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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 7, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 23
Turkish police assault Lesbian activist - Officials escalating violence against dissidents; U.S. group protests
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Turkish police assault Lesbian activist - Officials escalating violence against dissidents; U.S. group protests

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Turkish police are accused of assaulting Lesbian activist and Member of Parliament Dr. Binnaz Toprak on May 31, four days into a massive crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Istanbul. Her injuries, if any, are not known at this time.

Toprak, a member of the secularist Republican People's Party, the largest opposition group in Turkey, is also the recipient of the IGLHRC (International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission) 'Outspoken Award' for 2013.

The group issued a statement strongly criticizing what it called 'excessive use of force by Turkish police against peaceful demonstrators in Istanbul and Ankara over the past week.'

'IGLHRC calls upon the Government of Turkey to respect the fundamental rights of assembly, association, and expression,' their June 3 statement continued.

'We call upon the Government of Turkey to start an immediate dialogue with civil society organizations and representatives from the demonstrations. We call upon the municipal and federal governments to immediately investigate all allegations of arbitrary arrest and police brutality and bring the perpetrators to justice. We also call upon the Ministry of Justice to dismiss all charges against peaceful protesters.'

The IGLHRC is a U.S.-based nongovernment organization (NGO) that investigates human rights violations targeting the LGBT community. It was founded in 1990 and is accredited to the United Nations as a consulting organization.

PUBLIC SPACE THREATENED
Demonstrations in Istanbul began on May 27, in opposition to the Turkish government's plan to remove trees in Gezi Park, adjacent to Taksim Square, to make room for a new shopping mall. Taksim Square is the main rallying point for political demonstrations - including huge leftist marches on May Day - and Gezi Park is a popular gathering place for young people and Istanbul's LGBT community.

The government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to the initial anti-development rallies with massive force, bringing still more protesters into the streets and giving a decidedly anti-government character to the growing unrest.

Erdogan, the leader of the governing Justice and Development Party, has been accused of authoritarianism and of allowing his strong Muslim faith to intrude into Turkey's previously secular political system. Many anti-government demonstrators carry pictures of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey and a vocal critic of Muslim traditions.

Erdogan's party has its political base in conservative central and eastern Turkey, while his opponents are based in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city; Ankara, the capital; and the Aegean seaport of Izmir.

LGBT PRESENCE
The LGBT rights group Lambda Istanbul is maintaining a permanent booth in Gezi Park, as are other organizations critical of the Erdogan government.

The British newspaper The Guardian interviewed Lambda Istanbul activist Onur Aygünes, who said he felt there was real momentum building for a larger political movement.

'My friends and I felt increasingly oppressed in Turkey, but this is very inspiring. Most of the people here have never been politically active,' Aygünes told the paper.

Aygünes, who has participated in Istanbul Gay Pride and May Day demonstrations, added that the police violence used in the square was counterproductive, bringing more and more people onto the streets rather than deterring them.

'I have been tear-gassed for the first time here, and all it did was to make me more determined,' he said.

HARSH CLIMATE FOR GAYS
Same-sex relations were legalized by the old Ottoman Empire in 1858, but there are no laws protecting LGBT Turks against discrimination, and there is no recognition of same-sex relationships.

There is also considerable social stigma against LGBT people. In 2008, for example, Turkey saw its first documented 'Gay honor killing' in which a young man's father shot him outside the Istanbul apartment he shared with his boyfriend.

While LGBT rights remain an issue in Turkish society as a whole, it is another question that threatens to divide the opponents of Erdogan's government - the contentious problem of the large Kurdish ethnic minority in eastern Turkey.

The problem came into sharp focus when one group of demonstrators carrying pictures of Atatürk got into a fight in Taksim Square with another group displaying pictures of jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan.

'The clearest split between nationalist west-coast Kemalists [like Toprak's Republican People's Party] and liberal leftists runs along their attitudes towards the Kurdish issue,' Aygünes said. 'And so far, there has not been much dialogue on the issue.'

He thinks that this may change with time. 'The first step is to chant protest slogans together, and the second step will be to start talking.'

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