Sexuality and homophobia in modern-day Turkey are brought to the fore in ZENNE Dancer, a new film directed by Caner Alper and Mehmet Binay which premiered today in Istanbul.
Drawing inspiration from the 2008 murder of Ahmet Yildiz, the film shows Turkey at a crossroads between progressive and conservative trends.
A close friend of both directors, who publicly came out as a gay couple on the night of the premiere, Yildiz was fatally injured after being attacked while leaving a cafe near the Bosphorus strait. Court records have identified Yildiz’ father as the main suspect.
The 26-year-old was studying physics and had represented his country in a LGBT gathering in San Francisco in 2007. His murder garnered much public attention, with activists marching in the following Istanbul Pride carrying placards with the slogan ‘get the murderer’ and ‘Ahmet Yildiz was my family’.
Yildiz’ father, now a fugitive, has yet to be caught by police. It was the first publicised gay so-called “honour killing” in Turkey, though not the first for sure. A recent case of a transsexual murdered by her brother has also highlighted the issue. “Honour Killing” is defined as the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the belief of the perpetrators that the victim has brought dishonor upon the family or community.
The film and cases emphasise the fact that Lesbian, gay and bi males as well as transsexuals can also be victims of so called “honour killings”. Most reports have focused on honour killings as something that happens to straight women, but recently there has been more discussion of LGBT people as targets of this practice, notably at the release of the recent UNHCR report. The movie therefore raises the possibility that the definition and documentation of so-called “honour killings” needs to be re-examined. Families in Turkey want to protect the “reputation” of their name and so rarely this is reported to the authorities who also turn a blind eye. As such, cases are reported as other incidents and thus go undocumented and recorded.
The Turkish government is gradually opening up on LGBT issues. Although LGBT Rights are still not part of Turkish law, and there is even less in terms of anti-discriminatory legislation.
In the last few years LGBT rights organisations such as KAOS GL, Lambda Istanbul, Pembe Hayat and others have been doing ground breaking work, both in terms of both community support and campaigns for LGBT rights, reaching even Eastern Turkey, beyond the more liberal Western part of the country. These organisations have also managed to work with the Turkish government and even achieve some legal victories.
LGBT communities and vibrant gay scenes have been developing across Turkey in the last two decades. They country has also become a refuge for LGBT from neighbouring countries, most notably Iran and Iraq. Despite the legal and social difficulties, the country is slowly opening up, yet many problems remain as the movie aptly portrays.
ZENNE Dancer tells the story of three men: Can (Kerem Can) an openly gay male belly dancer or ‘Zenne’, Daniel (Giovanni Arvaneh) a German war photographer and Ahmet (Erkan Arvaneh), a boy from eastern Turkey who struggles to cope with his repressive, conservative family.