ISTANBUL – On the walls of buildings and along the back alleys of the trendy Tunel neighborhood here in an old part of the city, graffiti art of a ruggedly handsome man with a beard and gentle eyes first began appearing in 2008.
Three years later the black-and-white image, drawn by a renowned Japanese manga named Gengoroh Tagame and carrying the slogan "Ahmet Yildiz is My Family" has become ubiquitous.
An international community of friends, activists and civil rights supporters have posthumously adopted Ahmet Yildiz as a brother and as a cause, they say, after his father killed him for being gay.
"Ahmet’s so-called family killed him," reads a blog established in the wake of his death. "Fortunately, he still has a real one: Us."
Ahmet’s father, Yahya Yildiz, stands charged with murder after traveling 600 miles, allegedly hunting his son down and then shooting him five times on July 15, 2008. It is viewed as the country’s first reported anti-gay "honor killing." And critics say that after three years, a pattern of indifference by the police in prosecuting the crime underscores the injustice.
The long history of "honor killing" against women and girls is well documented in the Middle East and elsewhere.
But LGBT activists in Turkey and around the world say homosexuals are now increasingly targeted. They fear that a series of attacks targeting gay and transgendered Turks is a backlash against the LGBT community’s rising profile in a country where the official stance on homosexuality is that it is an "illness."
Honor crimes against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals are hard to document in Turkey. Human rights advocates say they are often quietly covered up by families and that police often avoid investigating such crimes. The Yildiz murder has been closely watched by activists and now a new case of "honor killing" is drawing considerable attention.
On October 7, Fevzi Cetin, 27, turned himself in to police after shooting and killing his transgendered brother Ramazan Cetin, 24.
Unlike the family of Ahmet Yildiz, which thus far has not taken public responsibility for his death, Cetin was quite direct. "I killed my brother because he was engaged in transvestitism," he said. "I cleansed my honor."
Turkey’s human rights record has continually dogged the country’s attempts to gain admission to the European Union. In particular Human Rights Watch has criticized Turkey’s record on protecting its citizens against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. But the Turkish government continues to turn a deaf ear.
An official in the office of the Minister of Family and Social Policies, which is tasked with reducing discrimination and implementation of social policy, declined GlobalPost’s request for an interview about the purported rise in gay "honor killing," citing Minister Fatma Sahin’s "full schedule nowadays."
Marching for justice
This June, Turkey held a week of Gay Pride events, launched with a march through the heart of Istanbul, the only such event in a Muslim-majority country.
Among the thousands of revelers waving rainbow colored flags, drag queens in pink boas and whistle-blowing supporters was Ibrahim Can, 46, a burly, mustached man with sorrowful eyes. He marched through the crowd with a heavy heart, honoring his deceased partner.
"My lover [Ahmet] was killed in the first publicly gay murder," explained Can, his expression a combination of rage and determination.
"I am fighting for his rights… for justice," he added. "The father is on the run and Turkey is doing nothing to get the murderers in the court."
Yildiz was 26 years old when he was gunned down as he tried to drive away from his Istanbul apartment. He was taking a break from his graduate studies in physics to go out for ice cream, Can (pronounced: Jan) said. Can witnessed the murder from an upstairs window, one of several present that night.
But Amnesty International concluded in a report published this year that police failed to carry out an effective investigation, despite a plethora of evidence and eyewitness accounts.
By the time police tried to reach Yahya Yildiz, he had already fled the country. Phone records from October 2008 to March 2009 indicate he likely fled to Iraqi Kurdistan. An arrest warrant for Yildiz was not executed until October of 2008, three months after the murder.
Ahmet’s case has put Can at the center of a nascent gay rights movement in Turkey. He receives pleading letters and emails from others around the country who have seen loved ones targeted by gay "honor killing." He says the phenomenon is on the rise even if it is difficult to officially document amid a culture of fear and isolation, fostered by the seeming indifference of police.
"Many men and women are murdered by their families, but no one asks about them," Can said. "Because [the perpetrators] come from the ranks of the families …the homophobic state is doing nothing to solve these murders."