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Turkish Police Crack Down On Istanbul Pride Events


In New York, San Francisco and other cities across the U.S. yesterday, thousands of people marched in celebration of LGBT Pride. In Istanbul, Turkey, people who tried to march encountered rubber bullets, tear gas and arrests. For the third year in a row, marchers gathered despite a government ban. This is all happening as the Turkish president tightens his control on the government and shuts out civil society groups. Laura Ozlen is one of the organizers and joins us now from Istanbul. Welcome to the program.

LAURA OZLEN: Thank you. Hello.

SHAPIRO: What reasons did the government give for banning Turkish Pride march?

OZLEN: Well, the first reason was nationalist and Islamist group stress, and the other one was public security and public comfort. These were the reasons.

SHAPIRO: So the government said that they were trying to protect gay people from nationalistic and other groups. Do you believe that was the real reason?

OZLEN: Yes and no because it's a threat. It's real. But since they haven't done much about these threats for three years now - they don't take them into custody. They don't do anything about these threats in the real life. So it seems absurd to actually ban the people who would do the march instead of stopping the other group.

SHAPIRO: So what happened when people tried to gather?

OZLEN: They dispersed. I mean, police attacked, they dispersed. And 41 people were in custody in total. So we kept an eye on them and so on. So we tried to keep it safe, basically.

SHAPIRO: Do you know people who were arrested?

OZLEN: Some of them, yes.

SHAPIRO: And what did they describe happening?

OZLEN: I mean, it was violent. And somehow they can recognize LGBTI-plus people now, they say. I mean, they selected people while they were trying to get into the streets. We don't know how. But like, you're wearing colorful stuff, you can't get in. I mean, it was like a gaydar. And they kept them in the bus, they took them to the courthouse and they were out. I mean, it was pretty simple.

SHAPIRO: Pride marches have been happening in Turkey for more than a decade. Why do you think that just in the last few years the government has cracked down?

OZLEN: Well, they're using Ramadan as an excuse because it's a religious thing and because they think it's indecent to walk around naked.

SHAPIRO: Were people naked?

OZLEN: No, but it's like - you know how it works. It's costumes, some nudity. So it's possible. I mean, we cannot stop people from being naked in Pride marches. But, I mean, politically speaking, we don't see any point. We don't think it's legitimate as an excuse.

SHAPIRO: Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been clamping down on government and on civil society groups. Do you think LGBT people are being singled out in particular? Or do you see other groups being treated in similar ways?

OZLEN: Yeah. It's not only LGBTI-plus groups, of course. It's a total thing that they're doing. I mean, total oppression that no one is being able to do anything outside in the streets. It's a general thing they're doing. It's not particular for our case.

SHAPIRO: Generally, what's life like for gay people in Turkey today? Are there clubs? Can people express affection in public? Does it feel safe?

OZLEN: Well, it depends where and how. But in the center I would say it's pretty calm, pretty open. And in other spheres outside of the center it can get trickier.

SHAPIRO: There's supposed to be a trans march next weekend. What do you expect will happen?

OZLEN: I expect chaos (laughter). So, I mean, we will struggle again. I mean, that's how it was last year. So I expect a little amount of chaos at this. But we'll figure it out.

SHAPIRO: So people will take to the street even knowing that there may be chaos?

OZLEN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, because this is the only couple of weeks that people can actually express themselves and be who they are. It's like two weeks of solidarity, two weeks of freedom for Istanbul's community. So people want to do it no matter what. Even if we didn't call for people, people would have come because it's pretty important for them.

SHAPIRO: Laura Ozlen, an LGBT organizer in Istanbul speaking with us via Skype. Thank you very much.

OZLEN: Thank you for speaking.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOEY FEHRENBACH'S "INDIGO ROAD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.