Police Violence at Istanbul’s Pride
By Theo Salem-Mackall
Late in the afternoon of June 28th, as Istanbul’s annual LGBT pride parade wound down, participants encountered a sudden assault from Turkish police forces.
Armed with plastic bullets, tear gas, and water cannons, officers arrested many and forced others to flee. The police, many of whom were without identification, injured 78. Victims included journalists and members of both of Turkey’s major political parties.
In the face of state-sanctioned violence, marchers were resilient. Many formed assemblies in public squares, slipped through police barricades, and raised rainbow flags high.
For twelve years, Istanbul has generally held peaceful Pride celebrations. This year, however, governor Vasıp Şahin ordered a stop to the parade because he believed it should not coincide with Ramadan. The order perpetuates the erroneous belief that Islam is incompatible with LGBT human rights. The governor’s use of force against Pride attendees blatantly disregards their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution of Turkey.
The Istanbul Governorate stated that the police intervention on the Pride Parade was due to the possibility of “provocation.” But no disturbances were reported before the police action.
In response to the attacks, four LGBT associations and 68 individuals filed criminal complaints against Governor Şahin, Interior Minister Sebahattin Öztürk, Istanbul Police Chief Selami Altınok, and police officers involved. Despite wide international support for those injured, Yasemin Öz, one of the seven lawyers submitting the complaints, said, “I’m not hopeful about the Turkish state’s courts.”
The events in Istanbul mark a significant setback for Turkey’s LGBT community. In January, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç assured the United Nations that his government was committed to protecting LGBT people against targeted violence. Several days after the events, however, Minister Arinc said in a party meeting that LGBT Turks “are not liked in our belief, our traditions, our customs and mores, and our society’s structure.”
As the government of Turkey hopes to deepen its ties to the West, both through economic ties and entrance into the E.U., it needs to honor its human rights commitments, hold perpetrators of bias-motivated violence accountable, and embrace the spirit of inclusion that epitomizes Pride.