Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Thursday “there is no such thing” as LGBT during a speech denouncing a recent anti-government protest movement launched at an Istanbul university last month.
“The LGBT, there is no such thing,” Erdoğan said. “This country is … moral, and it will walk to the future with these values.”
Erdoğan’s comments on Thursday came in response to a recent incident at Istanbul’s Bogazici University in which protesters displayed a poster depicting Mecca – Islam’s holiest site in Saudi Arabia, which all Muslims pray towards – with various LGBT flags and symbols.
“The poster placed a mythical creature of half-woman and half-snake found in Middle Eastern folklore on the site of worship along with the flags of LGBT, lesbian, trans and asexual people. The text below said the artwork was a critique of traditional gender roles,” according to the Associated Press.
Istanbul police on January 30 arrested two people on charges of “inciting hatred and insulting religious values” for helping to display the poster at a protest exhibition at the university. While Turkey is a secular nation with no official state religion, it is currently ruled by the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), which is led by Erdoğan.
The January 30 protest at Bogazici University was organized in response to Erdoğan’s appointment of AKP member Melih Bulu as the university’s rector at the start of the new year. Protests against the appointment began the day before Bulu was sworn in as rector on January 5 and have continued unabated since then, with clashes between thousands of ralliers and police leading to hundreds of arrests.
The demonstrations have recently escalated and spread beyond the Bogazici University campus to other parts of Istanbul and have inspired sister protests nearly 300 miles away in the national capital, Ankara. Turkish police said they arrested more than 300 protesters across Istanbul and Ankara this week.
In a statement released January 5, some faculty members at Bogazici University said they were protesting Bulu’s appointment because he “was the first rector appointed from outside a university [in Turkey] since a 1980 military coup and part of increasing anti-democratic practices since 2016,” referring to a failed coup that prompted Erdoğan’s government to crack down against perceived opposition leaders in the country.
Erdoğan referred to the anti-Bulu protesters as “terrorists” in a televised speech on February 4.
“Are you students or terrorists who dare to raid the room of the rector?” the president asked, before adding: “This country will not be a place where terrorists prevail. We will never allow this.”
Erdoğan then drew comparisons to the 2013 Gezi protest movement, which similarly began as student rallies in Istanbul opposing government plans to demolish a local park before spreading nationwide.
“This country will never experience another Gezi event,” the president vowed.