Amid international success, Turkey’s conservatives target women’s national volleyball team

Amid the Turkish national volleyball team’s great success in the Women’s European Volleyball Championship, Turkey’s conservative opinion makers have been targeting the players for their sexual orientation and clothing, Turkish media reported.

Turkey’s women’s volleyball team claimed a victory over Serbia Sunday evening and became European champions. However, some ultraconservatives have attacked the women as presenting an affront to Islamic values.

Ebrar Karakurt, who plays opposite, was specifically targeted for her sexual orientation. Karakurt receivedfloods of hateful and homophobic messages after posting photographs of herself on social media in affectionate poses with other women.

Controversial history professor Ebubekir Sofuoğlu said in a social media post that he “reject[s] any victory gained by lesbians.” 

“I reject a championship cup that has been tainted by lesbianism,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter, and added that lesbianism violated moral codes. 

Sofuoğlu had previously been under fire for calling universities “centers of prostitution.” 

The Islamist Yeni Akit newspaper, a staunch supporter of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government, also targeted Karakurt, calling her a “lesbian disgrace.” 

The conservative newspaper shared several articles praising pro-government journalists and politicians who have criticized Karakurt and her sexuality. 

Controversial imam Ahmet Mahmut Ünlü posted a video on X, calling on the government to take action against same-sex relationships. Mentioning Karakurt, Ünlü said, “Even [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has banned homosexuality,” while the Turkish government was acting far too leniently for a Muslim country. 

Public broadcaster Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) did not interview the only two lesbian players, Karakurt and Melissa Vargas, after the championship match. 

Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, but homophobia is widespread. Turkey was ranked 48th among 49 countries as regards the human rights of LGBT people, according to the 2023 Rainbow Europe Map published by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)-Europe.

Verbal attacks on team members have not stopped there, as they have been sharply criticized for baring their arms and legs. In 2021 prominent preacher İhsan Şenocak criticized the team for not adhering to his concept of how a Muslim woman should behave.

He urged them to be more virtuous, chaste and observant of Islamic decency. 

While Erdoğan has not openly criticized team members, neither he nor his sports minister has attended any games to avoid angering conservative supporters. 

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