What happened in Turkey on March 31

Written by Thomas Büsch on . Posted in Little Earthquake

One of Turkey’s exceptional news days kicked off mid-morning Tuesday March 31 when a national blackout gripped the country, caused chaos and shut down public transport across Turkey, with the government refusing to rule out that the electricity system had been the victim of an attack. The nationwide power cut, the worst since the earthquake 1999, began about 10.36am in Istanbul and it was grounding flights, shutting down transport links and stranding late-arriving commuters. Rescue teams rushed to subway stations to evacuate stranded travellers.

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A few hours later, a government prosecutor called for the acquittal of all 236 suspects in the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup plot trial, citing digital files that could not constitute evidence. The Sledgehammer reversal, which led later in the day to the acquittal of all defendants, was the logical endpoint of the government turn-around and, by most accounts, marked a reasonable approximation of justice, because the coup plot trial was based on a witness out by a triple agent, who lives since 2007 undercover in Canada.

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Around that same time of the day, two men strolled into the Istanbul court house – the Caglayan Palace of Justice, one of the largest courthouse in Europe – made their way to the sixth floor and took Mehmet Selim Kiraz hostage, with guns. Kiraz had been named the public prosecutor in the case of Berkin Elvan, a 14-year-old Istanbul resident who had been hit in the face with a teargas canister during the 2013 Gezi protests. The gunmen wore bandannas over their faces and claimed to be part of an outlawed leftist group, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front.

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Yet the hostage incident was the day’s most meaningful bit of news, highlighting the enduring impact of the Gezi protests, which were marked by government heavy handedness and lack of remorse and deepened the polarisation of Turkish society.

Meanwhile shops, public transportation and traffic lights throughout the country were offline, severely impacting commerce and transportation in every corner of Turkey. The total economic cost of the outage is at least $700 million.

Without electricity and a news ban on the hostage incident the events passed by unnoticed by most of Turkish citizens at this time. Nontheless spontaneous protests also formed outside of several cities’ energy distribution centers. The blackout was Turkey’s largest in 15 years, gripping all but one of the country’s 81 provinces and underscoring the government’s catch-as-catch-can approach to infrastructure.

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Around sunset electricity went back step by step avoiding the worst case of a scenario that would have kept the whole country in the dark during night time. Shortly after 8:30 pm, a special forces unit stormed the gunmen in a hail of bullets, killing both. Shot five times, including three in the head, the prosecutor was rushed to the hospital but later died. The finishing of the hostage was aired at TV channels life thanks to the power return of electricity.

It does not matter if these events were coincidences, accidentes, sabotages or psychological operations (planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning). March 31 events in Turkey are not an unknown short thriller story by the American novelist William S. Burroughs, but rather more it shows how a whole nation – a state like Turkey –  a democratic structure can easily slip into instability and chaos; a condition of exception with the absence of codes: a state of emergency.

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