This article was published on March 31st, 2021
The spate of attacks in Turkey recently have set off a firestorm of press within and outside of the country, and according to the Turkish transgender association Pink Life, slayings og LGBTQ+ people have been underestimated, with increased attacks against trans people.
A study conducted lists as many as 54 transgender people that have been murdered in Turkey since 2008, but many organizations stress that these figures are low as the real number of cases are significantly higher due to underreporting. According to Yildiz Tar of the organization Kaos GL, “suspicious deaths and suicide attempts, as well as unregistered deaths, are not included in the statistics.”
Going Beyond the Stigma
Tha attacks that are occurring against transgender people and members of the LGBTQ+ community should not be designated as isolated incidents, but rather a social problem affecting the entire region, and according to Tar, “hate crimes result from a very long history of discrimination. Such attacks are made possible in the first place by a system of inequality.”
Take the case of Asya, a trans woman who was refused assistance by the police after reaching out to them after being beaten and threatened. Three days later, she was attacked with acid and no justice was meted out. In a male-dominated society such as Turkey, the justice system frequently ignores women and minorities, with no trust for the judicial authorities.
In effect, the LGTBQ+ community is condemned to an existence that is akin to a social death by a thousand tiny cuts. The daily struggles of transgender people in the region are significant as transgender people are subject to a wide variety of discrimination. Often times, they are denied even the msot basic of rights, including housing, employment, health, and education.
The Erdogan Regime Is Unrelenting
Article 10 of the Turkish constitition states that police officers must treat all people equally, but the fact is that they do not protect members of the LGBTQ+ community, and instead they double down homophobia and transphobia. Access for transgender people to the justice system is difficult as hate crimes are largely ignored. The typical stance is that morality and honor are utilized to justify policies of impunity.
Under the leadership of Erdogan, the country’s Prime Minister, the Turkish government has been extremely harsh in rhetoric towards members of the queer community. Since January of 2021, there have been several random raids and arbitrary student arrests in Istanbul for protesting the appointment of pro-government Professor Melih Bulu as the new president of Bogazici University.
The LGBTQ+ Community Targeted
In Istanbul, the police and judiciary have specifically targeted members of the LGBTQ+ community, with arrests made after students organized an art exhibition on campus for showing the Kaaba – a holy shrine of Islam – next to a rainbow flag. An investigation was launched by the Istanbul prosecutor’s office, resulting in the arrest of four students, two of whom were detained. Government officials are also on record for making transphobic remarks, including Erdogan, who has denied the existence of transgender people.
Prior to the student protests, LGBTQ+ members have openly criticized the status quo in the country in regards to the government’s homophobic and transphobic attitude. The turning point for the community was the ban of the 2015 Gay Pride march in Istanbul – since that year the annual parade has not been held. According to legal analysts, politicians are largely to blame for the current anti-LGBTQ climate present in Turkey, with lawmakers, public institutions, and politicians initiating a discourse that is directed against the queer community.
The stance from a policy of denial to one of hate is exceedingly clear and transgender people are being used as scapegoats during this difficult time. According to Pink Life activist Efrum Kaya, the government is lagging behind on its responsibilities on the political and economic front. She added: “in such crisis situations, right-wing governments in particular immediately identify an enemy, demonize them and incite their voters against them. We’re getting better organized, we’re getting a lot of support — today we don’t feel as alone as we once used to.”
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