Officers in full riot gear were ready and in place on Istiklal Street, the city’s main pedestrian avenue, when several thousand demonstrators began to gather in the evening in an attempt to show solidarity with similar rallies being held around the world today. The crowd of predominately women challenged the police barricades before being pushed back and subjected to the tear gas.
Police also deployed teams of riot control dogs, who snapped at protestors who swelled toward the police barricades.
“The batons and tear gas are not enough for them, now they’re setting dogs on women approaching from side streets,” Twitter user Rifat Dogan said in a tweet, as he showed a picture of the dogs.
Turkish authorities have in recent years sharply cut back the number of public demonstrations allowed in Istanbul and other large cities. The government of President Tayyip Erdogan has cited security concerns in banning the marches, but even some of his supporters concede the crackdown reflects his desire to throttle public dissent.
A recent Human Rights Watch report on Turkey noted: “In 2018 there was an increase in arbitrary bans on public assemblies, particularly evident after the end of emergency rule when governors assumed greater powers to restrict assemblies.”
Hundreds of people earlier in the day protested against the government’s imprisonment of women and children in Syrian penitentiaries. The government has been criticized for widespread jailing of women and children around the country, often done because authorities were unable to find the husbands or other male family members who they were actually looking to take into custody.
Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on foreign policy, told Fox News: “The Turkish police’s brutal crackdown on the International Women’s Day celebrations in Istanbul is yet another sign of the growing paranoia of Erdogan, who sees any public demonstration as an attempt to topple him.”
“Although last July the Turkish government lifted the state of emergency that it had introduced in the aftermath of the 2016 coup attempt,” Erdemir said, “draconian measures restricting freedom of expression and assembly continue to stifle civic action. Turkish women, who feel the brunt of Erdogan’s Islamist and patriarchal policies, continue to defy his domination and remain at the forefront of the struggle against the Turkish president’s authoritarianism.”
A women at the march named Ulker was quoted by the international news service Agence France-Presse (AFP) as saying: “Take a look at this. Here is the bitter truth: There is a system, there is a state that is scared of us. I condemn this. ‘We are not silent, we are not scared.”
Marchers displayed banners that said such things as “Feminist revolt against male violence, and poverty” and “I was born free and I will live free,” according to AFP. Others chanted: “We are not silent, we are not scared, we are not obeying.”
The violence at the women’s march in Turkey came just one day after the Umut (Hope) Foundation, a prominent non-profit organization that focuses on gun control, issued a report showing that 477 women in the country were killed and 232 injured by men last year, according to the Hurriyet Daily News.
The news outlet noted that women’s rights organizations place much of the blame for violence against women on Turkish authorities, saying they fail to address the conditions that underlie the problem.
“In Turkey, violence against women is very high,” one woman, Gulsah, said to AFP at the march. “The government is doing nothing to stop it. That’s all we can do: to come here and speak up.”
The Human Rights Watch report on Turkey said that last year among the many oppressive actions against demonstrators included one targeting women.
“The Interior Minister,” the report said, “banned the long-running peaceful weekly vigil at a central location in Istanbul by the Saturday Mothers, relatives of victims of enforced disappearances seeking accountability. Police violently dispersed and briefly detained 27 of the organizers.”
Fox News reporter Hollie McKay and The Associated Press contributed to this report.