Monday, June 29, 2015

Istanbul Pride: A Day of Teargas and Water Cannons*

*A special thanks goes out to photo-journalist Nick Ashdown for the incredible photos! 

What a disgrace. Istanbul's 13th Annual Pride March was violently dispersed by police. During the last decade, I have been to numerous Pride marches in Istanbul, and remember that almost every Pride starts with police threatening intervention, followed by negotiations, and then police pulling aside, allowing the march to take place. This held true even following the 2013 Gezi Park protests. For this Pride I had to watch from afar, however to tell you the truth I was not surprised to see in my twitter feed of the developments coming from Istanbul.

Pride Istanbul attacked with water cannons, teargas, and rubber bullets

It is unfortunate that the Istanbul governor chose to use the excuse that the march was banned because it is taking place during the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan. Perhaps he forgot that last year Pride also took place during Ramadan. So the governor thinks Pride is insensitive to religious people? Well, perhaps the governor should explain how shooting rubber bullets and teargas at citizens promotes peace and understanding.

Taking refuge on Burger King's balcony

During the last few months, there has been concerted verbal attacks on Turkey's LGBT community by its pro-government press. Just months ago, I wrote about how Zorlu Performing Arts Center cancelled the Boston Gay Men's Chorus after the pro-gov press claimed they were coming to Turkey to "spread homosexuality." Happily, the evening before the attack on Pride, the Choir took the stage as guests at the prestigious Bogazici University. However, the fact that a public institution sponsored the event outraged many pro-gov officials, with Istanbul's Medeniyet University's Rector, M. Ihsan Karaman venting numerous homophobic hate messages on twitter. 

Istanbul's Medemiyet's Rector: Our Universities are not the
place to legitimize perverted tendencies and acts. No to the Gay Chorus at Bogazici University!  

What seems to be happening is that as the LGBT continues to gain support among the Turkish public and politicians, the conservative AKP (and homophobic) government, especially prevalent among Erdogan's circle, are doing their best to turn this into just another one of its polarizing strategies. In fact, it can be argued that criticizing gays among Turkey's conservative base has remained minimal until now simply because it is such a taboo issue.  However, with the HDP and CHP opposition parties actively calling for LGBT rights, silence is no longer a possible option, with homophobic hate speech only growing. 

The Hashtag of the Day: #LoveWins. What part of this kiss do you not understand?

The attack on Istanbul's Pride only shows how desperate the government has become. Just three weeks ago, the AKP was hit with a major blow losing its parliamentary majority for the first time, after thirteen years of single party rule. For now, it still seems unclear what type of coalition might emerge, with the possibility the country could see a new round of elections. However, Erdogan should take note that his hate speech directed at gays did not help his party in the past election and most likely will not in the future. 

Police wear gas masks on as they shoot teargas towards Pride supporters demand right to march. It
was reported that one participant could lose his eye due to a direct hit by teargas canister.

In the meantime, the LGBT movement and support groups are standing on solid ground, so no one should expect the banning of Pride will make a dent in their support, rather it will only strengthen the movement. Sadly, this came at a high cost. Ironically, it was reported that a member of a pro-AKP LGBT group was among those injured yesterday, with a strong chance he might lose an eye as a result of a direct hit of teargas canister. Clearly, he too misinterpreted the government's hands-off strategy and perhaps has cost him his eyesight. Let us hope that next year's Pride will return to its peaceful days. 

These thousands of march goers will be back next year, that is for sure! 

1 comment:

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