Danial, a gay man from Iran, showing the scars on his body from when he sold one of his kidneys in order to pay for the trip to Turkey, where he curently lives as an asylum seeker.

Danial, a gay man from Iran, showing the scars on his body from when he sold one of his kidneys to pay for his passage to Turkey, where he currently lives whilst applying for resettlement to a third country through the UNHCR. Due to complications with the kidney removal, Danial suffers from several medical and psychological conditions, his hair is falling out in clumps and he has tried to commit suicide several times, the latest just a few days before this image was taken in his home.

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Bissam, a gay Iraqi man from Diyala province in Iraq stands on Mt. Qassioun, a popular hilltop lookout over Damascus, Syria’s capital. Bissam spent almost five years in Syria as a refugee before being displaced a second time, to Turkey. He spent a further two years in Turkey waiting for resettlement after having to begin the application process with the UNHCR from scratch. He currently lives in California, USA
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كتمان / Kütmaan means hidden or concealed in Arabic


This is an ongoing series of portraits, documenting individuals claiming asylum based on their sexuality or gender identity in Turkey and Syria. The series also follows LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Kurds as they struggle for their rights between the LGBT and Kurdish movements, in south eastern Turkey. 


This work is three stories, a continuation from 'Iraq's unwanted people', a reportage on Iraqi men claiming resettlement on grounds of homosexuality, with the UNHCR from Damascus, Syria in 2010, forming part of a long-term documentary on LGBT identity in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

Nader (lower left) proposes to his boyfriend Omar (lower right) on Omar's birthday celebration in Istanbul, Turkey. Both men are from Syria and lived together in Istanbul until Nader was resettled formally to Norway. Omar awaits resettlement through the UNHCR.

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Arkan, 20, from Sanandaj, Iran. Chatting on Skype with his girlfriend from Kayseri, central Turkey, 2012. Identifying as transgender, Arkan says, “life in Iran was impossible for too many reasons.” After extensive waiting in Turkey, Arkan was resettled to Texas, USA, where his Iranian girlfriend also lives. Homosexuality is criminalised in Iran although being transgender is permitted, and the Iranian government provides loans to those undergoing gender corrective surgery. The social stigma of being trans in Iran drives many to flee the country.
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Mahmoud, a former Iraqi police officer in Baghdad, who fled to Damascus, Syria, after being found to have released many gay men arrested under public indecency laws, for being homosexual. Mahmoud photocopies his documents after receiving his refugee certificate from the UNHCR. Living in the heavily Iraqi populated Damascus suburb of Saida Zainab, Mahmoud claims to have seen members of militant groups that he once arrested in Iraq, on the streets in Syria. Since 2013 Mahmoud has returned to Iraq due to conflict in Syria and is keeping a low profile whilst trying to work and survive.
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Nasser walks around the 'Saida Zainab' mosque close his house in the predominantly Iraqi suburb of the same name on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria. 2010

Nasser, 29, from Baghdad, Iraq.

Walking past the Shia Saida Zainab mosque in the Damascus suburb of the same name, 2010, Syria. Nasser says Shia militiamen caught him during a homophobic attack on him and his boyfriend in Iraq. His legs were broken, throat cut, and his testicles severely injured under their shoes. After seeking asylum from Syria where he arrived in a wheelchair, Nasser said he misses his boyfriend who was killed in the attack when superglue was injected into his anal cavity. Nasser was a photographer working for a Baghdad newspaper before the attack. Due to a robbery in Damascus, and the subsequent violence since 2011, he returned to Iraq where he lives in hiding.

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Wissam Farhat, 26 from Damascus, Syria. Wissam is gay and waiting for resettlement to a third country after he no longer feels safe in Istanbul, Turkey. In the past 12 months there have been several gay men and trans women murdered in the city, some of wh

Wissam Farhat, 26 from Damascus, Syria. Wissam is gay and waiting for resettlement to a third country after he no longer feels safe in Istanbul, Turkey. In the past 12 months there have been several gay men and trans women murdered in the city, some of whom were sex workers. 

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Ali Reza (L) 28, and Pedram (R) 19, from Tehran and Shiraz, Iran.

Living together in a house well known amongst the Iranian LGBT community, Ali Reza and Pedram place a plastic sheet over their garden, so they can sit in the rain. Both men left Iran, and came to Turkey to claim asylum for reasons connected with their sexuality. Currently, they are both in central Turkey.

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Bissam, from Baghdad, Iraq, sitting in a cafe in Bolu, Turkey. First fleeing to Syria, Bissam is now seeking resettlement through the UNHCR from Turkey.

Bissam in central Bolu, Turkey. A Iraqi who spent 5 years as a refugee in Syria before being displaced once again to Turkey, where he waited a further two years for resettlement.  

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Mojtaba, 27, from Iran.

Cuddling a cushion on his bed, Mojtaba explains that he feels lonely in Turkey where he was claiming asylum in a third country.

Mojtaba identifies himself as a gay man, and says that this is why he can’t live in Iran, where homosexuality is illegal and theoretically carries the death penalty. He travelled to Turkey en route to try and forge a new life in Canada. After nearly two years of waiting in limbo, Mojtaba was finally resettled to Canada where he now lives, studies, and works as an artist.

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Ahmed, a gay Syrian refugee living in Istanbul holds the flower that his lover gave to him. Ahmed hopes to travel to Europe to be reunited with his lover.

Ahmed, a gay Syrian refugee living in Istanbul holds the flower that his lover gave to him. Ahmed hopes to travel to Europe to be reunited with his lover. Since living in Istanbul, Ahmed has been physically attacked and beaten twice, which he put down to homophobia. 

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Feras, from Damascus, Syria on a rooftop above Taksim square in Istanbul, Turkey.
‘F’, a gay man from Damascus, Syria, on a rooftop above Taksim square in Istanbul, Turkey. This image is from a series of Syrian and Iraqi gay men on rooftops in Istanbul, as a sign of life and defiance against the brutal imagery by the Islamic State terrorist group, murdering those they accuse of being homosexual by throwing them from rooftops like this one.
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Birds fly over the old city of Damascus, Syria

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Khosrow (L) Arash (Centre) and Navid (R) rest at home in Isparta, Turkey. They are all Iranians claiming asylum on sexuality grounds and hoping to be resettled overseas. Khosrow and Arash are currently in North America after successful cases with the UNHCR
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Danial, left and Parsa, right are a gay couple from Iran currently living in Denizli, Turkey. They are applying for resettlement in a third country through the UNHCR, a process which can take years.
Danial, left and Parsa, right are a gay couple from Iran currently living in Denizli, Turkey. They are applying for resettlement in a third country through the UNHCR, a process which can take years.
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Abdul waits for Bissam to join him on a nightly walk around Damascus into the early hours of the morning, something that they enjoy because it was not possible under night curfew in Baghdad. Damascus, Syria 2010
Abdul walks in the streets of old Damascus late at night, something he remembers was impossible under curfew in war torn Baghdad.
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The gardens of the Four Seasons hotel as seen from the President's Bridge in central Damascus, Syria. Both the gardens and the bridge were frequented by gay men, but the area was also patrolled by undercover police, who posed as cleaners, food vendors, or gay men cruising the area themselves, resulting in raids and arrests in the area targeting homosexuals.
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Samer, a Syrian living in Istanbul who survives as a sex worker.
Samer, a Syrian living in Istanbul who survives as a sex worker.
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A painting on the wall of an old hamam (bath house) depicts two men washing each other. Old city of Damascus, 2010
A painting on the wall of an old hamam (bath house) depicts two men washing each other. Old city of Damascus, 2010
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Originating from Iraq, Syria and Iran, hundreds of individuals claiming resettlement overseas based on sexuality or gender identity grounds are currently in Turkey and Syria, waiting for their cases to be processed and to move onto a third country. 

Kütmaan attempts to portray the waiting, the unknown, and the highs and lows of the resettlement experience in both countries, and the lives that are lived during those unknown months and years. Despite there being no certainties, life continues and LGBT people unite above the factors ripping the MENA region apart. 

Arash, 30. Tehran, Iran.

Deep breath with sunlight, 2012. Arash has been in Turkey for around a year, leaving Iran due to difficulties living due to his sexuality. Hoping to be resettled overseas by the UN, Arash recently received news that his case wasn’t accepted by the agency. He is trying to work out his next move, and still in central Turkey. 

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Shahram (left) and Sina (right) are a gay Iranian couple living in the Turkish city of Denizli. The two men are awaiting news on their resettlement applications to a third country.
Shahram (left) and Sina (right) are a gay Iranian couple living in the Turkish city of Denizli. The two men are awaiting news on their resettlement applications to a third country.
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President's Bridge, Damascus, Syria. Bissam and Abdul walk the streets of Damascus together at night, when the gay community became more visible on the streets. Both Abdul and Bissam are gay Iraqi men who feared for their safety in Syria, with homosexuali
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Farhad, Northern Iran.

Fleeing to Turkey with his boyfriend, Farhad was worried about violence from his father, other relatives, and others in the city where he lived. He has a joint file at the UNHCR with his boyfriend, although they are no longer living together. He hopes news will come soon. Currently living in central Anatolia, Turkey. 

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Mahmoud, 29. Baghdad, Iraq. Watching the birds fly around his rooftop, from his one room apartment in the Damascus suburb of Saida Zainab, Syria, 2010. Mahmoud was a high ranking officer in the Iraqi police, and claims that he is responsible for releasing more than one hundred men arrested for being gay. At last contact, Mahmoud was still in Damascus.

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Nasser, 29, a photographer from Baghdad in Iraq. Scars are visible on his legs and testicles (not pictured) from what Nasser described as being beaten in a homophobic assault, where his testicles were hit with a hammer and wire was wrapped around his throat and metal pushed through his chin. The attack killed his boyfriend and left Nasser near dead in a rubbish dump outside of Baghdad.

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Nasser, 29, a newspaper photographer from Baghdad in Iraq. Scars are visible on his throat and chin from what he claims was a violent attack perpetrated against him and his boyfriend. The attack killed his boyfriend and left Nasser near dead in a rubbish dump outside of Baghdad.

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Abdul prepares for a night out in Damascus. Injured in his legs by a car bomb in Baghdad whilst en route to university, he continues to insist on strolling some of the city's known cruising areas as he says he went mad in Baghdad living under night curfew.

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Wael, from Homs, Syria, stands on a rooftop in central Istanbul, Turkey.
Wael, from Homs, Syria, stands on a rooftop in central Istanbul, Turkey.
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Paria, an Iranian asylum seeker in Turkey. Paria left Iran with her transgender husband Danial in the hope of being granted asylum and a new life in a third country.

Paria, an Iranian asylum seeker in Turkey. Paria left Iran with her transgender husband Danial (following image)

in the hope of being granted asylum and a new life in a third country.
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Danial, a transgender Iranian man at home in Turkey, from where he is claiming asylum in a third country. Danial lives with his wife Paria in western Turkey.

Danial, a transgender Iranian man at home in Turkey, from where he is claiming asylum in a third country. Danial lives with his wife Paria (previous image)

in western Turkey. Being transgender isn't illegal in Iran, and the government contributes financial aid and loans to those wishing to undergo gender correction surgery, but Danial says that life is too difficult in Iran as a trans man. 

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Waleed, a gay Iraqi refugee walks through the Damascus suburb of Saida Zainab. He is married with children and fears those within the Iraqi diaspora in Damascus 'outing' him as a homosexual in Syria.

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A copy of a refugee certificate belonging to Ahmed, a gay Iraqi refugee, issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Damascus, Syria.

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Bissam, an Iraqi actor and photographer who spent six years as a refugee in Syrian and Turkey due to his sexuality. He now lives in the USA after a lengthy battle for resettlement. 

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Salah, on a rooftop in Istanbul, Turkey. Salah, from Damascus in Syria now lives in Istanbul alongside thousands of displaced Syrians.

Salah, on a rooftop in Istanbul, Turkey. Salah, from Damascus in Syria now lives in Istanbul alongside thousands of displaced Syrians, waiting for news of resettlement in a third country. 

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Dani, 23. Tehran, Iran.

Discussing his situation and life in Iran, Dani sits under a poster advertising the Istanbul Pride event. Turkey, 2012. Life for Dani was difficult in the Islamic Republic, although he says the gay community are strong in the capital, Tehran. 

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Batu (L) 19, and Azat (R) 26, Diyarbakir, Turkey, 2012.

Driving around the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, known as Ahmed in Kurdish, the friends look for a suitable picnic spot. Azat and Batu identity themselves as transgender, and Azat works as a transgender sex worker. They are both members of a Kurdish LGBT rights groups called Hebun LGBT. 

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Bisam and Abdul discuss their news whilst walking together in an expensive area of nothern Damascus, Syria 2010
Bisam and Abdul discuss their news whilst walking together in an expensive area of nothern Damascus, Syria 2010
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Batu, a member of Hebun LGBT - an organisation based in Diyarbakir, south-eastern Turkey fighting for LGBT, Kurdish and wider human rights and equality. 

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Arash from Tehran, Iran outside his home in Kayseri, Turkey. Arash was imprisoned in Iran due to his physical appearance and his LGBT activism. He fled to Turkey where he was accepted as a refugee. He now lives in the USA. 

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Bissam in Bolu, Turkey. 

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Dani and Farhad, a couple from Iran taking photos in the garden of the apartment in Kayseri, Turkey. 

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Arsham in the foreground and Arash behind him, look into the sky on a rainy day in Kayseri. A conservative business hub, Kayseri is home to many Iranian LGBT asylum seekers, with some complaining of discrimination in the city from the local population. 

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Ali Reza sits on his bed at home in Kayseri, Turkey. After leaving Iran because he said life was too difficult for a gay man, he waited for resettlement in Turkey. Ali has been resettled in North America. 

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Reza (L) 29, and Khosro (R) 47, Tehran, Iran,

Reza and Khosro came to Turkey together nine months ago, once family and friends found out about their relationship. They both say that their families threatened to kill them due to their sexuality. The couple are currently awaiting news about the progress of their file with the UNHCR in Turkey, where they are renting an apartment.

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Friends enjoy an evening of Iranian pop music together in Isparta, Turkey. Left to right: Arash, Merjan, Khosrow and Reza (in mirror reflection) are all Iranians claiming asylum in Canada due to reasons connected with their sexuality or gender identity. Merjan who was transgender, died in 2014 after her HIV developed into AIDS and she wasn’t provided with the medication she needed in Turkey. In the morgue, male staff refused to wash her body as they said she was female, and female staff said she was male. After several days, Merjan’s friends had to wash her body themselves, and she was later buried in Turkey as her family refused to take her body to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
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Navid (R), 27. Tehran, Iran

Sourena tying his hair in a park in Isparta, central Turkey, 2012.

Navid left Iran for Turkey to claim asylum in a third country through the UNHCR. He believes that Iran isn’t ready for homosexuality, and that it would take years for society to accept the issue, even if it was legalised. Navid is still waiting to receive news from the UNHCR regarding his case.

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Azat, 26. Diyarbakir, Turkey.

Standing on top of the historic and symbolic walls of the city of Diyarbakir. Being Kurdish and transgender means two fights for Azat, who is a member of a group called Hebun LGBT, fighting for acceptance from both the Kurdish and LGBT political movements.

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Bissam, a gay Iraqi actor and photographer who spent six years as a refugee in Syrian and Turkey due to his sexuality. He now lives in the USA after a lengthy battle for resettlement. 

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Batu, an active member of Hebun LGBT in Diyarbakir which are fighting for a wide range of human and animal rights. They are trying to unite both Kurdish and Turkish LGBT movements. 

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