On the 9th anniversary of the Gezi Park protests, the biggest challenge to the rule of then-Turkish prime minister and current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Erdoğan once again attacked the protestors, referring to them as terrorists and using profanities.
The president attracted widespread criticism for using such words to describe people who were merely exercising their democratic right to protest.
The protests in 2013 erupted over government plans to demolish Gezi Park in the Taksim neighborhood of İstanbul. They quickly turned into mass anti-government demonstrations that were violently suppressed by the government, leading to the death of 11 protestors due to use of disproportionate force by the police.
Erdoğan, who spoke at a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Wednesday, described the Gezi Park protests as the source of many problems Turkey has to deal with now while reiterating an earlier claim that the protestors acted disrespectfully in a mosque in which they took refuge from the police.
“These terrorists [who took refuge] in the Bezmialem Mosque [in the Beşiktaş district of İstanbul] dirtied the mosque with beer bottles. They are rotten to the core, they are sluts,” said Erdoğan.
Erdoğan used the Turkish word “sürtük,” a profanity that could be translated as “slut.”
Erdoğan’s remarks targeting the Gezi Park protestors quickly became a trending topic on Twitter, with many users expressing their outrage over the language used by the country’s president against his people.
Eser Karakaş, a journalist and professor of economics, tweeted that Erdoğan has used ugly words about these people in the past but said the words he used today were the worst of all. He said a president who can utter such words against his people should not remain in that position for even one more minute.
Journalist Mustafa Hoş in a tweet called on everyone to never forget the words of the president as someone who called his own people “whores,” while exiled journalist Erk Acarer tweeted that being a president does not give Erdoğan the right to insult people, adding that he is a bad man and a liar.
Erdoğan faced accusations of lying due to his claims suggesting that the Gezi Park protestor acted disrespectfully in the historic Bezmialem Valide Sultan Mosque, drank beer there and left the bottles behind.
Alcohol is not permitted in the Muslim religion, and the consumption of alcohol in a house of worship is considered disrespectful.
Fuat Yıldırım, the then-deputy imam (müezzin) of the Bezmialem Valide Sultan Mosque during the 2013 Gezi protests, said during a police interrogation at the time that thousands of people had sought refuge in the mosque after the police started using tear gas. In the commotion he had seen people with their shoes on in the mosque, which is also usually not permissible, but he had not seen anyone actually consume alcohol. He added that as a man of faith he could not lie and say what he had not seen.
Yıldırım said he had asked the police for help but that no assistance had come. “Instead of helping me keep the crowd under control, the police used more tear gas, pushing more people towards the mosque,” he added.
Yıldırım was removed from his post in September 2013, after the wave of protests had subsided, and sent to work in a village mosque on the outskirts of İstanbul, in a move that was seen as a demotion because the imam had contradicted Erdoğan’s narrative.
Over the weeks of the protest, Erdoğan also said a range of disrespectful activities had taken place in the mosque and had been caught on videotape and would later be presented to the public. However, no such video was ever made public.
Erdoğan also referred to the Gezi Park protestors as looters, “çapulcu in Turkish,” during the protests in 2013.