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August 21, 2006

protest

It took well over an hour for the thousands of protesters, from a hundred different groups and organizations, to pass by me in Kadikoy yesterday afternoon. I was immediately impressed by the wide age range (I bet the average would be late thirties/early forties), and the gender distribution (more men than women, it seemed). Conspicuous by their absence, however, were Muslims. Are they not against Israel’s military incursions into Lebanon? Do they not support a Palestinian state? Or is Istanbul less integrated than it seems? Perhaps there were many Muslim men and non-veiled women among the marchers but they were undistinctive. Finally, toward the end, one group of thirty veiled women appeared.

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Later, someone explained that the groups in this march were all of the political left, and the religious right won’t mix with them in this kind of way: religious Muslims exercise their politics by different means. It reminded a bit of the debate at the hostel before I left, which included criticisms that there were too many different groups, with unclear agendas or simply gut-level reactions against what they don’t like with no thought to consequences or alternatives. This is always the problem of politics, of course, the challenge of building broad-based coalitions with clear and coherent strategies. What struck me most, however, was the fact of my friends’ concern for my physical safety.

I was encouraged not to let anyone know I’m American (the crowd might turn on me?), but then it became clear it was not the protestors that was the cause for concern. It is the police. Or maybe both. Some friends had witnessed a protest on Istiklak where shop windows had been broken and police had used tear gas. They also recounted stories of police suddenly lashing out and beating people for no reason. I argued that we must make the police accountable through visibility of abuses (media coverage etc), that we can’t let the threat of violence prevent peaceful protest.

At any rate, I probably would not have been so aware of the police if we had not had this conversation. As it was, I noticed them everywhere: on the dock when the ferry landed,

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massed (in riot gear) behind the central stage area,

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observing from rooftops (military I think, not police),

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with back-ups lurking in nearby side streets.

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The main road around the staged area was kept closed long after the march was over. Leaving the protest area was no problem, but I was struck by the fact that it was completely enclosed.

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To enter, one had to be searched. The men were patted down. I was directed to a female officer who only peeked in my shoulder bag. I wasn’t searched as intensively, but the atmosphere was definitely designed to be intimidating: you had to really want to be “in” the protest, not so easy for people passing by to be drawn in spontaneously.

As far as I know, there were no incidents.

As I got off the ferry, having already spied the police massed to one side, a young veiled woman scurried past me with her fingers in her ears. A steady stream of people gathered at an information tent and perused the Insani Yardim Vakfi display throughout the day,

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many signing the petition.

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Eventually I wandered off (not much action, were the organizers disappointed?) and happened upon the actual march itself. Wow. I took some video but :-( don’t know how to transfer them from my camera to the laptop for uploading. (I’ll try and do this when I get back to the States; probably need to actually load all the software that came with the camera. duh.)

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Posted by Steph at August 21, 2006 4:30 AM

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