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At nov­el­ist Aslı Erdoğan’s request, we pub­lish trans­la­tions of an inter­view con­duct­ed by Karen Kruger, pub­lished on April 29 2021 in the Frank­furter All­ge­meine Zeitung


Turkey has with­drawn from the Istan­bul Con­ven­tion on vio­lence toward women. Writer Aslı Erdoğan explains what this means. A con­ver­sa­tion on vio­lence and the macho men­tal­i­ty in Turk­ish society.

• In 2012, Turkey was the first coun­try to rat­i­fy the Istan­bul Con­ven­tion on pro­tec­tion against vio­lence. This inter­na­tion­al treaty was devised in order to pro­vide juridi­cal­ly bind­ing norms in order to “pro­tect women against all forms of vio­lence”, notably sex­u­al harass­ment, stalk­ing and forced mar­riage. It was rat­i­fied by 34 States. Now, while domes­tic vio­lence is on the rise. Turkey announces its with­draw­al. What kind of sig­nal is this for a woman in Turkey who is threat­ened by her partner?

Per­haps she reads the news­pa­per, in which at least one fem­i­ni­cide is sig­nalled every day. She is prob­a­bly unable to take care of her­self and to leave. She may not even know pre­cise­ly what the Istan­bul Con­ven­tion is about, but she may have heard it had some­thing to do with pro­tect­ing women, and that is now being with­drawn. She will feel exclud­ed. I am sure many men see the with­draw­al as a vic­to­ry. It jus­ti­fies their vio­lence. A few days ago, a cam­paign was launched on Turk­ish social media: “April 12 – Rape Day.” 

• Rape Day?

Yes, a group of 17 year olds wrote advis­ing to go out and rape women. They told the police they had done this in order to become famous.

• This speaks vol­umes about Turkey.

Many men do not see women as human beings but as objects to be destroyed. How could some­one be sur­prised by this? The Erdoğan regime resorts to dis­pro­por­tion­ate amounts of vio­lence in order to con­trol soci­ety. Soci­ety learns the les­son that vio­lence is the only way to exert con­trol and that the one in pow­er has the right to dom­i­nate. As a result: more vio­lence against women, chil­dren, ani­mals. This lat­ter issue should also be examined.

Pho­to : Car­ole Parodi

• The with­draw­al will take effect on July 1st. Are there any protests planned?

There are protests almost every day. But the gov­ern­ment – which in fact, con­sists of a sin­gle man – seems insis­tent about the with­draw­al. He says there will be a new con­ven­tion, an Ankara con­ven­tion, more in con­for­mi­ty with Turk­ish val­ues. But women have ful­ly under­stood that, basi­cal­ly, noth­ing will change : this with­draw­al is meant to deflate the wom­en’s move­ment. Short­ly fol­low­ing his announce­ment, sev­er­al Kur­dish fem­i­nists were arrest­ed, and the Turk­ish Min­is­ter of the Inte­ri­or stat­ed that the PKK 1 was a wom­en’s move­ment. This imply­ing that a woman who fights for her rights may be con­sid­ered a terrorist.

• What does Erdoğan have against women?

He and his sup­port­ers have a cer­tain idea of what a woman should be. But as many women are dif­fer­ent, he wants to cor­ner them until they give up. A woman is sup­posed to be a moth­er or a wife. She should have a cer­tain edu­ca­tion and be allowed to work – after all, there is an eco­nom­ic cri­sis in Turkey. It is impor­tant that she be part of a fam­i­ly, this is the only way in which she can exist. The Istan­bul Con­ven­tion threat­ens this con­cept by demand­ing that the State pro­tect all women against vio­lence – whether they are mar­ried or not. I think this gets on Erdoğan’s nerves to the high­est degree. For him, I am sure there is a ques­tion of hon­or involved in car­ry­ing out this with­draw­al to the end.

• The dec­la­ra­tion states that the con­ven­tion nor­mal­izes homo­sex­u­al­i­ty and attacks Turk­ish tra­di­tion­al fam­i­ly values.

This is one of his favorite sen­tences. I won­der what these val­ues are sup­posed to be. In Turkey, the fam­i­ly means: the man is in charge. It is one of the main sources of oppres­sion and vio­lence. This is a con­cept the gov­ern­ment wish­es to pre­serve, a gov­ern­ment that claims to be democratic.

Since the announce­ment of the with­drawl, 27 women were killed in Turkey. In 2020, there were at least 300 fem­i­ni­cides, and 171 women died in sus­pi­cious circumstances.

A Note from Kedistan • An essential website…
The feminicide countdown in Turkey: 2020: 409 women were murdered – For the year 2021, as of today April 30, the countdown already indicates 118 feminicides.

When women resist against the attri­bu­tion of roles, they are often con­front­ed by vio­lence. By with­draw­ing, the gov­ern­ment is also say­ing “we will no longer pro­tect women who do not accept their role.” The Par­ty denies there is more vio­lence in soci­ety since it has tak­en pow­er, and skews the sta­tis­tics to this end. Per­son­al­ly, I don’t believe them. I also see a grow­ing bru­tal­i­ty. I just read about a man who doused his wife in gaso­line and set her on fire. You come across a lot of such sto­ries now. Often, women are beat­en to death. Some authors of these crimes are so proud of what they are doing that they pub­lish it on social media. Many mur­der­ers do not even spend a sin­gle hour in deten­tion, espe­cial­ly if they have links with the AKP or with the extreme right-wing Par­ty MHP. How­ev­er, if the mat­ter is men­tioned in the media, there is often a sen­tence imposed.

In 2018, a pros­e­cu­tor in Ankara had released the men who had raped Şule Çet, a stu­dent, then thrown her out the win­dow of a hous­ing com­plex. They were tak­en into cus­tody only once the media and wom­en’s orga­ni­za­tions exert­ed pressure.

Of course, the media can­not cov­er every­thing. Espe­cial­ly events tak­ing place in the coun­try­side which often stay unre­port­ed. There, fem­i­ni­cides are often dis­guised as sui­cides or women are forced to kill them­selves. There are regions where the rate of wom­en’s sui­cides is ten times high­er than else­where. In one case, the police accept­ed the ver­sion of a sui­cide although the vic­tim had two bul­let wounds in the forehead.

Note from Kedistan • Feminicides in Turkey, Le divorce ou la mort (Divorce or death), an excellent documentary on Arte (only in Turkish, French or German)

• Are all judges sup­port­ers of the AKP?

Most of them are def­i­nite­ly pro-Erdoğan. Under his direc­tion, the judi­cia­ry sys­tem was mod­i­fied in such a way that you could not real­ly sur­vive in it if you did not sup­port the gov­ern­ment.  But the macho men­tal­i­ty has always exist­ed with the judges. We can­not say that this is an AKP inven­tion, unfor­tu­nate­ly.  How­ev­er, instead of tak­ing action against this phe­nom­e­non, the gov­ern­ment pro­motes it. Some judges reduce the sen­tence if the accused declares that the mur­dered woman flirt­ed with oth­er men, that she sent a Like to a stranger, or that he found a mes­sage on her phone that attacked his man­hood. These killers receive noth­ing but 10 or 15 year sen­tences of which they only serve the two-thirds. But when a woman kills a man, she usu­al­ly is at risk of a life sen­tence. The cir­cum­stances of the crime are unim­por­tant. Even a pre­vi­ous rape is not nec­es­sar­i­ly an atten­u­at­ing circumstance.

Note from Kedistan • For futher reading:
“I’m Yasemin Çakal, I’m talking to you from exile…”

• Because of your work for the tra­di­tion­al­ly Kur­dish  news­pa­per “Özgür Gün­dem” you were accused of ter­ror­ist pro­pa­gan­da in 2016. You were sent to Bakırköy prison in Istan­bul, in the sec­tion reserved for Kur­dish women, for four and a half months, before you were released unex­pect­ed­ly while grave­ly ill, and left for Ger­many. Did you encounter women with such fates at the time?

One of my co-detainees was sen­tenced to an irre­ducible life sen­tence 2. Her lover had killed her hus­band and claimed she had incit­ed him. She denies this and there is no evi­dence. Yet, she was sen­tenced this heav­i­ly, while he got away with a 10 year sen­tence. My obser­va­tion is that sen­tences are very heavy, espe­cial­ly for the Kur­dish women. One of them was sen­tenced to 33 years for   par­tic­i­pat­ing in an ille­gal demon­stra­tion. A man who kills his wife gets off more eas­i­ly. This ten­den­cy will only increase with the with­draw­al from the convention.

Poland has also sig­naled it intends to con­test the con­ven­tion. Oth­er coun­tries such as Hun­gary, Bul­gar­ia and the Czech Repub­lic have signed on but with­out apply­ing the dis­po­si­tions in their legislation.

In all places where pop­ulists and ultra-rghtists have won heav­i­ly, where ide­ol­o­gy places male pow­er at the cen­ter, wom­en’s rights have become a war zone. They want to define what it means to be a woman and to have a family.

• When the con­ven­tion was writ­ten in 20111, the word “genre” was still rel­a­tive­ly innocu­ous. It appears 25 times in the text. The authors did not ascribe much impor­tance to it; they were more pre­oc­cu­pied by the lev­el of vio­lence. There­fore,   they abstained from giv­en it a pre­cise def­i­n­i­tion. Con­ser­v­a­tive politi­cians across Europe now take advan­tage of this to state that the con­ven­tion aims at abol­ish­ing the dif­fer­ences between men and women and nor­mal­iz­ing homo­sex­u­al­i­ty. Has Turkey used the argu­ments of this anti-genre lobby?

It is more than like­ly, the argu­ments are the same. Recent­ly, demon­stra­tions took place at the Uni­ver­si­ty of the Bospho­rus against a new rec­tor. They were used to crim­i­nal­ize LGBTs. There is a small LGBT asso­ci­a­tion over there. It was closed down dur­ing the protest, but it was claimed that the mem­bers had sul­lied the image of the Kaa­ba – and oth­er such claims…The Min­is­ter of the Inte­ri­or then declared on tele­vi­sion that the gay move­ment was respon­si­ble for the demon­stra­tions. This think­ing has often had a  strong influ­ence in Turkey but no State rep­re­sen­ta­tive ever went this far before. This is alarming.

Note from Kedistan • For futher reading:
Boğaziçi University • A promise of spring in winter?
The mobilization around Boğaziçi University (ongoing developments)
Boğaziçi • An open letter to the 12th President of Turkey

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Le petit mag­a­zine qui ne se laisse pas caress­er dans le sens du poil.