The Lady in Red: How One Photo Became the Symbol of the Turkish Protests


Photos of the clash between the Turkish government and the country’s people have been trickling down from many sources. Even as news outlets are accused of remaining purposely ignorant of the matter, professional and amateur photographers alike have taken to Facebook and other social media sites to spread the word and show the world what is happening.

But one of those images — one depicting a “lady in red” non-threateningly holding her ground as she gets blasted with pepper spray by a police officer — has become more than a mere photo, rising to the status of “symbol.”

The actual “Lady in Red” from the photo is Ceyda Sungur, a research assistant at Istanbul Technical University who had no idea that this photo of her would have such a widespread impact. On May 28th, she simply joined what began as a peaceful protest against government plans to turn Istanbul’s Gezi Park into a shopping center.


Once the police began employing tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons to disperse the crowd, the peaceful protest deteriorated into an all out riot — that’s when Sungur found herself face to face with a police man and his pepper spray.

The photo was taken by Reuters photographer Osman Orsal, and over the past couple of weeks has come to symbolize the unreasonable force that police have been accused of using to quell the anti-government riots that have now spread all over Istanbul. Artists have even used it to create cutouts that others can place their face in for photos:


Ironically, Sungur doesn’t want to be (or at least isn’t comfortable being) a symbol. Once the photo and its story went viral, she was approached by a plethora of media outlets who wanted to hear what she had to say, but thus far she’s accepted only one interview with a Turkish website.

In that interview, she expressed her feelings about the matter:

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. A lot of people no different from me were out protecting the park, defending their rights, defending democracy. They also got gassed.

Whether or not she wants to be a symbol, however, doesn’t seem to matter. The Washington Post called the photo an “iconic and affecting symbol,” and if history is any indication, once a photo reaches that sort of status, it tends to stick around in people’s memory.

(via The Verge)

Image credits: Photograph by Osman Orsal/Reuters

  • SeO

    The article says “When the protest deteriorated into a riot, police began employing tear gas, water cannons and pepper spray”…. Actually it became a riot when police used tear gas, water cannons and pepper spray on peacefully protesting people. Not the other way around.

  • Richard Ford

    Were you there?

  • Devin Dillinger Paredes

    i cant speak for Turkey, but ive lived in Bahrain for 2 years now and i can testify to the fact Peaceful protests remained peaceful until the Saudi military and Bahraini Defense Force started running people over in SUVs and shooting people at point blank range with teargas rounds (grenades?) and stotguns. I imagine the situation wasnt much different in turkey.

  • akwawka

    Are you capable of using your own eyes? In the background, the majority of police are standing about with shields resting on the ground while a photographer takes a shot. Indications of a riot? I doubt it. The policeman spraying tear gas has come out of the line to douse a defiant but non-threatening demonstrator. This is the strength of an image over a written report. So in a sense, we are all ‘there’, if time is taken to scrutinize the photographs.

  • Henri

    As a Turkish Citizen, I have been taking part in the protests and getting tear gassed for the last 10 days. SeO is right. It became a riot after the police gassed the protesters and set their tents on fire at 5am in the morning. Otherwise, it was quite peaceful. At the time the number of protesters were no more than 50 just protecting the trees in Gezi Park from bulldozing to build a shopping mall and Ottoman style military barracks. And no one in the country really knew about it. But after the initial police violence, it quickly turned into a nation-wide riot, people protesting the police violence, the authoritative state and conservative Islamic values being forced down people’s throat on a daily basis.

  • Richard Ford

    Cut the crap.

    This isn’t about the image or Turkey. This is about yet another internet commenter talking as if they were there and have factual first hand experience. So I asked the question.

    If you believe everything that is in front of your own eyes at face value – then I suggest you go and burn some witches in Salem. Seriously – grow up.

  • Richard Ford

    Thank you Henri. Your comments and credibility in this topic are greatly appreciated. It is nice to read actual facts for a change and not idle comments passed off by those that are not involved as facts. Cheers.

  • Harvy

    Butthurt much?

  • Richard Ford

    Righto – anonymous internet tough guy. Sorry for not blindly accepting some random past as FACT on the net and asking a few more questions. Not sure why you and others have so much sand in your vaginas today…

  • Mansgame in exile

    I like the fat cop from UC Davis picture better.

  • Damien

    The next day the photographer, Osman Orsal, was shot in the head by a gas canister:

  • kevin

    Just another little pussy cop gettin’ off on his power.

  • Mark

    Maybe you should stop spewing mindless hostility and recognize an obvious pattern that is universal worldwide: peaceful protest is dispersed with violent police action. Doesn’t matter if it’s Turkey or Toledo, this is statecraft 101. Your self-righteous little “proof or it didn’t happen” crusade impresses nobody.

  • DLCade

    Thank you for the first hand account Henri! We’ve gone ahead and edited the text for accuracy.

  • spherical

    I believe pictures over words every time.

  • Richard Ford

    God you are thick too?

    I repeat as I did above. This ISN”T ABOUT TURKEY.

    It is about a comment that someone made that suggested that they were there first hand. I have made zero statements on Turkey or govts or crack downs.

    Children, get your facts straight first. It is all there in black and white to read what I said. Please stop misrepresenting me. M’kay.

  • Marvin

    Lets see there were articles posted a week prior and a video that shows the scene dated the 28th. Perhaps OP did some research before posting? While I see the point you are trying to make, being a jerk about it is not doing anything to support your argument. Which is based solely off speculation. thank you for saving us all from using our own deductive reasoning. You did it Richard, you saved Christmas.

  • Richard Ford

    Right. I should have read some other articles on this site to fill in the blanks of the original author or commenter? Just how much additional reading does one need to do before they are prepared to read this article?

    “Are you capable of using your own eyes?”

    “Maybe you should stop spewing mindless hostility and recognize an obvious pattern”

    I am sorry that I was being suck a jerk for asking “You were there?” and getting the above bile as answers to a question that I didn’t even ask.

    Usually when people get it wrong and go off the deep end and attack someone over something that they did not say or do and end up with the proverbial egg on their face they say sorry. I guess your admission of seeing “my point” is the best I will get.

    I would know a fair bit more about govt crack downs, controls and bullying than most people that would mistakingly comment on such topics here would ever do. But that isn’t the point is it Ahab?

  • Devin Dillinger Paredes

    that is a shame, really. Not dissimilar from some of the happenings in bahrain where i am stationed. A juvenile boy was shot point blank in the chest with a tear gas canister by the police near where i live. He died from it.

  • Michael Niemerg

    You’ve got to be kidding me! Please, Mr. Psychopath, explain to me how Henri’s comment adds “credibility in this topic” yet SeO’s comment must be immediately questioned and doubted!

    “If you believe everything that is in front of your own eyes at face value – then I suggest you go and burn some witches in Salem.”

    “Sorry for not blindly accepting some random past as FACT on the net and asking a few more questions.”

    Your idiocy is hilarious. Please continue as it offers me the comforting and ego-boosting thought that “Hey, there’s at least one person out there that’s dumber than me!”

  • Felipe_Paredes

    my experience in the protest in Chile is the same, It became a riot after the police.

  • ItsanIconicImageinnit?

    Rich’s answer to Henri was just his attempt to back out of this situation he created whilst saving face. His first question ID’d him as a jerk and his other posts reveal him to be just combative. Too many exploding heads on topics on the internet lately.
    Sure wish we could stick to photography.

  • ItisanIconicshotinnit?

    OK-LOL-tell us, with your vast photographic knowledge and experience what makes your fat cop at UC Davis a better shot.
    Thank you, Osman Orsal, for having the courage to get in close and get an Iconic shot.

  • kendon

    apparently, in these days, you have to have been there to know what you are talking about.

  • kendon

    i’m not too much pro-violence, but i wouldn’t mind seeing a mob taking this dude down…

  • Michael Niemerg

    What an awful form of media. Do you really gather your facts via random unverified comments?