President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stated that shopkeepers are the soldiers who defend their land and the police force who maintain the order and safety of the community, in a speech he gave on the same day that a group of policemen and several craftsmen were standing trial for murdering Ali İsmail Korkmaz during last year’s Gezi Park protests.
Speaking at the 4th General Assembly of the Chamber of Merchants and Craftsmen late on Wednesday, Erdoğan said tradesmen and artisans are not merely people who do business and buy and sell.
“For us, tradesmen and artisans are not merely the people who do business, buy and sell. In our civilization, tradesmen and artisans are soldiers when needed; they are martyrs who fall while defending the homeland, veterans and heroes,” Erdoğan said. “They are the police who maintain security, judges and arbitrators who maintain justice, and the compassionate brother.”
Erdoğan’s remarks drew ire from the public and caused a stir on social media, seeing the statement as thinly veiled support for the civilian suspects being tried in the killing of Korkmaz, a 19-year-old university student who was beaten during the Gezi protests last year and subsequently died. The suspects appeared in court on Wednesday in the Central Anatolian province of Kayseri.
Four civilians, including two local bakers, face up to 12 years in prison for willfully causing serious injury to Korkmaz in Eskişehir. While Erdoğan spoke at the council, the shopkeepers appeared before a judge at the fifth hearing of the trial into Korkmaz’s killing.
The prosecutor announced during the hearing that he seeks life sentence for a police officer suspected of causing Korkmaz’s death by kicking him in the chest and the head. However, the prosecutor requested that the two other police officials on trial be acquitted for a lack of sufficient evidence.
According to footage from security cameras, Korkmaz and other protesters were attacked by a group of locals and policemen in plainclothes in an alley after a protest on a nearby street was dispersed by the police. Korkmaz was admitted to a hospital a day after the beating and died nearly 40 days later of a brain hemorrhage caused by the beating.
Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time of the attack, slammed the Gezi protests as a plot against his government, calling the protesters “looters” and praising the police for doing a “heroic” job in quashing the protests. In what appeared to be a veiled threat of attacks by his supporters on protesters, Erdoğan also had said that he was having a “hard time in keeping the 50 percent [of the population] at home.”
Posting tweets on his official account following the police operation, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu stated that Erdoğan’s goal was to undermine Korkmaz’s trial rather than praise shopkeepers. “We all know about your goal [Erdoğan’s]. You are trying to dilute the significance of Ali İsmail’s case.” Tanrıkulu tweeted.
Columnist Barbaros Altuğ also expressed his displeasure with the remarks, writing: “If shopkeepers are allowed to act as security force members, the public gets to hold [Erdoğan] accountable.”
Thousands of Twitter users have reacted to Erdoğan’s remarks with the hashtag #EsnafaEmriBenVerdim (I instructed shopkeepers [to kill]). This hashtag is currently second on the list of top-trending Turkish hashtags on Twitter.