Transsexual singer faces jail after questioning Turkey's military

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The Independent Online

With her bee-stung lips and long permed black hair, Bulent Ersoy, a transsexual and one of Turkey's most popular singers, is no stranger to controversy. Now she finds herself on trial for trying to turn the public against the country's military.

The charges stem from remarks Ms Ersoy made earlier this year on the hugely popular television show Popstar Alaturka that called into question Turkey's deeply ingrained militarism. She suggested that it was not worth sacrificing soldiers' lives in Turkey's conflict with the Kurdish separatist PKK group. "I am not a mother, nor ever will be, but I would not bury my child for someone else's war," Ms Ersoy said.

Her comments coincided with a major incursion by the conscript army on Kurdish separatist bases in northern Iraq, and visibly shocked her fellow panellists. "May God give me a son so that I can send him off to our glorious army," one of them quickly countered, adding a nationalistic phrase repeated at every military funeral. "Martyrs never die, the fatherland cannot be divided." But Ms Ersoy was not put off. "Always the same clichéd phrases," she retorted. "Children go, bitter tears, funerals... and afterwards, these clichéd phrases."

Of the 40,000 people who have died since 1984 in the war between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Turkish state, roughly 5,000 have been soldiers.

In his indictment, the prosecutor acknowledged that starting a debate was not a crime in a democracy, but stressed that the singer's words amounted to deliberate propaganda against the military. Military service is obligatory for men over the age of 20 and it is a criminal offence to speak against it.

The defendant failed to show up at court for the opening of the trial on Tuesday, saying she had a concert to attend. The judge postponed the proceedings until September when Ms Ersoy, who could face at least three years in jail, will be obliged to attend.

It is not the first time she has tangled with the Turkish military. After undergoing a sex-change operation in 1981 to become a woman, she was barred from appearing on stage during the 1980s following a military coup by generals who disapproved of her.

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