The Istanbul Convention does not save lives in Turkey anymore

By Kardelen Besime Tepe

What are the first three words one could say about Turkey? The first three words that pop up in my mind are “home”, “disgrace”, and “death.” This is not a pessimistic perspective though, even if it seems so. Facing the facts is one of the most effective ways to deal with all the problematic social issues in Turkey, especially for women, so that we can be aware of the challenges and injustice to rise against them. 

How are women rights protected in Turkey?

The modern Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Its unique historical background has caused complexities even after the series of adaptations, reforms and regulations that were adopted by the new Republican authorities, ranging from secularism to gender equality. 

Even though the success of these adaptations is still questioned, Turkey has been trying to improve its regional policy and to receive structural funds by embracing the influence of Europeanisation after the Helsinki Summit of 1999. These efforts are directed at achieving European Union (EU) standards and have challenged traditional Turkish governing institutions. Thus, the country’s gender equality policies after 2000 could be seen as motivated mostly by Turkey’s preparations for EU accession. 

The necessary legal mechanisms for the protection of women against violence already exist. In 2012, Turkey was the first country to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention

In the same year, the Turkish government also passed Law Number 6248 to Protect the Family and Prevent Violence Against Women and introduced gender equality policies. Still, violence against women can be observed in every aspect of Turkish society and, unfortunately, there are nearly no authentic actions taken by the government to truly protect women’s rights. 

The Withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention

Even though the ratification of international treaties rests with the TBMM (Grand National Assembly of Turkey), on March 20, 2021, just twelve days after the International Women’s Day, Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention with an official presidential announcement. This withdrawal was spearheaded by conservative forces blaming the Convention for harming traditional values of family structure, advocating for the LGBTQ+ community and promoting homosexuality, given the pact’s non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s cabinet is trying to comfort people with an official declaration by the Foreign Ministry, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who declared that “[t]he elements of the convention and various practices created sensitivity in the public opinion and caused criticism…. Women’s rights in the national legislation of the Republic of Turkey is safeguarded by the most advanced forms.”

The latter also argued that the withdrawal from the Convention will not cause corruption on domestic regulations focusing on women’s rights and that Turkey did not need an international treaty to protect women’s rights. However, because of this withdrawal, women in Turkey are no longer under the protection of a Pan-European legal framework. 

Turkey’s decision regarding the Istanbul Convention faced brutal but reasonable international backlash. The High Representative of the European Union, Josep Borrell warned and urged the Turkish government to reconsider its decision to withdraw from the treaty by declaring: “This decision risks compromising the protection and fundamental rights of women and girls in Turkey. It also sends a dangerous message across the world. We therefore cannot but urge Turkey to reverse its decision. We hope that Turkey will soon join again the European Union in defending the rights of women and girls, a fundamental element of human rights, peace, security, and equality in the 21st century.

A unsurprising move

Turkey’s insistence on sticking to old-fashioned mindsets and understanding of gender roles, rather than implementing key changes, fuels toxic masculinity and nurtures violence against women. There is a shortage of reliable political and judicial administration to enforce for the protection of women, combined with systematic government propaganda that puts even more pressure on women in this patriarchal society.

Gender roles for women commonly include motherhood and faithfulness. As in other cultures, women are associated with motherhood characteristics. But Turkish culture requires them to devote themselves and fulfill their duties for their families and children, thus openly equating womanhood with motherhood.  

In 2014, Erdoğan also said in a speech that women and men could not be treated equally “because it goes against the laws of nature.” He simply disregarded and ignored women’s rights despite the legal tools that exist and of the laws that were passed by his own government. He and his cabinet members have increased their statements and imputations about women, ranging from abortion to having a career, over the years.

If a woman wants to work, according to Erdoğan, it means she is “a woman who rejects motherhood, who refrains from being around the house” and however successful her working life is, it is “deficient and incomplete”. When women are married and use the birth control pill, they are committing “treason.”

The political shaming, oppression, and constant statements about women, unfortunately, take away the joy out of their lives and possibly encourages the idea that women are worthless compared to men no matter what they do. In this context, Turkish women endeavor for surviving in an environment shaped and ruled by politicians who prioritize males and their needs and where women are not seen as equal partners in life. 

Femicides in Turkey: an endless problem?

The construction of such a discriminatory discourse and the difficulties it creates for women, lead to the devaluation of women in Turkey in terms of defending and protecting their rights, especially within legal institutions. In Turkey, women have been killed inhumanly, most of the time after extended torture. 

Losing the precious legal tool that constitutes the Istanbul Convention will have critical repercussions on their lives. Even before and after the ratification of the Convention, barbarous femicides happened in Turkey. Domestic violence is a grave problem in Turkey with reports revealing that “90% of Turkish women [are] experiencing violence at the hands of their husbands and boyfriends.”

A monstrous example most common in the East of Turkey was the case of Güldünya Tören. She was raped by a relative and then got pregnant. Later, she was killed by a family decision, in 2004 because her pregnancy was compromising the family’s honor.

The killing of women and girls happens when a woman allegedly steps outside her socially designated role, particularly, but not only, with regard to her sexuality and to her interaction with men outside her family. The notion of “honor” forms part of a whole system based on a code of behavior imposed on women and girls. 

In this system, a man’s honor is perceived to be his status as a member of the community (şeref) or as defined by the chastity of his female family members (namus). A threat to the namus encourages the man to act in defense of their “honor.” When namus has been lost by unchaste conduct, it can only be restored by killing its offender.  

Because of this behavior code; getting a divorce – or even asking for ome – is another reason for femicide. As a Kurdish woman born and raised in Turkey, I have witnessed this violence myself, as Gamze Gezeroğlu, my own cousin, was stabbed 12 times and killed by her husband just because she wanted to get divorced, in 2011.

Even after divorce, women are under threat. This was the case of Emine Bulut, whose ex-husband killed her in front of her 10-year-old daughter at a cafe. A video posted on social media showed the mother screaming “I do not want to die” and holding her neck as her 10-year-old daughter begged her not to die.

Women think twice before starting a relationship, starting a job, or even going out because they witness inhumane murders by strangers, stalkers, bosses, and boyfriends. A murder by a stranger: Özgecan Aslan, who was beaten, stabbed, and burned to death by a bus driver just because she resisted rape, in 2015. Her death shocked the public and in a way proved that violence against women does not necessarily need a bond. Activists demanded the Turkish government to pass an “Özgecan Aslan law”, which would prohibit judges from reducing a man’s sentence for having been “provoked” into the murder of a woman.  Unfortunately, this request has not been approved yet. 

Turkey has been plagued by countless gruesome similar stories where women have been victims of men’s violence. From the murder of Pinar Gültekin, to that of Münevver Karabulut and Şule Çet, femicides have sparked protests initiated by organizations such as the We Will Stop Femicide platform and support on social media for the victims’ families, both in Turkey and internationally.

Since Turkey does not keep official statistics on femicide and does not release any regular data about the murders of women, most statistics come from human rights NGOs that jointly try to collect data. According to Bianet’s data, from 2014 to 2020, at least 1.983 women were killed in Turkey.

Is Turkey giving up on women’s rights?

The İstanbul Convention was critically important because it requires the force of a nation to achieve real gender equality, and it sets the standards for the member countries. It aims for a zero-tolerance approach against violence against women and domestic violence. 

With this Treaty, the statement of the plaintiff is essential and, if there is a proven violence threat, authorities must ensure that violence will be prevented before it escalates. The prevention of violence against women has the strength to save lives and to improve the condition of life.

Finally, the Convention launched Grevio, an objective expert committee, whose sole mission is to monitor the legal necessities and adaptations of its governing members. The European Court of Human Rights, as the overarching legal guider, then supervises the implementation of the Convention in the member states.20 
Consequently, withdrawing from the Convention is like losing one of the few legal shields that protect women in Turkey. Still the decision confronts resistance from the public. Women gather for demonstrations to reverse this decision. They truly cannot stand losing one more of them. May they never walk alone.


Picture text translation: “We cannot stand losing one more of us”

Picture Credits: Melike Yavuz (@melikeyphotography) – 25/11/2020

Freedom of speech at all costs? How the French new security bill revealed the country’s contradictions

By Hannah Bieber

“I will always defend freedom of speech in my country” said French President Emmanuel Macron in an interview he gave to Aljazeera on October 31st, 2020. One month later, French citizens took up the streets in mass protest against the new security bill proposed by the government – and forced the latter to rewrite it. The cause of the unrest was Article 24, that banned sharing images of police officers if they aimed to harm them physically or psychologically, which was accused of threatening freedom of speech. But how did we get there?

Je suis Charlie: Freedom of speech, a core French value

On October 16th, 2020, French history teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded after showing his students caricatures of Mohammad from the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Almost five years after the November 2015 Paris Attacks, this gruesome murder sparked peaceful demonstrations throughout the whole country. More than paying tribute to the teacher, people wanted to defend a core French value: freedom of speech. 

Continue reading “Freedom of speech at all costs? How the French new security bill revealed the country’s contradictions”

Municipal elections in Turkey: what did happen there

By Sumeyye Hancer

On March 31, 2019, Turkey held its municipal elections. According to the BBC, 57 million people were registered and the turnout displayed an outstanding 85%. After 25 years of seat in Ankara, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP), known as the Justice and Development Party, has lost its seat in the capital city as well as in Istanbul metropolis and other municipalities. The recession announced last March appears to have played a decisive role against the ruling party.

The event took a tragic turn as clashes occurred and four people died in south and east Turkey. Dozens were also reported injured in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir. In Istanbul, one person was stabbed in Kadıköy district as reported by The Guardian.

In the European Union, the German magazine Der Spiegel announced the “Ende eines Mythos” (“The End of a Myth”, in English). In France, Le Monde spoke of “un revers cinglant” (“A scathing reverse”). In Spain, El País mentioned “un duro revés” (“a harsh reverse”) and the loss of the “islamistas turcos” (“Turkish islamists”).

Indeed, the results seem to showcase patterns of a new momentum vis-à-vis the 2023 national elections, albeit the outcomes have been contested by the ruling party which at first denounced “invalid votes and irregularities in most of the 12,158 polling stations in Ankara”, then “irregularities” and “organised crime”. The result of the election in Istanbul was appealed as announced by Ali İhsan Yavuz, the deputy chairman of AKP. However, on April 9th The Guardian announced that the partial recount process confirmed the lead of the CHP (Republican People’s Party) candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu.

Today, half of the citizens support Erdogan and the other half despises him for polarising the country, according to the analysis by Mark Lowen, BBC Turkey correspondent, in article published on April 1st entitled “Turkey local elections: Setback for Erdogan in big cities”.

How do I approach the event as a Euroculture student? Continue reading “Municipal elections in Turkey: what did happen there”

A Bridge over Troubled Water: The Balkans and the EU

 

Agnese Olmati

Imagine how the map of the European Union could look like in 2030. A compact conglomerate of Member States, with only two small black holes – Switzerland and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Oh, three actually: Great Britain will have become the third one by that year.
While the UK is slowly putting out to the sea, definitively leaving the well-known harbor of the European Union, there are some countries which are struggling to join those that might seem safe and still waters. Lucky for them, they do not have to cross any stormy sea, as they are in the heart of the continent. According to the captains, the first Balkan ships should enter the EU in 2025 if nothing goes wrong during the remaining voyage. But bad weather seems to be a permanent feature of the European political scene and by that time the secure Union could have become an even more troubled and tempestuous harbor unprepared to welcome the newcomers.

At the moment, the incoming fleet counts six components. While Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina still hold the position of potential candidates, Albania and the FYR Macedonia already have the candidate status; Serbia and Montenegro are progressing with accession negotiations and thus are at the forefront in the path towards the European harbor.
Apparently, Serbia and Montenegro now start to see the light at the end of the tunnel – a very long one. The integration process of Western Balkan countries has been on the European agenda since the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003. Afterwards, stabilization and association agreements have entered into force with all six partners. However, expected progress has faltered. Enlargement has been hindered by numerous hitches, including the slow pace of reforms and economic growth, the influence of external actors such as Russia and Turkey, together with problems both in the domestic and European contexts.

2018 might prove a pivotal year in this long and turbulent voyage. Enlargement in the Balkans is one of the priorities of Bulgarian Presidency at the Council of the EU and in May a summit will be organized in Sofia for Western Balkan countries – for the first time since 2003. This new wave of engagement could lead to advances in each country’s process. Continue reading “A Bridge over Troubled Water: The Balkans and the EU”

Autocracy for Europe: Serbia, Albania, and the European Union

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By Julieta.

Stefan Stankovic

The Western Balkan region is an often neglected corner of Europe and rarely attracts media interest from mainstream outlets. The result is that the region is fairly unknown to other Europeans. Is the region comprised of underdeveloped economies or do they have the potential to grow? Are they fragile or stabile states? And most importantly, are the Western Balkan countries ready to join the EU? To find any answers for these questions, it is important to look at Serbia and Albania, the two countries that have significant influence in the region. The stability and progress of the Western Balkans greatly depends on the relationship between these two countries.

Serbia officially became an EU candidate country in 2012, and in 2014 the accession negotiations were opened. The possible accession of Serbia is not without controversy or problems. Serbia was a crucial actor in all the conflicts that tormented the region in the last decade of the 20th century. Nowadays, Serbia’s refusal to acknowledge the independence of Kosovo is perceived as the biggest obstacle to a possible accession to the European Union. Furthermore, the multi-ethnical composition of the Western Balkan region has proven to be a sensitive issue. Neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina is home to over a million Serbs and although Montenegro voted to leave the State Union with Serbia in 2006, the census of 2011 shows that 28.7 of the population still identifies as Serbian. When Serbia would join the EU, this could destabilize its multi-ethnical neighboring countries. Last but not least, Russian influences in Serbia raise questions about Serbia’s loyalty to the European project.

aleksandar_vucic_2012-mc-rs
Serbian Prime-Minister Aleksandar Vucic. By Medija Centar Beograd.

Albania has been an official candidate for accession to the European Union since June 2014. Similar to Serbia, it too has a considerable diaspora in neighboring countries. The country has a significant influence in the region, mostly in Kosovo where the majority of the population is Albanian. In neighboring Macedonia, 25% of the population identifies as Albanian, especially in the border regions of Western Macedonia. Also, there are large Albanian communities in the south of Serbia and in the south-east of Montenegro. Albania is already a member of NATO – it is seen as an important partner in combatting international crime – but also here questions of loyalty to the European project arise. Turkish influences in Albania have been historically strong.

Even though there are considerable cultural differences between Albania and Serbia, the political situation is remarkably similar. Both governments have strong leaders as prime-ministers. Aleksandar Vučić in Serbia and Edi Rama in Albania have both displayed autocratic characteristics during their time in office. According to reports of the EU Commission, both Serbia and Albania have problems with media censorship and with deep-rooted corruption in the state and judiciary. Despite the questionable state of democracy in both countries, Vučić and Rama are pro-European leaders and have repeatedly stressed their countries’ commitment to gain EU membership. For their role in stabilizing the region after the horrifying civil wars in the 1990s, they actually received widespread support from EU Member States. The result of this support is that despite the corruption and autocratic leadership, the Western Balkan region is relatively stable.[i] Proposals for cooperation are heard from both sides. Instead of fueling ethnic tensions for short-term electoral gains, it seems the two countries embarked on a road of reconciliation and cooperation. One example of this new trend is the first visit, after 68 years, of an Albanian prime-minister to the Serbian capital of Belgrade in 2014. The most tangible example of how the reconciliation between Albania and Serbia leads to enhanced regional stability in the Western Balkans, is the relative relaxation of Serbian-Kosovar relations. The Brussels Agreement, which is a direct result of this dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, is a positive step forward for the stabilization of the entire region.

secretary_kerry_shakes_hands_with_albanian_prime_minister_rama_before_bilateral_meeting_at_nato_summit_in_wales_14961134157
Albanian Prime-Minister Rama shaking hands with former US Secretary John Kerry. By US Dep. of State. 

The EU is by far the main economic and political partner of the Western Balkans and as stated above, Vučić and Rama are well known for their pro-European orientation. But the question of EU membership for Serbia and Albania is complicated. On the one hand, the countries’ focus on regional stability, mutual understanding, and tolerance resemble the dominant EU discourse. On the other hand, the autocratic traits of the countries’ leaders strongly resemble the political situation of their allies in Russia and Turkey. Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan are also greatly admired in the Balkan region and as stated above, the political leaders are also not immune to this. Signs of Putinism and Erdoganism are evident in the politics of the Western Balkans.

The EU’s choice to support the Western Balkans’ authoritarian political leaders in an attempt to maintain and advance regional stability is a matter of political necessity in the current context. Yet at the same time that support and external legitimization is stalling the necessary process of further democratization. It can indeed be argued that the EU turning a blind eye towards the rule of law and human rights in these countries empowers authoritarianism. However, in the current circumstances it is a rational thing to do. Although paradoxical, Europe needs strong national leaders to stabilize the Western Balkan region. The price is paid in terms of slow political reforms. The EU leadership should however always be aware that this is a precarious and temporal situation. While autocratic leadership on the short-term might benefit Europe and the Balkan region, on the long-term it might also provide for democratic backsliding and further instability.

 

[i] This article was written before Serbian-Kosovar relations significantly deteriorated after Serbian provocations in Kosovo.

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Cyprus Surprise: Sailor, Tsunami and a dog called Bubble

DSC_5948
Crossing the border is one of the most bewildering experiences in the world,
This time, however, it was a bit different than usual.

Mirja Simunaniemi & Niek Zeeman

We were barely one month into our internships in Ankara and Istanbul when we were spoiled with our first holiday. Kurban Bayram is a religious holiday in Turkey with Muslims celebrating the sacrifice Abraham (Ibrahim) was willing to make as act of submission to God’s command. About to sacrifice his son, God intervened and offered a lamb to Abraham instead. Muslims around the world celebrate God’s gracefulness every year by offering him an animal, Kurban. For most of the Turks, and for us, it also means a week holiday. we chose sunny Cyprus as a new territory to explore after our intense travels in Iran earlier last year. Continue reading “Cyprus Surprise: Sailor, Tsunami and a dog called Bubble”