LGBTIQ+ as both subject and object of a vital election in Turkey – I

This article was published on Velvele in Turkish page on April 10, 2023; translated into English by Mertcan Karakuş.

Turkey, as far as the idiom goes, is on the verge of an election. Actually, the elections have been consistently discussed in the public for a long time. 2021 and 2022 passed with polemics emerging from the ruling parties’ negative answers to the opposition’s call for early elections. Finally, the ruling parties, the AKP and the MHP, decided to hold the elections on May 14th, one month earlier from the settled date. The ruling parties had two goals when they set this early date. First, they wanted to eliminate legal-technical bumps in front of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s illegal third nomination, objected due to its unconstitutionality. Second, the ruling parties wanted to win a similar victory as the Demokrat Party, which the AKP claims to be the successor of on every occasion, won on May 14, 1950. In this regard, by appealing to the collective memory of May 14th, which has a symbolic importance for the Turkish Right, they are targeting to empower and gather nationalist-conservative voters under the Cumhur Alliance against ‘‘the CHP way of thinking.’’ That’s why Fatih Erbakan, the leader of the Yeniden Refah Party, one of the new members of the Cumhur Alliance, re-emphasized historical and symbolic references of the alliance with these words: ‘‘We wouldn’t want to face the blame of handing over our country to the CHP way of thinking again after 60-70 years.’’  

LGBTQI+ as the enemy other of ‘‘the New Conservative Turkey’’

The Elections on May 14, 2023 are one of the most crucial elections of our recent history. At first glance, this sentence may seem like a cliché, because most of the elections up until today must have been analyzed as crucial. But the AKP-MHP alliance’s attempt to turn the elections into a matter of “life and death” in order to keep their ruling position and to complete the institutionalization of this authoritarian-fascist regime under the name of ‘‘Presidency Government System’’ makes this election more crucial than the previous ones. Moreover, when the Yeniden Refah Party and the Hüda-Par with its clear relationship with Hezbollah joined the Cumhur Alliance, a radical right block was formed. As Selahattin Demirtaş pointed out appropriately, we are face to face with a ‘‘Taliban Alliance.’’ If this alliance wins the elections, presumably nobody could claim that it is just a conspiracy theory that the remaining scraps of freedom would all be put away. During the entire history of the Republic, which reached its 100th year, it could certainly  be questioned how close Turkey has ever gotten to the borders of a bourgeois-liberal democracy or when bare minimum democracy could ever be established. However, the May 14th elections should be considered as a new phase for the Cumhur Alliance’s construction of the society from head to toe according to nationalist-conservative-Islamic morals and as an important threshold in terms of fixing their regime permanently.

The most important arteries of this social project are hijacking women’s years- long achievements and demonizing the LGBTIQ+ in the name of  protecting the family. Actually, 2010’s were the years that the AKP’s construction of an Islamic-conservative-authoritarian regime deepened in the political arena. At the same time, the ruling AKP’s discourse which rejects gender equality and centers the family in the society and is crystallized   in the ‘‘strong family-strong society’’ slogan has become more and more prominent. And, policies based on this discourse have been implemented. We should also keep in mind that 2010’s were the start of an era, in which authoritarian right wing populism/new fascism and anti-gender movements have risen across the globe  and the AKP has adopted the global right’s anti-LGBTQI+ agenda. We should also underline that, in this process, the AKP’s policy of ignoring the LGBTQI+ has slowly turned into clear hostility towards them.  Especially since the the period between 2015 and 2016, a turning point when the negotiations on the Kurdish problem were terminated and the July 15th coup attempt was carried out, we have witnessed that platforms on which LGBTQI+ could make their voice heard have been narrowed down day by day, LGBTQI+ Pride Marches have been banned foremost in İstanbul and in various other cities, public activities carried by LGBTQI+ organizations have been banned and during this process, LGBTQI+ have been targeted with the ‘‘perversion’’ discourse in escalating quantity and frequency by both pro-government media and the AKP executives. In 2021, under the governing of the AKP, Turkey resigned from The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (a.k.a. İstanbul Convention). The ruling AKP was the first signatory of the convention in 2011. Withdrawing from the convention was rationalized with the allegation that ‘‘the convention has been utilized by groups which aim to normalize homosexuality that is against social and family values of Turkey.’’ In early October, the leader of the main opposition party’s statement on ‘‘legal assurance to the liberty of wearing a headscarf’’ was deemed as an opportunity by the ruling party because of the incoming elections. The ruling AKP used this opportunity and made the constitutional amendment a tool for their polarization policy; and a new attack wave, cloaked under protection of the family, was released on LGBTQI+ people. Almost at the same time, hate marches, promoted by the ruling party, were organized under the name of Great Family Marches. Even if the constitutional amendment was postponed because of the February 6th earthquake that affected 11 cities and exposed the bankruptcy of the AKP-MHP alliance, if the Cumhur Alliance wins the May 14th elections, it is obvious that constitutional and legal regulations against women and LGBTQI+ will be on their agenda. Hence, the Yeniden Refah Party’s and the Hüda-Par’s conditions of joining the Cumhur Alliance, which are abolishing the No. 6284 Law– which they assume as an extent of the İstanbul Convention–, re-criminalization of adultery, shutting down LGBTQI+ organizations, creating a religion-oriented education system by prioritizing  morals and spirituality mostly agreed on by the ruling parties.  Considering that the Cumhur Alliance feeds from and shares similar cultural codes with the mindset formed in the second half of the 1940’s, the period when Turkey switched to a multiparty system, the AKP’s acceptance of these demands just for sake of winning the elections would be an inadequate analysis. Although the Cumhur Alliance conveying the Turkish nationalist MHP in one corner and Hüda-Par with its Kurdish-ish identity in another seems eccentric, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the AKP and the Yeniden Refah Party stems from the National Vision Movement and almost all of the alliance members, even if they are slightly different from each other, unite in envisioning an authoritarian-conservative society. In my opinion, Erdoğan’s answer to a question about LGBTQI+ on TV in 2002 (before they won the elections) as ‘‘homosexuals should also be under legal security in terms of their own rights and freedom’’ should be evaluated in the temporal context and as a tactic in their pragmatic political strategy then. I am aware that LGBTQI+ organizations gained legal status and Pride Marches started to be organized collectively under the AKP’s rule. Generally during the AKP’s adventurous mandate of 21 years, some democratic openings have been made, some political breaking points and transformations have been experienced. But I think that the highly accepted theories, which explain the AKP’s rule until the 2010-2011 period as liberal-conservative or conservative-democratic and claim that somehow it steered towards authoritarianism, are inadequate in terms of understanding the AKP. This kind of analysis ignores that in 2011, the AKP was still not in control of all power apparati, so the party had not completed its statification yet. This type of analysis also fails to analyze the AKP’s core authoritarian Islamic character, their tendency to become full authoritarian when the time is right and their willingness to construct a New Conservative Turkey.

(To be continued)

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