Elif İnce: The Banned Pride Parade of ’93

The Pride parade and events planned in Beyoğlu in 1993 were banned by the governor’s office and dispersed by the police. Ilker Çakmak from the organizing committee talks about the police violence on Istiklal Avenue on that day, and about the events before the parade and its aftermath.

Source: Elif İnce, “93’ün Yasaklı Onur Yürüyüşü” (“The Banned Pride Parade of ‘93”), Bianet, December 8, 2014, http://www.bianet.org/bianet/print/160555-93-un-yasakli-onur-yuruyusu

“We reached the Tunnel[1] almost crawling on the ground. We witnessed a group including foreign representatives being cuffed, dragged on the streets with skirts rolled up, and taken into custody.” (Ilker Çakmak)

The first Pride parade[2] and three day long program planned for July 2,1993 under the theme of “Sexual Freedom Events” were banned by the Istanbul governor’s office on the grounds that “they violate our traditions and customs, and the values of our society.” The police had broken down the doors of activists’ home, raided them the night before the parade, and blockaded Istiklal Avenue on the day of the parade. Those on the Avenue suspected of being gay were rounded up and detained while foreign participants were deported. Thus the first Pride parade would only take place ten years later in 2004 with a group of 40 people.

Ilker Çakmak, volunteer with the Istanbul LGBTI Solidarity Association, was in the 1993 Parade’s organizing committee. Çakmak tells us about what transpired before and after the parade.

How did the idea of the parade emerge?

In 1991, on the day I turned 18, my cousin took me to a gay club called 14 in Talimhane owned by Ceylan Çaplı. This club was opened with Zeki Müren’s[3] money, and had a special seat assigned for him. It was a liberated zone for us. I quickly formed a cadre of friends, whom I began to meet up with during the day as well.

Then I met Heribert Mürmann. Heribert was a representative sent to Turkey by the gay federations in Germany. Based on their previous experience, the federation had noticed that pride parades accelerated organizing efforts and so they sent Heribert to do that here. It seemed strange to us; we did not even have an association while they had a federation. Moreover, it was headed by a Turkish person, Selman Arıkboğa.

Heribert was both meeting with people and checking to see if it were possible to hold a parade. When asked, we said we would love to participate and began meetings. Because a parade would not be as effective on its own, we decided to organize week long panels and workshops. We wanted to invite as many famous people as possible. We also debated the idea of founding an association, but because we hesitated to put down our names and signatures, we gave up. The group comprised generally of students, young people and at the time everyone was hiding their identity from their family, workplace, school. Nonetheless I used my name to rent the movie theater where the opening reception and panels would take place, and recall regretting it later.

Where were you holding the meetings?

Heribert moved into a house on Ülker Street with my friend Cem. It was a small house, and meetings began here. Then they moved to Arnavutköy, to a larger house and we moved the meetings there. Each meeting was more crowded than the previous one. We invited a lawyer and began discussing what could be done and so on. A core cadre of 15-20 people formed.

Who was in the group?

The people who came to the first meetings were the group who went to Club 14. There were other gays, but it was predominantly the folks from 14. Only those from Istanbul with money went to 14 because the prices were steep, and most participants in the meetings were of this demographic.

Were gays in the majority?

Yes, there were fierce debates for days about the participation of trans people. For a group I was also involved in, this was not an issue since they were people we already socialized with in our daily life. The other group said, ”there are already enough negative perceptions about gays, let’s focus on those. Everyday there is news about ‘trans terror[4], we do not want to be seen in the same group with trans people who do sex work.” In the end, the majority won and trans people were excluded.

How long did the preparations take?

The meetings went on for about a year and everything was fine up until a short time before the parade. Gay representatives from the U.K and Germany were hosted. Since it was in Istanbul, a lot of tourists came who did not necessarily have a political identity. Then we found out from television that the governor banned the parade. I believe they had also notified us through the Human Rights Association. All of the parade and the panels were banned, it said, because they were against “the principles of general morality.”

Were you unable to hold the panels and workshops?

We were not able to get anything done because of the ban. But we at least wanted to hold the parade on Sunday. The evening before the Parade, we were at the nightclub called 2019 that Ceylan Çaplı had opened across from the Maslak Auto Industry Zone. We were selling the Christopher Street Day shirts[5] we had ordered for the event. We kept calling Cem and Heribert but could not reach them. We suspected a police raid. So we went over to their house in Arnavutköy. The door of the house was broken with a sledgehammer and the place was a mess. We went back to 2019; it was almost dawn. Ceylan Çaplı, the club’s owner was an interesting fellow, he brought drag queens from the Netherlands, had them arrange kickboxing shows. I remember him bringing even [sic] crocodiles and camels.

When we went back to the club, we saw a group of soldiers enter the place with their weapons and in military step. We first thought it was one of the costume shows. No one took it seriously. One of the soldiers went up to the DJ cabin and slapped the DJ, and stopped the music by hitting on the record. They seized the clients by their collars, asked their names and hurled them to the ground. They were probably looking for foreign guests. At the end of the night, a lot of people who had nothing to do with the organizing were detained. They filled the cars with all the people who were dressed up in interesting fashion. They found the Christopher Street Day T-shirts and took them. The club was vacated and it remained sealed for a while.

Did you try doing the parade the next day?

Yes, we wanted to go to Taksim, but we were also afraid. If I remember correctly, four of our activist friends’ homes were raided the night before. We could not go home, we walked around the streets till the parade’s start time. Finally in the afternoon at around 2 o’clock, we came to Istiklal Avenue. The cops had been waiting on the side streets. When they saw four or five feminine looking gays together, they rounded them up and took them to their cars. Probably most of them were folks who had nothing to do with the parade. There were three of us, and we sat down and pretended to be reading the newspapers so the police would not know we were there for the parade. We reached the tunnel almost crawling on the ground. Here we witnessed a group of 9-10 people including the foreign representatives getting handcuffed, dragged on the streets with skirts rolled up, and detained while they were screaming. We rushed to the office of the Human Rights Association where there would be a press conference. There was a huge police presence at the door, and it was impossible to communicate with the people inside the office. Still Heribert managed to hold the press conference together with a few trans friends. Then he too surrendered and was deported.

What happened after the parade? How did the organizing develop?

For a while, everyone was dispersed, we had experienced a trauma. We held secret meetings in fear in order to try and get a friend who was detained in Bayrampaşa for a month out of prison. One of us was always at the window watching out for a police raid. We had given up the parade, we decided we were not ready. Meetings continued with the core group. It was like group therapy. We talked about topics like how it feels to be gay, we shared our first experiences, told each other about our families, etc. It was Lambda’s parties that really organized the gays at the time. They were trying to get gays to meet one another. I saw many people for the first time in those parties. They were held in places like 14, Prive, Studio 54. Even if it was hard to reach people, a few hundred came to these parties.

How did the emergence of Kaos GL and the publication of the journal affect the organizing? Was there any contact with the organizing in Istanbul?

Yes, when we began publishing Kaos GL journal in 1994, we inevitably made contact. We began working together and our cooperation developed in time, events came to be almost jointly held. We announced everything in the journal.

In effect, did the Parade serve a purpose?

The Parade was a shared goal; if it were not for the parade, no one would have come together in my opinion. In the course of preparation, political attitudes converged, experiences increased and we became a collective movement. After the parade, contact was made with other NGOs and as the number of meetings increased and with the growing recognition that this was a common struggle… Women wanted more emancipation, Saturday Mothers wanted their children back, everyone wanted more rights and freedoms.

I think, the LGBTI movement has a far more democratic dynamic than many other movements, it has a genuinely neutral attitude. It doggedly works to stand together with segments of society that have experienced rights violations and are in search of their rights, even when it is often rejected. For example, feminists and socialists….They are the ones we have to explain ourselves most to. When the issue is trans people and sex workers both groups see it as women’s exploitation. We still experience disputes during women’s marches.

How did the resistance in Gezi Park affect all this? The LGBTI people were at the park and were in the front lines of the barricades…

Gezi Park has always had a special status for us, this was the place where the LGBTI community socialized for the past 40-50 years. Because of the special status of the park, the LGBTI people resisted in Gezi from very first day with their banners. It was mostly the LGBTI representatives who were attacked the first couple of days. People who until that point had perhaps never faced police violence were enlightened when they witnessed and experienced the kind of treatment the police metes out to trans people, the Roma, the Kurds, the Alevis. I think that everyone who was on the streets during the Gezi protests wanted more freedoms, they wanted what the trans and gay people have been asking for for 50 years. The last Pride parade demonstrated this. I think the large participation in the parade has something to do with the fact that heterosexuals do not have another social formation where they can express themselves freely. They want freedom as much as we do.

[1] “Tunnel” is the subway station at the southern end of the Istiklal Avenue.

[2] The first Pride parades were held in 1970 in U.S. cities on the anniversary of the mass protests that erupted in 1969 in a gay bar called Stonewall Inn in New York City, in response to the systematic police raids and repression. Celebrated around the world, the parade plays an important role in increasing the visibility of LGBTI individuals and their rights claims. In Istanbul, the Pride Week has been held for 22 years while the Pride Parade has been held for 12 years.

[3] Zeki Müren was a prominent and iconic singer and actor who was also gay.

[4] “Travesti Terörü”, lit. “Transvestite Terror”: As an anti-LGBTI rhetorical reversal strategy, prominent Turkish newspapers usually frame instances where trans sex workers physically defend themselves and their colleagues from abuse and harassment as if they were occasions where trans people instigated “terrorizing” actions against the public.

[5] In some European countries like Germany, “Christopher Street Day” is used instead of Pride in reference to the street where the Stonewall Inn was located.

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