Minister says police handling of Emek Theater protesters being investigated

Interior Minister Muammer Guler announced on Tuesday that an investigation has been launched to see whether police units used disproportionate force against a crowd that gathered in Istanbul's Beyoglu district on Sunday to protest the planned destruction of the historic Emek Theater, one of the oldest and most prominent cinemas in the city.

Speaking to the press on Tuesday, Guler cited that there were not only artists in the crowd that clashed with police but also those who were specifically there to cause tension. On Sunday, numerous actors, directors and cinephiles gathered in front of the Emek Theater -- one of the key venues that hosted the Istanbul International Film Festival before being shut down in 2009 -- to peacefully demonstrate against the decision to demolish the cinema, which is now surrounded by barricades awaiting conversion into an entertainment complex.

The Emek Theater has served the Istanbul arts community since the 1880s, and it has been a movie theater since 1924. The start of this year's Istanbul International Film Festival, marking its 32nd edition from March 30 to April 14, has once more revived the heated debates on the fate of the historic Emek Theater. Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd. Police later blocked access to the street, warning the crowd that the demonstration was unauthorized and called on them to disperse.

A group of art lovers, including famous stage and screen actors Tuncel Kurtiz, Zafer Algoz, Riza Kocaoglu, Onur Unlu, Harun Tekin, Cengiz Bozkurt and Cem Davran, came together on Sunday on Istiklal Street before marching to Yesilcam Street, where the theater is located. Police also detained four people in connection with the demonstration but later released them. The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Art (IKSV) released a statement following the protest, condemning the disproportionate use of force by police.

“Police officers used a disproportionate amount of force to quell the group which wanted to enter the street where Emek is located. We strongly condemn what was experienced by film lovers who did nothing other than try to protect Istanbul's collective memory,” the statement said.