Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Turks Can Spot Gays on Sight

In a convoluted article, Bağımsız İletişim Ağı (BIA) recently reported that a gay "conscientous objector" to military service is being forced to serve because he refuses to undergo medical examinations to prove his homosexuality, which would exempt him.

Mehmet Tarhan, 27, first voiced his objection to compulsory military service in October 2001, stating that he refused "to be transformed into a murder machine by taking a course in dying and killing". He was then detained twice and jailed in April, 2005 (before his trial), during which he was attacked, blackmailed, and locked in solitary confinement, causing him to undergo self-mutilation and hunger strikes in protest. After a trail lasting more than four months, a military court ruled last August* that he should serve four years in prison. Reports BIA:

"Last November, the Appeals Court [The Court of Cassation] overturned Tarhan's
prison sentence on grounds that it was disproportionately high and therefore
unfair, but its final written recommendation was that his homosexuality should
be identified by 'proper physical examination procedures'. "

It is unclear where Tarhan's homosexuality became a factor in this case. Ostensibly, he was refusing to serve in the Turkish army because of his morality, not because he was gay. Somewhere along the line, however, his homosexuality came into play. says that it began in an offer by the army:

"His release is a victory first of all for his determination to refuse the
army’s 'offer' of avoiding the draft by allowing himself to be classified as
'ill' because he is gay. He refused to submit to an anal examination, the
equivalent of the notorious 'virginity test', used for decades by the Turkish
police and army as a pretext to perpetrate rape and other sexual violence
against women, Kurdish and also Turkish."

The Court of Cassation subsquently ruled that forced physical examination is a violation of human rights and the integrity of the person, a huge victory for women in Turkey, who have been struggling to eliminate such "virginity checks". Because the court ruled that Tarhan had been punished enough, and because he refuses to undergo a medical examination to prove his homosexuality, Tarhan must now serve in the army.

Okay, let's get this straight: The court says that homosexuality is an "advanced psychological disorder", even though the Union of Turkish Physicians (TTB) and the Turkish Psychiatry Association do not agree. (According to the article, a representative of the TTB even stated that 15 percent of people are gay, which is the largest percentage I've ever heard.) Furthermore, the court believes that doctors can examine a man and tell if he's gay.

Insane. Men do not have the equivalent of the female hymen. Without going into unnecessary detail, you cannot look at two men and tell if one of them has had anal sex in his lifetime. In addition, not all gay men have anal sex, and of those who do, not all are on the receiving end. Scientifically, it simply does not make sense, and it is ridiculous that the Turkish courts should count on such examinations as evidence.

Why doesn't the court take Tarhan's contention that he is gay at face value? In a country as conservative as Turkey, where gay people are severely stigmatized by society, it is unlikely that Tarhan would invent such an identity for himself. Publicly avowing his homosexuality might get him out of military service, but it certainly would not serve his interests in the long run.

*Note: In the article, BIA mentions once that the trial ended in August, 2004. This, however, must be a typo. Every other reference to the trial in the BIA article, and in many other articles online, corroborates that the trial ended in August, 2005.


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