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  • Ilgin Özkul

Erdogan and the Istanbul Convention: A Non-Cautionary Tale


March 20, 2021. This day seemed like it would be just another day of absurd politics, corrupted authority figures, and the monkey business that has come to be associated with Chairman, “Reis”, however I was naive to think so. Because Turkey has the potential of becoming worse, just when you think it is as close to hell as it could get. The following is a tale as such but now, we have hit rock bottom. And with each move Erdogan makes, we keep digging deeper into the pit.

Before we delve into the withdrawal of Turkey from the Istanbul Convention, it is important to first talk about why such a convention was agreed upon in the first place and why it carries the name “Istanbul” in it. The love-hate relationship of Turkey with the Istanbul Convention first became a reality when a Turkish woman, Nahide Opuz, who was exposed to domestic violence, had to apply to the European Court of Human Rights because her own country was not able to (or simply, preferred not to) protect her. Opuz died soon after and the Court found Turkey guilty of not preventing this femicide. So, the Istanbul Convention was put into effect in 2011 to put the state in charge of stopping femicides and protecting women against violence.

This, you might think, should have been a cautionary tale for the world, especially Turkey. The Turkish government should have been ashamed of neglecting a woman who was vulnerable and asked for help. However, I regret to let you know that this is just wishful thinking. Because between 2011 and 2019, approximately 2,816 Turkish women were murdered (these femicides were labelled by the government as “suspicious” and also as “suspected suicides”), with the numbers increasing each consecutive year.

This was just a recap of what has been happening over the years the AKP (Justice and Development Party) has been in charge. The numbers are not surprising at all, since Erdogan prefers to conveniently put opposition journalists in jail while rapists and murderers are ignored and walk free. Now that Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, such homicides will be committed more frequently with no consequences whatsoever (not that there ever were any before). This is actually proving to be the case, because 12 hours after the Convention was cancelled, 6 women were murdered. Some of these men also have the audacity to broadcast the violence they inflict upon women on Instagram.

Despite such incidents and protesters calling for help, Erdogan chooses to ignore them and insists that the domestic law he plans to implement will be better at protecting women. This is the man who places the importance of a woman on her “duty” of becoming a mother. According to him, women are important not because they are human but because they give birth to children and become slaves to their families.

Additionally, Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention is unconstitutional. TBMM (The Grand National Assembly of Turkey) was the body that signed the Istanbul Convention, meaning it must first pass a law that announces Ankara’s exit before Erdogan can act in such a way. But of course, it doesn’t matter how the law and justice work when Erdogan deems himself capable of doing anything. Following this, there has been international scrutiny coming from the likes of the EU as well as President Biden, who was “deeply disappointed.” Well, we all are. But that doesn’t change the fact that Turkish women’s lives continue to be at the mercy of bigots and savages.

This decision surely shocked most of us since who wouldn’t want a law that women can refer to when they are harassed, brutally beaten, or harmed in any other way. Here is where it all gets flat out absurd, and in a sense, tragicomic. Erdogan’s justification for the withdrawal is that the convention “normalises homosexuality” and that it is incompatible with Turkish family values. This is because the convention clearly states that the countries who sign it cannot discriminate between their citizens and have to protect them all equally. Right now, those “Turkish family values” only seem to be compatible with disrespect, objectification of women, crime, and perversion.

Unfortunately, the story does not end with Turkey. Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia are also against the convention, with Poland beginning to take steps to exit it as well.

Right now, Turkish women need the slightest hope of a law that at least recognises their vulnerability against domestic violence and violence inflicted by men. However, no one seems to be responding to their cry for help. Now, we wait for what Erdogan has in mind for the people who disagree with his policies. Let’s see how many women and transgender people get murdered along the way. That didn’t seem to matter ever since Erdogan’s reign started in 2014 - and I doubt that it will matter now.

Image: Flickr (Matthrono)



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