The gay pride parade in Istanbul began in Taksim Square on June 28th where most of the demonstrations in the city occur. A large gathering amassed in the square when police moved in and instructed the crowd to disperse. The LGBT pride parade was held at the same location just last year. The crowd stood their ground, defiantly shouting slogans until police used force against the peaceful demonstration using rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, and water cannons. Pride gatherers, tourists, pedestrians, and shop owners alike were caught in the crossfire. Shop fronts closed their shutters and the crowds of people split in all directions, searching for a safe place to breathe.
Ever since the Gezi Park protests two years ago Taksim Square has been a contentious ground for both demonstrators and police, often leading to clashes between the two. This year’s Pride parade falls on the same month as Ramadan, which police argued was the reason the Pride parade would not be allowed to happen on the busiest street in Istanbul. Many protesters disagreed, saying that today’s police force was retaliation for the current president’s party losing majority to the other minority parties like HDP in the last election. HDP adamantly defends LGBT rights and many supporters of HDP identify as LGBT.
The police seemed to be trying to show off their weapons and toys as a way to scare the Pride goers from gathering in numbers. Although this strategy may have worked for the few fair weather attendees who decided to call it quits and hit the bar, the bulk of the party happened in Chiangir where dancing, singing, and chanting took over the streets. People with costumes, rainbow flags, banners, and instruments lined the small square and showed their strength in numbers, in joy, and in celebration waving all the colors and kinds of love. They stood on taksis, inspired chants, blew whistles, banged drums, and waved flags a cornicopia of flags unbent by the police batons.
The police stood by watching the festival, a few of them sat on their riot helmets waiting for some call to action. As far as I could tell, no gas was fired in Chiangir, but the smell still lingered in the air and shots could be heard popping off somewhere near Taksim Square. More crowds streamed in from every surrounding street until a giant party erupted in the small hipstery neighborhood. The Pride parade eventually moved in unison back to Istiklal for one final march before the sun went down. People were chanting and dancing the whole way up the winding cobblestone streets. They blocked traffic and surrounded carriers on mopeds who revved their engines at the grinning rainbow waving pedestrians to no avail. Their 49 cc engines couldn’t out match the din of LGBT celebration.
The connecting streets were still foggy with tear gas and pedestrians were huddled in shops with napkins covering their face as the march made its way to the main street. The LGBT community marched on, chanting and coughing, seemingly unphased and undaunted. As they rounded the last corner onto Istiklal a phalanx of police were waiting with gas masks on and riot shields blocking entry. After some arguing between Pride marchers and plain clothes cops, the police eventually parted and allowed the protesters through. I left them there as they continued to chant on their way to Galata Tower. It seemed like they had won the day, though their fight in Turkey is still far from over. I couldn’t help but feel proud that my own country had finally legalized gay marriage nationwide and after seeing the sort of resistance the LGBT community is facing in Turkey, it makes me appreciate the struggle all the more.