‘Woman in red’ becomes symbol of Turkish defiance

Police officer fires pepper spray at Istanbul academic Ceyda Sungur

A combination photo of a Turkish riot policeman using tear gas against Ceyda Sungur, “the woman in red”, as people protest against the destruction of trees in a park  in Taksim Square in central Istanbul.   Photographs: Osman Orsal/Reuters

A combination photo of a Turkish riot policeman using tear gas against Ceyda Sungur, “the woman in red”, as people protest against the destruction of trees in a park in Taksim Square in central Istanbul. Photographs: Osman Orsal/Reuters

 

If one image has come to define the protests that have swept Turkey over the last week, it is the photograph of a young Istanbul academic who has become known as “the woman in red”.

In her elegant claret-coloured summer dress and necklace, Ceyda Sungur, a specialist in city planning at Istanbul Technical University, does not look ready for a riot. She got caught up in clashes between police and demonstrators protesting over the redevelopment of the city’s Gezi Park.

The iconic image, captured by Reuters photographer Osman Orsal, shows Sungur defiantly stand her ground while others flee advancing riot police. An officer wearing a gasmask fires pepper spray directly at her, making her grimace. The force of the spray sends her hair skyward. Reuters called Sungur a “leitmotif for Istanbul’s female protesters.”

A student involved in the protests told the news agency that the photo “encapsulates the essence of this protest.”

The photograph has since gone viral on social media and it has inspired several graffiti and cartoon renderings in Istanbul. In one version the woman appears much bigger than the policeman. “The more you spray the bigger we get”, reads the tagline.

Sungur has declined interviews, insisting she doesn’t want to be the face of the protests. Speaking to Turkish media briefly last week, she said: “Every citizen defending their human rights, every worker defending their human rights and every student defending university rights has witnessed the police violence I experienced.”