On Sunday, as the struggles of left-wingers, liberals and Kurdish confederalists versus right-wingers, conservatives and Turkish nationalists in Turkey grew ever more intertwined with the conflict of secularists and Kurdish confederalists versus Islamists in Syria, Fahrettin @kurekli_batur (now @yurekli_batur) tweeted a photo of: ‘Plastic bullets that have been shot in Gazi [neighbourhood, Istanbul]. I took the photo myself. It’s not photoshopped, etc. [Gazi’de attıkları plastik mermi. Fotoyu kendim çektim fotoşop filan değil.]’ Indeed, it was not photoshopped. But what was it?
[This has been cross-posted at Public Archaeology 2015.]
While the account has since been deleted, the tweet is still available in Google’s cache and the claim has been preserved in manual retweets by Meymano, Çapoz, Dete Fabula Narratur, Sade, Gerçek Haber, Eda and Ebu Hizb; in English translations and paraphrases by Hevallo amongst others; as well as in parodies by umutiş, Serkan İnci (repeated by Poseidon Artemis), jonsnow, turkuaz, Edgar (with a particularly neat piece that showed an opposition party’s election gimmicks), Stratejik Derinlik, fuadd, Z4HİD, Slice of Life (twice), kabasakal, Ali Günter Şalom TSK and HaTuN.
When I saw the tweet, I waited, and waited, and saw it pass into English-language discussion. Then, I opened the image, right-clicked on it and left-clicked on “search Google for this image”. But it had never been published online before. The image file’s EXIF data were useless but, as Piero Castellano and Frederike Geerdink observed, dozens of the objects had been found in the street after police interventions, and multiple people had documented them. So, the photographs were authentic documents of contemporary finds of governing AKP-branded objects at the scene of clashes between police and anti-government protesters.
Why, then, were the reports nevertheless (rightly) rejected by Al Bawaba, Conflict News, France 24 and its Observers and others? As Militaire S. F., Ceren, Kaç Saat Oldu?, Bilal Asit and Conflict News demonstrated (and, amongst others, Yeni Şafak reported), the “plastic bullets/rubber bullets” were actually parts of toys for children (balls that lit up), which were given out by the governing party during the elections of 2014 (and perhaps since then as well).
Were they planted by AKP members and/or supporters in the hope that the opposition would report them and then be discredited as violence-inciting fantasists and propagandists? Were they planted by anti-government activists who, it seems, would have had to stash them when they were being given out by the party with this operation in mind or to steal them from a party storeroom? Either way, it does not bode well for intercommunal relations.