With fake blood.
Does anyone know why the Istanbul riot police fill their water cannons with red water? If they were doing it to mark their targets, they pretty much failed since 85% of the people who were not police at today's Cihangir May Day Riots were, like me and Awesome Mossman, underemployed gawkers. If it was supposed to look like blood, there was too much of it to be believable. There's usually only that much blood in the streets during Bayram.
But excess was really the theme of the day. I really don't feel like explaining May Day in Istanbul, but 31 years ago, 37 people were killed by police during May Day protests near Taksim. The incident was never resolved, no one was punished and ever since then, the government tightly controls all May Day commemorations and forbids large gatherings on the square. So, anti-government forces use May Day as an excuse to challenge the authorities and air a variety of poorly articulated grievances. To be clear, May Day protests have nothing to do with workers.
Since a gathering of more than a couple of people having tea on Istiklal attracts bus loads of riot police on a normal day, May Day really cleans out all the barracks and riot gear warehouses in anticipation. Cops started blocking access to Taksim early in the morning which wreaked havoc with traffic all day. Since those with rock throwing on their minds couldn't reach Taksim, they spilled into the surrounding neighborhoods. Last year, it was Beşıktaş and Dolmabaçe. This year it was Cihangir (among others).
If I need to remind you, we refer to Cihangir as "Yabancı Köy," or "Foreigner Village," because its gentrified streets, overpriced cafes and fine views attract scores of idle expats. Rioters throwing rocks at police in front of the tea garden where Cihangir's substantial leisure class wastes its days is so outrageous, it is simply not to be missed. That's the only reason I bothered to check things out today.
My guess is there were 3000 fully-geared riot police and an armored water cannon. If I were very generous, I'd say there were 100 rioters. The non-rioting, non-police contingent were split between gas-mask wearing journalists and people like me with cameras and flip-flops, numbering probably 300 or 400.
My sense is that most Turks don't really care all that much about the May Day incident anymore. Communists and Socialists are marginal and probably couldn't kick up much of a fuss on their own, so that leaves plenty of space for anarchists, anti-government rock throwers and assorted aggrieved dirty hippies to provoke the cops.
And I have to say, they managed some quality provocation. Rioters (look, I'm not calling them protesters, OK?) barricaded the Cihangir's main street with planters and parking barriers. They turned over dumpsters and started trash fires. Bottles and rocks and paving stones flew through the air when the cops moved in to confront the small pack of young men, but seriously, Cihangir=not Gaza. They dispersed into the side streets when the police advanced waving rubber batons and popping off tear gas cannisters. I did enjoy my first tear-gassing, but it wears off quickly and you can get back out in the mix pretty quickly.
I had forgotten how much fun things like this are (when neither side is taking it terribly seriously). It reminded me of the hot summer of 2005 in Baku, when every weekend we trekked to downtown Baku to run from the police as they beat the shit out of old women and threw guys into black windowed vans when the opposition parties tried to hold gatherings. A high profile ambassador in Baku removed his lips from the Azeri government's ass long enough to chew me out once for "marching at the head of the opposition rallies." One of many regrets from that period is not posting what I saw or the photos I took at those events, but I didn't want to, you know, get myself in hot water. That all worked out pretty well for me, in the end.
The critical difference between today's riots and the ones in Baku was that the latter were generally peaceful. I take a dim view of protests as a political tool in general, but violent, message-free protests like today's are counterproductive and pointless.
Unless you like tear gas with your adrenaline, which I sort do.