President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Republic of Turkey tries its best to shake off any remaining influence of the republic's forefather and founder, President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk's legacy revolved around six principles: Republicanism, Populism, Nationalism, Secularism, Statism and Reformism. So its no surprise that, while Turkey's recent victory in the Women's European Volleyball Championship should be a point of national pride, it has resulted in hostility toward the openly gay players on the national team.
Turkey's regime characteristics mean that it is classified by political scientists and historians as a religious autocracy bordering on a Sultanistic regime. Since Erdogan's rise to power, the country has shifted towardconservative Islam, which would challenge many modern aspects such as gender roles, modesty, gender orientation and sexual orientation. Turkey's national women's volleyball team does not conform to religious standards on the court.
Despite Erdogan's Islamist agenda, he is responsible for the sudden constant improvement in Turkey's athletic performance (remember Turkey's fourth place in taekwando after battling Israel in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics) and 'enlisting' foreign athletes into the country's national teams.
Turkish-born Ebrar Karakurt and Cuban-born Melissa Vargas are the only openly homosexual players on the women's volleyball team, which has been met with an online homophobic smear campaign from Islamist groups. Moreover, the groups say that the team wears 'revealing' jerseys and shorts, and Vargas is covered in tattoos which are unacceptable to the religious communities in the country.
"We are sick of women like them tainting our national achievements. If it was up to me, I would deport them," tweeted a senior member of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party.
"This is how we win. United and not divided," tweeted Karakurt. After their victory, the players dedicated their win to Ataturk who founded the Republic of Turkey 100 years ago.
Despite opposition, Erdogan and Minister of Youth and Sports Osman Askın Bak were quick to congratulate the team on their championship. Reveling in national pride, thousands of Turkish expatriates gathered in Brussels to watch the final, and millions of Turks watched the match throughout the country.
Celebrations for Karakurt ground to a halt she had to face attacks over her sexuality not only from radical Islamists but also from journalists affiliated with Erdogan's party, who called her "a homosexual pervert with a perverted lifestyle which goes against Turkish society" and a "disgrace for the Turkish people."
"This is not our first final we played and not our first psychological war," Karakurt responded.
Erdogan, who congratulated the players on their victory in a phone call, appears to be absent from the political discourse around the sexuality of the women's volleyball team, presumably since the subject is a wedge issue. However, the national team's dedication of the victory to Ataturk and the tens of thousands of people who showed their support at the airport and in shopping centers, the regime-affiliated continued their attacks against what looked like demonstrations opposing the regime.