Opinion transformation on Istanbul Convention — first step towards a new Turkey?

Historian Bulat Nogmanov about the disputes around the international agreement of the Council of Europe against violence against women and domestic violence

In Turkey, the Council of Europe's Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (also known as the Istanbul Convention) has been hotly debated. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted that the country intends to withdraw from the agreement as Turkey should independently develop such agreements and not use “translated texts”. This decision is supported by a part of the electorate, but according to studies, the majority of Turks are against it. Our regular author, historian Bulat Nogmanov, who has lived in Turkey for two years, discusses the reasons for differences and options for the development of events in the author's column for Realnoe Vremya.

Disputes over the Istanbul Convention

The past week in Turkey was marked by fierce disputes in the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also called the Istanbul Convention.

Turkey was the first country to ratify this document, which was opened for signature in May 2011 and entered into force in 2014.

The reason for the public discussion, which was attended by journalists, writers, representatives of women's public organisations and well-known politicians, was the statement of the deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), Numan Kurtulmush, that Turkey could withdraw from the Convention if necessary.

Although in fairness, it should be noted that Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in February 2020 that the Convention should be revised, and in July 2020 said that if the people wanted, they should withdraw from the Convention. There is no fresh data on what the people want, but according to a study by the organization MetroPOLL Araştırma conducted in 2018, 64% of the population is against leaving the agreement. And after the brutal murders of Emine Bulut and Pinar Gultekin, which shocked the entire country in recent years, it is unlikely that the number of opponents of the agreement will grow.

The reason for public discussion was the statement of the deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), Numan Kurtulmus, that Turkey could withdraw from the Convention if necessary. Photo: report.az

In fact, the document itself, consisting of 81 articles divided into 12 chapters, creates a comprehensive legal framework and approach to combating violence against women. It also aims to prevent domestic violence, protect victims and prosecute perpetrators, and it is binding if ratified.

If we talk about the principles on which the Convention is based, there are four of them: prevention, protection and support for victims, prosecution of offenders and a comprehensive policy.

It is important that violence against women is defined in the Convention as a violation of human rights and as a form of discrimination. Besides, the document defines a number of crimes that qualify as violence against women, such as psychological violence, harassment, physical violence, sexual violence, including rape, forced marriage, forced abortion and sterilisation, female genital mutilation, and so on.

How the Convention defines gender

Up to this point, the absolute majority supports the adopted Convention, but there is a fierce debate about how the Convention defines the concept of gender.

In the document itself, it is defined as “socially constructed roles, behaviours, actions, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men”. Behind this seemingly transparent and clear statement, the opponents of the Convention see steps aimed at legalizing “gender” or the so-called “social gender”, which does not necessarily coincide with the biological sex of the individual, but is based on his self-perception. Along with this, it is also common to see the promotion and further legalisation of LGBT communities in Turkey.

If previously the police received a report of domestic violence, the police usually acted as a mediator and tried to reconcile the parties to the conflict, but now, according to the Convention, the police are obliged to isolate the victim, provide shelter and all necessary assistance. Photo: anna-news.info

An absolute plus for the opponents of the Convention is the statement of the minister of justice of Poland, Zbigniew Ziobro, who at the end of last month announced that his country started the procedure for withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention because the Convention harms school children, as it requires that students are taught gender, not sex. Similar criticism of the Convention comes from Russia.

Another problem for Turkey is the provision to isolate the victim of violence from the perpetrator.

If previously the police received a report of domestic violence, the police usually acted as a mediator and tried to reconcile the parties to the conflict, but now, according to the Convention, the police are obliged to isolate the victim, provide shelter and all necessary assistance. The opponents of the Convention see this provision as a blow aimed at the institution of the family and believe that it destroys the traditional foundations of Turkish society. According to data from the World Health Organization in 2018, 38% of women in Turkey are physically abused by men at least once in their lives.

“The situation is like an elephant being groped by blind people”

In addition to the socio-social side, the disputes surrounding the Convention have a political background and show differences of opinion, as well as signs of division among the representatives of the ruling party and those who support them.

The women's part of AK Parti, as well as the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), in which Erdogan's daughter Sumeyye is the vice-chairperson, are in favour of preserving the Istanbul Convention and continuing its functioning in its previous form. Besides, the signing of the Convention is seen as a public victory for organizations fighting for women's rights.

According to data from the World Health Organization in 2018, 38% of women in Turkey are physically abused by men at least once in their lives. Photo: anfrussian.com

The unspoken leader of those who believe that the Convention should be cancelled is the writer and columnist of Yeni Akit newspaper, Abdurrahman Dilipak. It is noteworthy that one of his last critical articles entitled “AKP's daisies” was perceived as an insult to women, and the AKP's women's branches in 81 provinces sued him.

Dilipak is a representative and translator of the ideas of the conservative-religious wing of AKP. It is believed that these ideas resonate with 15% of voters who support Erdogan. According to Dilipak, the Istanbul Convention, being a deception, contradicts not only the rights of women but also the basic contentment of Allah.

Perhaps, we should consider all these passages as part of the process of forming and organising a new Turkey in the context of a changing new reality.

Despite the fact that the situation around the Istanbul Convention is like an elephant being groped by blind people, it is very possible that the transformation of opinions in the pressing sphere of women's rights for Turkey will be the first step on the way to a new Turkey.

By Bulat Nogmanov