Over 100 arrests following Pride march in Istanbul

Screenshot from Voice of America coverage of PRIDE march in Istanbul. Fair use.

Even after the Turkish government banned all Pride events, Istanbul's 21st annual Pride March continued as planned, leading to over 100 detentions in Istanbul alone. Statements were read, symbolic rainbow flags were hung, and police raids continued into the late hours of the night on June 25. The hashtag #dönüyoruz [we are coming back] — the theme of this year's Pride events across Turkey — was trending online.

Despite all the bans, pressures and detentions, queer people held the 21st Pride Parade 🌈💜 Get used to it, We're Here, We're Not Leaving! #dönüyoruz

Family values

Istanbul governor said in a tweet, “Our national future depends on keeping the family institution alive with our national and moral values. We will not allow any activity that will weaken the family institution.”

The emphasis on family values and the portrayal of LGBTQ+ people as a threat to these values has been part of a narrative weaponized by local politicians including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has long viewed the community as a “virus” and “poison.”

The pervasive narrative of hate and discrimination targeting LGBTQ+ community members and those who support them was even one of the talking points of the most recent general elections held in Turkey in May 2023. Erdoğan went as far as to accuse the opposition of being LGBTQ+.

“By ramping up anti-LGBTI rhetoric, the government has helped whip up prejudice, emboldening anti-LGBTI groups in Türkiye, some of which have called for violence against LGBTI communities. Under the pretext of protecting family values, the authorities are denying LGBTI people the right to live freely,” said Nils Muižnieks, Amnesty International’s Europe director in a statement issued on June 23.

A closer look at these family values however reveals a stark image. It is not the values of respect, equality, and justice that are feared to be allegedly under attack, but the notion created by the AKP of what they view as a family — closed, isolated households, where women are not equal to men, are often condemned to traditional roles, and must bear a minimum of three children. Violence against women, pedophilia, child abuse, and other abuses are often covered up, dismissed, or defined as isolated cases.

In 2016, members of the ruling party suggested a new bill that would allow perpetrators of sexual abuse against children may get away with the crime if they agreed to marry the victim. The bill was dropped after public outcry. The same year, former Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdağ wondered, “How right it was for the state, police, soldiers, judges, psychologists, social workers, and experts to come between a man and woman in cases of domestic violence and disagreements.” In 2018, Erdoğan lashed at the media over their coverage of domestic violence, “Television broadcasts have overdone this business. I call on the media here: Please cut these types of broadcasts. Otherwise, you will drive this nation over the edge.”

More recently, to avoid backlash, the state started simply blocking access to stories about child abuse, especially in cases involving religious sects or wealthy individuals, organizations, and businesses affiliated with the state. According to Free Web Turkey, a platform that monitors online censorship in Turkey, at least 193 news items about abuse, violence, and death were blocked for access in the first six months of 2023, involving religious sects and organizations. In April and May, Deputy Minister of Family and Social Services İsmail Ergüneş requested the blocking of news about his meeting with Sadullah Alagöz, a businessman who was facing an investigation for allegedly sexually abusing 17-year-old E.M., at his workplace. The deputy minister's request resulted in the blocking of over 100 news items and social media posts about the visit, based on the decision of Ankara Criminal Judgeship of Peace no. 2. In June, another criminal judgeship of peace blocked access to 39 social media posts including those by journalists and news platforms about the death of a 12-year-old boy who was sent to a religious school against his will. The imam of the school was released from detention shortly after.

According to academic Hikment Kocamaner, “AKP’s family-related policies,” “reinforce and reinstate a patriarchal social structure in which women are confined to their homes to fulfill their reproductive, nurturing, and caregiving roles rather than participating in the public sphere as economically independent and self-reliant individuals.”

Banning Pride events

In addition to circulating the alleged anti-family narrative, earlier this year, the state proposed amending the first line of the constitutional article no. 41 “on family and children rights protection” to “The protection of family, conjugal union and children’s rights,” asserting instead that a family as the foundation of a society can only be possible “on the condition of conjugal union as it can only be founded with the marriage of a man and a woman.”

The governor's office in Istanbul said all Pride-related events would be banned, including film screenings and tea-drinking events. Throughout the month of June, AKP governors and municipalities run by the mayors representing the AKP have banned concerts by artists known for supporting the LGBTQ+ community. The annual Pride March has been banned since 2015. On June 18, despite the announced restrictions, Istanbul marked Trans Pride Day with heavy police presence, arrests, and violence.

Ahead of the march in Istanbul on June 25, the local governor's office suspended stops for the main transportation routes.

In Izmir, the local governor also banned Pride events, including the annual march, on the grounds that “such events, which include some attitudes and behaviors against public morality, may cause public reaction.” Participants of the march documented heavy police presence as well as violence:

Police blockaded a group of 20 people gathered in Alsancak for the İzmir LGBTI+ Pride Parade.

In İzmir, the police blockaded the whole of Alsancak. They attacked and detained LGBTI+ people sitting in cafes.

But the march was also allowed in places like Mersin:

In Mersin, for the first time Pride week took place without any restrictions and bans.

In its most recent Rainbow Europe Map and Index, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA) ranked Turkey 48 of 49 countries.

Last year, over 300 people were detained during the annual march. This year, over 100 journalists signed a statement criticizing the violence and the bans targeting LGBTQ+ people and allies.

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