The protests in Turkey came close to home on Friday night.
Two Turkish Binghamton University students spoke to an audience gathered in Hillside Community to explain that the people of Turkey have three demands: free media, an open democratic dialogue and an end to police brutality.
Since the protests began in May, close to 5,000 have been arrested, more than 8,000 injured and 10 killed in conflicts with the police.
Vincenzo Asaro, a senior and resident assistant in Hillside, decided to host the discussion, called “Events Unnoticed: Conflict in Turkey,” to share the experiences of his Turkish roommates with the public.
Caglar “C.J.” Yenilmez and Cagin “Charlie” Bulakbasi, both seniors from Turkey majoring in political science, did the majority of the speaking. They were right upfront at the protests in Gezi Park in Istanbul this summer.
The government was planning to let the park, one of the last green spaces left in Istanbul, be converted into a shopping mall.
The Turkish students explained that this large-scale construction was the government’s solution to boosting the economy.
For the people in the park that day, this industrial conversion was the last straw. But they would show it peacefully, Bulakbasi said, similar to protesters in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“The people were just singing and chilling at the park,” Bulkbasi said. “Police came in, they started shooting everyone with tear gas, beating people … they don’t pay attention to any of the rules.”
They played a video showing a woman in a sundress holding her purse as she tried to turn her face from the policeman who was a foot away spraying her with tear gas.
The 30 or so students sitting in the Commons cringed in shock as they watched the video.
“I couldn’t believe how close the police got,” said Kate O’Connor, a senior majoring in political science. “They just seemed merciless. It’s scary seeing how a people’s own government can turn on them like that.”
The Turkish media, the speakers said, paid little attention to the injuries and death tolls from this or consequent protests going on in Istanbul.
The second video showed news stories from stations around the world the next day. Great Britain and the U.S. were showing footage and discussing the terrible treatment the people suffered. Meanwhile, Turkish CNN had programming on penguins.
Bulakbasi explained key differences between Turkey and the United States.
“Liberties are limited,” he said. “We do not have freedom of speech, someone just may arrest you for your ideas.”
In fact, the two spoke of a famous pianist, Fazil Say, who was arrested and charged for blasphemy, after demeaning ‘religious values’ on Twitter.
“Police cover the numbers on their helmets so they can’t be identified,” Bulakbasi said. “No one is owning up to what is going on there.”
Yenilmez says he plans to return to Turkey after school and continue fighting for his people’s rights. Bulakbasi has some plans in the U.S first.
“I hope people learned something today,” said Asaro. “That’s the goal here, to spread some awareness, and get the ball rolling.”