Hande Kader was a beautiful, vibrant and passionate young woman who was raped, beaten, stabbed, mutilated and set on fire, her burning body left in the street. What could possibly have merited such a cruel, barbaric and utterly depraved attack. What was Hande’s crime? Being born male. Hande Kader was transgender, which put a large target on her back as she lived in Turkey where the LGBTI community is often shamed, ostracized, attacked and, in Kader’s case, killed at age 23.
Of course, that is not to say that all Turkish people are homophobic, but statistically speaking, being out and proud in Turkey can be dangerous. Hande was not scared into silence. She stood up for what she believed in. She was an advocate for gay rights, publicly condemned crimes committed against people because of their sexual orientation, and took part in as many Pride events as she could.
Hande paid the ultimate price for her bravery, and died in a way that no human should.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Hande Was a Sex Worker
Hande Kader supported herself as a sex worker. This is in no way suggesting that it was her fault she was so viciously attacked. The simple fact that she was a sex worker made her vulnerable, and she was often put in dangerous situations.
Why not find a less dangerous job? It is incredibly difficult for people who are trans to find employment in Turkey. Discrimination is a fact of life, just as it is in many other countries, sometimes including even the U.S. Everyone needs shelter. Everyone needs to eat. Hande needed to find a way to earn a living.
A friend of Hande’s, known only as Funda, stated that Hande was looking for a way out of the world of sex work, but could not find one. “She did not like it,” Funda said, “but who would?”
Being a sex worker, and a transgender one at that, left Hande with virtually no protection. If a client beat, raped or brutalized her, she could not go to the police for help without risk of being further humiliated and ridiculed. Each time Hande got into a car with a customer, she was putting her life at risk. And that is exactly what happened early in August of 2016. She got into a car with a client and was never seen again.
2. Hande Was Raped, Beaten, Tortured & Stabbed Before Her Body Was Set on Fire in The Street
Hande is believed to have been kidnapped by an attacker posing as a client. It is believed, but has not been proven that there was more than one attacker involved in Hande’s death. Her attackers brutally, viciously, repeatedly raped her. They beat her to a bloody pulp. They stabbed her over and over again until she was dead. Then, they unceremoniously left her burning body in the street.
It is believed that Hande was killed for a reason. Not just because she was a transwoman, but because she was an advocate. She spoke out against the atrocities committed against the LGBTQ community. She refused to be silenced.
“In 2015, police had banned the annual LGBTI Pride march in Taksim Square in Istanbul. They tried to disperse the crowds, using water cannon, rubber bullets and pepper spray. But Ms Kader stood stubbornly against the police. She reproached journalists: ‘You take pictures but you do not publish them. No-one is hearing our voices,'” reports the BBC.
Hande was reported missing by her flatmate. He was eventually brought to the city morgue by police to view the unclaimed bodies. He did not see Hande, and felt a surge of immense relief. Then, the morgue worker asked him if he wanted to view a burned body that had been delivered to the morgue by police. As he viewed the charred remains, he saw “prosthetics,” believed to be remnants of Hande’s breast implants. At that moment, he knew it was Hande. DNA testing would further confirm that the remains were indeed hers.
3. Hundreds Took to the Streets Protesting Hande’s Death
Hande’s death did not go unnoticed. If Hande’s death was meant to quiet the LGBTI community down, it had the opposite effect.
“The murdered sex worker became an iconic figure in the LGBTI community after she sat in front of water cannons and anti-riot police officers in June last year as authorities tried to ban a gay pride parade in Istanbul,” Al Jazeera reports.
Over 200 people marched through the streets of Istanbul. Many carried pictures of Hande. Others carried banners demanding justice for Hande Kander. Others held signs with “let’s fight for our survival” written on them.
“‘We will not stop until we find those responsible for Hande Kader’s murder,’ Ebru Kiranci, spokeswoman for Istanbul’s LGBTI Solidarity Association, said,” Al Jazeera continued.
Although Hande was murdered in August of 2016, no arrests have been made. Her death has largely faded from the public’s memory, and Turkish police appear to have put the investigation into Hande’s death on the back burner.
4. A Memorial Scholarship Was Established in Hande’s Honor, But The Donations Were Rejected
“The Boğaziçi University LGBTI+ Studies Club had announced that they would grant a student [with the] Hande Kader Fellowship but the university presidency has said that the fellowship was not within their knowledge. The donations are being returned,” reports LGBTI News Turkey.
Boğaziçi University Foundation (BÜVAK) and BÜLGBTI+ worked together to establish a fellowship in Hande Kader’s name for a trans student to attend university. Donations poured in in the aftermath of Kader’s death. But, unfortunately, the donations were made in vain.
“[The] Fund and scholarship which have become the subject of reports in the media stating that a fellowship of 500 TL for 12 months to be provided by the ‘Hande Kader Fellowship’ to a trans Boğaziçi University student as a result of the cooperation of BÜVAK and LGBTI+ Studies Club are not within the knowledge of BÜVAK and Boğaziçi University Presidency. There is no such a fund within the body of BÜVAK. For this reason, the donators [sic] and those who would like to donate shouldn’t be misinformed. The donations of the donators are being returned as of now.”
5. Turkey Has The Highest Murder Rate Among LGBTQ People
“Unlike many Muslim countries, homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, but homophobia remains widespread despite the success of many famous gay or trans individuals. Aside from flashy icon Bulent Ersoy, a sharp-tongued and attention-craving diva who had a sex-change operation in the 1980s, most try to keep a low profile. Many of them, despite being household names, have been publicly humiliated, attacked or beaten.
In fact, the climate has become so dangerous that the Istanbul Gay Pride celebration has been cancelled due to fears of violence. It was one of the largest Pride celebrations in that part of the world.
Turkey is one of the worst places in terms of LGBT rights in Europe, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). The association, says Turkey — the fourth from the bottom on the list — has a “claustrophobic atmosphere, increased by the state of emergency” declared in the wake of last summer’s attempted coup. Its 2016 report underlined the banning of the march in Ankara and others in both Istanbul and Izmir. It added that the office of a prominent LGBTI organization was also forced to close due to security threats. In advance of this year’s pride celebrations, a series of ominous threats were made by several extremist groups.
The report added that LGBTI people, particularly trans women, are frequently the victims of violent bias-motivated attacks, many of them fatal. Activists say that the culprits are seldom found. Witnesses are reluctant to testify and families, ashamed of their child, want the crime buried. There are no public prosecutors or lawyers who put pressure on the justice system.
This is the case for Kader, whose story seems to be forgotten outside a handful of activists and her lawyer, Firat Soyle. Soyle, who talked to journalist Burcu Karakas, that the case of Kader was not dismissed with a simple “murderers unknown” finding, as so many transsexual murder cases are, though not a single suspect had been identified in the ongoing investigation. “The prosecutor’s office is looking at her phone calls before the murder and at the security footage in which she was last seen before she reportedly got in the car with one or several men.”
“Photographer Omer Tevfik is a queer photographer based in Istanbul, and has been documenting the LGBT community in the city during this difficult time. Turkey has a higher rate of trans murders than anywhere in Europe – between 2008 and 2015, 41 transgender people were murdered – and much of Omer’s work has been done in conjunction with this community,” reports Huck Magazine.
Human Rights Watch published an article about the violence against the trans community in Turkey back in 2010:
“Since November 2008, at least eight transgender people have been murdered in Istanbul and Ankara. The most recent killing was of a transgender woman called Aycan Yener on February 16, 2010, in the Fatih area of Istanbul. Yener, whose legal given name was Feyzi, was killed in her apartment. Her throat was slit, and she was stabbed 17 times. Assailants also stabbed her roommate, Seyhan Özmemiş, 32, who survived. According to Turkish media, witnesses reportedly observed three people fleeing the scene, but no one has been arrested.
On February 8, Derya Y., a 35-year-old transgender woman, was killed in her home in the Altındağ district of Antalya. Police found Derya Y. in her bedroom with her throat cut and multiple knife stab wounds to her face and body.
The targeted killings of transgender women are part of a broader pattern of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Turkey. According to Turkish media, the police found 56-year-old Şinasi Halimoğlu, who had arranged a date with another man, dead on his bed on January 28 with multiple knife wounds to his back and neck.”