Turkey’s Erdogan denounces LGBT youth as police arrest students

Turkey’s president has lashed out at the country’s LGBT movement amid a wave of student protests.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised the youth wing of his ruling AK Party for carrying the “glorious history of this nation” and not being “LGBT youth”.

On Saturday four students were arrested in Istanbul over a piece of artwork that reportedly combined LGBT symbols with an image of an Islamic site.

There were more protests at Bogazici University after Mr Erdogan’s speech.

A total of 159 people were detained on Monday – more than at any previous point during weeks of demonstrations – although about 100 were released the next day.

Homosexuality is legal in Turkey but official opposition to the LGBT community has grown in recent years. The Istanbul Pride march was banned for five years in a row up to 2019. Covid-19 prevented any attempt to hold it in 2020.

Public opinion is generally conservative and the LGBT community has reported widespread discrimination and harassment.

What did Erdogan say?
In a video broadcast to members of his conservative AK Party on Monday, the Turkish president said: “We will carry our young people to the future, not as the LGBT youth, but as the youth that existed in our nation’s glorious past.

“You are not the LGBT youth, not the youth who commit acts of vandalism. On the contrary, you are the ones who repair broken hearts.”

In a speech in July last year, Mr Erdogan accused LGBT activists of undermining “our national and spiritual values” and “poisoning” young people.

His latest statement follows weeks of protests at Bogazici University over the appointment of Prof Melih Bulu as rector. Activists say he has close links to AK, an Islamist-rooted party.

On Friday, protesters hung an artwork opposite the new rector’s office depicting the Kaaba in Mecca, one of Islam’s holiest sites, and images of the LGBT rainbow flag.

The students arrested on Saturday were accused of “inciting hatred”. In a tweet posted on Tuesday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu called the four suspects “LGBT deviants”.

Twitter flagged the post saying it violated its “rules about hateful conduct”, but added that it would remain accessible for public-interest reasons.

A tough line
By Mahmut Hamsici, BBC Turkish, Istanbul

The protests have been going on for a month now but tension has never been that high. On Monday, a group of Bogazici students protesting about the latest arrests faced a police barricade at the entrance of the university.

Officers arrested some of them while other protesters moved towards the rector’s office. Later police entered the university and made more arrests outside the office. It was unprecedented as police hadn’t entered the campus for many years.

Now calls are being made for fresh protests across Turkey in support of the Bogazici students.

President Erdogan insists that these protests had nothing to do with freedom of expression. It seems that police will continue their stance in line with this approach.