Withstanding mild clouds of tear gas, we made our way through Istanbul’s canyon roads. Eventually, I followed a crowd drifting off from Sıraselviler to the left, into a side road, in the opposite direction the Tünel would have been. A loose band of young folks, safe from the police for now, happy but nervous, some dry, some soaked. We all looked to the right, seeking a way back to the scattered remnants of the march and eventually to the Istiklal.
No-one talked, but it was obvious things weren’t over. So far, the police had been provoking, using the tear gas to induce some level of panic. If I would have been absolutely true to my principles, I should have left. I believe that as a foreigner, capable of only the basics of a country’s language, I have no right to participate in protests against inner-political phenomena. I have an opinion, yes, and I feel obliged to share my observations in this very text you are reading, but I may not actively engage. What happened on the 28th of June started off as a walk for LGBT acceptance, an issue of global interest, but as the police began their random tear gas party, the crowd starting chanting Gezi songs. Within limits, a Gezi revival was bound to occur.
But while I at least theoretically thought about subtracting myself from events that were perhaps no longer my direct business, Istanbul’s police force practiced the opposite. Tear gas, even in low concentration, doesn’t just affect a single street. It quickly sips through windows and doors, into cafés and living rooms. They let all of the “hipster quarter” Cihangir suffer for the pride walk, punished all of the LGBT-community for their perceived disloyalty. I already wrote a piece about tear gas being used as a means of collective punishment rather than crowd control. Today, we saw a schoolbook application of this.
Around Firüzağa mosque, lots of pride walk participants gathered. It’s a nice corner, with restaurants, terraces and, given that it’s Istanbul, rather many trees. The atmosphere was somewhere between panic and party with pieces of both. The majority of those present had lived through similar days before. I was holding my poster up high, looking for my friends, but couldn’t find anyone at first. Time enough to ponder the situation.
From the perspective of traditional police work, the Istanbul police force failed miserably. We don’t need to discuss attacking unarmed and peaceful civilians. They failed at riot control, too, as they couldn’t contain the riot they started themselves. Obviously, traditional police work wasn’t their task in the first place. The police, in the wake of the purges following the 2013th corruption probes, is broadly thought to be in the hands of the leading AKP now more than ever. I later learned that the official reason to prohibit the gathering in last-minute (without telling anyone on Taksim) was the Ramazan, the current month of fasting. That excuse is obvious bullshit, partially because the pride walk already occurred during Ramazan last year. But also, instead of two hours of singing limited to the Istiklal and Taksim, there were three or more hours of tear gas, panicking masses, noise and violence in big parts of Cihangir, Taksim and Tarlabaşı. Looking at the experience Turkish police has with protests, this was either what they intended (and what would be terrorism on some scale), or the responsible decision makers live in a world far, far away from reality.
Eventually I fond a portion of my friends in some sun-lit side road. It have no idea where that was, but the street was going steep, with many small groups of people wielding posters rainbow flags walking heading uphill, presumably towards a bigger mass of people. I had no internet connection on my phone, so I didn’t know that my friends, people who partially never met before, were having active conversations via social media and chat programs in order to locate and potentially rescue me. Alas when I found some of them, before I could try to give an account of what happened through a local WiFi, there was tear gas up in the streets and all the folks who just climbed the hill came running down again. It was a bright day, one of the kind good for relaxing in a café or at the promenade, by we were hunted through the streets by an invisible enemy.
We retreated back to Firüzağa mosque, where Ayla found me. Ayla had been late, but she had heard about the police aggression and my temporary disappearance. Being told that she better should return to Kadiköy, after hearing that I was gone, she was even more eager to join the pride walk to find me. Her story is one that would be worth to tell by itself, including cunning, stealth, police blockades and TOMA attacks.
Soon after Aylas arrival, the crowd went moving. From what I heard later, there have been other crowds trying to get through. I have heard about fights in Tarlabaşı and dolmuş-transports having gas grenades fired into them. But when we started walking from Firüzağa, I had no idea if we were all that was left or just a small party sliding through the streets around the actual action.
We passed through many smaller streets clearly not meant for protest marches, which I can tell by the fact that there was traffic. In case of tear gas, there would have been nowhere to run and for the people in the cars nowhere to drive. Also, due to the limited space and the different speed levels of the participants, Ayla and me soon lost track of the others in our group. I had no idea who was leading our column, but we did eventually start dripping onto the Istiklal. People cheered at us and made photos. Surprisingly, there was a police line. They smiled at leaned on their riot shields. I remember saying to Ayla that they looked relieved, potentially because now that it seemed the day would come to an end, they could also go home soon.
Little did I know that they set up a trap for us.