Firsthand Account of Violence in Istanbul

Turkish protesters wave national flags with portraits of Turkey's founder Kemal Ataturk as they take part in an anti-government rally on Sunday, June 9, 2013.

Police unleashed tear gas and water cannons on a crowd of almost 5,000 people in Taksim Square Tuesday night, according to Deniz Nihan Aktan of Istanbul Feminist Collective and Global Fund for Women grantee partner, Filmmor.

Speaking to Global Fund for Women from her house near Taksim Square, Deniz described the scene as “horrible,” with police “attacking to kill the protestors.”

The demonstrations began over a plan to tear out the last green space in the center of the city, Gezi Park in Taksim Square, and to replace it with a mall. They quickly progressed into a movement critical of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his administration, well known for restricting the freedom of expression in civil society.

Deniz and her feminist colleagues organized in the park to take a public stance for women’s human rights. The group voiced their opposition to the government’s attempts to ban abortion, political violence against the LGBT community and the rising rates of violence against women.

Filmmor's protest area before the police broke up the demonstration: a group of women holding hands in front of a pavilionThe same area after the violence, showing wreckage of the pavilion, garbage, flags strewn aboutFilmmor's Taksim Square protest, before and after the police broke it up

“We put up a tent in the park to claim our voice amongst the crowd, and we conveyed our demands in a legal way,” said Deniz.

Deniz’s voice cracked over the phone as she recounted her experience. It was 3:00 a.m. in Istanbul and she had witnessed many of her friends wounded by police that are supposed to protect citizens.

What should have been a peaceful protest, a solidarity movement among environmentalists, left wing activists, regular citizens, women’s and LGBT rights advocates, was met with escalating police brutality.

“He [Erdogan] is more concerned with holding onto his power than he is for the rights of his people,” said Deniz. “What they [the government] are doing is illogical and illegal.”

Read more about the protests in Turkey

Global Fund advisor and grantee partner, Nevin Öztop of Kaos GL, reflects on the movement against Erdoğan’s racist, sexist and homophobic remarks and policies. Nevin writes:

How could the idea of a single park being demolished get a nation so angry? How could resistance unite all the streets of a country? How could people become so unafraid of getting beaten up and tear gassed day and night? And more importantly, how could this nation still have so much fun and laugh at everything about the brutality and rapid unrest?

"This gas feels fantastic, my friend!", "You banned alcohol, the nation sobered up!", "Welcome to the 1st national gas festival!", "Tear gas works wonders on your complexion!", “Hey Starbucks, this movement prefers the coffee of the independent shop owner on the corner!” are only a few of the thousands of declarations on the walls of over 40 cities now. In only a few days, graffitis and sprayed messages became a part of our daily lives. The smashed police “riot control” vehicles vandalized by football fan clubs are on sale all over the internet. Emptied tear gas bullets are used as the new vase homes of flowers. Read the full story here »


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