A series of photographs showing the PM's adviser, Yusuf Yerkel, kicking a mourner in the disaster-struck town of Soma has sparked consternation.
The prime minister’s adviser at the center of a scandal for kicking a mourner in the disaster-struck town of Soma, was attacked first, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesman Hüseyin Çelik has said.
“It is not possible to establish the truth from a photograph. Yusuf Yerkel said the person who he was kicking on the floor had attacked him, injured him, and that he has taken medical leave for seven days [following the events],” Çelik said at a press conference in Ankara
on May 16.
Çelik did not specify whether Yerkel had been injured during the mourner's allegedly vicious assault with his ribs.
A series of photographs depicting Yerkel’s assault on themourner, who was being held by two members of specialforces, sparked outrage after being widely circulated on social media following Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Soma.
Yerkel, who was accompanying Erdoğan during his visit to Soma on May 14, denounced “provocations and insults” in his first remarks after the photograph went viral on social media and was widely covered by the foreign press.
“I have been deeply saddened by the incident that occurred in Soma on May 14. I am sorry for being unable to keep calm despite all of the provocations, insults and attacks I faced on that day,” said Yerkel, according to Anadolu Agency.
Çelik said he regretted that Yerkel “lost his temper,” but responding to violent attacks with commensurate violence was “natural.”
Erdoğan’s chief adviser, Yalçın Akdoğan, also defended his younger colleague in an unapologetic column on May 16 in daily Star.
“The way Yerkel tried to defend himself against those who were kicking the cars [escorting Erdoğan] has been represented in a very different manner than the reality. It is not possible to understand what happened there with just one photograph,” Yalçın Akdoğan wrote.
“The sporadic reactions from members of some organizations against Prime Minister Erdoğan, who melt into the crowd to listen to the pain of the victims’ families, have turned into an attack against the Prime Ministry’s team,” he also wrote.
In his column May 15, Akdoğan also accused the media in its coverage of the protests against Erdoğan while visiting Soma, describing those who chanted slogans and booed officials as “marginal circles.”
“The media outlets that are trying to give the impression of a revolt against the government based on some photographs share the same irresponsibility,” Akdoğan wrote.
Meanwhile, London’s SOAS university said in a statement that Yerkel was not a graduate from the university, although he was enrolled in 2010 for a year.
“Yusuf Yerkel was enrolled at SOAS, University of London, between 27th September 2010 and 25th September 2011 but then withdrew from his studies. He has no association with SOAS,” the statement released May 15 said, in response to reports that the under-fire adviser was a student at the prestigious school.
A former teacher of Yerkel, Gökhan Bacık, took to Twitter to express his dismay regarding his ex-student’s behavior. “One of my former students has grown up and has become a ‘statesman.’ I saw today his picture while kicking a citizen. I am saddened. We must have made a mistake somewhere,” Bacık tweeted.
The sorrow in Soma is giving way to anger against the authorities, particularly after Erdoğan downplayed the disaster as a “typical” labor accident.