Two and a half months ago, I began preparing for a one-month study abroad program in Istanbul, Turkey to study journalism.
Many people questioned my decision to travel to a country that still associates with the Middle East. I explained to them that Turkey was a fairly developed country with a democratic secular political system.
And while this is true — I still had a naive outlook on the nation that would become my home for the next month.
Turkey is perhaps one of the most developed countries in the Middle East, but there are still many issues facing the country.
In recent months, many commentators and activists have called for countries like Libya and Egypt to model their new government after Turkey. Certainly, Libya and Egypt should take Turkey’s model into consideration, but they should also recognize the blatant violations of human rights that still exist in Turkey.
This column is the first of three columns that will address the biggest human rights issues facing Turkey — the first of which is LGBT rights.
The LGBT community in Turkey faces significant discrimination, violence and hatred, and many gay Turks cannot find support or protection from any part of society.
Discrimination is present everywhere. For example, Aliye Kavaf, a government official, told the Turkish newspaper The Hurriyet that “Homosexuality is a biological disorder, an illness and should be treated.”
An Amnesty International Report published in 2011 documented the story of Ahmet Yildiz, a Turkish man who many believe was killed by his family for his sexual orientation.
Yildiz’s murder is suspected to be an ‘honor killing’, Amnesty International reports. Families, horrified by their children’s sexual identity, decide to kill them “honorably.”
This story may shock many Americans, but it is common in Turkey. It not only demonstrates the astonishing amount of prejudice that exists in Turkish society, but also the tendency of the judicial system of ignoring violence in the LGBT community, and failing to serve justice. It has been three years, and no one has been convicted of Yildiz’s murder.
Police and military are also a party that oppresses the Turkish LGBT community.
“(Turkey’s LGBT) are often berated, beaten or imprisoned by the very police and military that should be protecting them,” said Phyllis Guest in the newspaper the Dallas Voice.
Demet Demir, a transgender woman who volunteers for LGBT organizations in Istanbul, has encountered violence firsthand by police. She spent two years in jail and was teased relentlessly for her sexual orientation. Prison guards made her cut her long hair and wear men’s clothing.
I had the honor of speaking to Demir while I was in Turkey, and she also recounted the story of a transgender who was attacked by police and shot in the leg. The woman was paralyzed, Demir said through an interpreter, and pursued a lawsuit. However, she agreed to drop the lawsuit once the police bribed her with the equivalent of approximately $1,000.
The examples are numerous and omnipresent. Discrimination and violence exists in government, military, law and families.
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