Four Arrested in Turkey Over LGBT Kaaba Art

Four students, who attend Istanbul's Bogazici University in Turkey, were arrested due to artwork depicting LGBT rainbow symbols alongside an image of Islam’s most sacred site, the Kaaba.

Some news outlets report the indistinct description of “LGBT rainbow symbols” alongside the Kaaba. To be more precise, four different flags were portrayed in each corner, featuring the iconic rainbow flag, and three others individually representing the lesbian, transexual, and asexual community. 



These flags surrounded a creative depiction of the Shahmarana, a mythical creature well-known in Middle Eastern folklore — a half-woman and half-snake — placed on the site of worship where the Kabaa stands. The text written below the artwork said it was a critique of “traditional gender roles.”

Disturbance at Istanbul's Bogazici University began last month when a new university rector (a senior official position within the educational institution) was appointed. Melih Bulu, an academic who assumed the position, has connections to President Recep Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). Students and faculty protested, believing Bulu would stifle academic freedom at the prestigious school in Istanbul. 

Hostilities were further inflamed after an art exhibit intended as a form of resistance against the appointment of Bulu as the new rector. Bogazici student art collective BOUN Sanat Direnisi posted an open call for artwork, which drew hundreds of artists from Turkey and surrounding countries to submit their work for display.

According to the Istanbul Governor’s Office, the artwork display was an “ugly attack” that “mocked religious beliefs.”

The interior minister tweeted, calling students “deviants.” The comment drew angry responses from some activists on social media, who labeled it as hate speech and demanded that they delete the tweet. 

Opposition to the LGBT community has been growing the past few years, even though homosexuality has been legal throughout Turkey’s modern history. The Pride March in Istanbul was banned for five consecutive years until 2019. Due to the pandemic, the Pride march could not be held in 2020.

Chief advisor to President Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, said "neither freedom of expression nor the right to protest" could defend the artwork, adding the act would receive "the punishment it deserves before the law."

According to a report by the Governor's office in Istanbul, police searched the student’s rooms and “seized” LGBT Pride flags. Conservatives and pro-government users on social media also condemned the students.

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