A Female Protester Abused by Police. Turkey Erupted, But Authorities Not.

A police officer’s groping of a female protester caught by a camera. What followed afterward was more disturbing than the act itself.

Abdullah Ayasun

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College student Merve Demirel.

What is it more disquieting than an abuse, played out in front of whole Turkey, itself?

It is more jarring and distressing when the victim, not the perpetrator of the act — a police officer, was blamed by authorities, Ankara Police Department, for the assault. And Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu even portrayed Merve Demirel, the victim, as being a project of “terrorism,” dismissing the allegations of the abuse, although the whole incident was captured by cameras, something that has left no room for any doubt.

The tragedy took place in Ankara last week when a group of left-leaning TAYAD members, during a protest, was demanding jobs back for the dismissed public workers. They protested the government’s efforts to stymie and dodge working of a commission entrusted with overseeing the sacked workers’ files and applications. Riot police intervened to disperse the small TAYAD group in Sakarya Street, the usual avenue for protesters in Turkey’s capital. During the intervention, several police officers grabbed Merve Demirel, a 22-year-old college student wearing a headscarf, and forcefully took her into a police van. But while officers forcing Demirel to the van, one police officer was caught by a camera while molesting her.

The shameless groping stirred up a strong public backlash, sparking a deluge of criticism from opposition parties in Parliament to ordinary folk on social media. It even aroused uneasiness and reaction from unlikely quarters, from avowed supporters of the government. No other episode of police brutality or a recent crackdown galvanized the government’s discontents this much given the symbolic, even political, resonance of assaulting a female victim, a headscarf-wearing young student.

“If she were an AKP supporter,” said opposition lawmaker Sezgin Tanrikulu, “[President] Erdogan would have raised hell.” The government, the senior politician fumed, displayed a self-debasing double standard in the face of the assault which rattled the nation.

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Abdullah Ayasun

Boston-based journalist and writer. Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. 2023 WHCA Scholar. On art, culture, politics and everything in between. X: @abyasun