The Unlawful Crackdown on Istanbul LGBT Pride Parade

I was excited to attend the 13th annual Pride parade in Istanbul. My friend and I had agreed to meet in Taksim Square half an hour before the pride was supposed to start. As I was walking towards Taksim I got a call from my friend, he told me there was a police blockade in Taksim and that I should go around the blockade. I started worrying. The police presence is a regular thing in Taksim area but as I walked towards Taksim on Istiklal Street my worry started to turn into panic as I found two water cannon vehicles and an increasing armed police presence. When I finally reached Taksim I found out the police blocked all the streets and alleys to prevent people from reaching Istiklal Street where the walk supposed to take place. There were other people who were just trying to go home but they were stuck behind the police wall as well. Then we heard an announcement saying the event was “prohibited” by Istanbul Governor and that everyone should should disperse.

Like the previous Pride Parade walks we expected to have a peaceful walk instead we were attacked with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets.

For the the first time in 13 years the annual Pride festival was cancelled. Although the event takes place around same time every year, this year Istanbul Governor’s Office blocked the parade at the last minute, giving the muslim holy month of Ramadan as the reason for cancellation. Last year’s Istanbul Pride parade also took place during Ramadan, and more than 100,000 people attended. A transgender pride parade also took place in the same location a week without any problems so many of us were confused as to why the peaceful parade was blocked by police forces.

As the Istanbul LGBTI Pride Week Committee stated:

The use of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, as an excuse to curtail the freedoms of assembly, demonstration, and speech is a clear violation of rule of law. In taking this illegal decision, the Governor’s Office has thus broken the law.
Law No. 2911 on Assembly, Demonstrations, and Parades, as well as the relevant article of the constitution, are both entirely clear: Such assemblies are not subject to the prior permission of the governor’s office, nor is there even any obligation to notify the authorities. The 13th annual LGBTI Pride Parade planned for Sunday, 28 June in Taksim Square, was thus not in violation of any law. Moreover, after the parade itself was blocked, law enforcement continued to attack people gathered on the streets for hours. The streets and venues where the Pride Party was being held were attacked by police using gas canisters and plastic bullets long into the night. Such behavior on the part of the police goes beyond merely preventing an “unannounced” parade: It shows that this was an attack on our identities and our very existence.

Hundreds of people who came to participate in the parade were affected or harmed by the attacks. Protesters were taken into custody and journalists were assaulted. As if the police violence wasn’t enough, a group of nationalists and Islamists carrying sticks attacked marchers and assaulted the marchers.

Istanbul police using water cannon on LGBT Pride marchers, ironically creating a rainbow in the process.

The police used excessive use of force, they fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons to disperse people. This is a very familiar experience for those who also participated in the 2013 Gezi Park protests in which police and security forces violently dispersed thousands of people protesting the planned demolition of the Gezi Park, the last remaining green public space in Beyoglu area. The demonstration turned into a massive weeks-long nation wide event calling for an end to police violence, increasing authoritarianism and crackdowns on freedom of speech. An estimated 3.5 million people out of 80 million participated in the protests. Eleven people were killed and as many as 8,000 were wounded. Amnesty International accused Turkey of committing human rights violations in their brutal treatment of the Gezi protestors.

Police brutality has escalated to very high levels under president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and caused lots of of anger among many Turkish people as our democratic country has been slipping deeper and deeper into dictatorship.

For many Turks, Gezi was a way of saying “enough is enough” and protesting against injustice and tyranny. Last Sunday was no different.

Although we don’t exactly know why the Pride festival was cancelled, there are some possible reasons. One possible may be that we’re getting more and more visible each year. When the first Pride event took place in 2003, only about 30 people took part in the event. The numbers have increased each year, reaching roughly 5,000 people by 2010. The 2011 gathering attracted over 10,000 people. The 2012 pride march, which took place on 1 July, attracted around 20,000 people.

On 30 June 2013, the pride parade attracted almost 100,000 people. The participants were joined by Gezi Park protesters, making the 2013 Istanbul Pride the biggest pride ever held in Turkey. The 2014 pride attracted more than 100,000 people. [1]

The other reason may be that it was an attempt by Erdogan to pander to his socially conservative base. In the June 7 elections, for the first time, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost 10% of the votes losing its parliamentary majority, putting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powerful position in risk.

Homophobia in Turkish Society

Granted, unlike many other Muslim countries, homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey. However, at the moment, Turkey’s constitution does not protect LGBT people. Activists like Turkey’s first openly gay parliamentary candidate say their main goal is to push for legislation that protects their community.

For most members of Turkey’s LGBT community homophobia is a daily reality. As the Turkish society is quite patriarchal, homophobic and religious the LGBT community is subjected to homophobia in the form of harassment, discrimination and often violence. Turkish police ignores complaints, treats victims as criminals, denies protection to victims and and the mere fact that the victim is homosexual might be construed as a “mitigating factor” in prosecution. [2]

The Turkish government ignites homophobia further. Homophobic statements are often made by state officials such as Aliye Kavaf, Minister of State responsible for Women and the Family remarked in 2010 stating that “Homosexuality is a biological disorder, an illness and should be treated. President Erdogan criticized another political party, HDP, for pandering to LGBT vote stating: “We don’t nominate so-called religious scholars in Diyarbakir [a pre-dominantly Kurdish city in Turkey’s southeast] and homosexuals in Eskisehir,”. He also argued that homosexuality cannot be reconciled with Islam.

According to Bahcesehir University’s 2012 survey, “Turkish Values Atlas,” 87 percent of Turks said they would not want a homosexual as a neighbor. The Amnesty Report on LGBTI rights in Turkey paints a very grim picture of LGBT in Turkey.

The violence LGBT people face is often from their own families. Assault, rape, and even murder not only go uninvestigated and unpunished but also LGBT members are treated as they deserve to be attacked. In a survey conducted by the LGBT solidarity association Kaos-GL, 33 per cent of respondents reported that they had not been hired for a job due to their sexual orientation or gender identity and over 70% fear that they would be attacked due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Authorities have consistently opened closure cases against LGBT associations, on grounds of “protecting public morals and Turkish family structure” [2]

Gay men face harassment and discrimination in military. Turkish military views homosexuality as a psychosexual disorder” preventing gay men serving in the military. This discriminatory provision in itself violates human rights standards.33 In addition to this, in order to obtain the exemption, men are required to “prove” their homosexuality. Such proof may consist of a forced anal examination, which may violate the prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, or photographic evidence of the individual engaged in gay sex, violating the right to privacy. [2]

Transgender women also face very difficult conditions: They’re unable to find legal employment and as a result they are often pushed into prostitution. [2]

Hate crimes, harassment, and even honor killings threaten the lives of gay, lesbian, and transgendered Turks; over 70% fear that they would be attacked due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. [2]

Despite all these hardships, as the LGBT members of Turkey, we still have hope. The Gezi protests ignited a support for the LGBT movement. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in favor of same-sex marriage, though on the other side of the ocean, gives us hope. Ignoring and suppressing the LGBT members won’t make them go away. LGBT always existed in Turkey and it will continue to exist. The struggle for equality started with the Stonewall riots will continue and we believe that eventually love will conquer the hatred in Turkey.

Resources:

[1] Hurriyet Daily News, 2015. Turkish police crack down on Gay Pride in Istanbul.

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-police-crack-down-on-gay-pride-in-istanbul.aspx?PageID=238&NID=84673&NewsCatID=339

[2] Amnesty International Report. Turkey: “Not an illness nor a crime”: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Turkey demand equality.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/EUR44/001/2011/en/

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