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'Kill the gays' posters stir up Turkish capital

Sertan Sanderson July 8, 2015

An Islamist group pinned posters across Ankara in an attempt to use religious references to incite hatred against gays and lesbians. With political Islam on the rise, local governments choose to ignore the problem.

Gay Pride in Istanbul on June 28, 2015
Riot police had prevented Gay Pride celebrations from taking place in Istanbul on June 28, 2015Image: picture-alliance/abaca

Quoting a verse from the Hadith - a collection of sayings of Prophet Muhammad - unauthorized posters appeared across Ankara on Tuesday, prompting passersby to "kill whoever does the ugly business of the people of Lot, whether he may perpetuate it or lets it happen."

An Islamist group known as the Young Islamic Defense claimed responsibility for the campaign, saying it was trying to "respond to the immoral actions" of lesbians, gays and bisexuals - equating them to the inhabitants of Sodom during biblical times. Though attracting criticism from LGBT groups globally, the campaign drew online support from likeminded people within Turkey who lauded the campaign.

Twitter user Yusuf Ensar Caliskan said: "I support this welcome initiative by the Young Islamic Defense group. We have to protect our brothers."

Other proponents of the poster campaign revealed their willingness to become part of a violent Islamic movement within Turkey. Genc Mucahide, or "young mujahedeen," tweeted that he applauded the Young Islamic Defense movement's posters, adding that he was supporting their cause "until the end."

"Getting rid of filth"

Other social media users challenged these attitudes. One confronted Yusuf Ensar Caliskan asking whether public incitement to murder could be regarded as a "welcome initiative." Another supporter of the Young Islamic Defense group replied it wasn't incitement but "getting rid of filth."

With Turks among the world's most active Twitter users, heated debates have continued online. But city and local officials have decried the magnitude of the incident. Ankara's city council said the posters fell under the jurisdiction of local Cankaya council, which is responsible for the part of the city where the posters were spotted. A local government official at Cankaya council told Deutsche Welle on the condition of anonymity that no one had heard about the incident until the press started reporting on it.

"Ankara city council really should be on top of it with all their resources. This is one of the biggest cities in the country. They should be on top of this, and they want to pass the blame to us? It's embarrassing," the official said. "It's embarrassing for them as much as it is embarrassing for us. And personally, I find it very saddening. Such things shouldn't be happening in this day and age."

Tear gas and rubber bullets to prevent gay pride march

The posters' appearance in the capital city came 10 days after Turkish police had intervened in the country's largest annual gay pride march. Police in Istanbul prevented the march from taking place by firing water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets at activists. Authorities had tried to justify the march's ban by saying such an event should not take place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Gay pride events had largely been successful in Istanbul for the past 10 years, but after the 2013 Gezi Park protests, which attracted many gays, lesbians, transsexuals and other supporting gender equality, authorities have been trying to clamp down on non-conformists and their various public events, include gay pride parades.

The posters in Ankara have since been taken down and the Young Islamic Defense Twitter account has been suspended, though sympathizers have promised to create a new platform for the extremist group. The Young Islamic Defense stated that it was "spreading the word of Islam" and not trying to incite any hatred. "This is the will of Allah after all," the statement read.

Gay Pride in Istanbul on June 28, 2015
Many suffered injuries when the police stopped the Gay Pride Events in June with tear gas and rubber bulletsImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

The group also distanced itself from any association with "Islamic State," despite adapting of several elements of the IS flag into its own symbol. It accused "the left-wing media" of linking the Young Islamic Defense group to IS.

Alienation and marginalization of minorities

Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, but many gays and lesbians choose keep their sexuality a secret. Despite the existence of LGBT organizations in Turkey, none replied to several requests for comment. Deutsche Welle Ankara correspondent Hilal Koylu said dissenting voices were increasingly keeping to themselves amid a volatile political climate.

"The issue is that there is a growing climate of hatred across Turkey - not just against gays but against women, against Kurds, against foreigners, against nonbelievers, against all minorities in general," Koylu said. "This is a worrying trend, and it is spilling over into fractions with such extreme political motivations. Even in the case of these anti-gay posters, it feels like part of a long list of hatemongering activities that have been surfacing lately. And to be honest, I don't where this is going to end."