Pickpockets on Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul

February 2005

On February 11th, 2005, at 1:45PM, while visiting Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, I was attacked by a gang of pickpockets. Here are some facts, and an editorial.


Taksim Square: the site of the pickpocket attack.

The Facts:

I had been walking around Istanbul all morning. This was my third day in Istanbul. A Turkish freshman college student, Gurkan, who wanted to practice his English offered to show me Taksim Square because it was a modern retail district. I accepted, and we took a bus from the Golden Horn to Taksim Square, and walked down and up Istiklal Caddesi.

It was a long walk for me. We got to the end and started walking back. I was getting quite tired.


What? Do I have a bullseye on my back?

I must have!
This is just ten minutes before the attack. The gang is most likely watching me as this picture is being taken, and waiting for me to get closer to Taksim Square so they have a good escape route.

We were just entering Taksim Square again... just a hundred yards from the buses, when a medium height man walked in front of me and slowed down. As I slowed down to avoid him, he started punching me with his elbows (he never faced me, so I didn't see his face.) then he speeded up and started walking off.

It took me about five seconds to realize that I'd seen this take place in the movie, "Harry Never Holds" (about pickpockets). I was being distracted. (Gurkan was saying something similar.) In another ten seconds I had determined that my passport was gone from my left pocket. We started yelling and gave chase.

Sadly, I'm not much of a chaser anymore -- my knees have given out, and I was already tired. What I did do was get some pictures as they moved off. (They were not sprinting away, just walking away very fast.) But, they never looked back, so I got no face shots.


Pickpocket gang walking away from me at Taksim Square. The one in the yellow sweater and black knit cap was The Distractor.
Man on right and man on left of Yellow Sweater are gang members.
Second shot of the gang.
Real life pickpockets Man on right (blue coat and jeans) and man on left (black coat, black pants) of Yellow Sweater are gang members.

Gurkan got the police to help chase, but they didn't catch them, either. Once the gang ran across a major street and disappeared into the crowd, the reality of what had happened started coming down on me: RATS!!! I'D BEEN PICKPOCKETED.

The good news was: I didn't loose cash, credit cards, or my camera stuff. The bad news was: I lost my passport and my glasses, and the condition of whether I'd be able to fly back to Korea the next day was unknown.

As I thought about what had happened, I realized that I had been stalked. This gang had been watching my companion and I for a while, and decided I was a suitable target. That was distressing: I looked like easy prey?? That's a big change from a few years ago.

First stop was the police station to report the theft. I now got to see the inside of a typical Turkish Police station. It was concrete inside and out. There were people hanging around out front with assault rifles. There were people hanging around inside with computers. It was all spartanly furnished. It was gloomy. Thank goodness I was here to report a theft, not to be reported as part of one. The policemen were courteous and reporting process was reasonably fast and simple -- it took about a half hour to get a report typed up. That was all that was going to happen -- no thief catching -- so it was time to head back to the hotel.

The Editorial

An open letter to the Istiklal Caddesi / Taksim Square Community

Dear Community members:

At 1:45PM I was attacked by pickpockets on Istiklal Caddesi while walking towards the Taksim Square buses.

These people were experienced pickpockets: They were smooth in their attack, and they had been stalking me long before they did the attack.

You are probably aware that these thieves are bad for your community and your business, but you may not be aware of just how bad they are. This editorial is to help you become aware of just how bad they are.

First, they are bad because they have brought worldwide shame on your community. I am posting here pictures of thieves on Taksim Square. This is not some remote part of the world. This is where you live and work. What are other people going to think?

Second, all the Turks I met during my brief stay in Turkey told me about their relatives. Turks are very proud of their relatives, and proud when they would help their relatives out. If the Turks I met were typical, then these thieves who attacked me have relatives, too. They have relatives who are proud of what they do (or at least accept what they do), and friends who know and accept what they do, too. And, if these Turks are typical Turks, these friends and relatives are not far away.

My point is: these pickpockets are known by people who live and work close to Istiklal Caddesi -- this is not a far away problem. These thieves are familiar with Istiklal Caddesi, and some people on Istiklal Caddesi are familiar with them.

And yet, these people who are familiar with these pickpockets, let them damage the Istiklal Caddesi community by doing their thieving. This is the strange part, and this is the part that can be fixed.

I do not expect you to find these thieves just because they attacked me. What I suggest you do, though, is think about the people whom these thieves talk to and live with every day. What you should be working on doing is convincing those people -- the thieves' friends and relatives -- that thieving is bad enough that it should be stopped.

It's simple: If the thieves lose all their friends because they are thieves, if they shame their relatives when they do it, they will stop thieving. This is what I suggest you, the people of the Istiklal Caddesi Community, work on doing. Rather than trying to catch thieves, try to make their friends understand that the thieves are shaming the community, and doing it great damage. Then the thieves will figure out for themselves that they should stop.

I am hoping that you can figure out how to solve this problem soon. It is a shame to have a place as wonderful as Istanbul have such a dark spot on it's reputation.

Sincerely yours,


Roger White,

Pickpocketed on Istiklal Caddesi