Gay Pride 2015 in Istanbul

A proud nationalist

A proud nationalist

Proud couple

Proud couple

I just watched “Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement,” a documentary about two women that fell in love in 1960’s America and waited 42 years to get married. It’s the first film I can remember that made me feel nearly every imaginable emotion ranging from joy to sorrow and anger to hope. In the end, I sat and cried. Perhaps it’s AHH_8575 copybecause of the “time of the month” we women suffer from, or maybe because it’s the most perfect love story I’ve seen (I’ve seen a lot). These two women are the epitome of love for every generation regardless of sexual orientation. Despite being “straight” in sexuality terms, I believe that (consensual) love is love regardless of who is involved in the loving process. There is so much hate in the world that requires infinite love to defeat it.

I tried my chance at supporting the right to love in Turkey at Gay Pride in Istanbul a few weeks ago. I left my very straight boyfriend drinking beer at Nevizade Street in Taksim to join the march down AHH_8607Istiklal Street. In order to even get to Istiklal I had to pass through throngs of riot police. As I passed a group of these young (sexy) police, I said “Kolay gelsin” or let it be easy, in terms of working. They said thank you and off I went to Taksim Square wherethe masses were formed to start the parade. About five minutes into my walk the sounds of tear gas being shot caused every to run towards the nearest shop. I ducked down and pushed through the quickly closing metal gate of some random clothing shop. There was no air

“We are normal”

circulation in the store, and the locals and two German tourists were chattering about what the fuck was happening. After a bit of translation, the guy controlling the gate opened it and let me out. When I stepped onto the street I ran into TOMA, the lovely water canon vehicles we have come to accept as part of the street scenery in various cities around Turkey. Clearly this wasn’t going to be a Gay Pride parade, but a battle with the police, yet again, over freedom of expression.

I got my ass off Istiklal at the nearest side street, as an American woman with a camera during a “protest” in Turkey is somewhat of a Molotov cocktail. My dear friend (who will remain unnamed for security reasons) was in Cihangir, a neighborhood

Dancing in the streets

Dancing in the streets

nearby, but away from the conflict in Taksim Square. He and his fellow gays had tried to reach the square, but were blocked by police. So the fun began. There was a

Ninja and friend

Ninja and friend

lively and picturesque organization of people in the Cihangir area, so we were able to laugh along with the many colorful people that passed by. When tear gas came and people ran we retreated to a side street for a few minutes. This continued for an hour or so. The police remained, but quit firing tear gas, so we were able to stay in the streets enjoying the scenery with friends and watching the creatively costumed people celebrate. There were 20-something hipster girls holding signs saying “So what if we’re lesbians,” and “What kind of world is it

Flying the freedom flag

Flying the freedom flag

where everyone is loving”, alongside various chants that usually ended with an empathic “Ay ay ay!” in a high pitched scream of pleasure similar to an orgasmic female. The afternoon had finally reached an air of a proper gay festival. After some time, we gathered the courage to venture to Istiklal St. We fucked up.

A few friends managed to walk the pedestrian street towards the main area of commotion, but found themselves blanketed with tear gas. When they ran down side streets to find fresh air, AHH_8584they were met by men beating them with sticks. One friend described the situation as a horror movie. The government was clearly trying to silence any opportunity for free speech yet again. My crew of three and I walked as far as we could until the gas burned our eyes and nostrils. This day of celebration was becoming really fucking exhausting.

We retreated to a restaurant with a Bosphorus view to reenergize and recollect. After food and beer, we were ready to join the celebration again. My friend and I wandered

“There are trans males”

easily down Istiklal to the main area where people were drinking, singing and dancing in the streets with happiness. After maybe half an hour, tear gas was fired directly at us, so everyone scattered like cockroaches in a Bronx apartment when a spotlight is shined into their tiny eyes. I ran for the nearest doorway that just happened to be a cozy little bar I had visited a few years before. The owner was telling people to run up the stairs so he could close the doors. As people inside coughed and wiped their eyes from the gas, I searched for my friends. I found AHH_8478 AHH_8503 AHH_8530two, but the others didn’t make it in. So the search began for the others, who of course had dead phones from the long day of updating the situation on social media.

We watched with nervous energy, from a broken window in the bar, people on the street conversing, aka yelling, with the police. After about 10 minutes the streets remained empty and the police seemed to return to their corner, so I peed like I’ve never peed before, and headed outside again.

As the owner of the bar unlocked the door, I held my heart and said thank you. He embraced me with a death grip that helped me relax and prepare myself to hit the streets. His hug reassured me we would be OK and to keep up the fight. At least in my panicked state that’s how it translated. I walked out the door stronger and ready for more. I ran into two friends that were looking around the empty the street wondering what the hell happened. They had been in a nearby club, so they weren’t gassed like the rest of us, but instead were dancing freely in love as they should have been! We hugged and cursed the police, then ventured onward to find our missing

Love

Love

friend who turned out to be having tea and simit far from the conflict zone. Moral of my story- people should have the right to love as they choose (when the other party consents); the Turkish government is hell bent on killing any freedom of expression and happiness, and I will always fight for people that are oppressed or persecuted. Love each other and let others love each other. It is this simple.

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For the Sake of Women

Art by Emiko Ichinose

Art by Emiko Ichinose

In honor of International Women’s Day, which is every day by the way, I want to share stories a few women living in Turkey have given me. This isn’t a “Woe is me” piece about violence against women that plagues every corner of the globe, but a “Let’s speak out” piece to encourage women to continue the struggle to end sexual and physical violence against us.

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Following the recent death of Ozgecan Aslan, I asked women, a few Turks and a few foreigners, to share stories of their experiences living in Turkey. On February 11th, a minibus driver in Mersin (southern Turkey) abducted and attempted to rape Ozgecan, a 20-year-old university student. Aslan, which means “lion”, fought her attacker so was stabbed and beaten to death. The days after Ozgecan’s body was found, there was a wave of protests and powerful responses in several cities around Turkey. In Islam, only men are allowed to carry the casket of a dead person. The women of Mersin gave a big fuck you and carried the casket of Ozgecan themselves. A handful of men protested in Istanbul wearing miniskirts. A few politicians and celebrities had the audacity to say Ozgecan was immoral by being out alone at night. The association of lawyers in Mersin refused to defend the perpetrators, which include the murderer, his father, and a friend. The women I saw marching in Ankara numbered maybe 50 with perhaps a dozen men. It doesn’t matter how small the march, the sign that women in Turkey are tired of violence against them spoke volumes.

Photograph via We Are Against Rape

Photograph via We Are Against Rape

As a survivor of sexual violence, I wish I had reached out when it happened, but young innocence and fear prevented that. I hope the following words from women living in Turkey will act as a catalyst for girls and women to know the harassment many face is a common situation and the more we vocalize our stories of fear and survival, the more change we can create at home, in our communities, and throughout the world. I give much love and respect to all the women I know, those I don’t know, and those that have yet to exist. I exude many thanks to the men that love, respect and protect their mothers, sisters, daughters, and lovers every day.

Photo: MEGAN GILLIS_OTTAWA SUN_QMI AGENCY

Photo: MEGAN GILLIS_OTTAWA SUN_QMI AGENCY

I have heard about the news and to be honest I am terrified walking around the street when is dark. I have experienced the fear before when I first came to Turkey. Being starred and followed time to time. Once there was a sapık [pervert] even show his penis towards me and my little son (at that time he was 1.5 yrs old). When I joined the group there were few guys wrote me asking for my skype account so that we could interact/know each other better ect. I understand the feelings but I didn’t live my life in fear and now being divorced I have to really go out there to get a job for living I really feel the pressure. Anyways to be safe, for years I have changed the way I usually dressed up when I’m outside alone, also put a pair of sunglasses in all seasons, no making eyes contacts and not being friendly to people. I don’t if this helps our female members to calm down but I have 1 Philippines friend, 3 Russian/Ukraine friends – we all have the same stories. The fear is real, you know.

-H, Vietnam

I’ve been living in Ankara less than 2 weeks, I’m an exchange student here. I’d only been here a week when I had my first really unpleasant experience as a woman here in Turkey. On my first day I was catcalled by two men but ignored it. But last week something worse happened. I was on the metro from Beytepe campus to Kizilay around 16:30 and it was packed. Just as I got off the train I realised a man had his hands up my long winter coat and was touching my backside and between my legs. I froze for a second, turned around to see who it was, and he was just there, looking at me. I looked at him for a couple of seconds then punched him in the eye. He started yelling at me in Turkish, and I was calling him a dirty pervert. Then he walked away along the platform. Two men (one student and one older man in his 40s) came to ask me what he had done to me, I told them and they went to speak to him before returning to see if I was OK. They even asked if I wanted to call the police. I said that as I’d punched him, he had been punished as far as I was concerned. Plus by the time the police arrived he’d have been long gone. Several female Turkish friends of mine here have told me it has happened to them several times too. Women are too shy and reluctant to react in these situations. They explain it away as being “accidental” or claim “reacting will just make it worse”. Hopefully the guy who tried it on me will think twice before doing it again.

-R.

I have just read what you wrote on facebook on speaking about the experiences foreign women had in Turkey. As a blonde Turkish woman, here is mine: I was on a bus going home, reading an English book. There were 3 or 4 passengers on the bus. A man was next to me. And I felt something warm close to my hip. The next thing I saw was the man’s hand right there. He was enjoying the moment so much that his eyes were closed and had a smile on his face. After a few seconds of shock, I told him to stop it and go away. His reaction traumatised me: – Oh! you are Turkish- sorry. You met my sister last weekend, on summer holidays we pretend to be tourists and talk in English to each other. And listen to what Turkish guys say about us. Well, you can guess the smile on their faces. They discuss which one of them should HAVE me or my sister. Needless to say, these men do not need you to be a foreigner, blonde or young.

-C., Izmir

The Bombshell Girls @ Coney Island. Photo: Amy H.

The Bombshell Girls @ Coney Island. Photo: Amy H.

All Sides Continue the Fight

Z.1

Z.

When i asked Z. what she wanted from the current nationwide protests in Turkey, she said “Freedom.” Corporate wallflower by day, musician by night, Z. claims despite being a literature major, she has read more this past week than during university. She would attend the protests, but went home when the scenes on the street were of a typical street festival. Then the police started attacking and she would read instead of sleep, thinking about the injured people on the streets. Though she is disappointed that the protests have become more like social gatherings than a revolt, as a few others share the same idea, she attends nearly every night to show solidarity with her people.

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A few of the women I have spoken to, have all agreed they feel liberated and safe during this time of unrest. Safe against their fellow protestors, however not the police. As stories surface of people being beaten and/or arrested, the peaceful demonstrators have lost their faith in the protection of the police even more than normal. However, the climate of the anti-government protests is creating a kind of utopia that is a surprise for Turkish nationals and foreigners (me) alike. People who didn’t usually help each other, are reaching out to pick a fallen comrade off the street, say “pardon” if they bump into someone, or help people find lost friends after a tear gas attack. As women, they are using their voices to show aversion for a government that is restricting their rights.

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As of today, the Prime Minister continues with his message of impudence and disregard for the protestors, police and water cannon reinforcements have come to Istanbul and Ankara from other cities in Turkey, the death toll has risen to 5, the number injured and arrested is in the 1,000s, and the people continue to take to the streets every night in a show of defiance against an authoritarian government.

We don’t see an end, or resolution in sight.  There is, however, an abundance of harmony and humor.

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Ayten and Özge ready for tear gas