Women in Istanbul organised on Thursday evening a massive rally to mark the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Approximately 3,000 women and LGBTI protesters met in Taksim’s Tunnel Street and marched to the historical Istiklal Street, chanting their slogans, dancing and singing songs only to face thousands of police and metallic barricades cutting Istiklal in half: one half filled with the police officers and the other half filled with protesters.
Turkish police had to remove the first set of barricades due to the insistence of the women, but on the second occasion, when the women and the LGBTI tried to breach the barricades, that was a moment to remember. Behind them, thousands chanted “Open the barricades, shatter the barricades.” Tens of women and LGBTI protesters climbed up the almost two-metres-long police barricades, which thousands of specially equipped police forces had laid, ready for attack.
Strange chemical compounds used by the police
It did not take long before the police tear-gassed the protesters, raking them with plastic bullets which were filled with some kind of chemical compound which, when exploded, released a white powder causing loss of breath, coughing and long-lasting effects on the eyes and throats of the protesters.
These compounds – used by the police in the city centre of one of the world’s biggest metropoles, during a democratic demonstration that was being covered by hundreds of journalists – have raised questions regarding Turkey’s alleged use of chemical warfare against the Kurdish fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdish side has, on numerous occasions, called upon the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to launch an inquiry to either prove or disprove these serious claims.
A cameraman from Artı TV was injured on his lip as he was shot by a plastic bullet in the face. Some protesters lost their sight for almost half an hour and were unable to open their eyes whilst some were not even able to move and were in shock, screaming, “I can’t breathe.”
These moments of crises were handled by protesters, in solidarity, as they tried to take care of those who were not able to move. No one was left behind as the women and the LGBTI brought their slogans and called out: “You will never walk alone.”
Police attacked in this manner four times as women and the LGBTI showed a strong insistence not be dispersed during an hour-long skirmish.
Police officers at one point asked Züleyha Gülüm, an MP from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), to warn some protesters who were creating noises by hitting their hands on the metallic shutters of the shops in the vicinity – most of which were closed during the protest, but which began to operate after it was over – to make noise only. They asked Gülüm, “Please do something about this, what is this? They harm the shops.”
The HDP MP answered: “They are not harming anything; don’t you see? These are all metallic shutters, solid as a rock? I will not say anything to these women who are protesting democratically.”
Demands of the women in the Istanbul protest
After a rally of more than three hours, the organising committee refused to release a press release in Istiklal, protesting at the police violence. The committee stated, “After this many police attacks, we – as the women – refuse to release our public statement here, as a way to protest at this police violence that took place, on this day, to combat violence against women. Thereby, we state that we will read our statement in Karaköy and we invite all our friends to march to Karaköy.”
Women then marched to Karaköy where the press statement was released and ended their protest there.
But the subject matter of the press statement was actually realised and made public by the resistance shown against the police violence on Istiklal Street. All that the women and LGBTI wanted to say and more had already become apparent for the Turkish government and for everyone who was interested in listening to their demands.
They demanded that ‘impunity policies’ must be ended and that perpetrators of gender-based violence must be brought to justice. Women demanded that femicides and killings of trans people must be acknowledged as political killings. They demanded that Turkey return back to the Istanbul Convention, for which they have been struggling over the past year for the government not to withdraw from.
Political messages in slogans: “Goverment, resign!” and “Regards to the women who resist in Kurdistan!”
The ‘8 March,’ ‘Pride’ in June and ‘1 July’ protests to stay in the Istanbul Convention were also quite massive and popular rallies in Istanbul, but this last action in Istiklal showed that the women and the LGBTI have carried the level of resistance to the next level – that they want and demand to be heard more. After each protest, it is evident that they are becoming stronger.
“Government, resign” was among the slogans that dominated the rally until the end. The deepening economic crisis and the sinking value of the Turkish lira against foreign currencies have been a major issue addressed by the women and the LGBTI, who did not hesitate to give the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a clear message that they have been fed up with his government’s policies.
Alongside the slogans, which are known to be the most prominent ones that are used in the feminist movement in Turkey, including “Women killings are political,” “Let the father, let the husband, let the state, let the batons come: Rebellion out-of-spite, freedom out-of-spite” and “We leave neither the night nor the streets”, slogans in Kurdish and slogans of the LGBTI movement were among those that dominated the march from the beginning until the end.
“Trans killings are political,” “The world would shake if gays were free,” “Don’t stop, chant, there are gays, there are trans,” “Jin, Jiyan, Azadî” (meaning “Women-Life-Freedom” in Kurdish), “Bijî berxwedana jinan” (meaning “Long live women’s resistance” in Kurdish) and a number of other Kurdish and LGBTI-themed slogans were chanted throughout the protest.
After the third wave of police attacks, women and the LGBTI stood in front of the police troops and chanted an unexpected slogan: “Regards to the women who resist in Kurdistan.” It was not chanted by a few people in the crowd; no, it was chanted by the masses gathered.
This was another bold move coming from Turkey’s women and the LGBTI, considering this period of time when people are detained, one by one, for using the word “Kurdistan” in Turkey in an increasingly nationalistic atmosphere that aligns with the Turkish government’s moves to terrorise Kurds, criminalise all those who stand together with Kurds and polarise the voters, based on extreme-nationalism under the name of the “fight against terrorism.”
The 25 November rally in Istanbul was possibly the most politically charged and militant protest of the year with the political strength of the slogans and the hours long militant stances taken against not one, not two, but four waves of police attacks.