Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 198–222 | Cite as

Medical Humanitarianism Under Atmospheric Violence: Health Professionals in the 2013 Gezi Protests in Turkey

  • Salih Can AciksozEmail author
Original Paper


During the 2013 Gezi protests in Turkey, volunteering health professionals provided on-site medical assistance to protesters faced with police violence characterized by the extensive use of riot control agents. This led to a government crackdown on the medical community and the criminalization of “unauthorized” first aid amidst international criticisms over violations of medical neutrality. Drawing from ethnographic observations, in-depth interviews with health care professionals, and archival research, this article ethnographically analyzes the polarized encounter between the Turkish government and medical professionals aligned with social protest. I demonstrate how the context of “atmospheric violence”—the extensive use of riot control agents like tear gas—brings about new politico-ethical spaces and dilemmas for healthcare professionals. I then analyze how Turkish health professionals framed their provision of health services to protestors in the language of medical humanitarianism, and how the state dismissed their claims to humanitarian neutrality by criminalizing emergency care. Exploring the vexed role that health workers and medical organizations played in the Gezi protests and the consequent political contestations over doctors’ ethical, professional, and political responsibilities, this article examines challenges to medical humanitarianism and neutrality at times of social protest in and beyond the Middle East.


Medical neutrality Medical humanitarianism Riot control agents Turkey State violence 



I am deeply grateful to the health professionals who shared their experiences with me. I thank the participants of the 2014 RHWG Annual Meeting where I shared an earlier draft of this paper. A later version of this paper was presented in May 2014 in the Clinic in Crisis Symposium at Brown University. I am grateful to all the symposium participants, especially to the organizers Sherine Hamdy, Adia Benton, Soha Bayoumi, and Sa’ed Atshan, and to the discussant Mary-Jo Delvecchio Good, for their feedback and support. I would also like to thank Zeynep Korkman, Ruken Şengül, and the two anonymous reviewers for their comments and Scott Webel for his editorial suggestions. This research has been reviewed and granted ethics approval by the Institutional Review Board (1409497939, 2014–2015) at the University of Arizona.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Salih Can Aciksoz declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Human Rights and Informed Consent

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Middle Eastern and North African StudiesUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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