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National women’s volleyball team’s European championship exposes societal fault lines in Turkey

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The Turkish national women’s volleyball team’s recent European championship victory over Serbia has highlighted deep societal divisions in Turkey, eliciting reactions ranging from jubilant celebration to public outcry.

The team’s triumph over Serbia, with a 3-2 victory in the Women’s EuroVolley 2023 final volleyball match in Brussels, was marked by intense gameplay and passionate fan support. However, the victory celebration was marred by divisive rhetoric from various quarters.

Critics of the team raised concerns about the players’ attire and lifestyles, particularly targeting Ebrar Karakurt, a prominent player on the national team who faced homophobic attacks due to her open lesbian identity. These critics, often affiliated with conservative and Islamist circles, criticized the team’s attire and behaviors as inconsistent with their values.

İhsan Şenocak, a theologian closely aligned with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), posted on social media that the team’s victory dishonored the Turkish flag, equating it with shame rather than honor.

Prof. Dr. Ebubekir Sofuoğlu, another pro-AKP figure, expressed strong disapproval, describing the championship title as “tainted by lesbianism.”

Sofuoğlu has faced scrutiny before for his inflammatory remarks, including calling universities “brothels” and previously targeting political figures in the AKP who are vocal about women’s rights.

The Turkish government also faced backlash from critics who accused Treasury and Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek of excluding Karakurt from a congratulatory photo shared online.

Şimşek was widely criticized on social media for sharing a photo that conspicuously omitted Karakurt, who had been previously targeted with homophobic attacks. Social media users responded by flooding Şimşek’s post with replies featuring photos that included Karakurt.

Timur Kuran, a scholar known for his research on economics and political science, pointed out the discomfort of some Islamists with the team’s attire and expressions of identity.

“Turkey’s volleyballers, who just won the European Championship by beating Serbia 3-2 in Brussels, are driving crazy the country’s Islamists: bare arms and legs, a lesbian on the squad, and now dancing in public,” he posted on X.


Howard Eissenstat, an academic specializing in Middle East history, emphasized the challenge of reconciling diverse identities within Turkey.

“It seems to me, you can’t have it both ways: Either you celebrate the successes that a diverse Turkey produces. Or you insist on your narrow, truncated version of the nation and live with the mediocrity it fosters,” Eissenstat posted.


Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, but homophobia is widespread. After a spectacular Pride March in İstanbul drew 100,000 people in 2014, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamic-rooted AKP government responded by banning future events in the city, citing security concerns.

It is common for Erdoğan and other politicians from the AKP to attack LGBTI+ individuals and accuse them of perversion and ruining family values.

In his two decades in power, Erdoğan has drawn ire for violating Turkey’s secular principles and limiting the civil liberties of women.

He has called for every woman in the country to have three children and has proposed limits on abortion, the morning-after pill and C-sections. The president has also gone on record as saying that men and women cannot be treated equally as this “defies the laws of nature.”

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