On 11 May, students at Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) held their annual Pride march, in defiance of a ban on all LGBQTI events in Ankara, Turkey. Despite ODTÜ upholding the ban, hundreds of students peacefully marched on the university campus for Pride.
The Pride march has taken place for the last seven years on the day after the annual spring festival, an event celebrating different cultures which has been organised by student groups for the last 31 years.
In April 2018, university authorities informed the Ankara Governorate of the spring festival and the Pride march. The Governorate responded that both the festival and march could not go ahead because of the risk of ‘provocation’.
The university’s rector told the march organisers that he would ask for the spring festival to go ahead, but would not negotiate in favour of the Pride march. The students were told that the Pride march would not be allowed to take place.
Following a failed coup attempt in July 2016, an ongoing state of emergency has decimated human rights in Turkey.
The work of civil society organisations has been curtailed as swathes of Turkish society are left in a state of constant fear. Prominent journalists, academics, human rights defenders and other activists have been subjected to arbitrary detention and – if found guilty in unfair trials – long prison sentences.
The impact of the crackdown on civil society has been particularly huge for the LGBTQI community.
In November 2017, authorities in Ankara introduced an indefinite ban on LGBTQI events. LGBTQI organisations KAOS GL and Pink Life have mounted legal challenges to the ban, but the ban has forced a vibrant community to near invisibility.
It is a far cry from the Turkey of even just a few years ago, when LGBTQI organizations were increasingly visible and vocal – the last Istanbul Pride in June 2014 saw tens of thousands of people marching through the streets in a display of joyous confidence.
But students haven’t given up hope. When they were told the university wouldn’t allow Pride march, they asked the international community to stand in solidarity with them, and petition the rector and the Ankara Governorate to allow the Pride march to take place.
How did you help?
After hearing the student’s appeal, Amnesty International supporters around the world sent emails to the University, asking them to allow the Pride march to go ahead without hindrance. The students told Amnesty International they were very grateful for the organization’s support in solidarity and email actions. They shared the following message:
“We could not stay silent and resign ourselves to the ban. We had to oppose it, we had to march. The ban on our pride march was illegal and it was against our existence. The reason we could resist the ban and move forward was the international support and solidarity by Amnesty International activists around the world. We could not have gone further without your support.”
Hundreds of university students in Ankara showed bravery. By marching, the students sent an important message to authorities and to all LGBTQI-rights supporters in Turkey: that they couldn’t be silenced.
They defied the blanket ban on LGBTQI events in Ankara and went ahead with their peaceful march. In doing so, they have paved the way for more progress. It’s the time for Ankara authorities to lift the ongoing ban on LGBTQI events in the city entirely.