mert koçak: research & cv

Transnational Governance of Displacement, Sexuality and Gender Identity: UNHCR as the Main Actor in Creating a Legal Basis for Asylum-Seeking for LGBT Refugees in Turkey

Research Area 1: Displacements, “Dépaysement” and Discrepencies: People, Knowledge and Practices

Contact: mert.kocak(@)

My research focuses on the following question: how can LGBT refugees ‘legally’ register with migration authorities within a legal framework that does not recognize their very reason for seeking asylum? I study the case of LGBT refugees’ legal presence in Turkey. Demanding a refugee status in Global North countries (such as the USA, the UK, Canada and Germany), where sexuality and gender identity have been recognized as legitimate criteria for asylum-seeking, they have to be registered by Turkish migration authorities, a country where no such recognition has been granted.

Between September 2017 and September 2019, I conducted, for sixteen months, a multi-sited ethnography, including interviews and participant observations with LGBT refugees, the UNHCR and local NGO workers. They took place in four Turkish cities: Istanbul, Ankara, Eskişehir and Yalova. I observed that the UNHCR had created transnational governance within the borders of Turkey. The UNHCR, and not Turkey, is conducting the first-instance registry of asylum seekers and refugee status determination (RSD) interviews and granting refugee status because the UNHCR is the one who recognizes sexuality and gender identity as legitimate criteria for seeking asylum. By resettling refugees to third countries, it creates a transnational chain of re-displacements. 



  • 2016- : PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Central European University
  • 2015- 2016: MA in Gender Studies, Department of Gender Studies, Central European University
  • 2013- 2014: MSc in Human Rights, Department of Sociology, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • 2007- 2013: BA, Department of Political Science and International Relations, Bogaziçi University

Fellowships and Scholarships

  • 2019- 2020: Pontica Magna Fellowship, New Europe College
  • 2016- 2019: Doctoral Scholarship, Central European University
  • 2015- 2016: Master’s Scholarship, Central European University
  • 2013- 2014: Master’s Award, London School of Economics and Political Science

Honors and Grants

  • 2019- 2020: Award for Advanced Doctoral Students, Central European University
  • 2019: Field and Archival Research Grant, Central European University
  • 2018: Research Grant for Human Rights, Raoul Wallenberg Institute
  • 2017- 2018: Academic Achievement Award for First-Year Doctoral Students, Central European University, Budapest
  • 2017- 2018: Field Support Grant: Central European University

Refereed Articles

  • Kocak, M. (2020). Who is “Queerer” and Deserves Resettlement?: Queer Asylum Seekers and Their Deservingness of Refugee Status in Turkey. Middle East Critique, 29(1), 29-46. DOI: 10.1080/19436149.2020.1704506
  • Kocak, M. (2016). Gendering Mourning in the image of Anne Frank. Kaleidoscope: Journal on the History of Culture, Science and Medicine,7(13), 542-551. DOI:10.17107/KH.2016.13.542-551.

Book Chapters

Kocak, M. (2020). Türkiye’ye Göç Eden Kimlikler: Yerel ve Ulusaşırı Dinamiklerin Kesişiminde LGBT Mülteciliğin İnşası (Identities that Migrate to Turkey: Construction of LGBT Refugeeness at the Intersection of Local and Transnational Dynamics). In K. Biehl & D. Danış (Eds.), Toplumsal Cinsiyet Perspektifinden Türkiye’de Göç Araştırmaları (Migration Studies in Turkey from the Perspective of Gender) (pp. 164-191). Sabancı University and Association for Migration Studies.