“Stories of Violence from Turkey” is a project by the Intercultural Research Association that aims to archive and document the phenomenon of violence in Turkey; to prevent events of violence and their victims from “becoming ordinary” and “turning into statistics;” to investigate the conditions of violence in order to make future projections; and to bring together NGOs, civil society, and advocates for the defense of victims’ rights. The project publishes photographs and interviews with victims or witnesses in a simple and flexible format that allows the interviewees to express themselves.
Source: Cankız Çevik, “Meis Sitesi’nde translara yönelen nefretin arkasında rant var,” (“Vested interests behind hate directed at trans women in Meis Housing Complex,”) Türkiye’den Şiddet Hikayeleri, 18 December 2013, http://www.siddethikayeleri.com/meis-sitesinde-translara-yonelen-nefretin-arkasinda-rant-var/
Since June 2012, trans people living in Istanbul Avcılar district’s Meis Housing Complex have been the targets of enormous harassment. Meis resident and journalist Michelle Demishevich talks to Stories of Violence from Turkey about the lynching atmosphere created by the crowds who organized to kick trans women out of Avcılar and the violence based on morality and mass hate.
What is the reason for the discrimination and violence, which has been escalating for the last few years in Meis, when we consider the fact that people lived there peacefully in the past?
I moved there in September 2012. My friends used to tell me that they led a peaceful life until June 2012. Unfortunately, from that time onwards, a certain group started to verbally assault trans residents and bother us when we went in and out of the compound.
The buildings in the Meis Housing Complex resemble old Soviet buildings and the apartments are 1-bedroom units that are large enough. Our building has 122 apartments and I think about half of them belong to people who live abroad and who do not pay attention to their property. The leader of this group is retired employee of the Police Department’s Terrorism branch called Lame İsmail. He and the doorman of the building, Selim, conspired with each other and started to rent these empty apartments and collect the earnings. When trans people understood the situation, they stood against this injustice and unlawfulness.
What does Lame İsmail aim for when he targets trans people?
At the root of the issue is a concern about vested interests. He wants trans people to not meddle in this. First he warned us and made death threats against us but we continued to talk about this injustice. So he started to organize people and demonstrate in the neighborhood. In September, when we were about to be lynched, he was screaming “I fought against the PKK, am I not going to fight transvestites!” and provoked people using this kind of nationalist language. After the demonstration, we were targeted by Kanaltürk’s Scalpel TV show. However, the videos they used and discussed on the show were images from other neighborhoods like Pendik and Dragos and other cities like Bursa. When we went to court about this, they gave a decision of not-guilty on grounds of the “freedom of press.” The State protected Kanaltürk’s lies.
Did you get the chance to talk to your neighbors who participated in the demonstration?
In that group, Hürriyet Aydın is the only person who lives in Meis and he was in the foreground. The other people are not even residents of this complex. The person who revealed our friend’s identity on Kanaltürk was also Ms. Hürriyet Aydın but because we are neighbors I once asked her, “We always responded to each other via the press but I want to have tea with you and talked to you so that you understand the root of this issue.” She said “Of course, dear Michelle,” and started to talk with me. I told her about LGBT, transsexuality, human rights, citizenship rights as if I was talking to a 4-year-old and she accepted that she was mistaken and changed. This is a good transformation.
One of the slogans at the demonstration was “Neither man, nor woman, who is this third person!” This is a homophobic and transphobic discourse is a problem of its own in addition to the allegations of prostitution directed at you. How do you feel about this?
Lame İsmail made up all these slogans and he is a very intelligent man. Because he retired from his employment within the State, he knows what the State likes. He thinks the State likes morality and tradition, heterosexuality and sexism; it is also religious and nationalistic, and so he focuses on those points.
Plus, we are working in prostitution in order to live. Then the State should say, “My citizen is involved in prostitution, this is my fault” and provide us opportunities and solutions. How is sealing homes a solution? Or the police rounding up sex workers and assaulting and raping them for hours? We know very well what happens in those police stations. In 2006, for 13 hours at the Taksim Police Station, I experienced things that I will never forget in my life. I matured in that station and became this strong person!
Apart from people’s reactions, what kind of a process did you face in terms of the law?
Because Lame İsmail was an employee of the Terrorism Branch, it is not just the people but also state employees like the police, prosecutors, and district governors who feel a certain affinity to him. In our files, our lawyers saw that the procedures on the allegation of prostitution were not brought on by the prosecutor’s office but by the initiative of the Avcılar District Governorate without any evidence. This means that the State said, “They are engaging in prostitution because they are transsexuals” and because of this allegation many of our homes were sealed for 3 months.
Where and how did you survive during that period?
It was winter and they did not even let us take our belongings from home. Those days I was working for the Green and Left Future Party and going to my workplace; I was staying at the office or a friend’s home for few days because I didn’t have a place to stay. The hardest part for me was the fact that I couldn’t take my dog with me after my house was sealed and I had to give it to a shelter. Now he is near me but he is not going to live long because he had a heart attack in the shelter and his lungs have a disorder. The State not only threw me out to the street but also deteriorated the health of my child. However, a State has to give its citizens the right to life, shelter and work. I cannot feel sympathy to a State that threw me and my child out to the street during winter and made my child sick in a municipality shelter.
Apart from the actions, have you ever experienced any physical violence?
8 months ago our houses were set on fire but they made rumors that we got drunk and burned our houses. We hardly find places to live; why would we burn our houses? Moreover, we are between 35-55 years old; we gave up alcohol, drugs and fun 20 years ago. That fire was set by Lame İsmail and the police did not conduct the necessary investigation. Furthermore, our houses were shot at. In the summer our friend Elçin was beaten black and blue at the entrance of the complex in the morning by Tuğrul Selçuk, the assistant of Lame İsmail. We went to the hospital and the police station at once; while our friend was giving her statement, I clearly heard from the next room that the policemen called Lame İsmail and gave him information.
About all that you went through, what kind of a legal process is going on?
The insecurity and uneasiness continues in the Avcılar Meis Housing Complex and unfortunately the State ignores it. We as trans people live there in danger with the fear of being killed every day. However we are waging one of the most important legal challenges in Turkey. From the Sakarya Bar Association Harika Güney Karataş, from the Istanbul Bar Association Rozerin Seda Kip, Fırat Söyle, Levent Pişkin and many other lawyer friends are dealing with the ongoing cases. We use our legal rights in every situation against us but the State does its best to delay it. However, we trust our lawyers; they work with great discipline and idealism. Today there was the first hearing of the case we filed on the lynch attempt. Unfortunately the judge unlawfully kicked out the press with police force; upon the objections of our lawyers, the judge responded “You can make your complaint to wherever you want” and postponed the case to 21 April 2014.
As a journalist, what do you think about the perception of the media about this issue?
Generally speaking, the media does not know the gender rhetoric. For example after the more recent Dora Özer murder, Latif Sansür, from the Doğan News Agency (DHA) covered the news as, “With pseudo name of Dora Özer, transvestite Muhammed Özer was stabbed to death” and DHA spread the news to all media groups like this. And with a single sentence saying, “You are a man but if you want to be a woman, you will be killed if you are transvestite,” hate speech was committed. I am discussing this situation with my journalist friends but it is in the hands of media bosses and they think the news should be packaged in this way. However, we try to teach gender rhetoric to the media with “Purple Bulletin” on IMC TV at 18:30 every weekday. It is the first and only TV program about gender, women, and LGBT. The way we report the news and the person is very important; we should report the news objectively and follow the rule of five Ws and one H.