Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper), The Turkish general election campaign preceding the 2024 elections was marked by a significant increase in homophobic rhetoric and actions targeting the LGBT+ community. President Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling party, AKP, utilized anti-LGBT+ sentiments as a part of their campaign strategy, labeling the opposition as “pro-LGBT” and pledging to protect traditional family values. This rhetoric has had profound implications for the LGBT+ community in Turkey, leading to heightened fears of discrimination, police raids, and legal crackdowns. Many individuals within the community now live in constant fear, with some even contemplating leaving the country to escape the intensified hostility.
During the recent elections in Turkey, there was a lot of hate speech about the LGBT+ community. This was mainly led by Suleyman Soylu, the Interior Minister at the time, and supported by the New Welfare Party (YRP), a religious political party. After the elections, Soylu lost his job as minister, and it seems few people are sad about that. However, the YRP made it into parliament with a few seats, and they haven’t stopped criticizing the LGBT+ community. They are using their alliance with the ruling party, AKP, to pressure them into closing down LGBT+ organizations.
As Turkey gears up for its local elections in March 2024, the LGBT+ community once again finds itself navigating a turbulent political climate. The stakes are exceptionally high this time around as the rhetoric against them intensifies, casting a shadow of threat and fear. The discourse now, more direct and aggressive, frames their existence within the public sphere as illegal and immoral. Central to the campaign against the LGBT+ community is the notion of “moral municipalities,” an agenda advocating for the removal of LGBT+ individuals from urban spaces. This push, emanating from certain political factions, underscores a broader struggle for the LGBT+ community to claim their rightful place in society amidst an increasingly hostile environment. The narrative of “cleansing” the cities challenges the inclusivity of urban spaces and raises critical questions about the very fabric of democracy and human rights in Turkey.
In the upcoming local elections in Turkey, the role of metropolitan municipalities is crucial for the LGBT+ community, offering them relatively safer and more accessible environments compared to smaller cities under the control of AKP and its allies. These municipalities possess significant authority that could impact the LGBT+ community’s access to safe spaces and offices. The concern is that if opposition parties lose control of these key cities, the New Welfare Party (YRP) could exert even greater pressure on the AKP to marginalize LGBT+ organizations from the public sphere.
The political dynamics in Istanbul are particularly significant. The AKP seeks support from YRP voters to secure victory in Istanbul, a critical objective for President Erdogan. Ongoing alliance negotiations between the AKP and the YRP hinge on whether the YRP will support the AKP’s candidate without fielding one of their own. The partnership between these two parties played a pivotal role in the last general elections and could be a decisive factor in winning Istanbul.
Should the AKP succeed in capturing the Istanbul mayoralty, the YRP is likely to leverage this victory to fulfill its longstanding agenda against LGBT+ organizations. This potential outcome underscores the high stakes of the local elections for the LGBT+ community, as the political landscape could shift significantly in a way that affects their rights and presence in the public sphere.
In this election, the challenges facing the LGBT+ community in Turkey extend beyond the YRP. HÜDAPAR, a political entity with roots in Hizbullah and established in 2012, emerges as another significant concern. This party, which could be seen as a Kurdish Islamist counterpart to the YRP with a more contentious history, also aligns with the AKP and YRP in a broader coalition. YRP’s stronghold in Istanbul, with a voter base of around 2.5%, is crucial for the AKP, which is keen on securing this support. However, HÜDAPAR’s stronghold is mainly in eastern Turkey, which is also a valuable geography for AKP for a different reason.
The AKP’s strategy in the eastern regions involves leveraging HÜDAPAR to counteract the influence of the more secular and leftist Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party), which has a solid Kurdish base. Following the 2019 local elections, many Kurdish municipalities saw the appointment of government trustees, which has stirred controversy and debate. In the wake of these appointments, HÜDAPAR has reportedly been gaining traction in these areas, capitalizing on the void left by the curtailed powers of elected Kurdish officials.
The DEM Party and its predecessors have historically been more supportive of LGBT+ rights and freedoms, offering a relatively safer environment for the LGBT+ community in the cities they govern. This progressive stance has been crucial in providing spaces where the LGBT+ community can live with less fear of discrimination and hostility. However, the appointment of government trustees to Kurdish municipalities following the 2019 local elections, coupled with the rising influence of HÜDAPAR, threatens to dismantle these safe spaces. If HÜDAPAR wins control of Kurdish municipalities directly or by supporting the AKP, the situation could become even more precarious for the LGBT+ community. In scenarios where HÜDAPAR, much like the YRP, gains influence, there is a significant risk that they will pressure the AKP to take harsher stances against LGBT+ organizations, potentially declaring these entities illegal.
Turkey’s political scene is like a complicated story that puts the LGBT+ community in a tricky spot. With HÜDAPAR becoming more popular in the Kurdish areas in the east and YRP having a solid presence in Istanbul, things are getting challenging. Both these groups hold on to traditional views that make it hard for LGBT+ rights to move forward and be seen. The way these groups form alliances and play their political games shows how uncertain and delicate the situation is for LGBT+ people as Turkey’s politics keeps changing. This situation highlights the need for people to stay alert and keep pushing for a community where everyone, including LGBT+ individuals, is accepted and their rights are protected despite the changing political winds.
Opinions expressed in the op-ed section are solely those of the individual author and do not represent the official stance of our newspaper. We believe in providing a platform for a wide range of voices and perspectives, even those that may challenge or differ from our own. As always, we remain committed to providing our readers with high-quality, fair, and balanced journalism. Thank you for your continued support.Sincerely, The Brussels Morning Team.