Activists staged the 21st annual Istanbul Pride parade on Sunday, defying a longstanding ban on the rally by holding it in an area about 2km from the central Taksim Square.

Police barricades were erected around Taksim Square, while Metro stations around the area were closed down.

However, hundreds of activists instead rallied in the Nisantasi neighourhood of the city's Sisli district, without making a prior announcement. Activists hung a rainbow LGBTQ flag on a multi-storey car-park opposite the park where they gathered.

Those gathered chanted pro-LGBTQ and other left-wing slogans, including "Run Tayyip, run. Queers are coming!" in reference to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, "Liberation for queers will shake the world!" and "Queers exist, Kurdistan exists!".

In a statement, the Istanbul Pride Parade Committee said they would not back down in the face of restrictions by the government and local authorities.

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"We will not leave our spaces; you will get used to us. Today, despite all your prohibitions and against your wishes, we are still here," said the statement.

The organisers said state attacks on their rights were part of a wider crackdown on minorities in the country as well as on women, citing the country's withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on violence against women in 2021 over what the government said were its pro-LGBTQ measures.

"Alongside the systematic attacks by the government against LGBTQ people, Kurds, women, refugees, sex workers, and workers, our lives are being criminalized by the ruling alliance," said the statement.

"To those who withdrew from the Istanbul Convention and criminalized us overnight, we say: We will never submit! We will not give up our lives, our existence!"

Despite the rally avoiding Taksim Square, the committee said more than 60 people were still detained by the police, who blocked roads around Mıstık Park after the rally began there. Bianet reported that some were arrested by police while sitting in cafes after the demonstration had finished.

'We don’t exist in Turkey'

The LGBTQ community in Turkey has been living in a state of anxiety for many years.

While Istanbul Pride marches had been held annually since 2003, they have been officially banned since 2015 over allegedly safety concerns.

In the period leading up to last month's parliamentary and presidential elections, Erdogan had regularly denounced LGBTQ people as a threat to the traditional family and repeatedly accused the opposition parties of being pro-LGBTQ.

His Justice and Development Party (AKP) was returned to parliament as a part of an alliance with the New Welfare Party, an Islamist party that has repeatedly called for the closure of all LGBTQ organisation in Turkey.

Last week Erdogan denounced the LGBTQ community in Turkey as "evil" in a parliamentary speech, and said neither his party or his allies would ever have "such evil in their ranks".

Although homosexuality has never been illegal in the Republic of Turkey and a number of opposition politicians are supportive of their rights, many LGBTQ people fear they could come under further pressure.

"The government uses hate speech to polarise society, and they targeted LGBTQ people a lot in last decade. Of course, the hate speech, lack of protective measures and lack of awareness from public officials encourages potential perpetrators [of violence]," said Damla Umut Uzun, a campaigner with the Turkish LGBTQ+ rights organisation Kaos GL, speaking to Middle East Eye last month.

"In the last year, many government officials including the interior minister, minister of justice,etc targeted LGBTQ people with hate speech, saying we are against traditional family values, we are perverts, we don't exist in Turkey."

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