The United States on Wednesday condemned rhetoric against sexual minorities in Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blasted the LGBT movement and compared student protesters to “terrorists,” Agence France-Presse reported.
“We are closely monitoring peaceful demonstrations against the appointment of a new rector at Boğaziçi University in Turkey. We are concerned by detentions of students and other demonstrators and strongly condemn the anti-LGBTQI rhetoric surrounding the demonstrations. Freedom of expression, even speech that some may find uncomfortable, is a critical component of a vibrant, functioning democracy that must be protected. Peaceful, prosperous, and inclusive societies depend on the free flow of information and ideas,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
“The United States prioritizes the protection of human rights and stands shoulder to shoulder with all those fighting for their fundamental democratic freedoms,” he added.
Earlier in the day, Erdoğan blasted the LGBT movement as incompatible with Turkey’s values and compared student protesters to “terrorists,” as the month of youth-driven rallies shook his rule.
More than 300 students and their supporters were detained in İstanbul and the capital Ankara in increasingly violent and politically charged altercations with the police this week.
The protests first erupted after Erdoğan named party loyalist Melih Bulu as the head of İstanbul’s elite Boğaziçi University at the start of the year.
The appointment created a stir because students saw it as part of Erdoğan’s broader effort to centralise control over most facets of Turks’ daily lives.
Erdoğan lashed out on Wednesday in one of his most heated attacks to date against a movement that threatens to grow into a serious challenge to his 18 years in power.
“Are you students or terrorists who dare to raid the office of the rector?” Erdoğan demanded in a televised video linkup with his party faithful.
“This country will not be a place where terrorists prevail. We will never allow this.”
The student demonstrations have echoes of 2013 protests that sprang up against plans to demolish an Istanbul park before spreading nationally and posing the first big political dilemma for Erdoğan.
The dispute over the rector intensified after protesters hung a poster near his office depicting Islam’s holiest site covered in LGBT imagery last week.
Erdoğan on Monday distanced his party’s supporters from what he dubbed the protest movement’s “LGBT youth.”
He redoubled those attacks on Wednesday.
“The LGBT, there is no such thing,” he said dismissively. “This country is … moral, and it will walk to the future with these values.”
The comments appeared to undermine Erdoğan’s efforts to build rapport with the new and potentially hostile US administration of President Joe Biden.
Erdoğan has still not spoken by phone with Biden, despite reportedly reaching out to the White House, in what analysts interpret as a chill in the two leaders’ early relations.