Baton-Charged: A report of the attack on Istanbul’s pride parade (Part 3/3)

I have this credo: Judge the institution, not the individual. We are children of our environment, slaves to circumstance. The young policemen had humanity drilled out of them to a large extent. Even before that, they might have been subjected to a black-and-white narrative in which power is law by definition, activists are always foreign agents, Kurds are traitors and so on. Never having learned to think critically doesn’t liberate from personal responsibility, nor is it an excuse to become the henchmen of power mongers. It is, however, a reason to become exactly that.

Turkey isn’t exactly the best place to learn self-reflection. The education system is problematic to say the least and media in general don’t even try to be objective. If I were born into another crib, who knows what kind of fanatic I would have become. Besides, declaring the institution your enemy rather than the individual opens up much more ground for communication.

We were almost at the bend in the centre of the Istiklal, in front of Galatasaray Lisesi, when suddenly and out of the blue for the thin column of pride walkers, there was another attack. My memory of the next couple of seconds is somewhat blurry. For instance, I’m not sure how the initial attack from behind us, along the Istiklal, occurred. It could have been tear gas, or it could have been policemen going rampage. Either way, there was panic, there was running. I told to myself not to panic and not to run, but when everybody around you does, your brain switches off for a second. We fled into Meşrutiyet street, the one with the new Hard Rock Café, which was when the actual attack happened. I held back a woman in front of me whom I thought to have pushed and didn’t want to fall, as the people running before us screamed. I specifically remember a policeman, charging towards us from the direction of the English embassy, hitting out with his bat to random civilians. The crowd panicked more, turned around and took to their heels. I recalled what I had told myself seconds before and reduced my speed, which resulted in being followed up by a policeman. His baton hit me on the knee. I was lucky. These things can break your bones, but I merely got a blue mark. Maybe he didn’t hit hard, maybe I dodged. Thanks to all the hormones boiling up in my body, I didn’t even feel it the first two hours.

At this point in time, I no-longer smiled or made jokes as I had before. One woman tripped in the middle of Istiklal. From what I could see, most of the others had gathered down the Yeni Çarşı street, in the direction of the Goethe Institute. Another woman was shouting angrily at the police for obviously luring us into a trap, and I had lost Ayla.

It was a pretty terrible situation. The last thing you remember is being attacked by shouting, berserking policemen. These guys are trained to switch from happy mood to relentless assault instantly, and then kind of sink back into indifference. Then you stand in the middle of Istiklal. There are people, but they creep along the sides of the streets. You shout a friend’s name. The tear gas is getting thicker every second.

I’m not sure if it actually turned foggy or if my vision was impaired thanks to heavy loads of adrenaline. Either way, the woman who had tripped was carried into the entrance of Galatasaray Lisesi (by civilians, obviously). I remained on the street, shouting and holding up my poster until the tear gas got my eye lids flickering and I felt I could no longer breathe. Tear gas has this way to eradicate any rational from your mind and get you running.

I asked another pedestrian for his phone, called Ayla and discovered she was safe. I couldn’t find the shop she hid in, so I met the testosterone-driven decision to walk to the Tünel by myself. I was angry. I was alone, too. Just me and my poster, walking on the tracks in the middle of the Istiklal. Random people and, given from their equipment, freelance journalists made pictures and filmed me. One guy with an awesome camera walked a few metres in front of me, backwards and at my pace, attempting the perfect shot. I played along, and despite the sincerity of the situation, I hope it was a cool picture.

After returning to Kadiköy. The poster was barely in one piece. It's going to be framed up and hang on Ayla's wall from now on.

After returning to Kadiköy. The poster was barely in one piece. It’s going to be framed up and hang on Ayla’s wall from now on.

There was another police barricade, but I got around it through a shopping mall. Eventually, I did reach the end of the Istiklal. It took me two hours and twenty minutes. There were other pride walkers, there was as much police, and this time, there actually was an announcement made via microphone from an armored vehicle that we were to disperse and this was an illegal gathering. I lifted up my poster a few times, partially so that people I know could find me. Inevitably, the police was bound to attack here sooner or later, too. I figured things finally dripped into Gezi revival enough for me to leave, and so I did.

While aimlessly walking through Cihangir, I came back to Firüzağa mosque, were hours before people had taken pictures with me and my worn poster. By now, only a bunch of activists walked around, obviously in the same nervous party mood as before. From a café, I got something to drink and WiFi, made sure everyone was save, then headed home. In Moda, I talked to a boy selling Dürüm who had heard about Communist terrorists provoking the police. I was amazed how fast excuses would be out. I didn’t see a single red flag and the police was the obvious aggressor, but a lie does fine without investigations.

That day was bad. It was – or should be – an embarrassment for a force that barley has a right to call itself police in my eyes. It was the executive seeking revenge for political circumstances. But also, it was not nearly as bad as what could happen any other day in Turkey, be it Kurds demonstrating for their acceptance, students for their freedom or anyone for having different ideas.

The memory of the gay pride week that remains for me is not even from the attack on Sunday’s walk. It is an image from a few days earlier, at a smaller but similar event in Moda. In a narrow street, flanked by grafiti of Socialist symbols and Gezi martyrs, a few hundred participants of the LGBT street party sang Kurdish songs together. If you stand shoulder to shoulder to the police, run from their tanks and help yourself up to escape a cloud of tear gas, you are bound to become allies at some point.

There are societies in Turkey that seek power by glorifying a common, exclusive, ultimately constructed identity. They try to play the citizens of Turkey out against each other. They instill fear and hatred for Kurds to gain votes, feed and harness wide-spread antisemitism, present alternating concepts of partnership as aggressive perversions. The AKP and MHP, but also the PKK, draw power from ignorance. As of now, it works. But I know Istanbul’s educated youth and I met many outstanding specimen of Turkish citizens. They learn that unity doesn’t mean forced conformity.

The police will get more brutal, the propaganda more vicious, the legal battles unfairer. In my eyes, these are the signs of those in charge losing ground.

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