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The “Turkish Spring” started with a small, peaceful protest against the bulldozing of a park in the nation’s capital city, Istanbul. However, excessive police brutality ordered by President Erdoğan and his authoritarian government caused the protests to evolve into a resistance against his tyrannical regime. 2.5 million Turks protested all over the nation and were met by angry police officers who used beatings, rubber bullets, pepper spray, water cannons, tear gas, and even an anti-riot chemical called Agent Orange against the peaceful protesters.

The violence resulted in a need for doctors to treat all sorts of gruesome injuries and prevent some from going blind. Small medical camps were set up in Gezi park and in hotel lobbies and protesters created human chains to allow ambulances to pass through quickly. But instead of being treated as heroes, medical personnel became targeted by the government.

The Health Ministry demanded the names of all medical personnel that helped heal protesters and threatened to revoke the licenses of any physician that refused to comply. Doctors were forced to decide between their medical careers and their oath to heal.  The physicians chose to follow the international law according to the Physicians for Human Rights: “Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are trained to treat those in need –  regardless of politics, race, or religion. Attacks on health professionals violate the  principle of medical neutrality and are grave breaches of international law.” 

Police beat and detained many physicians in Gezi Park who refused to accept Erdoğan’s threats but they still continued to treat protesters. In addition, in clear violation of confidentiality, the Health Ministry also demanded that physicians provide names of the protesters they treated. Because of this, many did not choose to seek necessary medical aid for fear of being blacklisted by the government. Of all those affected by tear gas, 68% faced it at extremely high levels but only 5% sought medial attention. Erdoğan’s gross violation of  medical neutrality and human rights laws have caused many academics worldwide to express their disapproval of his actions.

These physicians are an amazing inspiration of healers who know what it means to truly abide by the hippocratic oath.

Think About:

1. What is the relationship between political conflict and medicine?
2. Think about the hippocratic oath (the vow to heal anyone in need). What does it mean to you and what did it mean to the physicians in the Gezi protests?

For More Information:

1. http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/13104/press-release-and-open-letter_nobel-laureates-cond
2. http://www.therealnews.com/t2/component/content/article/251-margaret-flowers/1628-turkey-threatens-doctors-and-first-responders-violates-medical-neutrality
3. http://press.thelancet.com/turkey_comment.pdf
4.  Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_protests_in_Turkey
5. Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taksim_Gezi_Park
6. Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/OccupyGezi
7. Protest photos: http://occupygezipics.tumblr.com/