09/09/2008 | Writer: KAOS GL

The Independent
August 11, 2008

In a corner of Istanbul today, the man who might be described as Turkey's gay poster boy will be buried

Ahmet Yildiz, 26, a physics student who represented his country at an international gay gathering in San Francisco last year, was shot leaving a cafe near the Bosphorus strait this week. Fatally wounded, the student tried to flee the attackers in his car, but lost control, crashed at the side of the road and died shortly afterwards in hospital. His friends believe Mr Yildiz was the victim of the country's first gay honour killing.

"He fell victim to a war between old mentalities and growing civil liberties," says Sedef Cakmak, a friend and a member of the gay rights lobby group Lambda. "I feel helpless: we are trying to raise awareness of gay rights in this country, but the more visible we become, the more we open ourselves up to this sort of attack."

Turkey was all but closed to the world until 1980 but its desire for European Union membership has imposed strains on a society formerly kept on a tight leash. As the notion of rights for minorities such as women and gays has blossomed, the country's civil society becomes more vibrant by the day. But the changes have brought a backlash from traditionalist circles wedded to the old regime.

Bungled efforts by a religious-minded government to loosen the grip of Turkey's authoritarian version of secularism have triggered a court case aimed at shutting the ruling party down, with a verdict expected within a month.

Against this backdrop, the issues of women's rights, sexuality and the place of religion in the public arena have been particularly contentious. Ahmet Yildiz's crime, his friends say, was to admit openly to his family that he was gay.

"From the day I met him, I never heard Ahmet have a friendly conversation with his parents," one close friend and near neighbour recounted. "They would argue constantly, mostly about where he was, who he was with, what he was doing."

The family pressure increased, the friend explained. "They wanted him to go back home, see a doctor who could cure him, and get married." Shortly after coming out this year, Mr Yildiz went to a prosecutor to complain that he was receiving death threats. The case was dropped. Five months later, he was dead. The police are now investigating his murder. For gay rights groups, the student's inability to get protection was a typical by-product of the indifference, if not hostility, with which a broad swathe of Turkish society views homosexuality. The military, for example, sees it as an "illness". Men applying for an exemption to obligatory military service on grounds of homosexuality must provide proof
Tags: human rights
Dijital