The governor of Ankara, Turkey, banned a German-government-sponsored LGBT film festival, arguing that it would attract “terrorist activity” and “incite hatred.”
It is the latest in a series of crackdowns against gay and lesbian pride events in what used to be considered among the most liberal Muslim nations in the world regarding sexual identity before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began cracking down on the nation’s LGBT pride parades and imposing an Islamist social agenda.
The Ankara governor’s office explained in a statement Wednesday that the LGBT Film Days festival, hosted by the group Pink Life QueerFest and assisted by the German embassy in Turkey, could not go on despite being scheduled to begin on Thursday. The statement cited “clear and imminent danger” of a terrorist attack by groups “with certain social sensitivities.”
“Considering that the content could incite grudges and enmity towards a part of society … and the intelligence reports that terror organizations are seeking to attack dissident groups or individuals, it is evaluated that this film screening could be provocative and draw reactions,” the statement concluded.
Event organizers protested in a statement that they had “constitutional rights” to hold the event and felt their rights violated. “Suggesting that these screenings could be provocative or targeted by terror groups only serves to legitimize those people and institutions that produce hate speech towards us and see our existence as a threat,” they argued.
Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) have championed the de-secularization of a nation that, for nearly a century, prided itself on the secularist philosophy of its founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. As president, Erdogan has expressed disgust with moderate Islam – “There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it,” he once protested.
Erdogan once described the use of birth control as “treason.” He has encouraged Muslim families to have many children and travel abroad, particularly to Europe, to change its demographics and make the world more Muslim. He has also repeatedly asserted that Muslims discovered America before Columbus and revamped Turkish school curricula to include more Islamic education.
Multiple cases of individuals trying to destroy statues of Atatürk have occurred in the past two years.
Erdogan’s government has also cracked down on public displays of LGBT identity. Istanbul’s LGBT pride parade, once the largest in the Muslim world, has been shut down or attacked by riot police the last three years. In 2017, the governor’s office refused to grant a license for the parade “considering the safety of tourists.” The parade occurred in 2016, but police abruptly ended it by firing tear gas and water cannons into the crowd.
The same incident occurred for the first time in 2015. “We thought this was going to be a ‘normal,’ peaceful pride walk, but the police welcomed us with tear gas,” one witness said at the time. Police argued that they had to shut down the parade that year because it fell during the Muslim “holy month” of Ramadan.
The BBC speculates that shutting down the Ankara film festival may be about LGBT representations as much as it is a slight against Germany. Relations between Erdogan and Chancellor Angela Merkel deteriorated rapidly in the past year as Germany officials refused to allow the AKP to hold political rallies on German soil. In response, Erdogan claimed Germany had used “Nazi tactics” to prevent an AKP takeover of Turkish neighborhoods and has accused the nation of “mercilessly supporting terrorism.”
Erdogan has engaged in similar disputes and used similar insults against Austria, Denmark, and the Netherlands, all nations that refused to allow large AKP election events to occur within their territory.