Turkish prosecutors have 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, the Birgün daily reported.
The art exhibition, “Ortadan Başlamak” (Starting From the Middle), was opened by the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality, run by the main opposition party.
The exhibition is on display at ArtIstanbul Feshane, which opened its doors to visitors as a cultural and arts complex after five years of restoration in İstanbul’s Eyüpsultan district in June.
The exhibition, which features more than 400 works of art by 300 artists organized by 19 curators, has been targeted by religious and nationalist groups since its opening for containing nudes and promoting LGBT propaganda.
The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched the investigation into the organizers of the exhibition based on a criminal complaint from the Yesevi Alperenler Association, a religious and nationalist group.
The prosecutor’s office launched the investigation on allegations of “fomenting enmity and hatred among the public or insulting them” under Article 216 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).
İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu on Tuesday described the launch of the investigation as “shameful” and “scandalous.”
He accused the Turkish government of creating an environment in the country that will drive people who want to visit Turkey away.
“You are telling the world, we don’t have democracy, we don’t have respect for the arts. You are creating such an environment so that nobody comes to visit this country,” said İmamoğlu.
Yesevi Alperenler Association President Kürşat Mican, who filed the criminal complaint at the İstanbul courthouse on July 24, claimed in a statement in front of the courthouse that some paintings in the exhibition were promoting homosexuality.
Mican also called on the authorities to close down the exhibition.
As part of the investigation, prosecutors summoned an executive from Kültür A.Ş. a subsidiary of the İstanbul Municipality that offers services in arts, culture and tourism. When the executive said they had no role in the organization of the art exhibition, prosecutors petitioned the general secretariat of the İstanbul Municipality, asking it to submit a list of the people involved in the organization of the exhibition so that they can be investigated.
Religious and nationalist groups have sought to disrupt other art exhibits and cultural events in Turkey in recent years, while a broader homophobic backlash has been fueled by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who made anti-LGBT propaganda a central part of his re-election campaign in May.
Erdoğan accused İmamoğlu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) and its election allies of promoting LGBT in the country.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, but homophobia is widespread and works of art, publications or broadcasts including or showing homosexual characters are frequently faced with state censorship or protests.