Tear Gassed By Police In Istanbul

Istanbul Protests Turkey

Tear Gassed Protesters in Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey

Violence erupted in Istanbul this weekend on the anniversary of the Gezi Park protests. The past few weeks have seen at least 2 deaths and many injuries.

Last month on May 1st I was tear gassed by police as they clashed with protesters in the immigrant community of Tarlabasi where I was staying. Protesters were attempting to get to Taksim Square, site of the notorious 1977 May Day Massacre where some 36 people died when unknown gunmen opened fire on the crowd of 500,000 from rooftops over the square.

Ever since, gatherings in Taksim have usually been prohibited on this day. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan banned protesters from entering the square to celebrate the holiday again this year, closing down parts of the city and sending an army of 40,000 police and 50 water cannons in to keep order and squash any resistance.

But labor unions and leftist political groups showed up anyway, armed with slingshots, gas-masks, fireworks, and molotov cocktails ready to start a fight.

Riot Police Istanbul Turkey

Riot Police at Taksim Square

Protesters Istanbul

May Day Protesters Prepare for Clashes

Tear Gas vs. Fire Bombs

Admittedly I went out into the fray with my camera to cover the action. Joined by fellow travel blogger Becki Enright, we donned scarves and long sleeves to protect ourselves from the gas.

We stumbled into one of the main protest groups who were wearing red masks and yellow hard hats. They were attempting to bypass riot police through side streets. Some of them carried a large cardboard box full of molotov cocktails, which are beer bottles filled with kerosene and a cloth fuse.

Violence suddenly broke out when police arrived. It was complete chaos with fireworks launched at riot police and tear gas canisters landing in our vicinity, filling the air with smoke.

This was my first tear gas experience, and let me tell you, it isn’t pleasant!

The choking gas burns your eyes, nose, throat, skin, and makes you cough uncontrollably. You want to run in the opposite direction to find fresh air. But there is nowhere to hide, because the gas is everywhere.

Water Cannon Istanbul

Water Cannon Truck

Masked Protesters Istanbul

Masked Protesters Waiting for Police

Violence In The Streets

Protesters were prepared though, firing rocks at the front line using slingshots. Then came the fire bombs! Men would light the fuse on a molotov cocktail, run up the street swinging the projectile in an arc before finally tossing it at officers who were hiding in a defensive formation behind riot shields.

When the bottle breaks in front of them, kerosene fuel explodes into a giant fireball. I’ve never seen anything like it. This was not a peaceful protest. It was a riot.

Eventually the gas became too much for us, and we ran into a local Kurdish market to breathe as police with gas masks moved in. They managed to force protesters back deeper into the neighborhood. Two women came running out of their homes towards the store screaming while holding crying babies.

We then watched as people were arrested and dragged away. Fighting moved on to other areas, smoke slowly cleared, and locals emerged from their hiding places to survey the damage. It was a surreal and shocking experience, but we were unharmed.

Istanbul Riot Police

Police Form Protective Shield

Molotov Cocktail Istanbul

Molotov Cocktails are Crude Fire Bombs

Mine Disaster & Other Deaths

Violence has been building all month. Over 300 people were recently killed in the Soma mine disaster on May 13th, many blaming the government after it privatized the company and safety standards went downhill.

Then 2 people were killed in the Okmeydani neighborhood of Istanbul on May 22nd during protests to remember Berkin Elvan, a 15 year old killed by police last year when he was hit in the head with a tear gas canister.

Members of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (considered a terrorist group by the United States) walked the streets of their community armed with shotguns and handguns.

A bystander was shot in the head by a stray police bullet after protesters threw molotov cocktails at armored vehicles. A 2nd man died when a homemade grenade exploded near police, wounding 9 other people.

Woman with Baby Istanbul

Mother and Baby Run from Tear Gas

Fire Bomb Istanbul

Protester Throws Molotov Cocktail at Police

2014 Gezi Park Anniversary

This weekend riots broke out yet again on May 31st, the anniversary of Istanbul’s Gezi Park protests last year. Taksim was closed off, and CNN reporter Ivan Watson was detained by police during a live broadcast. Later in the afternoon police used water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and clubs to beat back thousands of protesters heading to the square.

I was was stranded across the water on the Asian side of Istanbul because ferries and other public transportation systems were shut down. But police fired tear gas at protesters that night in the Kadikoy neighborhood where I’m living. I heard at least 50+ explosions and the gas got into my apartment.

Istanbul wasn’t the only hot-spot this weekend though. Turkish travel blogger Anil Polat was detained by police in the capital city of Ankara while he was taking photos of the protests. He’s since been released.

Armored Trucks Istanbul

Armored Trucks Patrol Istanbul

Istanbul Protests Turkey

Riot Police Move in On Protesters

What Is Happening In Turkey?

I’m not Turkish, so I won’t speculate too much. But there is some civil unrest here right now. Large groups of people believe Prime Minister Erdogan should not be in power. But there are equally large groups who voted him back into office.

He is seen as rolling back the secularism that Turkey has been known for, instead pushing for a more Islamic state. He’s been accused of corruption, intimidating journalists, jailing opponents, and more. Earlier this year he tried to censor Twitter & YouTube throughout the country (YouTube is still down).

Turkey is a very divided nation at the moment, and all these protests are proof of that. However once the protests are over, daily life appears to resume as normal. While walking around the tourist areas of Istanbul today it seemed like nothing even happened.

So if you’re worried about visiting Turkey, don’t be.

Just stay away from any riots — unless you want to get tear gassed. ★

Have you ever joined a protest before? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Any Questions Or Comments?

Thanks for leaving a comment, I appreciate your feedback. However please use your real name only and treat everyone with respect. Lets have a meaningful conversation!

13 Comments

  1. Wow, I was searching for an old post of yours here when I came across this post. I always wondered what the experience would be like to accidentally come across a protest where tear-gas was used.

    Your story certainly described this in detail. I’m curious if you had any issues with the police regarding photographing the situation because of what happened to Ani.

    The protests I have come across by accident never escalated to a riot point but I hesitate to take pictures because I’m not quite sure what the “etiquette” is in these situation.

    In addition to this, there’s an issue of making the officials aware that I am deaf if they start asking me questions so they don’t think I am ignoring them.

    So while yes, you can imagine why I would be hesitant, I also know there’s common sense, and a fine line somewhere, just not sure how to approach it.

    Any insight on how to handle such situation would be great. Thanks. Keep posting the great stories.

  2. Great coverage of what happened in Istanbul in June 14 and the photos are amazing.

    Happy to report that things have somewhat settled now (Dec 15) following the most recent elections. Istanbul is an amazing city buzzing with positive energy. It feels amazingly safe for such a big and crowded city.

    The tourist destinations such as St Sophie, The Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar are breath taking and the food, well, the food is just delicious!!!

  3. I appreciate that you are trying to document what is happening and put yourself at a degree of risk, but unfortunately as you admit yourself you’re not Turkish/and do not have expertise – I take issue with some of the things you say: e.g. But labor unions and leftist political groups showed up anyway, armed with slingshots, gas-masks, fireworks, and molotov cocktails ready to start a fight. This was not a peaceful protest. It was a riot.
    People have been protesting in Turkey for years, some protesters do arm themselves (as they are in danger) but many who have been reported on are not accepted as ‘real’ protesters i.e. have been sent to cause trouble, furthermore, it is not just labor unions or leftist groups involved – the public are from the whole political spectrum and those not previously interested in politics plus religious groups! It is of course, more complex than all of this but just thought I’d point out a few errors :)

  4. This is a great account of what’s happening in Turkey. I was in Istanbul just after the riots this summer and didn’t appreciate the heavy police presence in Taksim. It felt so violating while your sitting down with friends and trying to enjoy a beer. I have Turkish satellite TV at home so the past few weeks have been nothing but coverage of the Soma mine tragedy and it’s really despicable how business is cared for more than the safety of its citizens. Let’s see what happens with Erdogan this year. His party already won so it doesn’t make much of a difference if he get the vote for presidency or not. Stay safe in Turkey. Buy a gas mask for next time.

  5. It’s likely the most crucial time in Turkey’s modern history and the risk that it can go pretty badly is high. Before the EU could somehow get them to prioritise reforms, but now that road is leading nowhere unfortunately. What’s the impression you have, what are the explanations used by the ones defending Erdogan, why do they stand behind him? The other side, the opposition, is certainly easier for us to understand…

    1. They seem to be blindly following what he says. It’s liberals vs. conservatives, only the conservative in power is jailing journalists for speaking out against his government. Maybe there just isn’t a more level headed conservative to support?

  6. Matt, so very sad when a country, its people are compiled to this…….. At the same time your documentation and photos are a treasure. As always enjoy your writing, in depth information, and story telling photos. BE SAFE!

  7. What a gripping story and light on a situation not shared by US media outlets. I know the pain of tear gas literally being in the wrong place at the wrong time in Ecuador during the 2000 unrests. I walked out of a restaurant into a stampeding riot complete with tear gas.

  8. It’s really awesome that you were there to document the protests, and with great photos! Good thing you weren’t hurt aside from the tear gas. Did you get any video footage of it?