Women in Turkey

Ankara turns a blind eye to femicide

A young Turkish woman was recently brutally murdered on her way home – one of 430 women killed in 2019 alone. Women's rights organisations are calling for better protection, but the government is doing almost nothing. By Daniel Bellut and Burcu Karakas

Yet another murder of a woman has shocked the Turkish public and caused a wave of outrage on social media. Late last Tuesday evening, 20-year-old art student Ceren Ozdemir from the Black Sea province of Ordu set out for home after a ballet class. A man followed her to the door of her house, unnoticed. There, he pulled out a knife and stabbed her several times. The student succumbed to her injuries in hospital.

The suspected murderer had already been convicted 12 times for offences such as infanticide and robbery. Before he killed the young woman, he had escaped from prison. A day later, the man was arrested at a bus stop; state prosecutors are investigating the case.

It has not been just the Turkish public that has been stunned by this crime: high-ranking politicians have also expressed their condolences and announced that there will be consequences. Among other things, many Turks are horrified that a murderer could escape from prison.

"It has wounded all of us very deeply. We all hope that such cases never happen again. Our state prosecutors are investigating all aspects of the incident," said Abdulhamit Gul, the Turkish justice minister from the conservative Islamic party AKP. All the circumstances of the escape were being carefully looked into, Gul said. The Turkish interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, also expressed his condolences and said he regretted that nothing would "bring back our daughter."

A hushed-up issue

It is by no means a matter of course that Turkish government politicians give any consideration to violence against women. For a long time, both the government and the Turkish justice system have swept the problem under the carpet. This, although the organisation "We Will Stop Femicide" puts the number of registered murders of women in the country so far this year at 430.

Outrage over attempts to cover-up the murder of Sule Cet - women's rights groups protest in Ankara (photo: DW)
Outrage at patriarchal violence and dubious justice: Sule Cet's murder has become synonymous in Turkey with the widespread violence against women and the indulgence with perpetrators are treated by the judiciary in all too many cases. In the case of Sule Cet, the two suspects were initially released twice by a judge. Only after massive protests by women and pressure from the victim's father and a lawyer did the two men finally appear in court

But the Internet community and women's rights groups have put government and judiciary under increasing pressure. In the past few months, several acts of extreme violence have made headlines and vividly shown that often, not enough action is taken when women are victims of violence.

The murder of 23-year-old Sule Cet from Ankara – and the way this crime was depicted by investigators – also caused widespread outrage. The young woman was raped in the office by two drunk men, one of them her boss, and then thrown out of the window. The men told the police afterward that Cet had taken her own life.

The coroner found that the victim had suffered a broken neck and tears in the anal region and that she had narcotic substances in her blood. The medical examiner and the defense lawyer nonetheless described the case as "consensual sex" – after all, Cet had "decided to drink alcohol with a man in an isolated place."

Attempted cover-up

The trial went on for half a year and was accompanied by demonstrations and statements of solidarity from women, along with much response on social media. On Tuesday last week, the court in Ankara announced that one perpetrator would receive a life sentence and his accomplice an almost 19-year prison term.

"We will never forget that the bureau of investigation tried to hush up the case. We women resisted and showed solidarity," said Hulya Gulbahar, spokeswoman of the women's rights organisation "Platform for Equality Mechanisms", after the sentences were announced.

Women's rights groups now hope that the public pressure generated by such cases will bring about a social transformation, one that is supported not only by civil society, but also by politicians.

Many Turkish women are putting their faith in the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe agreement from 2014 on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence. The signatory nations committed themselves to creating the requisite conditions for fighting the problem. Turkey ratified the agreement five years ago and gave it a legal basis as a law for the prevention of violence against women and the protection of the family.

International obligations: The Istanbul Convention

But critics say that in practice, the legal norms of the Istanbul Convention are not being applied and the intended assistance and protective measures for women are not being implemented. Violence and discrimination against women, they say, can be prevented only when the judiciary and prosecution authorities act on the guidelines contained in the agreement.

For laws to protect women to be put into practice, there must be a certain awareness on the part of justice officials and politicians, says Berlin-based women's rights activist Sehnaz Kiymaz Bahceci. But, she says, "the government lacks the will to meet the obligations of the agreement."

Patriarchal family structures

Gokce Yazar from the Sanliurfa bar association sees patriarchal family structures and cultural norms as the problem. "It is normal for a woman who is threatened by her husband and fears for her life to seek protection from the state. The legal provisions are clear, but even so, they are often told: 'go back to your husband'."

Even if members of the government are now reacting with shock to the murder of Ceren Ozdemir, no political will to combat violence against women in any sustained way is discernible. The left-leaning, pro-Kurdish HDP had proposed setting up a parliamentary commission to look into the issue, but the ruling AKP and the ultranationalist MHP rejected the idea in November.

And when some 2,000 women gathered in Istanbul on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November to protest against femicide, among other things, police used tear gas and plastic bullets to break up the rally.

Daniel Bellut & Burcu Karakas

© Deutsche Welle 2019

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