All Inclusive: Pride, Justice, and Heroism in Turkey

Dr. Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak evaluates the past month of Turkish turbulence, with an LGBTQ Pride Parade, an opposition leader's protest march, and the anniversary of last year’s failed coup attempt.
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Courtroom cartoon in Turkish.
description: 

The accused: "I am waiting for a ruling." The Judge: “So are we.”  Source: Twitter.


During July, three confrontations permeated Turkish social networking sites (SNS). While the LGBTQ community struggled to hold a Pride Parade, the chairman of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) led a several thousand person march on Istanbul. Both occurred against the backdrop of the failed coup attempt's contentious anniversary. In a country that has been in a state of emergency for the past year, these controversies illuminated Turkey's complex social interplay.

Since 2003, the LGBTQ community in Turkey has been working to attain legal recognition of LGBTQ status and rights. As part of this effort, the community holds annual Pride Parades. The first Turkish Pride Parade was in 2003, with 30 participants. Over the years, Turks' awareness of LGBTQ issues has increased, culminating in a 2013 Parade of 100,000 participants - an achievement that can be partially attributed to the Parade's concurrence with the Gezi Park riots. However, 2015 marked a negative turning point for the Pride Parade, which was banned by authorities on the grounds that it might offend believers, as it was scheduled during Ramadan. Although the ban was reapplied in subsequent years, the LGBTQ community struggled to continue holding the annual Parade, in the hope that participants would not be arrested.

Like past years, the LGBTQ community and its allies organized the annual Pride Parade using social networks, primarily Facebook, where the official event page was posted. Using the slogan “Get used to it, we’re here,” the community urged Turks to gather at Taksim Square, located next to Gezi Park. In addition to support the community received on SNS, quite a few users strongly opposed the march, and called on authorities to intervene.[1] Members of the Alperen Hearths, a conservative nationalist movement, were among the most aggressive commenters. In a media statement, the movement's chairman, Kürşat Mican warned the authorities against lifting the ban on the parade. He threatened that if the authorities were to mistakenly permit the parade to take place, he and his supporters would prevent the LGBTQ community from marching in Istanbul.[2] Despite the Alperen Hearths' threats and the denial of an official permit, members of the LGBTQ community nonetheless attempted to hold a Parade in Istanbul. They encountered resistance from the Istanbul Police, with the arrest of 22 participants.

As SNS responded to the Pride Parade, a second march, this one from Ankara to Istanbul, was headed by CHP chairman and opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. The secular leader initiated the march to protest the arrest of a CHP member of parliament, Enis Berberoglu, on charges of espionage. At a press conference, Kılıçdaroğlu stated that he intended to walk from Ankara to Istanbul, about 350 km (220 miles), at the end of which he would hold a Justice Rally. Kılıçdaroğlu’s march was well received on SNS, and thousands of people began following him towards Istanbul. Many users supported Kılıçdaroğlu, using the hashtag “We are on the road to justice,”[3] and distributed caricatures portraying a lack of law and justice in Turkey (see image).[4] Conversely, supporters of the administration considered Berberoglu's arrest legitimate, as part of a series of mass arrests carried out by the administration since the failed coup attempt. They criticized Kılıçdaroğlu, claiming that he intended to create disorder, rather than serve justice.[5] Additionally, many Islamist users tweeted declarations that justice ought to be sought in Islam, not in the streets. Using the hashtag “Look for justice in Islam,” these users claimed that Kılıçdaroğlu’s supporters are detached from the Turkish people and religion.

As promised, following the completion of Kılıçdaroğlu's 24 day march, he held an estimated one million person rally in the vast Maltepe Square on the Asian side of Istanbul. At the rally, demands were made for rights, rule of law, and justice. In his speech, Kılıçdaroğlu declared July 9, the day of the rally, a day of hope and revitalization for the Turkish people. Kılıçdaroğlu thereby sought to minimize the importance of July 15, which Erdoğan had declared the Independence Day of New Turkey, commemorating last year's failed coup attempt. Erdoğan’s supporters strongly criticized Kılıçdaroğlu for the date of his rally, and accused him of dividing the people.

During July, three confrontations permeated Turkish social networking sites (SNS). While the LGBTQ community struggled to hold a Pride Parade, the chairman of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) led a several thousand person march on Istanbul. Both occurred against the backdrop of the failed coup attempt's contentious anniversary. In a country that has been in a state of emergency for the past year, these controversies illuminated Turkey's complex social interplay.

Since 2003, the LGBTQ community in Turkey has been working to attain legal recognition of LGBTQ status and rights. As part of this effort, the community holds annual Pride Parades. The first Turkish Pride Parade was in 2003, with 30 participants. Over the years, Turks' awareness of LGBTQ issues has increased, culminating in a 2013 Parade of 100,000 participants - an achievement that can be partially attributed to the Parade's concurrence with the Gezi Park riots. However, 2015 marked a negative turning point for the Pride Parade, which was banned by authorities on the grounds that it might offend believers, as it was scheduled during Ramadan. Although the ban was reapplied in subsequent years, the LGBTQ community struggled to continue holding the annual Parade, in the hope that participants would not be arrested.

Like past years, the LGBTQ community and its allies organized the annual Pride Parade using social networks, primarily Facebook, where the official event page was posted. Using the slogan “Get used to it, we’re here,” the community urged Turks to gather at Taksim Square, located next to Gezi Park. In addition to support the community received on SNS, quite a few users strongly opposed the march, and called on authorities to intervene.[6] Members of the Alperen Hearths, a conservative nationalist movement, were among the most aggressive commenters. In a media statement, the movement's chairman, Kürşat Mican warned the authorities against lifting the ban on the parade. He threatened that if the authorities were to mistakenly permit the parade to take place, he and his supporters would prevent the LGBTQ community from marching in Istanbul.[7] Despite the Alperen Hearths' threats and the denial of an official permit, members of the LGBTQ community nonetheless attempted to hold a Parade in Istanbul. They encountered resistance from the Istanbul Police, with the arrest of 22 participants.

As SNS responded to the Pride Parade, a second march, this one from Ankara to Istanbul, was headed by CHP chairman and opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. The secular leader initiated the march to protest the arrest of a CHP member of parliament, Enis Berberoglu, on charges of espionage. At a press conference, Kılıçdaroğlu stated that he intended to walk from Ankara to Istanbul, about 350 km (220 miles), at the end of which he would hold a Justice Rally. Kılıçdaroğlu’s march was well received on SNS, and thousands of people began following him towards Istanbul. Many users supported Kılıçdaroğlu, using the hashtag “We are on the road to justice,”[8] and distributed caricatures portraying a lack of law and justice in Turkey (see image).[9] Conversely, supporters of the administration considered Berberoglu's arrest legitimate, as part of a series of mass arrests carried out by the administration since the failed coup attempt. They criticized Kılıçdaroğlu, claiming that he intended to create disorder, rather than serve justice.[10] Additionally, many Islamist users tweeted declarations that justice ought to be sought in Islam, not in the streets. Using the hashtag “Look for justice in Islam,” these users claimed that Kılıçdaroğlu’s supporters are detached from the Turkish people and religion.

As promised, following the completion of Kılıçdaroğlu's 24 day march, he held an estimated one million person rally in the vast Maltepe Square on the Asian side of Istanbul. At the rally, demands were made for rights, rule of law, and justice. In his speech, Kılıçdaroğlu declared July 9, the day of the rally, a day of hope and revitalization for the Turkish people. Kılıçdaroğlu thereby sought to minimize the importance of July 15, which Erdoğan had declared the Independence Day of New Turkey, commemorating last year's failed coup attempt. Erdoğan’s supporters strongly criticized Kılıçdaroğlu for the date of his rally, and accused him of dividing the people.

The anniversary of the failed coup attempt was also discussed on SNS. Some users accompanied the hashtag “the heroic story of July 15”[11] with pictures and memories of those who blocked rebel soldiers with their bodies during the attempted coup. In contrast, many secular users questioned the authenticity of the coup attempt, and called it a “theatrical performance” using the hashtag “the truth about July 15.”[12]In turn, this outraged users who had lost loved ones during the riots. To mark the anniversary, the President’s Office produced a banner portraying Turkish citizens fighting off the defeated rebellious soldiers. Erdoğan’s supporters widely distributed the banner, provoking outrage. Many users, both secular and nationalist, protested the portrayal of Turkish soldiers in defeat, as well as the lack of distinction between the rebels and the rest of the Turkish army. In addition, many users severely criticized television channels' use of the banner's logo, which incorporated the crescent and star of the Turkish flag to commemorate July 15 (on the lower right side of the image below).

Banner marking the anniversary of the failed coup attempt, honoring the fallen and wounded.
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Banner marking the anniversary of the failed coup attempt, honoring the fallen and wounded.


The sequence of events facing Turkey last month evoked intolerant hostility on SNS, delineating the divisions between Turkey's different political camps. Despite the precarious situation, the completion of the Istanbul Justice Rally without incident could be considered an achievement reflecting various camps' capacity to acknowledge each other's positions. Alternatively, it could indicate that pragmatic desire to reduce public tension induced the Turkish government to permit the march. The same cannot be said of the LGBTQ community's treatment, with the LGBTQ community seemingly further than ever from attaining legal recognition in Turkey, which is becoming an increasingly conservative state.

 



[1] LGBT YürüyüşüYasaklansın.

[2] “Alperen Ocakları Onur Yürüyüşü'nü yine tehdit etti: Yürütmeyeceğiz,” Cumhuriyet, June 19, 2017.

[3] #AdaletinYolundayız #AdaletOlmazsa.

[5] #MeseleAdaletDeğil.

[6] LGBT YürüyüşüYasaklansın.

[7] “Alperen Ocakları Onur Yürüyüşü'nü yine tehdit etti: Yürütmeyeceğiz,” Cumhuriyet, June 19, 2017 .

[8] #AdaletinYolundayız #AdaletOlmazsa.

[10] #MeseleAdaletDeğil.

[11] 15 Temmuz Destanı.

[12] 15 Temmuz Gerçeği.