı Cevahiroğlu spoke to Bianet and recounted what happened:

At 9.00 pm, approximately 50 ladies were having a meeting at our Yeniköy Park as the Yeniköy Platform. Among the group, there were ladies from Tarabya, İstinye, Emirgan, Darüşafaka and Derbentli. There were very few men. I, also went to look at what was happening at the park around 9 o’clock and joined the circle. Someone from the group saw me and said, “Our muhtar is here. Let’s hear what the situation is first-hand from him”. So I used my two-minute time slot to say, “A call was made saying trees were being cut at Yeniköy Park so that you would gather here. There is no such thing and you don’t need to gather here.” That was all I said.

Till 11.00 pm, ever body took a turn to spoke. Because this park is on a major avenue, people would stop by to see what was going on and listen to the speeches. A gentleman who was also listening to the speeches took turn to comment and another gentleman reacted to him in a negative way. The lady who was directing the forum said, “Sir, please sit down. We didn’t come here to fight. People are here to share their opinions.” However, the man didn’t listen to her. We intervened to prevent the fight, but the men who were arguing started hitting each other. We said stop, but nobody listened in the dark of the night.

During the meeting, a car convoy was passing by and it made us anxious but then it turned out that the convoy was sending off a prospective soldier. When we understood that, we again sat down.

There were no knives involved. I saw two people getting injured but it wasn’t because they got stabbed. It was due to the fist fight. We sent the injured off to the hospital by a cab, but then learnt that they went to a different hospital.

We were very sad because the forum had gone pretty well. We had made plans to gather again tonight. We didn’t understand why such and aggressive situation occurred.


Yerdeniz: The attack started with the claim “You followed the Greeks”.

A forum participant, Doğan and the first person to announce the incident on Twitter, Yerdeniz said that they learnt that similar tensions have been going on at the park for the past three days. They also pointed out that the majority of the participants consisted of women, teens and children. Doğan and Yerdeniz said, “Before the forum started, people around the park were saying, ‘We don’t want you here. You came to prevent the building of the mosque’”.

Yerdeniz spoke to Bianet. Here is her recount:

Around 10.00 pm, someone said the muhtar was also among us. So naturally people thought, “That’s great. Let’s hear the muhtar speak”. In response, the muhtar said, “First, you tell me why you gathered here”. So we said, “We live in Yeniköy and we want to sit here and talk about our problems”. Muhtar’s response was, “No, you came here because you don’t want the mosque”.

As he was saying that the new mosque would be a historic building, people were trying to explain to him how a newly built building can’t be historic. Later, some people proposed the idea of building an outdoor library or a barter market. Kids took turns to speak a lot. There were both college students and elementary school students at the park.

At one point, a car convoy drove by shooting guns. Tension rose again, but then it turned out that the convoy was celebrating the sending off of a soldier.

Around 11.00 pm, we decided to leave the park. But people stood up and an aggressive argument started. Later on, a dialogue took place between me and the muhtar. I said I didnt even know that there were plans to build a mosque at the park. He said, “Well, then.. You don’t live in Yeniköy. What business do you have at the Yeniköy Park? I know.. You came here to be against the mosque”.

As I was trying to explain to him that I came to the park as a guest to listen to the forum, he said, “No! You followed the Greeks”. Following those words, tension rose. There were a lot of non-Muslims at the park and they felt insulted. Long story short, the incident started following muhtar’s words.

At the back, there were people shouting, “Dismiss!”. I saw with my own eyes someone pulling out a knife. He might not have used it but he did pull it out. People ran to cafes but the attackers followed them into the cafes.

They were beating people at the park and yelling “Hit them! Don’t have mercy!”.

The muhtar himself told me, “We don’t want you here tomorrow. Go to another park.” Many people witnessed this.

Everybody said, “We should gather here again tomorrow, and hear the opinions of those who agree with the building of a mosque here at the park”.  However, the attackers replied using the Prime Minister’s terminology: “Go to Koç’s (the owner of Divan Hotel which opened its doors to the injured) land if you want to gather.”

Çiçek Tahaoğlu


21 June 2013

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