In Memoriam: For Hande Kader

Amid the violent and often murderous repression in turkey against dissidence, against leftist political militants, ethnic and religious minorities, intellectuals, journalists, academics, LGBT activists also find themselves targeted by public authorities and para-State political and religious groups.

On the 8th of August, the burned body of Hande Kader, LGBT activist and sex worker, was found dead in Istanbul, the victim of President Recep Erdogan’s and his government’s politics of moral and political purification; a politics that not only serves the interests of his political authority, but also that of transforming the country into a neoliberal space of unrestrained exploitation.

In memory of Hande Kader, in memory of her passion and courage, in memory of her beauty, in memory of the all too many LGBT activists assaulted, imprisoned, and killed in turkey, and in solidarity with all of those who continue to resist, as the many thousands who filled the streets of central Istanbul this last Sunday, we share news and analyses …


The struggle to stay alive in Turkey where trans individuals are pushed to the city’s peripheries as well as the struggle to prove their existence finds life in a sentence that is repeated, emphasized, written at every demonstration: “Don’t be silent, shout, trans exist.”

“Hande was one of the nicest people in the world. She was very calm normally but also hyperactive. She always went to the LGBTI marches. She pursued a cause that she felt right until the end.”

This is how flat mate Davut Dengiler describes the 23 year old trans woman Hande Kader whose body was found in a forest in Istanbul last week. She was last seen entering a client’s car one night. Davut Dengiler, long hopeful to find Hande alive, ended up finding her in the morgue for unidentified persons in Yenibosna.

“I was about to leave the morgue. I felt a sense of lightness for not having found her there. At the last minute, a doctor there said, ‘there’s also a burned body, look at that as well.’ I did. I told them identifying features. They then looked at the computer, at the report. The doctor put his hand on my back and gave his condolences. I lost myself,” he says of that day.

He then explains Hande’s responses to other deaths, to trans deaths:

“She would go crazy when trans individuals were killed. She’d be so sad. She’d be so courageous the moment she left the house. She’d also be very restless sometimes. She had been stabbed and beaten before. This doesn’t happen only to Hande, it happens to all of them.”

‘The highest number of trans murders in Europe take place in Turkey’

According to Trans Europe’s data, the highest number of trans murders in Europe take place in Turkey. Globally, Brazil is the least safe country for trans individuals.

But “there is no safe country for trans people” as the institution’s 2016 report states.

Hande was someone who tried to call attention to trans murders in Turkey and the injustices she reacted against. She was among those who were in the front rows of demonstrations.

But perhaps it is the images of Hande Kader that has been shared innumerable times on social media that best explain the trans woman who is still waiting to be buried due to identification, autopsy, and DNA testing processes. In 2015, police had banned Pride March organized every year by LGBTI in Taksim and tried to disperse the crowds using pressurized water, rubber bullets, and pepper spray. Despite it all, Hande Kader had not “dispersed” and stood against the police with stubbornness.

At some point in a naive anger, she reproached the journalists who were recording the events. She said, “You take pictures but you do not publish them, no one is hearing our voices.”

Hande Kader and other trans individuals’ unheard voices came this time with the news of her death. In a way that no one wants to think or imagine: by being burned.

Her life, which she tried to earn through sex work, was always in danger. Just like all the other trans individuals who are forced to this, she worked on the street. Just like the others, she sought a way out but could not find it. Her close friend Funda says, “she did not like this work,” and adds, “but who would like it anyway.”

“There are very few trans individuals who die of natural causes”

The trans individuals I spoke to have two commonalities. One is that they are heartbroken by society with the reminder that people went out on the streets in millions after the murder of Özgecan Aslan, who was similarly burned and killed. The second is that nearly all of them have a story on how they “escaped death.”

Kemal Ördek is one of them. Ördek answers my questions and says they were “lucky” to survive an attack in their home.

“There are very few trans individuals who die of natural causes. Nearly none. There are very few trans individuals in Turkey who have reached the age of 50 or 60. When you are pushed to sex work, it’s not possible for people to reach old age. They are killed. I don’t know how I survived. That’s the sad part,” Ördek says.

Ördek completed a degree in international studies in Bilkent University with a scholarship after ranking at the top in the exams and is pursuing graduate studies in sociology in Middle East Technical University. Ördek earns their living mostly through sex work.

“Do they have to be sex workers?”

Kemal Ördek is also the president of Red Umbrella, an association that defends the rights of trans sex workers. I ask them one of the questions that society often asks trans individuals: Do they have to be sex workers?

Ördek says, “We are viewed not as people who can integrate into society but as the dirt of society. What grabs our attention most when we are walking on the street are the looks that see us as sexual objects. That the people who diss us do so through words that suggest they want to be with us. It doesn’t matter if it’s a woman or a man. We are humans who are sexual objects.”

In a time when women who make up half the world combat against inequality and discrimination in the workplace, it appears that trans individuals finding employment in the fields of their education is impossible.

“A never-ending mourning”

Ördek describes their feelings as “a never-ending mourning” when talking about the insecure, vulnerable, and fragile conditions trans individuals face and says,”

“When I first became an activist, I would not be able to sleep thinking about the kind of news I’d get in the middle of the night. Even now, my phone is at the highest ringtone when I sleep at night. I wait for news, someone will be stabbed, someone beaten and I’ll get called and I’ll have to go there immediately. This is a never-ending mourning and state of trauma.”

The identity reassignment process for trans individuals in Turkey is a long and painful one and many don’t dare to because of this. Because of this, trans women can’t change the [gendered] color of their IDs and can’t work in brothels where they may have more security.

Sinem Hun, a lawyer who works closely on trans identity reassignment cases, interprets the relevant gender reassignment article in Turkey’s Civil Law as “the whole of the processes that embody too many rights violations.”

“24 states in Europe require by law that trans people undergo sterilization”

Hun says the state “wants to see” that both trans men and trans women have to received surgeries for their genitalia to establish that the gender reassignment process has been done physically. At the same time, she says sterilization is mandatory.

Hun gives the example of Argentina where gender reassignment is based on the person’s statement and says they have applied individually to the Constitutional Court for the cancellation of the article that forces surgery. She hopes the article could be annulled.

“There are trans individuals who cannot change their identity for 5-6 years,” says Hun and emphasizes that there are very few competent microsurgery doctors for these surgeries and that these surgeries in Turkey are expensive and bring forth a difficult process.

Sterilization is an issue that European countries have yet to agree on. According to Trans Europe’s Trans Rights Europe Index, there are 24 countries that require sterilization for gender reassignment. Among them are Turkey, Russia, France, and Switzerland.

Hungary and Albania do not have legal gender recognition

Sterilization is not mandatory in 15 countries, including Sweden, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain.

Gender reassignment is not considered legal in Hungary, Cyprus, Moldova, and Albania, according to the Europe Index.

The struggle to stay alive in Turkey where trans individuals are pushed to the city’s peripheries as well as the struggle to prove their existence finds life in a sentence that is repeated, emphasized, written at every demonstration: “Don’t be silent, shout, trans exist.”

The struggle for society to accept their existence and the struggle to stay alive is together. Legal processes and democratic wins may determine when they’ll be equal citizens in Turkey and other countries but trans, LGBTI individuals, and their allies hope that Hande Kader will be a turning point in trans murders.

(Source: LGBTI News Turkey, re-publishing Rengin Arslan, “Hande Kader cinayeti: Kimse sesimizi duymuyor”, BBC Turkey, 20 August 2016,



Men share your bed, your meal, your house after being with many trans sex workers like Hande Kader. While you keep believing that you are “cleaner”, “more innocent”, “more virtuous” than Hande Kader, the murderer lives in your house. Pray that they may be caught before they do one tenth of what they did to her, to you.

It’s like I’m watching a horror movie. In its first scene, the car Hande Kader gets in disappears in the darkness of the night. Then everything gets blurry. The blur remains for a while. Next a flash lights up. New scene: Police gather around in a forest, they take away Hande Kader’s burnt body in a body bag.

I wish what I saw was really just a movie.

We had common friends but I didn’t know her. But then again, it turns out I saw her many times, unknowingly! She was one of our trans friends on those famous photos of last year’s Pride Walk on Istiklal Avenue, that they tried to cancel, on the first shot they are sitting against a water cannon, in the second one, they are soaked with pressurized water. The policemen that were taking her away last year, holding her arm harshly are now in the forest to take her burned body.

When I heard that her corpse was burned, I found myself thinking, I hope she wasn’t burned to death, I hope she was burned after she was murdered, to get rid of the evidence. Please don’t condemn me. The current order, the current morality made us prefer one death over another. Remember the words of Ali ?smail’s mother, who was beaten to death during Gezi; “I wish they shot my Ali?, my son suffered so much” and please don’t condemn me.

I was only beginning to digest the story of how Figen was dragged to death, my eyes tearing up as I looked at photos I took in the march in the memory of Dora. My anger together with my pain rise up, as I writhe with the pain of who knows how many victims that shared similar horrible ends, worst of all, not knowing which of my friends, my sisters are next. Among those we lost, which one’s news could reach all? Whose murderer received the sentence they deserved? No one should fool themselves. We can believe in the sincerity of a struggle only if we see a murdered trans sex worker’s photo on the posters of a struggle against hate crimes. No one should feel safe either, no one should ask “why doesn’t it happen to me then?”. You can never know who the hate will strike. And hate has many excuses. Therefore, there are no “but”s in the struggle against hate. The victims can not be divided into “innocents” or “pure ones” against “the ones who had it coming”.

One last remark goes out to the women who remain silent on Hande Kader’s murder: I’m sure you would curse her for being a trans, for being a sex worker, you would despise her for selling her body, had you known about her when she was alive.

This is the main reason for your silence anyway, do not fool yourself nor us. But remember, sales is a two-way street. Anything that is sold is on sale as long as there is a buyer. Those that drag Hande Kader and other trans workers to this life, those that do not leave any other path and those who profit from this with an insatiable greed, are your men, your husbands, your brothers, your sons, your fathers, do not look elsewhere. (I don’t know if you are aware but you are as guilty as them, with your prejudice, your false convictions, your cliches of morality and dignity.)

Men share your bed, your meal, your house after being with many trans sex workers like Hande Kader. While you keep believing that you are “cleaner”, “more innocent”, “more virtuous” than Hande Kader, the murderer lives in your house. Pray that they may be caught before they do one tenth of what they did to her, to you. I’m waiting with curiosity, let’s see which of one of your houses will he come out of.

(Source: LGBTI News Turkey, re-publishing Zeynep Akkus, “Hande Kader’in katili hanginizin evinden c?kacak?”, kaosgl, August 17, 2016,



The Kirmizi Semsiye’s (Red Umbrella’s) database processed a total of 267 cases of rights violations directed at trans people in the last year. 98% of trans people say they have experienced discrimination during the hiring process, and 68% while seeking medical treatment.

“I had a sex-change surgery at a private hospital. Because I have SGK (social security insurance), I wanted to be checked out and get my medication at a public hospital, within my SGK coverage. Then I was confronted with the words of the doctor at the Women and Maternity Ward who said, ‘You’re a man, I don’t approve of your situation. You made a wrong decision, I don’t want to be a part of this mistake of yours.’ The doctor didn’t perform an examination or prescribe me any pills. I was forced to leave the hospital in tears.”

“I’m 45 years old, I did sex work on the streets for years, I still do it. While I’m trying to earn a living, the police detain me and take me to the police station. They give me fines. I can’t pay them of course. I don’t pay them. On the one hand, the government tells me to stay off the streets, to not be a prostitute; on the other hand, they keep on giving me these fines. In order to be able to pay the fines, I need to do even more prostitution work. I have so much debt, not even health services or insurance…”

Kirmizi Semsiye (Red Umbrella) Sexual Health and Human Rights Association, under its program, “Trans-Watch: Trans-Directed Rights Violations in Turkey Advocacy Perspectives and Monitoring Project,” has published a book that sheds a light on the rights violations confronted by trans people living in different parts of Turkey over the last year.

Compiled by Kemal Ördek, “Being Trans* in Turkey: Exclusion, Discrimination and Violence” takes the inspiration for its cover photo from the trans woman, Buse, who died as a victim of a hate attack last March in her home in Bakirköy.

The book, which was prepared under the “Trans-Watch” project, which is supported by financial support from the Swedish Istanbul Consulate General and the Open Society Foundation (Açik Toplum Vakfi), includes examples from cases of rights violations recorded in their online database, statistical information, victims’ testimonies, and comments from experts on the status of trans rights in Turkey, activists, NGOs, international organizations, attorneys, and sex workers.

267 rights violations in the last year

According to Kirmizi Semsiye’s database, in the last year there have been 267 cases of rights violations directed at trans people. In the cases, which took place across 22 provinces in Turkey, serious physical injury, sexual assault, damage to property, discriminatory behavior, psychological violence, hate speech, and other similar types of rights violations against trans people were observed.

Of the 326 total cases in Kirmizi Semsiye’s online database, 98 (30%) include threats and psychological violence. 18 percent of the same cases occurred to due to serious physical harm. In total, 0.2% (9 cases) were sexual assault, 16% hate speech, and 13% discriminatory behavior.

In the last year a total of seven trans people were murdered. Between January 2008 and June 2016 a total of 43 trans people were murdered. This constitutes the highest statistic among the countries of Europe.

Systematic discrimination and violence

Discrimination and violence targeted at trans people in Turkey constitute a systematic hardship, according to data obtained via the “ProTrans” and “Trans-Watch” projects carried out under the partnership between Kirmizi Semsiye and “Transgender Europe.”

According to this data, discrimination and violence pushes trans people to look for work in alternative forms of employment, and in this process most of them become involved in the “underground” sector.

Within the trans population, the most at-risk groups are prisoners, children, the youth, the HIV positive, refugees, the elderly, the disabled, immigrants, and the ill. These groups report experiencing higher levels of discrimination and violence.

In a questionnaire of 109 participants, 66 percent expressed constantly experiencing some sort of discrimination, according to the field work carried out by Kirmizi Semsiye with “Transgender Europe” between 2014-2015.

98 percent of participants reported experiencing discrimination at least once during the hiring period. 68 percent expressed having faced discrimination while trying to access medical services.

87% victims of physical violence, 78% sexual violence

According to fieldwork conducted in 2014 with 233 trans women sex workers in 12 provinces of Turkey, 75 percent of survey participants had fallen victim to very serious physical violence at least once in their life. 86 percent of the offenders in these cases were the sex workers’ customers.

According to the research, 1 in 2 trans women sex workers is physically assaulted by a police officer. 40 percent of the questionnaire participants experienced harsh physical violence from a member of a gang. 54 percent had fallen victim to sexual violence at least once in their life. Victims of psychological violence count as 68 percent.

According to another field work project carried out by Kirmizi Semsiye and Transgender Europe between 2014-2015, 87 percent of participants said they had fallen victim to physical violence once or twice. 78 percent reported falling victim to sexual violence, and 73 percent to psychological violence or being beaten. 65 percent of participants reported receiving a death threat at least once in their lives.

Police just stand by

According to Kirmizi Semsiye, hate speech and hate crimes targeted at trans people increase with the police either standing by idly or even encouraging these acts.

According to the field work project carried out by Kirmizi Semsiye and Transgender Europe between 2014-2015, 71 percent of participants were detained for being trans at least once. Again 71 percent said they had to pay a fine because of being trans. 76 percent reported being consistently harassed by the police.

Trans suicide as a political reality

In Kirmizi Semsiye’s report, “Violence Directed at Trans Women Sex Workers in Turkey: The Struggle for Existence in the Grip of Invisibility and Impunity,” 57 percent of 233 trans women sex workers interviewed said they drink alcohol every day.

According to the same report, 33 percent of participants reported using drugs frequently. According to Kirmizi Semsiye, heavy alcohol and drug use together with trans people’s being left vulnerable and in a hopeless situation created a higher propensity for suicide.

50 percent of the trans women sex workers who joined the study said they had thought about committing suicide at least once in their lives. 36 percent said they had found themselves attempting suicide at least once.

Refugee and asylum seeker trans people

According to Kirmizi Semsiye, among the trans people who live in Turkey, one of the groups whose problems are the least visible and as a result are least likely to receive attention in the struggle for rights are refugee and asylum seeker trans people.

In the book many Syrian trans people have had difficulties with standing out in small and relatively “conservative” satellite cities because their sexual orientation or sexual identity. Without being able to find any trans support groups in these cities, Syrian trans women refugees are forced into doing sex work under bad conditions.

According to the 2009 report, “Insecure Asylum: Security Issues Faced by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transvestite and Transexual Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Turkey,” published by the Helsinki Citizens Assembly and the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration, those who come to Turkey from other countries experience difficulties with the the local population, as well as other asylum seekers, and the police.

Being trans in prison

Imprisoned trans live in isolating conditions as a result of their sexual identity and sexual expression. Trans prisoners become disconnected with other prisoners. They see their rights to join open-air recreation, workshops, education and work taken away.

Many trans people live in single-person rooms. They can’t shop at the commissary store because they don’t carry the appropriate materials for their gender expression or identity. They recieve bad treatment from prison personnel and even torture.

According to information obtained by Kirmizi Semsiye,  trans people have had the possibility to express their needs during the transition period, procure hormone provisions, or go to the hospital and get reports blocked or delayed by prison administration.

Getting medical treatment or health information

In addition to falling victim to human rights violations in their daily lives, trans people also point to difficulties encountered in their general health conditions, their sexual health, their reproductive health and related information, and in accessing medical services.

Trans people encounter humiliating and degrading attitudes when attempting to get the medical services they want. Being deprived of social security, trans sex workers cannot access health information or services.

Trans people don’t trust the police or the courts

According to Kirmizi Semsiye’s data, trans people don’t trust the police or the courts. Many trans women sex workers are afraid of future retaliations from their perpetrators, threats, and being revealed as sex workers. For this reason, not many complaints are made against the perpetrators of crimes against trans people, and if they are made, they are generally taken back.

According to interviews conducted with trans women sex workers by Kirmizi Semsiye in 2014, 42 percent of participants who had fallen victim to violence did not report their cases to the police or prosecution office. They gave their reasons as not trusting justice mechanisms, being afraid of being targeted by the police, and being worried about falling victim again to the same violence.

According to the research in only 11 percent of the cases reported to the police or the prosecution offices did the perpetrator receive the punishment he or she deserved. According to the participants, the other 89 percent of the time the report passed by without the police looking at it, the perpetrator was acquitted, or their sentence was lightened.

Trans peoples’ feeling of learned helplessness as well as the transphobic attitude and behavior of some lawyers have also played a role in the normalization and rise of violence and discrimination.

Transphobic language, anger, and hate intensifies

In Turkey,  transphobic media language and anti-trans hate speech becoming widespread has intensified the hate and anger against trans people. In news reports about trans people, topics like sexually transmitted diseases, public safety, public decency, and prostitution’s relation to trans people topics target trans people as a social group and increase these bad conditions.

To download the PDF version of “Being Trans* in Turkey: Exclusion, Discrimination and Violence”, in turkish, click here.

Since 2013, The Kirmizi Semsiye (Red Umbrella) Sexual Health and Human Rights Association has been systematically monitoring, compiling reports and collecting documents every year about trans peoples’ rights violations, and cases of trans discrimination and violence.

In the process of collecting data, the association draws from house visits, following social media, telephone reports. (SG/ÇT/KT)

(Source: Bianet English)

Vice News on the repression of the 2015 Gay Pride march in Istanbul …


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