Human Rights Violations in Turkey

A young gay Syrian’s story – from Syria to Turkey

This is the story of Maher, who had to escape and migrate from Syria to Lebanon, then to Sudan, and finally to Turkey. A life wrapped in the war in Syria and dual discrimination both as a Syrian and as a gay man in Turkey. 

Source: Yıldız Tar, “Suriye’den İstanbul’a eşcinsel bir gencin hikayesi” (“A young gay’s story from Syria to Turkey”). Kaos GL, 24 October 2014, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=17785

Millions of Syrians were forced out of their homeland as a result of the war in Syria and ISIS assaults. Some headed over to Europe; many lost their relatives during as their travels was well as the war.

Maher  Daoud, who we interviewed in a coffee shop in Kurtuluş, Istanbul, was  among the millions who had to leave their homeland. He had to leave Latakia in the 23rd year of his life which began in the city. Maher tells  the story of migration from Latakia [al-Lādhiqīyah]  to Lebanon, then to Sudan, and finally to Istanbul. He speaks fast, telling his story at once, as if someone were following us.

“Art is like breathing”

Maher,  who is now 24, is a young gay artist. He studied architecture in Syria.  However, he was forced to leave before being able to graduate. He also draws aquarelle and acrylic illustrations. Maher says that, in each of  his drawings, a gay story is hidden. To Maher, to make art is to breathe.  Because Syria does not have a “gay life,” art is the only space within which he can breathe.

I ask about the situation in Latakia. Maher says that life in Latakia is horrible:

“Latakia is Bashar al-Assad’s city. As such, the pressure was always intensive.  To speak, to do something was almost impossible. It was so in art too. I  had to put a lot of effort to be able to open my second art exhibit.  You have to get signatures from a lot of places. I had to deal with  almost every police officer in the police station. They examine each and every painting, find some to be “appropriate” and some “inappropriate.”  They kept asking why I was making such paintings. They were trying to judge whether I was against Bashar al-Assad.”

Maher dislikes talking about politics. This also has to do with the notion that “it is a sin to speak politics in Syria.” He thinks that politics changes nothing. He desires more art.[1]

Things became even tougher with war. He says that the war between Bashar al-Assad, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)  made things much more difficult in Syria. To Maher, the rebellion for “freedom” was initially beautiful. However, everything changed when Assad began the massacres and when those opposing Assad began using the same methods [sic].

Even if Assad was not in Syria, I would not have stayed, ISIS is there!”

Maher reminds us that, as a result of the massacres by Assad, FSA, and ISIS, people who actually wanted freedom were forced to leave the country. He says that the Syrian populaton decreased from 24 million to 18 million.

“I could not have stayed in Syria even if Assad was not there. I am gay and a direct target of ISIS,” says Maher, who did not lose his hope for “freedom” despite the massacres. He says that the FSA wants to establish a society exclusive to Sunnis under the guise of freedom, while Assad is doing just the opposite: “Freedom is not like this. The domination of a religion or a sect cannot be freedom. A secular and cross-cultural atmosphere is a necessity for freedom.”

Police harassment in the streets of Latakia

Police invaded every street in Latakia following the war. The fact that police is checking for IDs continuously is affecting gays significantly.

“If you are gay, you are gay. Of course, the police knows this. It is impossible to hide it. You try to live under contiunous police  harassment. My friends were subjected to police violence. And this situation had become routine.”

Escape to Lebanon, then to Sudan

Despite all the pressures of the war and homophobia, Maher says that he left a part of himself in Syria. He tells the story of his departure from Syria:

“I  was trying to go from Syria to Sudan. For this, I had to first  go to Lebanon. It was truly difficult to get out of Syria. As in Turkey,  the problem of military conscription exists in Syria. They tried to prevent me from getting out of the country on the basis that I had not completed my military duty. I was able to leave because I was a student. I said I was going to join the military next year.

“I paid $400 to be able to pass through the Syrian border to Lebanon. My troubles did not end when I arrived at Lebanon. War was waiting for me at Tripoli [Ṭarābulus]. Finally I was able to get out of all the chaos and buy my ticket to Sudan. I lived in Sudan for a while after receiving my resident’s permit just like anyone else. My family came to Sudan as well.”

Dual discrimination in Sudan

Maher encountered discrimination in Sudan based on both his being Syrian and his gay identity. “Let us be honest, Sudanese people and us are not of the same nationality. Our lighter skin color creates problems. You can tell this even from the way people look at you. Again because [sic] of my gay identity, Sudan became an impossible place for me to live. I am not exaggerating, I once was almost raped by three people in a bus. I could barely get out of there.”

Istanbul… Discrimination continues

Following  his experiences in Sudan, Maher decides to come to Turkey in order to get “a little bit more respect”. The respect he expected to find in Istanbul is not there…

“If, in Istanbul, you tell people that you are from Syria, they react saying  “Oh my god, are you from Syria? Please die.” There are of course some people who approach the issue more  positively, but there are also those who approach me as if I am going to kill them when they learn that I am Syrian; they ask “Are you from ISIS?”

Again, I saw that Turkey is very much like Syria. In Syria too, it is of significant importance whether you are Alevi, or Sunni, or Christian. People here keep asking me about my religion and my sect. They decide whether they ought to talk to me or not based on that.”

A “reality” of Istanbul: Street harassment

He hesitates for a moment when I ask him about being gay in Istanbul. He looks into my eyes and says “In a single word, difficult.” He says he has been harassed on the street. The first Turkish words he learned ended up being “Come here, come” ["Gel gel"] and “Fuck off” ["Siktir git"]: “I did not know much about what these words meant but when I go out, people either curse at me or harass me from their cars.”

“If you are from Syria, you are a second class human”

Maher says that he lost count of how many times he has been harassed on the streets. He talks about only one of them so “we can grasp the problem better:”

“I’ll never forget this one time my friends and I were out for the night. I left the place and was on my way home. All of a sudden, a lot of guys got out of a car. They started following me. I did  not know what to do. I looked around looking for a police officer but then remembered that I am a gay Syrian in Istanbul. Even if there were police officers around, they would not have protected me, right? To people in Turkey, I am a refugee and below them. I did not know what to do and escaped by running.”

“I pretended to be Spanish”

Maher says that the attitudes of gays in Turkey towards Syrians is not that “embracing” either. Even though his gay roommates helped him with being gay in Turkey, he also had negative experiences:

“Being Syrian means being an Arab. And in Turkey, while European migrants and tourists receive significant respect, we do not. Being Spanish or Italian is perceived as brilliant. My life line is usually to tell  people that I am Spanish. When they ask for my name, I say Pedro. No  problems arise when they get to know me as Pedro. Then I tell them that I am Syrian and that my name is Maher. Then the attitudes and looks  change.

“On the one hand, everyone says ‘you are not like a Syrian.’ To them, they say so in order to emphasize that I am a good person. But I am from Syria and I am not ashamed of this.”

“You are Syrian, go file a complaint anywhere you want, you have no rights”

My last question is about what is perhaps the most important issue Maher faces. I ask him about how he earns a living. Maher says that he was raised as the child  of a rich family in Latakia. However he says that his family no longer wants to see him because [sic] of his gay identity. Currently, his  family is in Sudan and he is unable to receive any financial support.

However, he cannot find a job in Istanbul. The owner of a store he had worked at did not give him his biweekly check. Maher cannot obtain his earnings even though he agreed to make much less than the minimum wage[2]. When  he protests, they tell him “You are Syrian, go file a complaint wherever you want, you have no rights.”

The only job left to Maher is sex work. And the possibility of selling his paintings. Maher says that he does not have any issues with being a sex worker. He adds that if there were other opportunities, he would have prefered those: “I do not sell my body. My body is still mine. It will remain to be mine. But if there was another job, I would prefer that.”


[1] For a similar argument calling for art as a form of subversion against the dillemas of politics, see Julia Kristeva’s Women’s Time.

[2] Minimum wage in Turkey is about $380 (PCM). According to the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions, the current poverty threshold is about $1000 and the current hunger threshold is about $300. Average rent in  Istanbul, the city with the highest rent rate in Turkey, was about $360 –  $450 in 2012.

Public Abuse of Trans Individuals by Police

Source: Yıldız Tar, “Mersin’de Polisten Translara Sokakta İşkence!” (“Public Abuse of Trans Individuals by Police!”) KaosGl.org, 22 July 2014, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=17153.

 

In Mersin, police officers attacked trans women in public, shouting “Get out of here” and assaulting them with batons.

The violent treatment of trans women by the police has gone unstopped. Citing a misdemeanor law, the police attacked and publicly abused 7 trans women.

Police used tear gas on the trans women while violently attacking them. Among them were activists from the solidarity group, “7 Renk” (“7 Colors”). A 7 Renk activist, Ece Yiğit, recounted the events to KaosGL.org.

Beating for Disturbing the Peace!

“We were hanging out last night on İsmet İnönü Boulevard with the other girls. There were seven of us and we were only chatting. There was also a man next to us sipping beer. Then the police came out of nowhere and said: ‘Get the hell out of here. You are disturbing people in the vicinity.’ Honestly, we did not understand what was going on. We were not making any noise. The man next to us reacted to the police, ‘what is the harm of these people to you? They are just sitting here.’ Police attacked him first with batons. Then, they started pepper spraying us. After we protested, they assaulted us with batons.”

Police denies the events!

The trans women were later taken to the police station. No legal proceedings took place at the station. The police also declined the trans women’s request to file a report. According to the members of the LGBTI solidarity organizations, Mersin 7 Renk and Pembe Hayat (“Pink Life”), police denied the events, claiming: “There is no report of such an incident. How do you come up with this stuff?”

After no legal proceedings took place, the trans women left the station. Now they are demanding that the abuse be investigated through footage to be obtained from the security cameras.

Perpetrators of Hate Murders are unpunished!

A trans woman named Cansu was attacked in Mersin, on May 25th in an attack alluding to Miraç Kandili[1]. In December, a trans sex worker called Deniz was attacked with sticks and knives in Pozcu. Four transphobic hate murders have been committed in Mersin since 2006. However, these murders are not recorded as hate crimes and the perpetrators are not handed down the appropriate sentence.

[1] Lailat al Miraj – A religious day commemorating Prophet Muhammad’s ascent to heaven –trans.

On the Dismissal of Police Officer F.E.: “These kinds of officers are to be cleaned out immediately!”

Source: Burcu Karakaş. “Bu tür memurlar hemen ayıklanır!” (“These kinds of officers are to be cleaned out immediately!”) Milliyet, 16 June 2014, http://www.milliyet.com.tr/bu-tur-memurlar-hemen-ayiklanir–gundem-1897738/

Police officer F.E. had been dismissed from office with a disciplinary investigation because he is gay. When he went to court to amend the decision, he received the following answer from the Ministry of Internal Affairs: “The law foresees that these kinds of officers are to be immediately cleaned out!”

Police officer F.E. was subjected to disciplinary investigation because he is gay and the investigation resulted in his removal from office. He went to the court to appeal the decision. His suit was rejected by every court that he applied to. Upon his appeal to the Council of State, he received a written response from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Deputy Legal Advisor. The statement included scandalous phrases. One Ministry official stated the following: “It is without a doubt that if civil services are run by officers who are less than reputable, this would damage people’s confidence in the administration. The law aims to prevent these kinds of developments and foresees that those who are responsible are removed from civil service and thus eliminated from the instruments of administration.” Even though the Council of State Investigation Judge wrote a dissenting opinion noting the right to “private life,” F.E.’s plea was overruled by majority voting.

“Embarrassing actions”

In 2009, there was a denunciation against Istanbul police officer F.E. with allegations that he kept child pornography. The police raided his house based on the allegations, which turned out to be false. It was decided that there was a lack of grounds for legal action. However, certain documents were found on F.E.’s computer, which pointed to the fact that he is gay. This resulted in a disciplinary investigation on his behalf. The investigation ended with the Ministry of Internal Affairs High Disciplinary Commission ruling for F.E.’s removal from civil service due to the charge of “acting in shameful and embarrassing ways that do not agree with the qualities of civil service.” Upon this decision, the police officer went to the 8th Administrative Court in Istanbul to demand that the decision be reversed. The court maintained that the ruling was within legislation and rejected F.E.’s appeal.

After this rejection, F.E. appealed to the Council of State. The 12th Department of the Council of State studied and rejected F.E.’s appeal eight months ago, thereby approving the decision of his removal from office. At this time, F.E.’s lawyer Fırat Söyle took the appeal back to the 12th Department of the Council of State with a request to revise the decision.

Council of State Investigation Judge Şevket Polat argued that the actions, which resulted in F.E.’s removal from office, were to be considered within the framework of “private life” in accordance with the 20th article of the Constitution as well as the 8th Article of the European Convention on Human Rights. Polat thus put forth that these actions did not constitute a disciplinary breach and advised for an issue of stay order. However, members of the department unanimously rejected the judge’s request with the justification that “the reasoning presented did not constitute due grounds for a stay order.”

“He lives with a woman who is of legal age”

The Ministry of Internal Affairs delivered a statement in response to the appeal about revising the decision. The statement included the justifications for why F.E. had to be removed from office. The Ministry Deputy Legal Advisor Adnan Türkdamar authored the statement, which explains that there were times when F.E. shared the same living quarters with two men who are known to be gay. Also, F.E.’s living together with a woman was described as a “shameful and embarrassing action.”

The Ministry responded with the following in relation to the discrimination appeal: “The law aims for civil service to be carried out by credible, trustworthy and socially prestigious agents. It is without a doubt that if civil services are run by officers who are less than reputable, this would damage individuals’ confidence in the administration and result in undesirable developments in the relations between individuals and the administration. As such, the law aims to prevent such a development and foresees that those who are responsible are removed from civil service and that these kinds of officers are eliminated from the instruments of administration.”

UPR Submission by Turkey’s LGBT Organizations

We are excited to be sharing our Universal Periodical Review submission of “Human Rights Violations of LGBT Individuals in Turkey” to the United Nations. 

The Universal Periodical Review

The Universal Periodic Review “has great potential to promote and protect human rights in the darkest corners of the world.” – Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations. As one of the main features of the Council, the UPR is designed to ensure equal treatment for every country when their human rights situations are assessed.

The UPR was created through the UN General Assembly on 15 March 2006 by resolution 60/251, which established the Human Rights Council itself. It is a cooperative process which, by October 2011, has reviewed the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. Currently, no other universal mechanism of this kind exists. The UPR is one of the key elements of the Council which reminds States of their responsibility to fully respect and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The ultimate aim of this mechanism is to improve the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations wherever they occur.

The Universal Periodical Review of Turkey

The second-cycle review of Turkey will take place in January-February 2015. While Turkey submits its own State report, Turkey’s civil society organisations is providing their reports on Turkey’s human rights situation. The joint report by the Human Rights Joint Platform highlights Turkey’s failure in applying the accepted recommendations in the first-cycle and human rights violations since 2010. The joint LGBT submission highlights human rights violations of LGBT individuals in Turkey since 2010.

Human Rights Violations of LGBT Individuals in Turkey

This report is a joint submission by Kaos GL Association, LGBTI News Turkey, and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) (ECOSOC accredited NGO), to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the occasion of the 21st Session of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review. This submission presents human rights violations in Turkey on account of actual or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity. These violations consist of acts of violence against LGBT individuals, discriminatory domestic laws, arbitrary administrative measures, and hostile approach of State officials towards the LGBT community.

In preparing this submission, we relied on documentation and data from the following sources: LGBT organizations and allies in Turkey; reports by national and international human rights NGOs; the European Commission’s Annual Progress Report; Concluding Observations of the UN Human Rights Committee’s review of Turkey’s compliance with the ICCPR; recommendations from Turkey’s first-cycle UPR; Turkey’s Constitution and recent legislation; and media reports of violence and discrimination against LGBT individuals.

Please see the full report here: UPR: Human Rights Violations of LGBT Individuals in Turkey

Republican People’s Party Vice-President Sezgin Tanrıkulu’s Statement on Roşin Çiçek and LGBTI Protection

Source: “Genel Başkan Yardımcısı Sezgin Tanrıkulu: “Sayın Başbakan her seferinde “Yaradılanı Yaradandan ötürü seviyoruz” nutukları attığı halde, LGBTİ bireylerin korunması konusunda hiçbir adım atmaması onu bu ayrımcılığın temel aktörlerinden biri haline getirmektedir,” (“Republican People’s Party Vice-president Sezgin Tanrıkulu: “Although Mr. Prime Minister preaches ‘We love the Created for the sake of the Creator’ at every turn, the fact that he never took steps for the protection of LGBTI people made him one of the main partners in this discrimination,”) 10 February 2014, http://www.chp.org.tr/?manset=genel-baskan-yardimcisi-sezgin-tanrikulu-sayin-basbakan-her-seferinde-%E2%80%9Cyaradilani-yaradandan-oturu-seviyoruz%E2%80%9D-nutuklari-attigi-halde-lgbti-bireylerin-korunmasi-konusunda-hicbir-adi

Vice-President Sezgin Tanrıkulu remarked that Roşin Çiçek case, which was heard at the Diyarbakır Third Criminal Court for Aggravated Crimes today, is that of a hate killing. Here is the his written statement:

“LGBTI people who are subjected to systematic discrimination, harassment and attacks are also targets of hate killings. Roşin Çiçek’s case, which will be heard at the Diyarbakır Third Criminal Court for Aggravated Crimes today is a case of hate killing. The fact that Roşin Çiçek, who was in the prime of his life, was killed on 2 July 2012 by his father and uncles, once again showed us the consequences of homophobia in this country.

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Provocation Reduction for Bishop’s Murderer

Source: Burcu Karakaş, “Rahip katiline tahrik indirimi,” (“Provocation reduction for Bishop’s murderer,”) Milliyet, 24 January 2013, http://gundem.milliyet.com.tr/rahip-katline-tahrik-indirimi/gundem/gundemdetay/24.01.2013/1659533/default.htm

Murat Altun, who was being tried for life in prison for the murder of Bishop Padovese in Iskenderun in 2010, benefited from the unjust provocation reduction and was sentenced to 15 years in prison in January 2013.

Bishop Luigi Padovese, Representative of the Catholic Church in Anatolia, was stabbed to death in his home on 3 June 2010 in the Iskenderun region of Hatay. His murderer Murat Altun was tried for life in prison but received only 15 years jail time. The Iskenderun Second High Criminal Court agreed with the prosecutor’s reasoning that “the defendant’s claim that there was a demand for sexual intercourse must be considered given the principle that the suspect benefits from doubt even though the deceased cannot prove otherwise.” Based on this reasoning the court ruled on the “unjust provocation reduction” for the defendant.

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Transphobic Hate Crime in Mersin

Source: Baki Uguz, “Mersin’de Transfobik Nefret Saldırısı,” (“Transphobic Hate Crime in Mersin,”) Kaos GL, 24 December 2013, http://www.kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=15468

A transsexual who works as a sex worker in the southern city of Mersin was attacked by a group of people with cleavers and sticks in the central district of Yenişehir. The trans woman was seriously injured due to the attacks and was taken to the emergency room of the Toros State Hospital.

A trans woman named Deniz was attacked by three unknown individuals on Monday night at around 8.30 PM, as she left her house and went to local bank Akbank at Pozcu, Mersin.

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