President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s neo-nationalist (Ulusalcı) and hardline secularist ally Doğu Perinçek, leader of the Homeland Party (Vatan Partisi), has urged the Turkish government to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention on combatting violence against women at a time when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is considering whether to pull Turkey out of the international accord.
AKP officials are discussing withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention and annulling Law No. 6284, enacted following the signing of the convention in 2011. A meeting of the party’s Central Executive Committee (MYK) to decide the fate of the convention scheduled to take place on August 5 was postponed.
In addition to some conservative and pro-government groups claiming the international accord undermines traditional family values and structure, Perinçek defined the convention as “a tool of Western imperialist powers to control Turkish society.” His remarks on the international accord reveal how President Erdoğan’s neo-nationalist and hardline secularist power elites have seen those discussions as an opportunity to spread their anti-Western ideology.
“The most important part of the Istanbul Convention is that the Council of Europe employs police [Zabıta] for you. Police will come and inspect Turkey. Police officers who oppress and ignore women and drag them by the hair in their own countries will come and save Turkish women. [They expect that] we will agree to that! Receiving police and inspectors is dishonorable. Why is Turkey independent? Why did [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk throw them into the sea [referring to Turkey’s War of Independence in the 1920s]? If we still admire those [kind of] police officers, why did we throw them into the sea? Had we given them Ankara [in the 1920s], the police would have arrived at that time,” Perinçek said on Ulusal Kanal, his party’s TV station.
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence, the first European treaty specifically targeting violence against women and domestic violence, was opened for signature in May 2011 in Istanbul and entered into force in August 2014. So far 45 Council of Europe member states have signed the convention, while 34 of them have ratified it, with Turkey being the first among the 34 ratifying countries.
The accord sets standards for comprehensive measures to prevent and combat violence against women, recognizing that “violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared to men.”
Perinçek turned into an ally of the embattled Turkish president in the aftermath of massive graft investigations into government officials in 2013. Following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, he announced the formation of a “common patriotic front” with the “religious conservatives.” Perinçek’s influence in major sectors of Turkey from the bureaucracy to the judicial system and from state administration to the military and media started to rise as a result of his alliance with Erdoğan.
Meltem Ayvalı, head of the Homeland Party’s women’s branch, held a press conference on August 4 to underline that Turkey should withdraw from the convention, which was “ratified by [Turkey’s] political parties controlled by Western countries at the time.”
Moreover, Perinçek continued his campaign against the accord through the Aydınlık daily, a mouthpiece for Perinçek’s anti-Western propaganda campaigns, the cover page of which reads “No to the Istanbul Convention.”
The possible withdrawal of Turkey, which has long battled femicide, from the convention has found support from Turkey’s conservative media but has been met with protests by opposition lawmakers and women’s rights groups. Femicide, which is defined as the killing women and girls because of their gender, remains a major problem in Turkey. At least 474 women were murdered in Turkey in 2019.
The majority of Turkish citizens are against the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, according to a survey by Ankara-based pollster MetroPoll. A total of 63.6 percent of those surveyed said they are opposed to the Turkish government’s possible plans to scrap the convention.
Thousands of women simultaneously took to the streets across Turkey protesting the possible withdrawal and calling for full implementation of the İstanbul Convention. In one of the demonstrations held in İstanbul’s Kadıköy district, the names of women murdered by men in Turkey were read out loud. In a statement the participating women said: “The AKP Central Executive Board [MYK] was to have gathered today to decide on the fate of the Istanbul Convention. They would have brazenly made a decision concerning all women of this country at a party meeting. This meeting was postponed to August 13 thanks to the women’s protests. We will continue to raise our voices.”
Moreover, Turkish women of letters published a joint statement on August 6 defending the convention, amid the fear of Turkey’s possible withdrawal. The statement, signed by 155 prominent women including Erendiz Atasü, Buket Uzuner, Gonca Özmen, Latife Tekin, Necmiye Alpay, İnci Aral, Müge İplikçi, Ayşe Sarısayın and Karin Karakaşlı, emphasized that femicide had turned into an epidemic in Turkey, saying it is unacceptable to withdraw from the convention.
Commenting on Turkey’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention, AKP Deputy Chair and former Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş had earlier said it was wrong to become party to the convention, indicating that the government might consider withdrawing from it.
“I am saying this as a person who has read the Istanbul Convention repeatedly and has also read it in English and worked on it. The signing of the Istanbul Convention was really wrong,” he said in a televised interview.
The debate also reached within President Erdoğan’s own family, with two of his children involved in groups on either side of the debate about the Istanbul Convention.
While the Turkish Youth Foundation, whose advisory board includes the president’s son Bilal Erdoğan, called for Turkey to withdraw from the accord, the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), of which President Erdoğan’s daughter Sumeyye is deputy chairwoman, opposes quitting the convention.
Turkish authorities should fully implement the convention rather than withdraw from it, Amnesty International Women’s Rights researcher Anna Błuś said ahead of discussions at the AKP’s MYK.
“Rather than becoming the first Council of Europe Member State to withdraw from the Convention, Turkey should ensure the treaty is fully implemented and take immediate action to better protect and promote the rights of women and girls,” Błuś said, adding that “[t]here is a bitter irony to the fact that the Turkish authorities are considering withdrawing from a Convention bearing the name of its most iconic city.”