Turkey’s Queer Lives: An Oral History Project

LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trangender and queer) people in Turkey experience various forms of violence and discrimination, ranging from physical harassment, violence in the name of honor, forced marriage, forced psychiatric treatment, economic deprivation, unemployment, unequal treatment in the military, the workplace, the school, the police and the legal system. In a heavily phobic social and political atmosphere, most of the violence and human rights offenses targeting the LGBTQ people often go undocumented, and their inclusion in the debates on human rights and democracy in Turkey remains limited. The involvement of Turkish academia in LGBTQ issues has also been highly limited. LGBTQ people have largely been excluded from the grand historical narratives of Turkey and research on Turkish history. This exclusion contributes to the invisibility of the community and their experiences as well as the problems they experience. Although a few books that aim to present LGBTQ life stories have been published by graduate students and independent researchers, the scope of these works is limited, and the informants tend to come from specific socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Arguably because LGBTQ studies is still new as a field in Turkish academia, and because it is difficult to obtain institutional support for such projects in the increasingly conservative atmosphere dominating the country, no large scale academic project on the LGBTQ community has been conducted yet. “Turkey’s Queer Lives: LGBTQ Oral Histories Archive” aims to address this lack by collecting life stories of people in Turkey who identify as LGBTQ to document their lives and the various forms of violence and human rights violations they experience in order to construct an archive that will be made available to academics, independent researchers and activists who work in the field.

The project aims to create awareness about LGBTQ studies, facilitate research and advocacy by providing the necessary data and expertise for academics and activists working in the field, and thus contribute to the existing debates on sexual identity, democracy and human rights in Turkey.

Implemented in collaboration with Bogazici University’s Department of History, Turkey’s Queer Lives is one of the first large-scale academic projects in queer studies in Turkey and the Muslim Middle East. For the project, oral history accounts are collected from LGBTQ people in the country. These accounts will be published as an edited volume, and it will be made available to researchers in university and public libraries.

We are in the process of finishing collecting and transcribing interviews. The first volume will be published before the end of this year. Since publications usually take a longer time, I was initially planning to introduce the project on the IRN website, regularly featuring excerpts from each interview. Yet the website issues made that impossible. The absence of a website also made it considerably difficult to recruit participants over the last six months, since it is hard to gain people’s trust for such a sensitive project without showing them who is involved and what the outcome will look like.