‘Homophobic’ decision from Van governorate

Source: Hasan Yoldaş, “Van valiliğinden homofobik karar,” (“Homophobic decision from Van govenorship,”) DİHA , 27 November 2013, http://www.yuksekovahaber.com/haber/van-valiliginden-homofobik-karar-117382.htm

[Update: The court has ruled that it is not “contrary to morality” for Ekogenç to be active in the area of sexual orientation.]

A lawsuit has been filed by the Van governorship against the Youth and Ecology Association [EKOGENÇ], which the youth in Van had attempted to establish in order to work on solutions for environmental problems. The reason for the lawsuit is the inclusion of the clause “It may work in the field of sexual orientation” in its charter. The co-chairs of the association, not allowed to be established because of Turkish Civil Code Article 56 that states, “No association may be formed for an object contrary to the laws and ethics,” stated that over 25 associations that include the same clause in their regulations have been established up to now and that this decision is intentional.

In Van, a city that has one of the most serious environmental problems in Turkey, the youth of the city wanted to establish the Youth and Ecology Association in order to create solutions for environmental problems. However, they are facing an obstacle from the Van governorship. The Van Governorship Provincial Associations Directorate stated that the application submitted in May included clauses against the Turkish Civil Code’s Article 56 that must be withdrawn. These clauses are in the second article of the association’s charter and state, “one can be a member, perform mutual work, cooperate financially and spiritually by fulfilling the requirements of the associations work on the rights of people with different sexual orientations” and “the association operates in the field of sexual orientation.” The Van Governorship Provincial Associations Directorate also indicated that the following phrase was unacceptable:  “As much as every member is responsible for every decision of the association, every member can also play an active role in the process of changing the decisions. Members can participate in decision meetings and make decisions.” If the phrase is not changed, a lawsuit will be filed to dissolve the association.

The co-chairs of the association, Cevahir Yigit Böke and Arda Ateş, reacted to the statements made in the document signed by the former deputy governor of Van, Mehmet Yüzer, and stated that there are over 25 associations which include the same phrases in their regulations. They also pointed out the governor’s judgement of the association’s charter as “immoral” based on Article 56 of the Turkish Civil Code.

Böke said that the Van Governorship claimed that some clauses of the association charter were “irregular” after they submitted their association application. He stated that the article in question is aimed at developing cooperation with many rights associations working in the fields of asylum, refugees, ecology, youth, women, and sexual orientation. The Van Governorship Provincial Associations Directorate asked that they change the clause on cooperation with associations working on sexual orientation. Böke stated that they are a rights association and that they informed the Directorate of their wish to not change the clause. He also said, “The Van Governorship accused us of being “immoral” referring to Article 56 of the Turkish Civil Code. But the interesting part is, we work on the issues of urban, rural and organic agriculture and we got together to keep working in this field and also on issues like how to adapt ecology to urban life and create a sustainable economy. Although sexual orientation is another issue, we added that clause because we might work with an NGO connected to that in the future and we have no reservations. The fact that only these clauses were emphasized shows that this issue is still considered as immoral [by a certain mentality] and this prompted a reaction from our founding members.”

“In Turkey, the judicial system is based on employees’ states of mind”

Böke indicated that a lawsuit was filed against them because they did not remove the clause from their regulation but the interesting part is the fact that another association with an application filed four months before EKOGENÇ was able include the phrase “cooperation with NGOs working on sexual orientation” in their charter. Böke pointed to the fact that of two different associations with the same regulation, only one was approved and the other was accused of being immoral and he added, “Actually with this incident, we can see that judicial system in Turkey is based on the employees’ daily state of mind. This does not mean anything else.”

Böke, clarified another clause in the regulations which was not accepted and said, “we are an association which does not have a hierarchical structure. We chose this kind of organization model. Both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Turkey’s Law of Associations contain the right to establish an association and to organize by informing a governorship. But they said, ‘You have to follow the hierarchy when you are getting organized. You have to have an executive board; that should be more superior, more elite and more popular than all of the members.’ And they did not accept our non-hierarchical structure. We reacted to that too, because there is no law about this. We found it absurd. They are telling us, ‘You can organize but we will tell you how to do it. There is a system.’ We do not accept this system.

“The decision is political”

Böke said that there are NGOs that have the same clauses in their charter and are still working. He also discussed the 2007 lawsuit against the Lambdaistanbul Association based on the same reason and that the Supreme Court of Appeals Seventh Legal Chamber overturned the decision [against Lambdaistanbul]. Böke stated that in the same lawsuit the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that “sexual identity and orientation are not in one’s power; they are innate qualities or are based on nurture and cannot be deemed immoral.” Böke added, This is an important decision, because this kind of decision is not in the constitution and is not generally accepted. That’s why we consider this matter a political issue. They are saying, ‘You got together to work on ecology; you cannot be in dialogue with other NGO organizations. We decide that.’ This is discrimination. We will continue our struggle.”

“Discrimination is a crime”

Böke stated that there are many legal precedents on this issue and that they will present them to the court. Organization and association are rights and discrimination against sexual orientation is a crime.

“The law varies in every city and from person to person”

EKOGENÇ co-chair Arda Ateş said that EKOGENÇ was founded by young people as a result of long-term studies which are based on Van’s needs and that it is a foundation to discuss environmental problems and how to make Van greener, to think about these issues and to develop grant applications. He stated that they faced a judicial complication from the outset of founding the association. Ateş said that there are 25 associations that are functioning with the same clauses in their regulations. He said, “On this issue, them being against our clauses is a situation which shows that the law is processed differently according to the city and arbitrarily according to the person. Because of this reason we are completely opposed to this situation and we will fight for it even more. Although the court process is still going on, we are going to arrange our general congress on December 14  and continue working.”

“It is a conscious decision”

Ateş called on all NGOs working on sexual orientation and ecology and pointed out the importance of standing together during this process. Ateş said, “the clauses which they have instituted legal proceedings against are so ridiculous that the obstacles to our foundation in Van are not a coincidence. Considering that there are many associations and foundations which are founded with these clauses, one must conclude that this decision is a conscious one. I think it was planned because they do not want to see an organized struggle on these issues. We are going to file a countersuit on the grounds that the decision is preventing us from doing our work. Because of this we think that civil society organisations ought to work together in the Kurdistan area.”

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