When Turkish riot police stormed Gezi Park yesterday evening (June 15) and lay waste to the tent city, where for more than two weeks Turks of all stripes had found peaceful community space to protest the increasingly authoritarian regime of the prime-minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, many of the exiled tent residents sought refuge in the nearby Divan Hotel. A luxurious, 10-story building in the center of Istanbul, it opened in 1956 as the first five-star hotel in the city, the stationary version of the Orient Express. But now, it was the Titanic.
The lobby, complete with plush armchairs and scintillating chandeliers, was transformed into a desperate fortification. Young people with gas masks were sitting around, nervously talking on cell phones and checking their Twitter accounts for the latest updates from the outside world. On the lower floor, in the spacious ball rooms, volunteer doctors were treating the injured, many of them suffering from tear gas inhalation. The reception staff had donned on gas masks, bravely trying to help and preserve some semblance of order, as outside riot police and water cannon vehicles (TOMA) had effectively besieged the hotel, occasionally lobbing off tear gas canisters and blasting water cannons at the entrance. Then, after a few hours, the police suddenly stormed the hotel and started shooting tear gas inside the lobby, sending people into a horrible scramble to the upper floors, many of them blinded, nearly suffocating.
I was in and around the Divan Hotel for most of the night and what struck me especially was the surreal contrast between the opulent interior, decorated with paintings and colorful tiles and the general mood of anguish and fear. In the following photographs, I’ve tried to document some of that.