Turkish police have ramped up a crackdown on LGBTQ activists as dozens of people were detained Sunday at Pride marches in Turkey’s metropolitan Istanbul and Izmir provinces.
Istanbul’s governor said police detained 113 people attending the 31st LGBTQ Pride March there on Sunday (June 25).
“Our national future depends on keeping the family institution alive with our national and moral values,” Davut Gul, the governor of Istanbul, said on Twitter Monday as he announced the number of detentions.
“We will not allow any activity that would weaken the family institution,” Gul said.
Bans on Pride marches
Authorities have banned the LGBTQ Pride March in Istanbul since 2015, citing security and public concerns.
Sunday, Turkish police blocked access to Istanbul’s busy Istiklal Avenue and Taksim Square, a traditional gathering spot for the Pride marches. However, LGBTQ activists gathered in Mistik Park in the Sisli district instead.
Organizers of the march read a press statement as the crowd chanted slogans and waved their rainbow and transgender flags.
“This year, we are in the areas where you are trying to drive us away, with the theme: ‘We are returning,'” the statement read, referring to the bans on the Pride marches by the authorities.
“We will not leave our spaces; you will get used to us. We are here today despite all your prohibitions and in spite of you,” it added.
On the same day, in Turkey’s western Izmir province, police detained more than 40 people during the pride march as the authorities had banned it “to protect public morality and public order.”
On June 18, police detained at least seven people in the ninth Trans Pride March in Istanbul.
“Trans Pride March is significant to us because we, as trans people, need to organize for ourselves. We need our voices to be heard, and this march was a platform for that,” Beha Yildiz, one of the trans activists detained by the police, told VOA.
Yildiz thinks that police increasingly target LGBTQ people to prove themselves to their higher-ups, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who has called LGBTQ people “deviants” in the past.
“They think that the more barbaric they treat us, the more they will be rewarded, but I can say that this will not happen,” Yildiz said.
In its 2022 Human Rights report released in March, the State Department noted that LGBTQ people in Turkey “experienced discrimination, intimidation, and violent crimes.”
Erdogan and his government officials have intensified their anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in public. During his election campaign for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) and People’s Alliance, Erdogan repeatedly attacked the LGBTQ community in Turkey.
“AKP and other parties in our alliance would never be pro-LGBT because family is sacred to us. We will bury those pro-LGBT in the ballot box,” Erdogan said at his rally in Istanbul on May 7.
Tulay Savas, a lawyer and one of the founding members of LISTAG, a support group for parents of LGBTQ children in Turkey, says that the government’s discrimination and targeting of LGBTs have increased over seven years.
“This has become a government policy. Now all their goals are to destroy LGBTs; this is how we perceive it,” Savas told VOA.
“Especially trans people are attacked more often because of their appearance. The worry that there will be more attacks in the future makes us very sad,” Savas said.
The LGBTI+ Human Rights Report of 2022 by Ankara-based LGBTQ rights group KAOS-GL, found a sharp uptick in the number of LGBTQ people experiencing violations of their personal rights last year, with 571 incidents reported compared to 43 in 2020.
Lack of legal protection
Beha Yildiz points out that Turkish laws do not provide protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.
The Turkish Constitution’s Article 10 prohibits discrimination based on “language, race, color, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, and sect, or any such considerations.”
“When we, as LGBT people, are subjected to any discrimination, we have to make our legal case based on ‘any such considerations’ as the category,” Yildiz told VOA, adding that this lack of constitutional recognition is one of the biggest problems of LGBTs in Turkey.
In 2021, the Turkish government withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, a human rights treaty of the Council of Europe, which provided a legal framework to combat violence against women, including lesbian, bisexual, trans women, and intersex people.
After his election victory, Erdogan is pushing for constitutional amendments to define the family as a unit composed of marriage between a man and a woman. By doing this, his government aims to prevent any possibility of marriage equality in the future.
“From the possible constitutional amendments, it seems that women’s rights would be worsened, and legislation on LGBT rights fueled by hate would be on the agenda,” Sena Kaleli, a former parliamentarian from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, told VOA.
VOA Turkish’s Yildiz Yazicioglu contributed to this report from Ankara.