Barbaros Şansal is a Turkish fashion designer and activist. He studied Business Management at Marmara University and mastered in design and chromatics at the Royal Academy in London, before becoming an apprentice to a prominent fashion designer. Besides being a fashion designer, Şansal is also known as an LGBT rights advocate and an anti-war activist.
Barbaros Şansal hosted two TV programmes on Turkish TV channels called “Pin” and “Safety Pin”. He also wrote two books called “Printing Ink Lives on Newsprint” and “Fitting Room”. He translated the book “101 things I Learned in Fashion School” written by Matthew Frederick and Alfredo Cabrera. Şansal gave lectures about the history of fashion at Marmara University and Ankara Baskent University.
Şansal however known to many with a video footage sent by him on the New Year’s Eve last year. He posted a video on his Twitter account angrily denouncing those out celebrating:
“While scores of journalists are in prison, while children are sexually harassed, raped, while corruption and bribes are everywhere, while extremists are distributing shit to you in the streets, are you still celebrating the New Year? I am not… Carry on your celebration in disgrace, misery and dirt.”
Because of these words, the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus Interior Ministry detained Şansal and deported him to Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport by airplane. After landing at the airport, Şansal was physically and verbally attacked by people on the tarmac. After being taken into custody by the police, he was taken to court and was arrested the following day charged with ‘inciting the public to hatred or hostility’ under Article 216 of the Turkish Penal Code. Şansal said that the words he used were “a satire against discrimination” and did not accept the accusations directed against him.
Şansal was released from prison on March 2, 2017, but faces charges of ‘insulting the Turkish nation’ which carry a penalty of one to three years in prison.
I faced harassment, rape, arrest, torture and imprisonment, but I did not give up
You were attacked by a group of people at the airport apron (a restricted area for airport personnel) in Istanbul. Who do you think is behind this attack? Do you think the perpetrators of this attack have been protected by the authorities? Could you tell what you experienced after you were taken under custody following this attack and also tell your current perspective on life?
On the eve of the New Year 2017 I was in Northern Cyprus as a guest. There I shot and published a video of satire. In this video, I tried to explain the moral degeneration in Turkey, and as a reaction to jailing journalists, child sexual abuse, bribery, radicalism and arbitrarily changing the time zone of Northern Cyprus, I criticized Turkey and asked “under these circumstances, how can you celebrate the New Year?”. Afterwards, by the instructions of the Secretariat General of the Presidency of Turkey, I was taken to Turkey by force (deported from Northern Cyprus, which is under control of Turkey), and on the 2nd of January, 2017, at the Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul at the gate of a plane full of passengers, I was taken into custody by tens of policemen, and lynched by officials in uniform. Afterwards, I was arrested because of a tweet -which has indeed been proven to be fake- on an accusation which does not even suppose custody (Turkish Criminal Code-TCK 216, “inciting sections of the population to enmity or hatred”). After the overseas exit ban was lifted in the hearing, I had to leave Turkey. However, due to (unjustified) probation I still have to go to Istanbul every three weeks for signature. Since the Turkish Government ordered the Security-Protection Department to deal with me, I am not even able to go out without being accompanied by a gunned policeman.
The indictment of the office of the prosecutor claimed that the attack was an organized crime. However, the court has not accepted this indictment yet. The Ministry of Transportation and the General Directorate of State Airports Authority have not even started an investigation.
Before the LGBT pride marches planned to take place in Istanbul on the 19th and 26th of June, 2017, the nationalist groups publicly threatened the would-be participants and declared that the government should not allow the marches to happen. Three days after this threat on June 17, the Governorship of Istanbul announced that both rallies were banned. Furthermore, although the prosecutor had demanded four years of imprisonment, the ones who were tried due to intimidation and discriminative language were sentenced to 800 Euros, which was a sort of reward. What do you think about the role of the relationship between mafia and the state in such restraining of freedoms in Turkey?
As a victim of 1980 military coup, I had been one of the leading activists of the LGBT movement both in national and international levels. I have participated in these events every year and struggled for this aim. However, for this reason, throughout the years I faced harassment, rape, arrest, torture and imprisonment, but I did not give up. Turkish state and the mafia have always been closely linked, but the most serious threat is the religious fascism. If no international reaction had come out to what I experienced, I would have even been killed.
While your work requires you to be intimate with aesthetics and sophistication, how did boorish treatments you have faced affected your relations with fashion?
As I said, I was shaken from the root, now I have to set up a new life from scratch, I could not pay to my employees, I have suffered heavy financial damages, I had to spend my lifetime savings, I put my properties up for sale. But my company is still open and the only way is to continue art, fashion and education by opening an office abroad. for this reason I am submitting my official applications. I want to revive my profession by sharing it with deserving and appreciative societies. However, this violence did not damage my aesthetics and accumulation of knowledge, now I plan to work for more efficient projects in the international arena.
You have friends all around Europe. Do you think your friends understand human rights violations taking place in Turkey? Do you think that European politicians and diplomats are looking at these injustices from the right perspective?
From the EU to Freedom House; from LGBT organizations to Amnesty, I have been working with many NGOs for years. I have many friends from political and commercial circles but “when it comes to the limits of the material or sovereignty of states and governments, the prospect of human life and rights does not matter”. A president of a parliament whom I cannot name said this to me.
In spite of heavy oppression of the government on dissidents, we see that the dissidents are very disconnected from each others and can not act jointly against oppression. For example, while CHP gave green light to the arrest of HDP MP’s, now they face the same situation. Some seculars ignore human rights violations, while Gulenists are suffering heavy tortures, because of their antipathies for them. What do you think about the dissociation of the people who are victims of the same oppressor?
I am different from all, LGBT, Atheist, Revolutionary, Socialist, Activist, Environmentalist. A political leader once asked me how come Turkey didn’t execute (cut your head) you up until this age. However, I am with all the victims. For me those who stay silent to injustice are mute devils, no matter what religion, language, race, nation, sex, belief or genre they have. People of Turkey changed a lot since 1980. The seeds of hatred have begun to sprout, and they now only worship power and money and claiming that they do it in the name of religion. Turkey not always respond accurately to the efforts of US and Europe. It mostly lies.
Armenians Greeks, Kurds, Jews, Christians, Alawite, Homosexuals, Women, Children, Animals and nature… In short, anyone who is not a Salafist is in danger. Since I have underlined the secular democratic social constitutional state, I have been called to the prosecutor’s office and have to testify, what more can I say.
In light of your recent experiences, especially July 15 and Emergency Law practice, how do you see the future of the country in the field of individual rights and freedoms? What can be done in Turkey and abroad in order to prevent this deterioration? if we take into consideration the grave condition of the media, judiciary and highly divided civil society, which actors can be more effective in this fight?
First of all, visibility and awareness should be ensured. Account of what happened should not only be heard from the state officials but also civilians from all parts of the society. For this reason, exemplary voices should be given the opportunity to be heard in the world.
You can tame Turkey only by money and starvation. Or you can deceive it by making it an ummah by rearing it up with nationalistic feelings. Because, the country is falling apart from the world. The youth are running away. Families are searching ways to leave the country. The gap between rich and poor is growing, equality of opportunity is disappearing, violence and slander are everywhere, unaccountability and injustice has engulfed the society like a fire. Education is crippling, social rights are finished, polarization and division are in their extremities and when you add ignorance to the utter lack of respect and shamelessness things become more difficult.
It is very difficult to keep the state alive where there is no democracy, especially when an autocrat government has controlled all the media and sources of the country. Can you imagine that an investigation could not be launched when I applied to the IATA. They don’t accept the file because its Turkey representative is being appointed by Turkey which is a member country. I have to find an NGO. I couldn’t receive an answer nor from ICAO or another civil aviation organization until now. And those perpetrators are still working in the apron.
When it comes to July 15, it is a huge unknown for me. As a person who was arrested in 1980 coup and lived in exile for long years I am among those who know what a military coup looks like. Like the operation formerly carried out against Turkish Armed Forces.. A chain of intrigues… I hope that time will reveal the truth. Any country, whatever its leader, should not draw its people to the streets to use them as human shields. Contrarily, it should draw them to safety and of course the mosques should not be used as a propaganda apparatus.