Police in a Turkish resort banned a group of gay tourists, many from the United States, from visiting the ancient ruins of Ephesus, the tourists said today.
The 800 tourists, who also came from the Netherlands and Britain, arrived in the Aegean port of Kusadasi aboard the cruise liner Olympic Voyager on Wednesday as part of a gay-oriented seven-day tour with stops in Egypt, Israel and Greece.
After authorizing most tourists to leave the port, local police blocked the last two buses, apparently after realizing that the passengers were all homosexuals, passengers and crew members said.
Police also stopped several buses at Selcuk, some two miles from Ephesus, and ordered them back to the cruise liner. A dozen other buses managed to enter the ancient city before the police blockade and visit Ephesus, which draws thousands of tourists each year.
“All they said was ‘No pass,“‘ said Edward Timblyn of Houston, Texas, one of the passengers blocked by police. “I was disappointed, being stuck on the ship all day.”
The mayor of Kusadasi boarded the boat Wednesday evening to apologize for the incident, Timblyn said.
Although gay artists, singers and belly dancers are popular in Turkey, homosexuality is still taboo in the Muslim nation and gays complain that they often face discrimination, especially by police. Police in Selcuk said they were carrying out orders of the interior minister, the daily Hurriyet reported Thursday. But Mithat Dumanli, a ministry spokesman, said he was not aware of any orders from the ministry.
“We are not in a position to make judgments about peoples’ sexual preferences,” Tourism Minister Erkan Mumcu was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency on Thursday. “They are in Istanbul now, and I think they will end their visit without meeting any more problems.”
Cody Hamilton, who was able to visit Ephesus, said he was relieved that authorities had apologized to his group.
“The fact that this kind of ignorance is not tolerated by higher authorities is very important,” said Hamilton, from Durham, N.C.
The U.S. Embassy contacted Turkish officials and asked that the Americans be allowed to visit the sites, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said. He spoke only on condition he not be identified by name and did not elaborate.
Most of the passengers boarded buses to tour Istanbul on Thursday, but Timblyn said some refused to disembark there. They were scheduled to leave for Greece on Thursday evening.