Minority and Refugee Rights: 2023 in Review

A Syrian woman and her children walk on a street near shops in Gaziantep, in the south-west province of Turkey, on May 1, 2018. - In the Turkish city of Gaziantep, home to around half a million Syrians who fled the civil war south of the border, hundreds of Syrian businesses are thriving in a boost both for the displaced community and their host country. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP)

Minority groups in Turkey suffered discrimination, hate speech and assaults, while a climate of impunity emboldened the offenders.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his far-right ally Devlet Bahçeli and other government officials adopted an ultranationalist rhetoric that equated Kurdish political dissent and assertive expression of Kurdish identity to terrorism, while some segments of the opposition fueled a growing anti-migrant sentiment among the public, jeopardizing the safety of the country’s sizeable refugee community.

A report released by the Center for Sociopolitical Field Studies concluded that Kurds, Alevis and migrants suffered at least 208 racist and discriminatory attacks throughout the year.

The Minority Rights Group International (MRG) reported discrimination against Alevis, Nusayris, Rom, Dom and Abdals living in Turkey’s southern provinces that were hit by earthquakes on February 6.

The May presidential and parliamentary elections brought up migration as an issue, with far-right opposition factions promising massive deportation of Syrian refugees to their war-torn country, while presidential hopeful Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu announced a two-year plan to ensure the return home of Syrian refugees. Such rhetoric openly disregarded the international legal principle of non-refoulement.

In June the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) reported that an increase in hate crimes led to the death of 21 refugees between January 2020 and November 2022.

The same month, the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) released a report titled “Hate Speech and Hate Crimes against Syrian Refugees in Turkey,” a study that details verbal and physical assaults on refugees who fled the civil war in the neighboring country.

Turkey’s religious minorities continued their legal struggle for property rights, while the LGBT community became the target of the ruling party and its allies, who used them as a talking point in an effort to consolidate their voter base during the general election in May.

The authorities imposed restrictions on Pride Week events in June, citing “protection of the family.”

Here are some of the important headlines concerning minority and refugee rights from 2023:


72-year-old Kurdish inmate died shortly after belated release from prison

Hamdin Ördek, 72, a Kurdish inmate who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, died six days after he was belatedly released from prison. More..

Turkish court acquitted police officer who killed Kurdish student

A court acquitted police officer Yakup Şenocak, who shot Kurdish university student Kemal Kurkut to death during Nevruz celebrations in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır in 2017. More..

Kemal Kurkut (Photo by Abdurrahman Gök)

Hundreds detained in Nevruz celebrations

The Nevruz celebrations of 2023, which lacked the enthusiasm of previous years due to massive earthquakes that claimed the lives of tens of thousands in February, were also marred by the detention of hundreds of participants. More..

Close to 200 people celebrating Nevruz were detained in a single day in March. More..

3 Turkish policemen arrested for allegedly beating 14-year-old Kurdish boy during Nevruz celebrations

Three Turkish police officers were arrested for allegedly beating a 14-year-old Kurdish boy during Nevruz celebrations in the predominantly Kurdish province of Diyarbakır. More..

Seasonal workers attacked by locals in southwest Turkey for speaking Kurdish

Three seasonal workers were allegedly attacked for speaking in Kurdish by a group of locals in Bodrum, a popular tourist destination in southwestern Turkey. More..

Kurdish street musician stabbed to death in İstanbul for refusing to sing nationalist song

Cihan Aymaz, a Kurdish street musician, was stabbed to death in İstanbul after he refused to sing a nationalist song. More..

Cihan Aymaz (Turkish Minute)

Turkey detained 12 musicians who performed during pro-Kurdish party’s election campaign

Twelve musicians who performed during the election campaign of the pro-Kurdish Green Left Party (YSP) were detained in the western province of İzmir. More..

İstanbul police detained 4 young Kurds doing traditional dance

Four young Kurdish men who were doing a traditional dance to music played from loudspeakers were detained by İstanbul police and forced to lie on the ground in handcuffs. More..

Armored vehicle killed 5-year-old boy in southeastern Hakkari province

A 5-year-old boy died after being hit by an armored vehicle in southeastern Turkey’s Hakkari province. More..

İstanbul governor banned march aimed at calling attention to suppression of Kurdish language

The İstanbul Governor’s Office banned a march aimed at drawing attention to the suppression of the Kurdish language and Kurds’ longstanding demand for access to education in their mother tongue. More..

Turkish police detained dozens during Saturday Mothers’ weekly vigils

In August the police detained 47 people, including activists and family members of the Saturday Mothers, during the group’s 957th weekly demonstration in İstanbul’s Galatasaray Square, where they were demanding justice for their loved ones who disappeared in police custody in the 1990s. More..

The following month, another police intervention in the group’s gathering ended in 32 detentions. More..

(Photo: Turkish Minute)

Kurdish musician undergoing treatment for cancer arrested on terror-related charges

Emel Çiftçi, a Kurdish musician who was undergoing treatment for cancer, was arrested on terrorism-related charges in southeastern Turkey despite medical reports confirming her condition. More..

Turkey arrested 78-year-old disabled Kurdish villager on terrorism charges

Turkish authorities detained and arrested Emin Soyal, a 78-year-old man with documented disabilities and health issues, for alleged links to terrorism. More..

Kurdish language teacher suffered threats and insults on social media

Mizgin Yalçın, a teacher of the Kurdish language based in Diyarbakır, received numerous insulting and threatening messages on social media after she shared a video in which she mentioned the Kurdish names of provinces. More..

Mizgin Yalçın (Photo: Rudaw)

Turkey’s ATK found 81-year-old disabled Kurdish woman fit for imprisonment

The Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) issued a report that deemed Makbule Özer, an 81-year-old Kurdish woman with serious disabilities and health problems, fit to serve her prison sentence. More..


US report found that Alevis suffered the most attacks on religious properties in last 20 years

A report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) concluded that Alevis were the religious community that suffered the highest number of attacks on religious properties in Turkey between 2003 and 2022, followed by Protestants and Armenians. More..

Religious minorities

Rejection of request for return of property violated church foundation’s rights: Turkey’s top court

The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the Hasköy Aya Paraskevi Church Foundation and said the General Directorate of Foundations’ rejection of its request for the return of property constituted a rights violation. More..

High school students gave Nazi salute to Jewish peers during football game

Students from an İstanbul high school attracted criticism for giving a Hitler salute to students from a Jewish high school during a football match. More..

Patriarch Bartholomew criticized Turkish authorities for not permitting liturgy at Sümela Monastery

The İstanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide, expressed frustration with Turkish authorities, saying the patriarchate did not receive written permission to hold the Divine Liturgy at the historic Sümela Monastery in Turkey’s northwestern Trabzon province on August 15. More..

ECtHR found Turkey in violation of Syriac foundation’s property rights

The ECtHR faulted Turkey for violating a Syriac foundation’s rights by expropriating a property in Mardin province that had been used by the minority community for centuries. More..

Syriac MP in Turkish parliament faced criticism for conveying Christmas wishes in native language

George Aslan, a Syriac deputy from the Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM), faced hostile remarks from the far right for using his mother tongue to wish people a happy Christmas during a speech in parliament. More..

DEM lawmaker George Aslan

Roma people

MP from main opposition resigned due to lack of Roma parliamentary candidates from his party

Özcan Purçu, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), resigned from the party due to the lack of parliamentary candidates from Turkey’s Roma community for the general election in May. More..

Report highlighted worsening poverty among the Roma people

A report drafted by the Roma Memory Studies Association (Romani Godi) revealed how the poverty that increased during the COVID-19 pandemic deepened the rights violations against the Roma community in Turkey and expanded their existing problems in many areas such as employment, education, health, housing and social assistance. More..

Refugees and migrants

2 soldiers arrested in eastern Turkey for allegedly raping Afghan refugee

Two soldiers in Turkey’s eastern Van province were arrested for allegedly raping an Afghan refugee as they were taking a group of refugees to the border to deport them. More..

Uyghur living in Turkey for 10 years detained, sent to migrant removal center

Abdullah Abdülhamit, a Uyghur refugee, was detained and sent to a removal center in İstanbul. Rights groups expressed concern for his potential deportation to China, where the Turkic group is systematically mistreated. More..

Abdullah Abdülhamit

3 Turkish gendarmes detained over alleged killing of 2 Syrian refugees at border

Three Turkish gendarmes were detained for the death of two Syrian refugees who were allegedly killed at the Turkey-Syria border. More..

Report revealed widespread discrimination of refugees in Turkey’s quake zone

Following massive earthquakes that hit the southern provinces in February, refugees in the quake zone – most of them Syrian – were subjected to “multi-layered discrimination,” including hate speech, ill-treatment and physical violence, according to a report by the Association for Migration Research (GAR). More..

HRW accused Turkey’s border guards of shooting, torturing Syrians

Human Rights Watch accused Turkish border guards of shooting, torturing and using excessive force against Syrians seeking to flee their war-torn country into neighboring Turkey. More..

Turkey’s top appeals court upheld sentence of police officer who shot young Syrian refugee to death

Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of a police officer who shot young Syrian refugee Ali El Hamdani to death in 2020. More..

Ali El Hamdani

384,000 refugees in Turkey will need resettlement in 2024: UNHCR

A total of 384,070 refugees in Turkey were projected to be in need of resettlement in 2024, according to a report by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). More..

Turkey decided to deport Iranian LGBT activist facing possible execution in Iran

Turkish authorities decided on the deportation of Elyas Torabibaeskendari, an Iranian refugee who was detained at a Pride march in İstanbul, despite the fact that he could face a death sentence in Iran due to his sexual orientation. More..

Interior Ministry announced sanctions on unregistered Syrians who failed to leave İstanbul by September 24

The Ministry of Interior announced that sanctions would be imposed on Syrians who failed to leave İstanbul by September 24 despite being registered in other cities. More..

Turkey deported 20 Syrian refugees after confiscating belongings

Turkish authorities deported 20 Syrian refugees to the city of Ras Al-Ain in northern Syria on August 22, forcing them to sign with their fingerprints documents stating that they asked to return, after confiscating their money, luggage and cell phones. More..

Sexual minorities

Top court found no rights violation in ban on 2016 gay pride march in Ankara

The Constitutional Court ruled that the government did not violate the right to peaceful assembly by banning a gay pride march in Ankara planned for May 2016. More..

President Erdoğan slammed LGBT community, accused opposition of undermining the family

President Erdoğan accused presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and opposition parties of being pro-LGBT and undermining the family in a speech he gave during his election campaign. More..

After the election, Erdoğan said his government was working on drafting an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment to enshrine the family that will be submitted to parliament. More..

He continued his verbal attacks on the LGBT community in a parliamentary speech he later delivered. More..

İstanbul governor announced ban on Pride Week activities over concerns of ‘protecting the family’

İstanbul Governor Davut Gül announced that Pride Week activities in the city would not be allowed, citing concerns about “protection of the family.” More..

Police prevented Trans Pride March, detained scores of participants

Turkish police prevented LGBT people from holding a demonstration in İstanbul’s Taksim Square and briefly detained 10 of the intending participants based on a ban from the city’s governor’s office. More..

Later in June the police intervened in other Pride events in İstanbul and İzmir, taking more than 160 people into custody. More..

Teachers suspended after ex-mayor targeted rainbow decoration for ‘promoting homosexuality’

The Ministry of Education temporarily suspended a teacher and a school principal for using a rainbow decoration at a school event after public criticism from Melih Gökçek, the former mayor of Ankara, who accused the teacher of promoting homosexuality. More..

Research showed that 90 pct of LGBT individuals in Turkey subjected to digital violence

LGBT advocacy group KAOS GL released a report which revealed that nine out of 10 LGBT individuals in Turkey regularly face digital violence. More..

Organizers of art exhibition in İstanbul investigated for LGBT propaganda

Turkish prosecutors launched an investigation into the organizers of an art exhibition in İstanbul after the exhibition was targeted by religious and nationalist groups for allegedly promoting homosexuality. More..

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