Friday, 15 December 2006

Istanbul: watching men beating women


In the two weeks I've lived in the centre of Istanbul, I've seen two incidents that have upset me, both involving men beating women: in the first (narrated second), I was part of a crowd watching police assaulting a woman; in the second (narrated first), I found a crowd watching a man attacking a woman outside my building.

(The photograph is of the scene of the crime: I first saw the woman cowering against the wall on the left at the far corner; when I returned, she was sprawled out on the opposite side of the alley. As far as I can tell, you can see through the grille on the right, so the people sat in the cafe could and would have seen as well, if some of them did not join the audience outside.).
I just saw the last boot get put in as some poor fucking cow drunk woman had the shit kicked out of her by some, possibly-nearly-as-drunk man while the street watched on.

The police turned up just in time; that is, they turned up after the man had left, as they always do, when they're not handing out the beatings themselves, as they were last week, holding and slapping and punching another woman in the street*; the security for my building was also there, doing fuck all.

I left class and went straight home, passing the police station (and the still-nearer corner where they're always hanging out gossiping and drinking tea), turning, then turning again onto the back street. It was a one-minute walk, maybe thirty seconds from the police station and as I got to the turning onto the back street I could see a crowd of men watching something happening in my alley.

I quickened my pace and, reaching the corner, saw the wretched woman half-laid-down, cowering and crying as the man's boot swung at her already-bloody face. She stopped crying momentarily, as the force of the strike slammed her mouth shut and stunned her, then began again as the man loomed over her, before walking off. I was already close but, by the time I reached her, he was at the other end of my alley and on his way.

I asked if I could help, then, when I got no reply, asked if she wanted water. She sobbed a yes and I went to get it. When I returned, the men were still watching her, although less attentively, obviously, as the main event was over; however, when I turned the corner, suddenly there was an abundance of aid, a cornucopia of concern.

The police had turned up (though they evidently never moved at more than a snail's pace, as walking to the corner shop and back I caught up with them), as well as some unidentified man who told me she didn't need my water after all. I can't believe the cunts did fuck all, absolutely fuck all.

Stood where the beating took place with someone who works nearby, I spat, "no-one did anything", to which he shrugged. "There were lots of people; lots of people watched, but no-one did anything! That's bad, that's really bad!"
He sighed, "but he/she's been drinking". (The Turkish third person is genderless.)
"No-one did anything", I repeated in disgust.
"They don't know her", he explained.
"But", I appealed, searching for Turkish words, miming him kicking her in the face, "he did that – and they did nothing."
"They know who he is, but they didn't tell the police", I objected.
"She knows who he is, but she won't say anything", he protested.
"But she has a problem; they, they don't have a problem, but they don't do anything", I reaffirmed. He mumbled something, which I couldn't understand as either a reply or a goodbye, I offered a dismissive grumble in return and we went our separate ways.

* Last week, going to the burekci for breakfast, I came out of my alley to see an argument between one man and a group, led by a woman. I don't know yet how to distinguish between the drunks and the homeless (and the homeless drunks); they didn't seem drunk at the time, but then again, it was only about 8am and I have vague recollections of seeing them around my way raking the streets, drunk, at other times, so these may have been homeless drunks.

The aggressive individual who, as far as I could tell, was being driven away by the group, slowly made his way away, going, then returning, going, returning and finally going, the argument continuing all the while (everybody, including me, watching), ending in the street about fifty yards from the police station round the corner, but within earshot and twenty yards from the police's favourite kebabery, clearly visible.

The man gone, the police decided to act, approaching the woman, who was still shouting and telling her to be quiet. I couldn't work out exactly what was being said, but she was only shouting, not in any way being violent or otherwise actively aggressive.

Regardless, one police officer grabbed her, which, understandably, made her shout more and struggle to be free, whereupon they talked to her in threatening tones, then slapped and finally punched her in the face, before she wrested herself free of their grip and walked away. Having made their point and had their fun, they strolled back to their cafe.
I wrote this at 6pm on the 15th of December 2006; it took me a few hours to get a connection, then I returned to chatting with the person who works nearby. I wanted to leave it as it was, as I wrote it when my blood was still boiling, though I did cut out some information that identified the person who works nearby.

On both occasions, at the first moment I didn't know what to say or do, though I don't think I can defend my inaction on either and wouldn't try to. When I saw the police holding the woman, I predicted what would happen, but I still watched, willing it not to, being momentarily stunned when it did. I didn't think any intervention would be effective, as I didn't know what they had said or what I could say.

When I turned the corner to see the man towering over the woman, I wanted to shout "stop!" or "go!", but I just watched his foot with my mouth half-open, then, immediately afterwards, started towards him, at which point he was already exorcised and leaving. I only hope that, next week, when I see this happen again, I say or do something. I don't want to spend my time in Istanbul watching men beating women.

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