Above Turkish LGBTQ+ supporters march in Istanbul in 2017.
According to the BBC, four students in Turkey have been arrested over an artwork that depicts LGBTQ+ pride symbols alongside an image of a sacred Islamic site.
Duvar Englishreports that the collage was part of an exhibition at the Boğaziçi University, where students have been protesting the appointment of Professor Melih Bulu as the school’s rector. Bulu is believed to have links to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AK Party.
Under Erdoğan’s AK Party, Turkey has grown increasingly Islamist and intolerant. Although same sex relationships have not been prohibited by Turkish law, the country has become more conservative and hostile to the LGBTQ+ community has grown in recent years. The LGBTQ+ community have been increasingly targeted by hate speech, and crimes committed against them go unpunished. The Istanbul Pride march was banned from 2014-2019 (the global pandemic prevented any attempt to hold one last year).
The art piece (below) has queer flags (the rainbow, lesbian, ace, and transgender flags) in the corners of a depiction of the Kaaba, a building at the centre of the Masjid al-Haram (the Great Mosque) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, considered one of the most sacred sites in Islam. In the center is a representatio of the mythical creature Shahmaran, a half woman and half snake.
When members of the Boğaziçi University’s Islamic Studies Club (BİSAK) members saw the artwork they pronounced it an insult to Islam, tweeting on January 29th, “An art exhibition was launched on the campus on Thursday [January 28] via using the ongoing protests against the rector appointment as an excuse,” BİSAK tweeted, referring to the protests against Bulu’s appointment.
“We will never allow our Islamic values to be made fun of within our university. We don’t accept this immorality to be legitimized under the guise of art,” BİSAK tweeted, drawing the attention of pro-government Islamist media outlets.
The BBC noted that Erdoğan’s chief adviser Ibrahim Kalin, responded “neither freedom of expression nor the right to protest” could defend the artwork, adding that the students who created and displayed would receive “the punishment it deserves before the law.”
The Istanbul Governor’s Office called the artwork an “ugly attack” that “mocked religious beliefs,” while Turkey’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, tweeted that “4 LGBT deviants who committed the disrespect to the Kaaba-i Muazzama were detained at Boğaziçi University.”
Zeynep, a 23-year-old artist from Turkey, tweeted a photo of the artwork and noted, “One other reason as to why I shy away from cultural representation is that we literally have walk a mine field, never knowing when something so ordinary may unleash an army calling you a 'deviant.'”