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Turkey

Istanbul's 'Woman In Red' Breaks Her Silence

Ceyda Sungur became the symbol of the Gezi Park protests that shook Turkey because of photograph of a police officer spraying her with gas. That officer now has an unlikely defender.

The now iconic picture by Reuters photographer Osman Orsal
The now iconic picture by Reuters photographer Osman Orsal
Ceyda Sungur

Ceyda Sungur became known in Turkey, and beyond, as the “Woman in Red,” the symbol of the Gezi park protests last year in Istanbul after she was photographed while being teargassed by a police officer. Sungur has avoided publicity and press to this day, having stated that her situation is not unique and she does not want to be in the spotlight. However, Sungur penned an article for the daily Radikal when the case made the news after the police officer who gassed her in that famous picture faces trial and possible banning from his profession.

ISTANBUL — I did not want to talk until now, in order to not to give shape to the “woman in red,” change its symbolic value in people's minds or create an agenda in which individuals come before the struggle itself. But I felt obliged to write the following words; obliged most of all to the families of those who lost their lives at Gezi. The recent news of the charges against the police officer disturbed me greatly.

Let nobody speak of justice until the murderers of those we have lost at the Gezi resistance and the actual responsible parties are punished! Sending to trial a lone, 23-year-old cop who was acting under the orders of his superiors does not whitewash the oppression of the ruling administration that still claims the police carried out “legendary heroism.”

The sentence to be given to the officer on trial for spraying gas into my face makes no sense in terms of justice, seeing that none of the complaints of those injured by police violence resulted in court cases in the seven months that have passed since Gezi.

It is obvious that leaving the court process at this level is nothing more than an attempt to manipulate the effect a symbolic picture that just a red dress left on the world. Trying only the junior police officers, whose working conditions and job security are at the hands of their superiors, will not ease the pain of everybody who died, suffered cerebral hemorrhage, lost their eyes, had legs and arms broken or were hurt in any other way at Gezi — and it will certainly not ease the pain of the families who lost loved ones, nor those of us who were left alive by chance, too.

Remember their names

Unfortunately, when Ethem Sarisuluk was shot in the head by a police bullet, when Abdullah Comert was hit in the head by a gas pellet, when Mehmet Ayvalitas was crushed while attending the demonstrations, when Irfan Tuna was gassed while working, when Medeni Yildirim was protesting the construction of a military post at Lice, when Selim Onder was visiting his daughter, when Zeynep Eryasar joined a protest march in solidarity with her children at the Gezi Park, when Ahmet Atakan demanded the killers to be brought to justice, when Ali Ismail Korkmaz was beaten to death and when Serdar Kadakal was sitting at the street across from his workplace; none of them were wearing a red dress. Berkin Elvan, our now 15-year-old brother with his beautiful eyes, committed no greater crime than going to the grocery store to buy bread. (He was hit in the head by a gas cannister shot by police, and remains in a coma.)

The fact that these people were not photographed by chance cannot be an excuse for the parties responsible for what happened to them not to be tried and punished.

Of course, today, we cannot speak of justice within a system that arrests journalists who defend rights and freedoms, political prisoners, the CHD lawyers who defend the victims of injustice, the academics who defend free science; just like Hrant Dink"s, the activist journalist, whose assassination’s seventh anniversary was this past week. Despite all of what happened to these people, nothing that was experienced will be forgotten — no one will ever get used to it.

Justice will be served only by the struggle for human rights, and I believe Berkin will wake up from his coma to help see it happen.

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