President of Turkey - Recip Tayipp Erdogan

Doctors in Turkey carried out a two-day strike last week in response to the death of a cardiologist in the city of Konya.

Ekrem Karayaka was killed by a patient in Konya City Hospital on Tuesday 6th July. Although his motives are still unknown, violence against healthcare workers in Turkey is on the rise. The patient then killed himself after the murder.

The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) which represents 80% of the country’s doctors led a strike the next day, while calling for harsher protection for healthcare workers.

Trade unions and opposition politicians have blamed Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who leads the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), accused Erdogan of causing Karayaka’s death.

“Erdoğan, see the environment you have created”, said Kılıçdaroğlu. “Be ashamed! Take your incapable minister and go away immediately. This is the cost of staying silent to those implementing violence and saying ‘Let them go’ to the health personnel.”

The Turkish government has long made an enemy of the TTB. In 2014, Turkey’s Department of Health filed a lawsuit against the TTB for having set up “illegal” medical tents at the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul.

In 2019, the government jailed 11 TTB members for opposing Turkey’s invasion of the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria.

More recently, the government has threatened doctors, who challenge the country’s official COVID statistics. The TTB has also stated that its members are increasingly burnout and are poorly protected from the virus.

The leaders of the far-right National Movement Party, and Erdogan’s coalition partner, called doctors “traitors” for their honesty about COVID numbers. Devlet Bahçeli recently demanded that the government outlaw the TTB and detain its leaders.

A march of striking doctors from the Istanbul University Faculty of Medicine to the provincial health directorate was met by police with teargas and riot shields, according to local media. Despite the assault, protestors were able to reach the health directorate, where they demanded the Health Minister resign. Doctors also stopped to help a policeman who had fainted during the tussle.

The Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK) released a statement: “We are not only sad but angry. Because this inhuman attack is not an isolated one. Labor and professional organisations have repeatedly warned the government about the increasing violence in health institutions.” DISK also blamed the increased “marketisation” of Turkey’s health care system for shifting unrealistic burdens to healthcare workers.

The World Medical Association and British Medical Association have expressed solidarity with the TTB in the past.

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Image credit: Press service of the President of the Russian Federation – Creative Commons