- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 24, 2012

ANKARA, TURKEY (AP) - Shortly after telling his parents he was gay, Ahmet Yildiz was gunned down inside his car by his father in Istanbul. It was Turkey’s first officially recognized gay “honor killing.”

An award-winning film partly inspired by Yildiz’s story, which opened in dozens of cinemas across Turkey last week, is putting the spotlight on gays in a Muslim country that is seeking European Union membership but remains influenced by conservative and religious values.

The film “Zenne Dancer” _ or male belly dancer _ is not the nation’s first gay-themed movie but is the first to explore the little-known phenomenon of men killed by family members for being gay. So-called honor killings in Turkey usually target women accused of disgracing the family.

“Our main aim was to convey Ahmet’s story, but by doing so we also wanted to expose the pressure the (gay and lesbian community) faces from their family, the society and the state,” said Mehmet Binay, who co-directed and produced the film with his partner, Caner Alper.

“Zenne Dancer” won four awards at Turkey’s coveted Antalya Golden Orange film festival this year, including best First Film and Best Cinematography. Erkan Avci, who plays Yildiz’s character, won Best Supporting Actor. The movie was also recently chosen a Best Film by an association of Turkish film critics.

Yildiz, a physics student at Istanbul’s Marmara University, was shot dead on July 15, 2008 after he went out for an ice cream break while studying at home for his final exams.

An arrest warrant has been issued for his father, Yahya Yildiz, who has been charged in absentia for the murder. The father, who has been on the run for three years, is believed to be in hiding in northern Iraq.

Yildiz, who was a close friend of Binay and Alper, came from the conservative, mostly-Kurdish Sanliurfa province, where homosexuality is taboo and where officials have been struggling to stem the practice of honor killings of women. Women there have been killed for flirting or having a boyfriend without the family’s consent.

Gay honor killings are believed to be common in Turkey’s conservative heartland. But Yildiz’s murder was the first in Turkey to be reported by authorities as a gay honor killing.

Binay said Yildiz’s family suspected his homosexuality but believed he could be treated by imams and were pressuring him to return to Sanliurfa.

“He was killed shortly after he told them he would not be cured, would not return and that he was considering leaving for Germany where he might marry (his boyfriend),” he said.

In “Zenne Dancer,” Yildiz’s life is intertwined with the stories of two other male characters _ a flamboyant Zenne dancer named Can and a bisexual German photographer, Daniel.

A stranger to Turkey’s conservative traditions, Daniel encourages Yildiz to come out to his parents, insisting honesty was the best way to deal with his family.

“You don’t understand,” Yildiz responds in one scene: “Honesty would kill me.”

Binay said he and Alper were filming a documentary on male belly dancers when Yildiz was killed. Shocked by the murder, they put the documentary on hold and decided to create a feature film that blends the story of the Zenne dancers with Yildiz’s tragedy.

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