Hundreds Arrested During Banned Istanbul Pride March
Erdoğan has spoken out against the LGBTQ community as he increasingly relies on politically conservative voters
More than 360 people were detained by police in Istanbul on Sunday, activists said, as LGBTQ protesters tried to hold a gay pride march despite a ban by district governors.
Police in riot gear chased after protesters and hit some with their shields, while others were put into patrol cars or dragged into a police bus.
Officers blocked streets with metal barriers connecting to the city’s main shopping street, İstiklal Avenue, which intersects with Taksim Square, where protesters were supposed to meet.
The governors of the Istanbul districts of Beyoğlu and Kadıköy, connected to the national government, would not give legal clearance for the pride march, which has been banned since 2015.
Nevertheless, hundreds walked in defiance of the ban, including in the Cihangir neighborhood in Beyoğlu, chanting and waving rainbow flags.
A high-profile LGBT group, Kaos GL, said more than 360 people were detained, referencing police statements given to lawyers. They were being freed on Monday, the NGO said.
“Police say ‘Stop’ but we are not stopping, we are walking,” Kerem, an 18-year-old high school student, told The Media Line while sitting on the steps of a residential street near Taksim with a group of friends who had been trying to march.
“We go to the street and walk. … We want freedom,” he said.
Kerem, a member of the LGBTQ community, said discrimination is widespread in Turkish society.
“[When] we go to the shopping mall, they are looking at me,” he said. “They say, like, “Ew.” … We are not loved in Turkey.”
Police started blocking the entrances to Taksim Square and İstiklal before noon, while protesters were supposed to start their march at 5 pm.
İstiklal would normally be packed and stores brimming with Sunday shoppers on a sunny weekend near the height of the tourism season. However, the street and stores were sparsely populated.
Public transportation near Taksim was shut down.
Agence France-Press’s chief photographer was detained along with protesters, and the media was not allowed to film the arrests.
A friend sitting next to Kerem said she wanted to come out to support other underrepresented groups in Turkish society, such as Kurds and refugees.
“I wanted to march today because ‘minority’ does not just include the LGBT community. It’s about the other minorities in Turkey, so we are marching for all of them. And it’s not just about love today. This is politics, there’s a side that’s very political about this,” engineering student Feyza, 21, told The Media Line.
As she spoke, a police helicopter hovered over her and her group of friends. It flew for hours over neighborhoods where the protesters were.
Feyza said the police presence was stronger than in previous years and that the government was clamping down on the march to gain votes from those who support political Islam.
“They really seem scared of us,” she said. “We are opposite to their religion, to their minds.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and members of his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party have criticized the LGBTQ community.
His interior minister called some LGBTQ protesting students “deviants” while the president praised young supporters of his party for not being part of the LGBTQ community,
However, Erdoğan made supportive comments about the group’s rights before coming to office two decades ago and pride marches were held after he came into power.
“It was politically correct at the time,” Feyza said. “He changed. … He saw that he can use this hate to be more powerful.”
In more recent years, Erdoğan has had to enter into a coalition with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party to maintain his parliamentary majority.
The Turkish president’s approval ratings have taken a hit over the poor economy and tensions with refugees as he faces elections in a year or less.
There have been limits on protests by other groups, including women’s rights supporters.
Teacher Malika, 23, said the pride march was important to show the rest of society that the LGBTQ community continues to exist.
“That we are here every day and everywhere, that’s why we have to be here together. … They don’t like that we exist, that’s why they are trying to stop this,” she told The Media Line.
Malika and a friend had been walking near the blocked-off Taksim and were trying to pass through the smaller residential streets, but those, too, had been blocked off.
“[It’s] a dangerous place for queer people, I mean look at all the police,” she said until she noticed a group of police walking toward her and abruptly fell silent.