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Demonstrators unite

Senada Sokollu, Istanbul / bkJune 30, 2013

The protests in Turkey have lasted four weeks now. More and more Kurds are joining in, and sectarian differences are being deemphasized.

Kurds marched to pay tribute to Medeni Yildirim, an 18-year-old young man who died during clashes between Kurdish protesters and Turkish soldiers on June 29, 2013, in Diyarbakir. Photo: MEHMET ENGIN/AFP/Getty Images
Kurds marched to pay tribute to Medeni Yildirim, an 18-year-old young man who died during clashes between Kurdish protesters and Turkish soldiers on June 29, 2013, in Diyarbakir.Image: AFP/Getty Images

"Lice is everywhere, resistance is everywhere!" rang out the slogan from the thousands who had taken to the streets of Istanbul on Friday night (28.06.2013). Some hours earlier, there had been violent clashes in the predominantly Kurdish town of Lice, in the Diyarbakir province of eastern Turkey. The protests were aimed at the construction of a new outpost of the Gendarmerie, a branch of the Turkish armed forces. One person was killed while several more were injured.

More protests followed in Istanbul on Saturday at midday. Organized by the workers' union KESK and the Kurdish BDP party, they chanted slogans including: "We don't want a police station. We want freedom!"

The demonstrators then organized themselves once again - via Twitter and Facebook - on Saturday evening. Before then, thousands of police officers had taken up positions on the city's Taksim Square, which has been the center of the protests until now.

A Turkish protestor holds a placard of Medeni Yildirim, who was killed in Diyarbakir. Photo: GURCAN OZTURK/AFP/Getty Images
An 18-year-old man was killed in Diyarbakir clashesImage: AFP/Getty Images

This time the police surrounded the entire square, barring protesters from entering, and keeping their batons, shields, water cannon, and tear gas at the ready. But the clashes were limited - according to the Turkish paper Radikal, some protesters were arrested, and only a small amount of tear gas was used.

'We're all brothers'

Most of the demonstrators, equipped with gasmasks, were holding Turkish flags - but there were also flags of the Turkish province of Diyarbakir, as well as some representing the Kurdish BDP party. The Kurds were marching together with the other demonstrators toward Taksim Square.

"The people are all protesting together," 22-year-old demonstrator Yanki Özdogan told DW. From now on, he added, everything would be different. "When I talk to people I notice that their awareness and their empathy for other people has risen. People have gotten closer."

Turks, Kurds, Alawis, Sunnis - old sectarian distinctions are apparently being ignored. "That was never anyone's intention," one Kurdish demonstrator said. "All that happened in the past were provocations. It didn't matter how many divisive statements the politicians made. The people won't lose their solidarity, and that's the important thing."

Turkish protestors hold a banner against PM Erdogan during a demonstration in Istanbul, Turkey, 29 June 2013. Photo: EPA/GEORGI LICOVSKI
Protests against the Erdogan government continued over the weekendImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"We're all brothers," another Kurd added. "We're all equal and free, and want to live equal and free in this country."

Lice - the Kurdish Gezi Park

But Hüseyin Celik, spokesman for Turkey's governing AKP party, tweeted that the clashes in Lice were designed to disrupt the ongoing Kurdish peace process. "Those planning a big conspiracy are trying to create a Kurdish version of Gezi Park. Please be careful, my Kurdish brothers," he said in another tweet. "Big conspiracy" was the same phrase that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan consistently used in speeches to explain the nationwide protests against his regime.

As part of the peace process, meant to end the 30-year conflict between the Turkish government and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), some PKK fighters withdrew from Turkey at the beginning of May into the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The Kurdish BDP party criticized the progress of the peace process on Friday, and called for an extension of the rights of the Kurds, who make up 20 percent of the Turkish population.

'We are deeply ashamed'

"For all these years, we've been deaf to the things happening in eastern Turkey, and we always blamed [the Kurds]," one protesting student told DW. "But the latest events have shown us that the situation wasn't how it was presented to us." The media had been lying to them, another demonstrator agreed. "We are deeply ashamed, and we hope that we can all live together in peace."

Turkish protesters in Berlin. Photo: Stuart Braun / DW
There have also been shows of solidarity in GermanyImage: DW/S. Braun

Hundreds of intellectuals also showed their solidarity on the weekend. Under the motto "We are concerned!" they took out an ad in a newspaper on Saturday regarding polarization in society. Artists like Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk and pianist Fazil Say endorsed the ad, which said: "We sign the call to end the hate speeches and stop the use of artists as targets." The general oppression has to end, they assert.