HATE CRIMES IN TURKEY
Thousands of trans*women live in the big cities of Turkey: Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. Within the last years there has been an increase in the number of murders of transwomen, attacks by the police and also Pogrom-like outrages by the population. But police and state do not even investigate the crimes against transwomen.
If criminal acts against transwomen, including their murder, are investigated by the police and brought to court at all, perpetrators can count on a lenient sentence or even immunity from prosecution. The Turkish criminal code contains an article which refers on the matter of unjust provocation. In practice it has been mostly interpreted in advantage of the perpetrator and led to a lenient sentence. Not punishing murder and physical assault is like an invitation.
Here the so-called hate murders are just the most obvious and most extreme expression of the eradication of people, who just do not correspond to the majority of society. The exclusion from rights that are basic to life is part of everyday life and sometimes quite unspectacular but it grinds them down too. The right to choose freely: a job, a flat or simply a path to go for a walk. But transwomen generally have no choice. They perform sex work, get nowhere to live or have to pay unfair rents. No going for a walk without hate-filled looks. No police check without being stopped or taken away, particularly as the police officers get bonus points for inflicting fines on transwomen.
Transgender people are visible, can be differentiated from the majority and thereby they become an easy target for attack. Television programs and news report for example on ‘terror by transsexuals’. Disease, dirt, rowdiness, aggression, immorality and un-Turkishness are all ascribed to trans*, supposedly trans* have no honour and no values. At best trans* are seen as mysterious, exotic and artistic - but at the same time they are made invisible in society and state.
The situation of transgender in Turkey is determined by state and society. There is an intersection between social prejudices and the deprivation of rights of transgender people, mainly of transwomen. However, the increasing number of hate murdering is a result of governmental policy. It is not a cultural problem; it is obviously a political problem: The lack of investigation shows there is not even the minimum of human rights a state should guarantee: the live.
There is no legal definition of Transphobia. What can be found on Internet websites are more or less the same, e.g.: “Transphobia is the fear, hatred or dislike of, or discrimination towards, a person because that person is transgender. This is sometimes referred to as transprejudice and the consequences can be very serious. Transphobia is similar to homophobia which is prejudice against someone who is gay, lesbian or bisexual.” What all this definitions have in common is that they refer mostly on a deep ominous fear as a personal attitude and an inner inscrutable feeling of a single person. It appears like an anthropologic primordial anxiety. But by analysing the issue the involvement of groups, institutions and their related discourses can be recognized. It seems more to work like a widely ramified system which is based in society’s structure; e.g. value system and moral judgment of society, employment sector, jurisdiction, medical sector, the media, state’s policy, executive government bodies, like police.... Transphobia seems to be working like a system comparable to racism. What can be detected as well: it is connected with power interest and works as an ancient cross-cultural power mechanism based on visibility: a personal visible characteristic as the criterion for social and political exclusion.
Trans* are even marginalized in the lgb community itself.
Policies based on visibility and prejudice
These policies may do not intentionally aiming on visibility and/or hate. But as a matter of fact they do work by using these mechanisms. In the following a few examples are shown:
One of the most obvious obstacles against Trans* has been the Police Duty and Authority Law that was modified several times between 2002- 2009. The law amended by CHP and AKP together, increased the police’s authority. The police have arrested and have given ticket to Trans* for walking on the streets on many grounds, such as “blocking the traffic”, or “behaving against general morality”1. Even this measure should primarily curbed sex work it assumed an advancing separate existence. Due to policemen received bonus points they have stopped everyone who looked like Trans* 24 hours a day. This had the effect that Trans* could not move out of their homes. Istanbul lgbtt created a lot of public events and awareness raising and laid a complaint against the responsible police chef. The operation was stopped.
Regularly the media supply the public perception of Trans* with stereotyped pictures about Trans*. They present them as a homogeneous group of sex workers that stands besides the streets and terrorises population or police. Media comes as an instrument that feeds and produces discrimination, hate speech and hate images. “Hate speech creates the risk of hate crime”2; as it is evident from different examples of history in every part of the world: hate speech and hate images can kill. Media are responsible for spreading hate where it gives an uncritical platform to those forces in society who promote such speech or adopt unquestioned ascriptions in form of pictures. Visuals are very impressive and stay in the heads of people for a long time. New media in the hands of minorities will be a great chance to develop diversity of media and become more and more important for communication and information beyond the mainstream media.
Some members of AKP government have openly made homo- and transphobic statements. The best known example in the recent past is the statement of the Sate Minister for Women and Family, Aliya Kavaf, that homosexuality is a disease and should be treated. Kavaf´s declaration raised considerable public outreach and protest by lgbtt organisations, NGOs and deputies from various political parties- e.g. representatives from CHP and BDP have raised parliamentary questions about the measures taken for the discrimination against Lgbtts after this statement. This can be seen as a sign of increased strength and legitimacy of lgbtt movement and individuals in some parts of society.
According to the report of Human Rights Watch the “Conditions in Turkey are still in flux today, with greater freedom and invidious attitudes coexisting. On the positive side, civil society in Turkey is notably freer than it was a decade ago, and gays and lesbians feel it; (...) Yet violence has followed visibility. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s greater exposure has led to greater danger for many ordinary people.”3 As already exposed, there is a significant difference within lgbtt´s situation. Lgbs are not as recognizable as Trans* and they are not unquestioningly forced to perform sex work. Hence it has to be emphasized that "hate crimes target particularly transgender people in Turkey. It doesn’t therefore come as a surprise that amongst all 47 CoE member states, Turkey ranks first for trans murder cases."4
- “Seks Işçileri ve Yasalar” by Muhtar Çocar, Habibe Yılmaz Kayar; Istanbul 2011
- According to the study “Hate crime in national press: 10 years 10 cases” and “Hate Crimes and Hate Speech” 2010, published as a part of the project “Media Watch on Hate Speech” by The International Hrant Dink Foundation
- “We Need a Law for Liberation” Human Rights Watch report 2008
- ILGA-Europe's submission to the European Community's 2011 Progress Report on Turkey