[Marxism] Was Ahmet Yildiz the victim of Turkey's first gay honour killing?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Jul 19 07:19:16 MDT 2008


Was Ahmet Yildiz the victim of Turkey's first gay honour killing?

By Nicholas Birch in Istanbul
Saturday, 19 July 2008

In a corner of Istanbul today, the man who might be described as 
Turkey's gay poster boy will be buried – a victim, his friends 
believe, of the country's deepening friction between an increasingly 
liberal society and its entrenched conservative traditions.

Ahmet Yildiz, 26, a physics student who represented his country at an 
international gay gathering in San Francisco last year, was shot 
leaving a cafe near the Bosphorus strait this week. Fatally wounded, 
the student tried to flee the attackers in his car, but lost control, 
crashed at the side of the road and died shortly afterwards in 
hospital. His friends believe Mr Yildiz was the victim of the 
country's first gay honour killing.

"He fell victim to a war between old mentalities and growing civil 
liberties," says Sedef Cakmak, a friend and a member of the gay 
rights lobby group Lambda. "I feel helpless: we are trying to raise 
awareness of gay rights in this country, but the more visible we 
become, the more we open ourselves up to this sort of attack."

Turkey was all but closed to the world until 1980 but its desire for 
European Union membership has imposed strains on a society formerly 
kept on a tight leash. As the notion of rights for minorities such as 
women and gays has blossomed, the country's civil society becomes 
more vibrant by the day. But the changes have brought a backlash from 
traditionalist circles wedded to the old regime.

Bungled efforts by a religious-minded government to loosen the grip 
of Turkey's authoritarian version of secularism have triggered a 
court case aimed at shutting the ruling party down, with a verdict 
expected within a month.

Against this backdrop, the issues of women's rights, sexuality and 
the place of religion in the public arena have been particularly 
contentious. Ahmet Yildiz's crime, his friends say, was to admit 
openly to his family that he was gay.

"From the day I met him, I never heard Ahmet have a friendly 
conversation with his parents," one close friend and near neighbour 
recounted. "They would argue constantly, mostly about where he was, 
who he was with, what he was doing."

The family pressure increased, the friend explained. "They wanted him 
to go back home, see a doctor who could cure him, and get married." 
Shortly after coming out this year, Mr Yildiz went to a prosecutor to 
complain that he was receiving death threats. The case was dropped. 
Five months later, he was dead. The police are now investigating his 
murder. For gay rights groups, the student's inability to get 
protection was a typical by-product of the indifference, if not 
hostility, with which a broad swathe of Turkish society views 
homosexuality. The military, for example, sees it as an "illness". 
Men applying for an exemption to obligatory military service on 
grounds of homosexuality must provide proof – either in the form of 
an anal examination, or photographs.

"The media ignores or laughs off violence against gays," says Buse 
Kilickaya, a member of the gay lobbying group Pink Life, adding that 
Ahmet Yildiz's death "risks being swept under the carpet and 
forgotten like other cases in the past". Turkey has a history of 
honour killings. A government survey earlier this year estimated that 
one person every week dies in Istanbul as a result of honour 
killings. It put the nationwide death toll at 220 in 2007. In the 
majority of cases, the victims are women, but Mr Yildiz's friends 
suspect he may be the first recorded victim of a homosexual honour killing.

"We've been trying to contact Ahmet's family since Wednesday, to get 
them to take responsibility for the funeral," one of the victim's 
friends said yesterday, standing outside the morgue where his body 
has been for three days. "There's no answer, and I don't think they 
are going to come." The refusal of families to bury their relatives 
is common after honour-related murders.

Mazhar Bagli, a Turkish sociologist who has interviewed 189 people 
convicted of honour killings, has never heard of a death revolving 
around homosexuality but has no doubt that it could be used as 
justification. "Honour killings cleanse illicit relationships. For 
women, that is a broad term. Men are allowed more sexual freedom, but 
homosexuality is still seen by some as beyond the pale."

While his death may be unique, Mr Yildiz is by no means the first 
victim of widespread homophobia. When an Istanbul court decided to 
close down the city's largest gay rights group late this May, 
commentators took the decision as evidence of a crackdown on the 
community spearheaded by Turkey's current religious-minded 
government. Lambda Istanbul had been taken to court by the Istanbul 
governor's office on the grounds that it was "against the law and morality".

However, many gay activists are reluctant to draw a connection with 
the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), noting it was the 
first party in Turkey's history to send a deputy to attend a 
conference on gay rights. This year's Gay Pride parade in Istanbul 
was the largest ever, they also point out. Long active in more 
liberal parts of western Turkey, gay groups are even beginning to 
meet relatively openly in the conservative east of the country where 
Ahmet Yildiz came from.

But according to the former neighbour, the physics student's blank 
refusal to hide who he was in any way may have been too much for his 
family. "He could have hidden who he was, but he wanted to live 
honestly," the neighbour said. "When the death threats started, his 
boyfriend tried to persuade him to get out of Turkey. But he stayed. 
He was too brave. He was too open."

Killed by those they loved

So-called "honour killings" continue to be a grim reality wherever 
conservative social mores resist the rule of law.

In Turkey, a recent government study estimated that around 1,000 
honour killings have been committed in the past five years. The 
victims are mostly young women, murdered by male relatives for 
transgressing chauvinistic social rules.

Women have been killed for having illicit affairs, talking to 
strangers, or even for being the victim of rape. Turkey's justice 
system has recently increased penalties for honour killings, and 
ended the practice of allowing murderers to claim family honour as an 
extenuating circumstance. However, getting a child relative to carry 
out the killing remains a horrifying way around the law.

The problem is not confined to Turkey. The UN estimates that 5,000 
honour killings take place globally every year, from Brazil to 
Pakistan to Britain. Police estimate more than a dozen honour 
killings take place in the UK every year, such as the brutal rape and 
murder of 20-year-old Banaz Mahmod by her uncle and father in 2006, 
or the murder of Rukhsana Naz, strangled by her family because she 
wanted a divorce in 1999.

Honour killings have not so far really targeted gay men, although in 
2006 a wave of anti-gay killings took place in Iraq, carried out by 
fanatical Islamist militias. A Jordanian man was shot and wounded by 
his brother in 2004, apparently for being gay.

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