Istanbul LGBT march banned over ‘security concerns’

Governor’s office bans event for third year in a row, but organisers wow to hold it despite threats by various groups.

LGBT gay Istanbul pride parade 2014
The last time a Pride march was not banned by Istanbul's authorities was in 2014 [File: Reuters]

Authorities in the Turkish city of Istanbul have banned a parade organised by the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community due to security concerns, as ultranationalist groups threatened to block the event.

“The march will not be allowed after considering the security of citizens, especially the participants themselves, and tourists who will be in the area,” Istanbul governor’s office said in a statement on Saturday, referring to the LGBT parade that is scheduled for Sunday on the busy Istiklal Street in the heart of Turkey’s most populous city.

The governorship referred to “very serious reactions” expressed against the event, which has now been banned for three years in a row, on social media.

The statement did not offer any more details but various groups, including Alperen Hearths, a youth organisation loyal to the ultranationalist Great Union Party (BBP), had threatened to intervene and prevent the parade.

“Even if the state allows them to march, we will not. In any case, we will prevent it. Wherever they want to walk, we will go there and block the streets,” an Alperen Hearths representative in Istanbul told local media earlier this week.

Istanbul’s governorship also said that no proper application had been filed for the march.

Yet, this was denied by the organisers, who said they had applied for permission on June 5 and asked for an appointment with the governor’s office.

Consecutive bans

Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride Week has been organised since 1993, ending with a march on Istiklal Street since 2003, according to the organisers.

The week consists of various events, such as discussion panels, workshops, social gatherings and art courses.

Organisers say the parade attracted tens of thousands of people until the early 2010s, making it the largest pride march in a Muslim-majority country.

The Istanbul pride parade in June 2015, which overlapped with the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, was banned by the governorship hours before the event over security concerns. Soon after, it was shut down through police intervention for the first time in its 13-year history.

Last year, it was banned again and arrests were made as participants tried to hold the rally regardless of the prohibition.

Organisers vow to hold march

Organisers say the ban over security concerns effectively legitimises individuals and groups who make threats and commit hate crimes.

Lara Guney Ozlen, a spokesperson for Pride Week, said that their call for the parade is still valid and they will still hold the event.

“The reasons for the ban of our parade are not valid or convincing. Many other marches are held in the same area. The government should protect us, the group that is being threatened, not nationalist fundamentalist groups,” she told Al Jazeera.

“For the last two years, the march overlapped with Ramadan. This year it does not. So, that is not an excuse [to prevent it] either. I believe the ban is about not accepting our sexual orientation and it is a reaction to the movement getting stronger.”

Earlier in June, similar parades took place in Izmir, the largest city in western Turkey, the city of Kocaeli neighbouring Istanbul and the southern city of Mersin. The events passed peacefully without police intervention.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, but intolerance towards LGBT citizens exists in large parts of the society.

Source: Al Jazeera