Turkish police break up Istanbul pride parade with water cannons and rubber bullets

Turkish police broke up Istanbul’s Pride parade yesterday, firing rubber bullets and water cannons laced with pepper spray in order to disperse the crowd. According to Reuters, “Organizers said on Twitter they had been denied permission to hold the parade because it coincided with Ramadan this year. Istanbul Pride has been held in the past and has been described as the biggest gay pride event in the Muslim world.” In a translated Facebook post, the organizers of the event said that news of the parade’s prohibition came “without prior notice.” The parade has been held annually since 2003, growing from 30 attendees that year to over 20,000 in 2011.

Videos and pictures of the violence were quickly circulated on Twitter, with one video showing a protestor defiantly waving a rainbow flag in front of an armored police vehicle before getting knocked back by a water cannon:

Istanbul Pride in 2012, via Wikimedia Commons

Istanbul Pride in 2012, via Wikimedia Commons

It is unclear as to whether Ramadan could or should have anything to do with holding a gay pride parade under Turkish law. Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, although its penal code has vaguely-worded provisions against “public exhibitionism” and “offenses against public morality” that could be cited by religious conservatives to shut down gay pride parades in general. However, given that parades in previous years had taken place without government interference, citing Ramadan as a special reason for prohibiting what conservatives might interpret as an “offense against public morality” seems arbitrary at best. What’s more, a trans pride parade was held in Istanbul last week without incident.

A more likely, perhaps related reason for the Turkish government’s violent dispersion of the parade-goers is growing instability in Turkey more generally. In May, water cannons and tear gas were used to shut down protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Square on the country’s Labor Day, an extension of ongoing unrest since the Gezi Park protests in 2013. The government also passed new expansions on the police’s power to crack down on protests in March of this year.

According to VICE News, “A cameraman for the Dogan News Agency said that police seemed set on stopping protesters before they reached Taksim Square, which has been a flash point for protests in the past.”

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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