26/01/2024 | Writer: Yıldız Tar

What’s stopping someone from one day bringing the example of Russia to the table of the powers that be, closing down LGBTI+ associations through legislative amendments and criminalizing LGBTI+ existence? This is a question that should be asked by everyone, one by one, and in the process of asking this question, instead of pointing the finger at someone else, we should look at our own responsibility.

Will Turkey become Russia? Kaos GL - News Portal for LGBTI+

Defining the LGBT movement in Russia as “extremist organization” and right after conducting raids on gay bars in the country were developments that didn’t get the attention it deserved in Turkish public opinion. The fact that we have given up hope of human rights and democracy in Russia has a significant impact on this. But the developments in Russia, from the “ban on gay propaganda” to the official classification of the LGBTI+ rights struggle as a “terrorist organization”, are essential for the whole region. Let’s remember that just a few years ago, gay people were being purged in concentration camps in the pro-Russian, pro-Putin shadow of Ramazan Kadyrov’s Chechnya. There had not yet been a verdict of “extremism”.

Turkey has turned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine into a great opportunity to promote its arms industry. At the same time, it has been a key player in the circumvention of Western economic sanctions against Russia. In fact, we know from those in-the know that Turkey’s ongoing trade with Russia is one of the most important issues in the talks with the European Union on the liberalization of customs duties. However, Turkey’s foreign policy relationship with Russia also has wider domestic political implications.

After the 2015 elections, the new ruling alliance became a state coalition that brings together actors beyond the visible. It includes pro-Russian and pro-Chinese actors who in previous years had been disempowered to participate in governing. It is hard to say whether the government’s policy of balancing – being flirtatious with everyone in order to get commercial and political benefits – which has been in place since the end of the Ottoman Empire, commonly known as the sick man of Europe, is heading for the last roundup, or the game has just begun. However it is crystal clear that Turkey admires Russia enviously, and pro-Russian actors within the state alliance hold up Putin’s repressive methods as a model.

As for the question in the title, surely Turkey cannot be Russia. But it is also impossible not to notice what the methods borrowed from Russia have done to the country. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s outburst against Russia during the parliamentary elections and the discourses that emerged in the immediate aftermath show that Russia is also active in the elections, even if not with the methods of a spy movie. The actors in the People’s Alliance, inspired by Russia, have drawn and continue to draw the boundaries of “local and national” with the rights and blood of LGBTI+ people.

Is it possible to disregard LGBTI+s within the war policy of Putin, who justifies his invasion of Ukraine by being against “LGBTI+s who are directly leading to degradation and degeneration, because they are contrary to human nature”? As far as the actors are concerned, who still consider the LGBTI+ issue as a separate, special issue, yes. But there are many lessons in Putin’s mention of the issue, even in his declaration of war, for anyone who is trying to understand what is happening by putting aside their prejudices.

The most basic common feature of political homophobia, i.e. the methods of constructing LGBTI+ hostility as a political strategy, which Turkey has also turned into a government policy since 2015 and then into a state policy in recent years, is to limit LGBTI+ people to a cultural or religious issue instead of considering them as people with rights and freedoms. The relation between the Russian construction of itself as the guardian of traditional values and the last stronghold against Western degeneration, and the discourse of ‘local and national’ in Turkey and the surrounding Islamist and nationalist elements with their delusion of “family is going under”, not only a theoretical unity but also reflect practical relations.

For a long time we have been witnessing different shades of the approach that frames the demands for rights and freedoms of the people living in this geography with “Western imperialism”. Imperialism is sometimes replaced by corruption, sometimes by decay, sometimes by the war against Islam, sometimes by national security discourses. When the issue ceases to be about one’s own citizens and country, the political power that Turkey gains from the refugee deal with the EU becomes an issue that directly affects LGBTI+ rights. The EU’s hypocrisy on the refugee issue and Turkey’s transformation into an open-air prison for refugees is one of the greatest powers in the hands of the government. One of the most important moments when Turkey reminded the EU of this power was the massing of refugees at the border before the pandemic. The lesson for the EU was to compromise on human rights in its negotiations with Turkey and not to go beyond the commonplace expression of concern.

Add to this Turkey’s advances in the arms industry, its rapid rise among the world’s top arms exporters, and the fact that every war is an advertisement for the arms industry, and we see that there’s no political force stopping it from taking steps as terrible as Russia’s on LGBTI+ rights. As long as the forces of democracy and human rights in their own countries do not take action, states that overburden LGBTI+ issue, which is actually not a viral topic, and go a bit far more in order to perpetuate these lies. In Russia, this goes as far as the definition of “extremist”.

In Turkey, although not with the same intensity, we are experiencing a similar process. Not only during election periods, but almost every day, one of the building blocks of the ruling party’s ‘local and national’ discourse is the portrayal of LGBTI+ people as outsiders. Pride marches are banned, LGBTI+ rights defenders face many lawsuits, some of which are reflected in the press. If we add to this the fact that there is a lot of administrative pressure on LGBTI+ associations that is not reflected in the press, and that there are attempts to make associations inoperable through various inspections that turn into police methods, the picture is not very encouraging. Isn’t it true that Dugin, one of Putin’s ideologists, spoke at the Great Family Meeting? Don’t those who organized this meeting have a common practical interest with Russia, apart from ideological unity?

In an environment, where LGBTI+s are subjected to such an isolation, what’s stopping someone from one day bringing the example of Russia to the table of the powers that be, closing down LGBT associations through legislative amendments and criminalizing LGBT existence? EU? No. International human rights movement? Who cares?

This is a question that should be asked by everyone, one by one, and in the process of asking this question, instead of pointing the finger at someone else, we should look at our own responsibility. The only power that can stop all this is us. When I say we, I don’t just mean LGBTI+ people. I mean everyone who lives in this country and knows that freedom and equality are the antidote to all kinds of decay and corruption. Everyone who is worried that their rights are being taken away should fight for LGBTI+ rights and build a barrier against the march of war that the government is advancing step by step.

On the eve of the local elections, LGBTI+s have not yet become the main issue for the government. However, it is not difficult to predict that LGBTI+s will be targeted by the government in the local elections, just as they were in the general elections just almost a year ago. It is not possible to predict what the opposition political parties will do. More precisely, we can predict that they will hide their heads in the sand on the LGBTI+ issue, as they did during the general elections, but there is still hope that maybe this time it won’t happen. Because if that happens, every step the government takes against LGBTI+s, who serve as a giunea pig, could grow like an avalanche and drag Turkey to a point worse than Russia...

Translation: Selma Koçak

Tags: human rights