Français | English

In Turkey, vio­lence against women and fem­i­ni­cides are ongo­ing and relent­less. Women are mur­dered, almost always by a man of their imme­di­ate cir­cle, hus­band, ex-boyfriend, father, broth­er… Among them, Pınar Gül­tekin, a 27 year old stu­dent. Report­ed as miss­ing for five days, her body was found on July 21 in the woods of Muğla, in west­ern Turkey. She had been killed and her par­tial­ly burned body had been buried by her ex boyfriend. The man was arrest­ed. He claims he killed her “because she refused to be with him”. Pınar’s funer­al was held on July 22.

Pınar is not the first, and unfor­tu­nate­ly, hers will not be the last life lost in this coun­try by women vic­tims of fem­i­ni­cide whose names are engraved on a counter mon­u­ment that keeps on count­ing faster and faster…The last fig­ures for the year 2015: 293 vic­tims: in 2016: 286; in 2017: 394; in 2018: 403; in 2019: 416; and for the year 2020 they cur­rent­ly stand at 141…

Pınar Gül­tekin

With Pınar’s death, the reap­praisal of the Istan­bul Con­ven­tion by Turk­ish author­i­ties, point­ed out by fem­i­nists and defend­ers of human rights, has tak­en cen­ter stage in the news and in debates.

Our read­ers know the fol­low­ing sen­tences well, they keep recur­ring on Kedis­tan, as in every oppo­si­tion media in Turkey that man­ages to sur­vive despite all the oppression…

Patri­ar­chal dom­i­na­tion and the con­se­quences of the way of life it exac­er­bates, encour­aged by the regime’s con­ser­v­a­tive and big­ot­ted social and fam­i­ly poli­cies, imprison women in the role of “good obe­di­ent house­wife whose sole career is moth­er­nood” at all lev­els of Turk­ish soci­ety. Lenient treat­ment fol­low­ing arrests and pros­e­cu­tions along with reduced sen­tences, give per­pe­tra­tors of vio­lence and fem­i­ni­cides a feel­ing of impuni­ty. At the same time, orga­ni­za­tions in civ­il soci­ety defend­ing wom­en’s rights, fem­i­nist activists and demon­stra­tors are sub­ject­ed to police and judi­cial violence.

And, going even fur­ther in their bel­liger­ent atti­tude toward women, shored up by the con­ser­v­a­tive, big­ot­ted and macho dis­course, those indi­rect­ly respon­si­ble for the vio­lences and fem­i­ni­cides are now re-apprais­ing the need for the Istan­bul Convention.

Con­cern­ing Pınar Gül­tekin, Erdoğan mouthed all his usu­al for­mu­la­ic sen­tences… “The “jour­nal­ists” serv­ing the Turk­ish regime picked up the cho­rus as one, “The Pres­i­dent of the Turk­ish Repub­lic Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared that he cursed all crimes com­mit­ted against women. In a mes­sage he shared on his Twit­ter account, the Turk­ish Chief of State called on Allah’s bless­ing for Pinar Gül­tekin who was mur­dered by her ex boyfriend, and asked for her fam­i­ly, her friends and all those who loved her to show patience dur­ing their peri­od of mourn­ing. ‘We were deeply sad­dened by Pinar Gül­tek­in’s suf­fer­ing. I curse all crimes com­mit­ted against women’, he repeat­ed. Pres­i­dent Erdoğan said we would be fol­low­ing the tri­al per­son­al­ly. (Sic TRT in French)”

At one and the same time, the sig­na­ture on the Istan­bul Con­ven­tion is being questioned.

But what is the Istanbul Convention?

The Istan­bul Con­ven­tion is an essen­tial inter­na­tion­al treaty con­cern­ing vio­lence com­mit­ted against women. In Europe, it is cur­rent­ly con­sid­ered as the most advanced at the moment on mat­ters of pre­ven­tion against such vio­lences. Of course, as it results from nego­ti­a­tions it is not the alpha and omega on the mat­ter, but it has opened a breach in the wall.

The Con­ven­tion on pre­vent­ing and com­bat­ing vio­lence against women and domes­tic vio­lence, is also known as the Istan­bul Con­ven­tion (you will find the full Eng­lish text of the Con­ven­tion here). It rests on the under­stand­ing that vio­lence against women is a form of sex­ist vio­lence com­mit­ted against women because of their gen­der. The sig­na­to­ry States have the oblig­a­tion to com­bat it ful­ly in all its forms and to take mea­sures in order to pre­vent vio­lence against women, pro­tect its vic­tims and pros­e­cute its per­pe­tra­tors. In prin­ci­ple, the text is bind­ing.

The Istan­bul Con­ven­tion was signed by 45 coun­tries and the Euro­pean Union in March 2019. On March 12 2012, Turkey had become the first coun­try to rat­i­fy the con­ven­tion; 33 oth­er coun­tries fol­lowed suit between 2012 and 2019 (Alba­nia, Ger­many, Andorre, Aus­tria, Bel­gium, Bosnia-Herz­gov­ina, Cyprus, Croa­t­ia, Den­mark, Spain, Fin­land, Esto­nia, France, Geor­gia, Greece, Ire­land, Ice­land, Italy, Lux­em­bourg, Mal­ta, Mona­co, Mon­tene­gro, Nor­way, North­ern Mace­do­nia, Hol­land, Poland, Ruma­nia, Por­tu­gal, San Mari­no, Ser­bia, Slove­nia, Swe­den, Switzer­land). The Con­ven­tion became effec­tive on August 1st 2014.

As a reminder, the open­ing of this con­ven­tion to sig­na­ture by States occurred on May 11 2011, dur­ing a min­is­te­r­i­al meet­ing of the Euro­pean Coun­cil, by the same AKP regime now call­ing for its abolition

We will abolish it if that is the people’s wish”

For sev­er­al weeks, Turk­ish author­i­ties have been express­ing their wish to denounce their rat­i­fi­ca­tion. At first, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said: “We will abol­ish it if that is the peo­ple’s wish”, and then announced that a deci­sion con­cern­ing the Istan­bul Con­ven­tion would be made pub­lic on August 5 2020.

In France, the Istan­bul Con­ven­tion was in the news in 2019 dur­ing the Grenelle on domes­tic vio­lence (a series of round tables orga­nized by the French gov­ern­ment between Sep­tem­ber 3 and Novem­ber 25 2019). You may remem­ber the crit­i­cism aimed at Mar­lène Schi­ap­pa, who was then Sec­re­tary of State respon­si­ble for Equal­i­ty, who was blamed for not being famil­iar with this convention.

In its denun­ci­a­tion process, one of the “rea­sons” invoked by the Turk­ish regime is the fact that the Istan­bul Con­ven­tion is “nei­ther nation­al, nor local”. In oth­er words, a con­cern for nation­al sov­er­eign­ty. And yet, as its name indi­cates, the Con­ven­tion was signed in Istan­bul and most­ly, the prepara­to­ry stage was ini­ti­at­ed by the Turk­ish Wom­en’s Movement.

On August 1st 2014, wit­ness­es at the time and “archi­tects” of the Con­ven­tion spoke to Bianet about the impor­tance of the Con­ven­tion. I think their tes­ti­mo­ni­als and com­ments are pre­cious in order to under­stand the role this Con­ven­tion plays and the seri­ous­ness of the cur­rent situation…

Here are the com­ments of three women, Aylin Nazlıa­ka, elect­ed mem­ber from the Peo­ple’s repub­li­can par­ty (CHP): Sel­ma Acuner, coor­di­na­tor of the Turk­ish arm of the Europe Wom­en’s Lob­by (LEF) and aca­d­e­m­ic Eylem Ümit Atıl­gan, from the Depart­ment of Legal Phi­los­o­phy and Soci­ol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Girne.

This Convention is our compass”

Aylin Nazli­a­ka, elect­ed mem­ber from the Peo­ple’s repub­li­can par­ty (CHP):

At the time, there was a fes­tive mood in Par­lia­ment. Only four par­ties had groups in the Assem­bly. List­ed in decreas­ing num­ber of mem­bers, they were the AKP, the CHP, the MHP and the HDP. Dur­ing the 24th Leg­is­la­ture, there was one, and one only, bill on which all four par­ties agreed: the one deal­ing with the Istan­bul Con­ven­tion.
Women par­lia­men­tar­i­ans of all par­ties spoke up and expressed their pride in being the first to sign the con­ven­tion.
As elect­ed mem­bers from the oppo­si­tion, we had under­lined the fact that wom­en’s right to equal treat­ment could not be guar­an­teed sole­ly by sign­ing this con­ven­tion, and that the real process was only begin­ning: the con­ven­tion would have noth­ing but a sym­bol­ic mean­ing if those oblig­a­tions were not met.
Of neces­si­ty over the years we have fre­quent­ly crit­i­cized the AKP gov­ern­ment for its lack of respect for the con­ven­tion’s dis­po­si­tions. But there was not yet such an irra­tional envi­ron­ment in which the very abo­li­tion of the con­ven­tion was being dis­cussed. The Istan­bul Con­ven­tion was always our com­pass in our fight for equal­i­ty.
We con­sid­ered it essen­tial con­cern­ing wom­en’s right to life and we insist­ed on this force­ful­ly. Occa­sion­al­ly, we heard dec­la­ra­tions by pro-gov­ern­men­tal media or rep­re­sen­ta­tives from reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties, sug­gest­ing that Turkey might with­draw from the con­ven­tion, but we took these words to be unim­por­tant. In fact, even the female lead­ers of the AKP and the KADEM, the wom­en’s asso­ci­a­tion found­ed by Pres­i­dent Erdoğan’s daugh­ter, Sümeyye, were opposed to these irra­tional declarations”.

The right to life is the most fundamental right of them all” 

Then, last year, a ‘sole’ can­di­date was announced for the lead­er­ship of GREVIO, the body charged with fol­low-up and inspec­tion of the imple­men­ta­tion of the Istan­bul Con­ven­tion. The ‘sole’ can­di­date was not Pro­fes­sor Feride Acar (a mem­ber of the Depart­ment of Polit­i­cal Sci­ences and pub­lic admin­is­tra­tion at Ankara’s Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­si­ty of the Mid­dle East), one of the peo­ple who had writ­ten the con­ven­tion and then-pres­i­dent of GREVIO, but Pro­fes­sor Askin Asan, the Prin­ci­pal of the reli­gious High School Imam Hatip Ten­zile Erdoğan… Thus, already last year, we fore­saw a future of ridicu­lous debates.
The AKP has fall­en into the bot­tom­less well of reli­gious communities/sects and strug­gles there. And yet, the right to life is the most fun­da­men­tal right of them all. While our sis­ters are mas­sa­cred under our eyes, every day, while they strug­gle for the very right to breathe, ask­ing to pull out of the Istan­bul Con­ven­tion defend­ing the right to life for women means sup­port­ing their mas­sacre.
This deci­sion amounts to say­ing “I do not believe in the equal­i­ty between women and men, it is con­trary to man’s cre­ation”. We women can­not allow this revo­ca­tion of the sig­na­ture, we will not com­pro­mise on acquired rights. We extend a hand to all women in the AKP also: this strug­gle belongs to everyone!”

Only the Parliament can decide”

If a mem­ber State decides to with­draw from the con­ven­tion, announc­ing the deci­sion is suf­fi­cient and the with­draw­al can take effect three months lat­er. This process does not require the approval of the oth­er con­tract­ing par­ties or of the Coun­cil. A noti­fi­ca­tion is all it takes…At this stage, none of the States can express a reser­va­tion or append an expla­na­tion. This should have been pro­vid­ed for at the beginning.

Dr Eylem Ümit Atıl­gan spec­i­fies: “As per­tains to the with­draw­al from the con­ven­tion in terms of inter­nal law: “Accord­ing to the lat­est con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment, the Pres­i­dent is not autho­rized to pub­lish a decree rel­a­tive to fun­da­men­tal rights and free­doms. Thus, it does not seem pos­si­ble for Turkey to with­draw from the con­ven­tion by Pres­i­den­tial decree. Only the Par­lia­ment is autho­rized to do so. The price to pay for the with­draw­al will have a bear­ing on inter­na­tion­al pol­i­tics rather than in inter­na­tion­al law. We will see what the reac­tions will be in the Euro­pean Union (EU) and the Coun­cil of Europe.”

What about discrimination in the case of a withdrawal?

The main pro­vi­sions in the Istan­bul Con­ven­tion are already con­sti­tu­tion­al prin­ci­ples. If what they wish to bypass is the ban on dis­crim­i­na­tion, this is also pro­vid­ed for in the Con­sti­tu­tion. Thus, they must also mod­i­fy the Con­sti­tu­tion”, Eylem Ümit spec­i­fies, “for the issues sup­pos­ed­ly caus­ing dis­tress are not lim­it­ed to the Con­ven­tion, they can­not get away with say­ing, once the con­ven­tion is abol­ished “we took care of it”. There is the Con­sti­tu­tion and it is still in force. As a jurist, I have trou­ble under­stand­ing their thought process­es: do they think that if we don’t men­tion the gen­der, the sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion and the iden­ti­ty of the per­son, dis­crim­i­na­tion based on these ele­ments will be authorized?”

Society has precedence over politics”

It is Dr Sel­ma Acun’s turn to speak: “I don’t think the with­draw­al from the Istan­bul Con­ven­tion can suc­ceed. (…) Soci­ety always takes prece­dence over pol­i­tics and we know that except for a hand­ful of misog­y­nists, soci­ety does not want women and chil­dren to be sub­ject­ed to vio­lence. (…) Dur­ing the redac­tion phase of the Con­ven­tion, we expressed our opin­ions via the Wom­en’s Move­ment and the Wom­en’s Lob­by in Turkey. (…) The opin­ions expressed by women in Turkey were tak­en into account. With­draw­ing from this con­ven­tion would amount to allow­ing free rein to vio­lence against women. I do not even want to think that such a thing could hap­pen. I believe that soci­ety has prece­dence over politics.”

What happened for the issue to reach this point?

When one looks over the news at the time of the set­ting up of the Istan­bul Con­ven­tion, one notes the cho­rus of praise and lauda­tive com­ments by Turk­ish author­i­ties who took a cer­tain pride in it. The ques­tion is then “what caused such a rever­al lead­ing to these same author­i­ties turn­ing this con­ven­tion into their main target?”

Reli­gious groups, orga­nized in com­mu­ni­ties would have applied pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment. This amounts to the State say­ing “We will no longer pro­tect women and chil­dren from vio­lence”. Why would the AKP regime adopt such a dis­course and take the risk of adding a new check­box in the chap­ter of the lacks and vio­la­tions of human rights, already of epic pro­por­tions in Turkey? Is the influ­ence of orga­nized reli­gious cir­cles so heavy on the AKP that it would push it to renounce a con­ven­tion of which Turkey was the instigator?

This con­ven­tion was like the tail of the comet, fol­low­ing the “nego­ti­a­tions” con­cern­ing addi­tion­al chap­ters for Turkey’s even­tu­al mem­ber­ship in the EU, and the open-mind­ed approach demon­strat­ed by the AKP (and its for­mer ally, Gülen, now a declared ene­my) on issues they called “fem­i­nine”. The AKP was keen on this, which had con­tributed great­ly to its rise. Times have changed. Elec­toral allies also.

We must not for­get either that those against the con­ven­tion denounce it and keep repeat­ing: “It legit­imizes homo­sex­u­al­i­ty”. This reac­tionary view­point has reached such pro­pori­tions that we have seen with aston­ish­ment that man­u­fac­tur­ers have with­drawn toys con­tain­ing a “rain­bow”! This is but one exam­ple among oth­ers. Yet, accord­ing to the Turk­ish Con­sti­tu­tion, homo­sex­u­al­i­ty is nei­ther an offence nor a crime, Human Rights are inalien­able and as human beings LGBTIQ per­sons are includ­ed. More­over, even if spe­cif­ic laws pro­tect­ing LGBTIQ per­sons are absent, arti­cle 122 of the Turk­ish Penal Code notes that dis­crim­i­na­tion and hatred based on gen­der iden­ti­ty are legal­ly reprehensible.

Indeed, the key can only be the AKP’s main con­cern: its sur­vival. So, as every­thing is halal in order to pan­der to all kinds of cir­cles that can pro­vide sup­port at the domes­tic lev­el – nation­al­ism, xeno­pho­bia, anti-migrant hatred, dirty ongo­ing wars, ultra nation­al­ism and Turci­ty, the Ottoman myth… All types of hatred and discim­i­na­tion against dif­fer­ent eth­nic and social pop­u­la­tions are out­ra­geous­ly instru­men­tal­ized. Even if this brings loss­es in even the crumbs of sup­port still exist­ing in exter­nal pol­i­tics, mean­ing a loss of sup­port from Rus­sia, from the Unit­ed Sates, every­thing is worth­while in order to main­tain the regime inter­nal­ly. Only a few remain­ing Euro­pean coun­tries because of com­mer­cial con­cerns and threats over the refugees, main­tain a hyp­o­crit­i­cal stance of still con­sid­er­ing the Turk­ish regime as a cred­i­ble interlocutor…

And, by the way, let us point out that Poland, which has just elect­ed a homo­pho­bic, patent­ed big­ot, also announces that it will soon denounce his sig­na­ture. A club is on the hori­zon. Who’s next?


The man hits, the State protects(him)”, “We are not ‘fam­i­ly’ but ‘women’ ”, “Apply the Istan­bul Convention”

Convention or no Convention, what is the reality in the field?

At the time, this con­ven­tion pro­posed by the EKP regime was announced as being “good news”, by Erdoğan as well as by Fat­ma Şahin, then Min­is­ter for the Fam­i­ly and Social Poli­cies. Today, defend­ers of rights, fem­i­nists, unions and jurists all point to the ris­ing voice of Turk­ish State author­i­ties and Erdoğan as being those “plac­ing all women in seri­ous dan­ger”. But one only needs to look back on the years pre­ced­ing this will to with­draw from the con­ven­tion in order to real­ize that reports, sta­tis­tics, press arti­cles, denun­ci­a­tions and protests sig­naled the expo­nen­tial rise in vio­lence against women and fem­i­ni­cides. This shines the light on the con­crete real­i­ty of the lack of actions and mea­sures and on the fact that already, the sig­na­ture and the good inten­tions expressed by Turkey remained on paper only…This wish to with­draw from the Istan­bul Con­ven­tion is thus noth­ing oth­er than the offi­cial­iza­tion of a real­i­ty, a pop­ulist gesture

In Turkey, the wom­en’s move­ment lives through the same con­tra­dic­tions as else­where. Strug­gling inch by inch to main­tain what had already been acquired is impor­tant, even if it was the result of a hyp­o­crit­i­cal polit­i­cal approach at the time when a form of nation­al union favored the regime. But to do so as a “defense of the Repub­lic’s val­ues” would amount to turn­ing our backs on the fact that fem­i­ni­cides, and dis­crim­i­na­tions against women and LGBTIQ have noth­ing to do with the Repub­lic but with its patri­ar­chal under­pin­ning exert­ed against Kur­dish women as well as Istan­bul women in favor of the Treaty.

Thus, what must take prece­dence is the polit­i­cal auton­o­my of such a struggle.


Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges 
You may use and share Kedistan’s articles and translations, specifying the source and adding a link in order to respect the writer(s) and translator(s) work. Thank you
Naz Oke on EmailNaz Oke on FacebookNaz Oke on Youtube
Naz Oke
REDACTION | Journaliste 
Chat de gout­tière sans fron­tières. Jour­nal­isme à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mar­mara. Archi­tec­ture à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mimar Sinan, Istanbul.