Young Iraqi gays find safe haven in Turkey

Thu Jun 18, 2009 10:14am EDT
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By Khalid al-Ansary

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Iraqi militants warned Ameer they would kill him for working with the U.S. military. Then he received a more chilling death threat -- for being gay -- so he sold his home in Baghdad and fled to Turkey.

Now the 28-year-old from a middle class family shares a small apartment in Istanbul with five other gay Iraqi men, exiles from a wave of intolerance, and says for the first time in his life he can express his sexual orientation in public.

Homosexuality is banned almost everywhere in the Middle East, but conditions for gays and lesbians in Iraq have become particularly dangerous since the rise of religious militias after U.S.-led forces removed Saddam Hussein six years ago.

"I could be tracked down and killed if I would say I am gay," Ameer told Reuters. "But here in Turkey we are treated as humans and we have rights, which is not the case in my country."

In Baghdad, he led his life in secret, without the knowledge of his family. In a country where homosexual acts are punished with up to seven years in prison, only his closest friends knew he was gay.

Ameer had stayed on after relatives fled Iraq's sectarian violence, living in a Shi'ite Muslim district and working for the Americans in the capital's heavily-fortified Green Zone.

Then the death threats started.

Sermons condemning homosexuality were given by clerics at Friday prayers in Sadr City, a sprawling Shi'ite slum, where six gay men were found murdered in March and April, four of them with Arabic signs reading "pervert" on their chests.   Continued...