Turkish students depict sacred Islamic site alongside rainbows. They’re detained and dubbed ‘deviants’ by ministers

Demonstrators wearing masks hold an LGBT+ flag during the demonstration at Boaziçi University, Istanbul, Turkey. (Tunahan Turhan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Four students were detained Saturday (30 January) and dubbed “deviants” by Turkey’s interior minister over a piece of artwork that reportedly depicted rainbows alongside the Kaaba.

The Kaaba is the most sacred site in Islam, being a building in the centre of the Masjid al-Haram mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Tensions have simmered at Boğaziçi University in Instanbul after a supposed loyalist of Turkey’s governing party, the Justice and Development Party, was appointed as a senior official by president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Student-led pushback erupted earlier this month, as demonstrators, many holding LGBT+ Pride flags, argued that the presidential appointment of professor Melih Bulu as rector went against the university’s 158-year-long history of electing its own.

According to Ahval, yet another fever pitch in the weeks-long outcry was sparked when four students allegedly laid down a piece of artwork that depicted the Kaaba alongside rainbow symbols commonly associated with LGBT+ Pride.

The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office accused the students of “laying a photo of the Kaaba on the ground in a Boğaziçi University exhibition”.

LGBT+ Pride flags ‘seized’ as student’s rooms raided for allegedly placing rainbow artwork

LGBT+ Pride flags were “seized” during a police search of the student’s rooms, the İstanbul Governor’s Office said in a statement, calling it an “ugly attack” that “mocked religious beliefs”.

The tinderbox act ignited fierce condemnation from top Turkish officials. After all, rainbows and other so-called LGBT+ symbols have been reduced by decision-makers into a volatile culture war.

Indeed, Turkey’s interior minister, who helms the country’s internal affairs such as public security and election conduct, lampooned the demonstrators.

“Four LGBT deviants, who disrespected the Islamic holy site, the Kaaba, have been detained at Boğaziçi University,” tweeted Süleyman Soylu Friday evening (29 January).

But the university’s LGBT+ society, Boğaziçi LGBTİ+, issued a statement in solidarity with the arrested students. “We stand with our detained friends against those who attack LGBT+ people,” the statement read.

“We do not accept trustees who target their own students!”

In Turkey, lawmakers, religious leaders and humanitarians find a common enemy – LGBT+ people

In Turkey, the sight of tear gas, water cannons and plastic riot shields squelching Pride events in Istanbul has become a regretful annual tradition.

The country’s president, Erdoğan, as well as lawmakers, religious leaders, heads of major humanitarian agencies and even clothing retailers have launched vicious attacks against the country’s embattled LGBT+ community.

Retail giant LC Waikiki announced earlier this year that it will ban rainbows, unicorns and other “LGBT+ images” from being used in its clothing designs.

Meanwhile, government advertising regulators launched their own chilling clampdown by claiming rainbows “negatively affect children’s mental health” – so rainbow merchandise must come with an 18+ warning as a result.