Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went all out celebrating their party’s victory in the June 24 elections, honking their horns and setting off fireworks. Some, however, chose to celebrate in a more noisy -- and downright dangerous -- way. Since June 26, people have been widely sharing a video showing dozens of Istanbul residents celebrating by firing machine guns and shotguns.
This video shows men and women armed with revolvers, machine guns and shotguns firing into the air. The original video, which was posted online on June 24, was deleted on June 28.
This video was shared in at least five different Facebook posts and garnered more than 1.5 million views. One of the posts, which includes a video that is 14 minutes long, shows supporters of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrating the June 24 election victory in the Sultangazi neighbourhood, on the Asian side of Istanbul.
An observer started livestreaming this raucous scene at 8:45pm, which was before the election results were announced. The revelers were in a children’s park in the Eski Habipler neighbourhood. This video has been stirring up controversy on Turkish social media since June 26.
"It’s so easy for people to be hit by a stray bullet. Some people were firing from their moving vehicles, even though their neighbours were out on their balconies. Why can’t we just celebrate by driving around and letting off fireworks? What good is there in firing bullets to create a war-like atmosphere… Is there really a place for this kind of expression in democratic societies?", reads a statement published online by the Umut Foundation, a Turkish group that is against the private ownership of guns.
"We don’t know if law enforcement reacted that night or if anyone was actually held accountable for their actions,” said Dr. Ayhan Akcan, a psychiatrist and a member of the Umut Foundation, who spoke to FRANCE 24.
"Celebratory gunfire may be illegal, but it is common in Turkey,” Dr. Akcan said. “But the kind of celebrations we saw after the elections were really violent and shocking.”
In the neighbourhood where the celebrations took place, Erdogan got 61% of votes for the presidency. In the parliamentary election, the coalition between Erdogan’s AKP party and the MHP (the Nationalist Movement Party) got 61.5% of votes. Overall, Erdogan got 52.6% of votes in the first round of the presidential election while the AKP-MHP obtained a majority in parliament after receiving 53.7% of votes.
"It’s a danger for society and it scares me because I think if certain people start to arm themselves, that will create a lot of fear, especially among the opposition,” one of our Observers, who preferred to remain anonymous, said. “It shows that trust, which keeps our society united, has deteriorated.”
The Istanbul police told local media that they were investigating the celebratory gunfire. "After seeing this video and CCTV camera footage from the location in question, [Istanbul police] reported that the suspects who fired their guns in the air have been identified and will be prosecuted," reported the country's official press agency Anadolu.
Rise in number of weapons after failed coup d'état
The day after the failed coup d’état on July 15, 2016, the president’s advisor Şeref Malkoç and the former mayor of Ankara Melih Gökçek, two powerful men in the ruling party, declared that they supported the arming of civilians, according to an investigation into the topic [link in French] by Slate.fr.
"We understood on the night of July 15  that our police were unprepared. The people behind the coup killed our officers. If history repeats itself tomorrow [...], and if the state can’t manage the situation, then I will go into the streets with my gun", a member of the MHP told Slate.
FRANCE 24 spoke to a Turkish lawyer who said that many of the people shown firing a weapon in the video probably don’t have a gun licence.
"It’s very unlikely that all of these people took all the steps to get a licence to carry a firearm in public,” he said.
In Turkey, only certain people are given gun licences. That includes people under threat or those who work in certain professions (including those in the jewellery business and lawyers.) Family members of fallen soldiers can also apply for a gun permit.
A gun licence is also expensive, costing 4,596 Turkish lira (equal to 865 euros), which is three times the average monthly salary in Turkey. According to Slate, getting a gun licence in Turkey is much more expensive than in many European countries.
These conditions appear to have favoured the emergence of a black market for guns, which flourishes online and on Turkish social media.
It’s easy to find firearms for sale on Facebook. Some gun sellers don’t require any kind of documentation from buyers. On one of these pages, for example, you can buy a 9mm revolver made by the Turkish company Sarsılmaz for 1,100 Turkish lira, which is around 200 euros.
In Turkey, firearms can be delivered by post legally, according to Dr. Akcan, who says that this also contributes to the illegal proliferation of weapons in the country.
This Facebook page called "Sale and purchase of arms” offers revolvers for sale for prices ranging from 1,100 Turkish lira [200 euros] and 5,000 Turkish lira [935 euros].
Even so, "celebratory gunfire is forbidden by Article 170 of the country’s Penal Code,” says Dr. Akcan. Under this law, anyone who causes “fear, panic or anxiety by putting in danger lives, property or health” through use of a firearm can be handed a prison sentence of six months to three years.
"Close to 90% of the 25 million weapons in circulation are purchased through illegal means,” says Dr. Akcan, citing statistics gathered by his foundation.