Turkish gov't uses protests at Boğaziçi University to attack LGBT rights with Islamist discourse

Turkish government officials have targeted Turkey's LGBT community after a picture of Kaaba with LGBT flags was used during an exhibition at Boğaziçi University. The officials deemed the move disrespectful towards Islam, while Interior Minister Soylu called LGBT individuals "perverted." Two students were arrested and two others were placed under house arrest.

The picture of Kaaba featuring LGBT flags is seen.

Neşe İdil / Duvar English 

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) targeted the LGBT community after Boğaziçi University students used a picture of Kaaba - a holy site for Muslims - featuring LGBT flags in an exhibition during the ongoing protests. 

The picture was on the floor to be hung as part of an exhibition at the university's South Campus when Boğaziçi University's Islamic Studies Club (BİSAK) noticed it and deemed it an insult towards Islam. 

"An art exhibition was launched on the campus on Thursday [Jan. 28] via using the ongoing protests against the rector appointment as an excuse," BİSAK tweeted on Jan. 29, referring to the month-long protests against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's rector appointment to the university. 

"We will never allow our Islamic values to be made fun of within our university. We don't accept this immorality to be legitimized under the guise of art," BİSAK said, which immediately drew the attention of pro-government and Islamist media outlets. 

The pro-government media had already been following the protests closely to slander them, as they often deemed students "terrorists" for objecting to the anti-democratic appointment of rector Melih Bulu - a long-time AKP supporter. 

Students and academics have been protesting the appointment since Jan. 2, but Bulu, who is not qualified to be the rector of Turkey's most prestigious university since he lacks democratic values, academic principles and impartiality, has been ignoring all calls on him to resign by deeming them "provocations" despite it was revealed that he did plagiarism in his numerous academic works. 

During the early days of the protests, President Erdoğan and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu targeted the students by calling them "terrorists," while a group of students was detained and subjected to mistreatment under police custody. 

Similar to the trends in previous peaceful protests in Turkey, Erdoğan's government sought ways to turn the public against those protesting and make them seem like part of illegal groups to justify its anti-democratic appointment. The tool, this time, was the picture of Kaaba with LGBT flags. 

On Jan. 29, the head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), Ali Erbaş, said that he condemns the "attack" on Kaaba and "our Islamic values." 

"We'll be following this case and file complaints against those who were disrespectful," said Erbaş, who is a known homophobic who in April last year cited a verse from the Quran to target the LGBT community.

"Homosexuality causes diseases and decays lineage. Hundreds of thousands of people are exposed to the HIV virus caused by living out of wedlock, which is called adultery in Islamic literature, each year. Let's struggle together to protect people from these types of evils," he said at the time, prompting outrage from human rights groups and bar associations, but receiving support from government officials. 

Increasing Islamization under AKP rule 

Turkey has been getting increasingly Islamist under Erdoğan's AKP. The government acts as if Islam is the official religion of the country and that there is no way to criticize it, even slightly.

The LGBT community is without a doubt the group most affected by this Islamization, as they are often targeted by hate speech and the crimes committed against them go unpunished. Many on social media say that the country is getting more and more difficult to live in. 

Another incriminated group is non-Muslims since Erdoğan and the government base their discourse on Islam and hail the religion at every opportunity, hence limiting the living space of the non-believers and non-Muslims. 

Shortly after Erbaş's tweet on Jan. 29, the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office said that an investigation was launched into the incident for "insulting religious values that a part of the society believes in." Four students were subsequently detained. 

Minister Soylu then used hate speech against LGBT individuals by calling them "perverted."

"Four LGBT perverts were detained for disrespecting Kaaba at Boğaziçi University," Soylu tweeted early on Jan. 30. 

All the while, Islamists and government supporters hurled insults at the LGBT community through using Islamist discourse on Twitter. 

Bulu also released a statement on the issue on Jan. 30, saying that an investigation was launched into the students and that "such an attack on Islam's holy [places] has no place in Boğaziçi University values." 

Numerous students responded to Bulu's tweet by saying that he has no place in Boğaziçi University and that he has no idea about what the university's values are. Strikingly, his poor Turkish was once again revealed in his tweet that targeted students. 

Also on Jan. 30, the Istanbul Governor's Office said that a raid was carried out on the Boğaziçi University's LGBTI+ Club and LGBT flags were "seized." The word "seized" shocked social media users for its apparent attempt to incriminate the LGBT community, with many asking whether it's a crime to have these flags. 

Later in the day, two students were arrested and two others were placed under house arrest "for insulting religious values." 

The students released a message on social media before they were taken to jail, as they called on people to not be worried and support them. 

Vice President Fuat Oktay, Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun and AKP spokesperson Mahir Ünal also condemned the "attack on Kaaba." According to Altun, "the aim of this perverted thinking and lifestyle is to harm our generations," referring to the LGBT community. 

CHP 'condemns attack' 

Perhaps the most disappointing statement came from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) with its spokesperson saying that they "condemn the attack." 

"We can never accept an attack or insulting against humanity's sacred values. We strongly condemn this heinous provocation. We expect all those responsible to be revealed," Faik Öztrak tweeted on Jan. 30, drawing ire from social media users for using the same discourse as the AKP. 

Despite the hate speech and threatening language towards them, Boğaziçi University students remained defiant. 

"Those who resist shake the government that promises nothing more than oppression and trustees. We have a government that turned this country into an open-air prison due to its 'sensitivities.' We are on the side of those struggling."