The Tragedy of Irresponsible Political Talk: Özgecan Aslan

“Media exaggerates. Violence against women is just about selective perception.”

Fatma Şahin, AKP family Minister

On February 11th a twenty-year-old university student in the coastal city of Mersin was raped, murdered and burned by a public bus driver, his fifty-year-old father, and an acquaintance (story here).  The girl was returning home from classes and shopping with a friend; it appears she did nothing to provoke the attack and was merely going through what should have been an ordinary day when it happened. Turkey is in shock.  Domestic crime is not uncommon in Turkey (statistics report averages of 20-30% across the regions). Women get called out in the streets (not unlike in the US…).  But violent public crimes are rare – crime rates are far lower in Turkey than in most American cities or countries in Western Europe – and until yesterday, when the girl’s body was found by a rural creek, few females would have feared boarding a public bus.

But things are changing in Turkey, thanks to the leading AKP and Erdogan’s insistence on the inherent separateness and secondary status of women.  While others are still gasping at the brutality of this apparently random act, one Turkish-German twitter user pointed to the irresponsible ideas spouted by the AKP that have together created a climate when such a crime could occur (full article here):

To understand how 3 men find the courage to rape, kill & burn a 20yo girl like , here are some quotes by AKP-officials

1. “I don’t believe in gender equality anyway.” Tayyip Erdoğan / in his meeting with women’s associations.

2. “Those who say ‘My body, my decision’ are all feminists.” Tayyip Erdoğan / on abortion.

3. “Raped women shall have the baby anyway, the state will take care of if necessary.” Recep Akdağ, Min. of Health

4. “I consider abortion as murder.” Tayyip Erdoğdan / on abortion.

5. “The raper is more innocent that the victim who has an abortion.” Ayhan Sefer Üstün, AKP deputy

6. “If the mother is raped, so what? Why should the child die? Let the mother die.” Melih Gökçek, AKP Mayor Ankara

7.“Media exaggerates. Violence against women is just about selective perception.” Fatma Şahin, AKP family Minister

8. “Isn’t domestic work enough?” Veysel Eroğlu, AKP Minister of Forestry and Water Affairs

9. “Unemployment is high because women seek for jobs.” Mehmet Şimşek, AKP Minister of Finance

10. “When girls study, men are not able to find girls to marry.” Erhan Ekmekçi, AKP, member

11. “A non-covered woman is like a house without curtains. A house without curtains is either for sale or for rent.” Süleyman Demirci, AKP

… 13.”Women should not laugh loudly in front of all the world and should preserve her decency at all times,” Bülent Arinc, AKP deputy PM

14. ‘Equality between men and women is against nature’ Recep Tayip Erdogan, President…. (and more, and more, and more…)

Regardless of your personal views on any of the more sensitive issues (like abortion), what should be shocking is that government officials and ministers are speaking out against longstanding laws and expectations built into the government’s framework. A political party is criticizing the political foundations of the country they rule.

How and why exactly the crime occurred is still in question.  It might have been random.  It might have not – the victim was Kurdish-Alevi (two groups dis-favored by the AKP), and there is some speculation that the perpetrators were “ultra nationalists”:

Either way, from the quotes above (a small sampling of many such public proclamations, unfortunately) it is clear that the current party’s actions have created a climate where crimes against women are both ‘less serious’ (because, apparently, the women are partially to blame) and more likely to occur.  I understand that they are making statements for political effect, to polarize voters or take a hard stance against ‘moral laxity’, but it apparently never occurred to them that their words might have this effect, and it certainly hasn’t occurred to them that they bear responsibility for their speech and for the implications of the ideas they intend to implant in Turkish society. That ideas have consequences. That words have consequences. In short, these politicians are incredibly irresponsible people.

The change in women’s status has crept up rather slowly over the past fifteen years.  Turkey is a secular republic.  Women have enjoyed the right to vote since 1930 (that’s 15 years before the same right was given to women in France). Long-time Turkey journalist and author Hugh Pope has noted that Turkish women never recovered from having their rights given to them (book here). The dictated secularization and equal rights of the early Turkish republic effectively halted any civilian-led feminist (broadly defined), secularization or human rights movements. People have always expected these rights from the state; because they didn’t have to be ‘won’ there was no struggle, no popular movement. It’s only been in the past decade or so that assumed rights and respect of women have come under direct threat (along with freedom of press, freedom of association, secular education, and a host of other fundamental civil issues – though the latter have been threatened for brief periods under different regimes).

In early years, Turkey had a secular government and conservative society; secularization and modernization were dictated to the Turkish population under the rule of the first state leader, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Turkey didn’t enjoy a gradual or grassroots transition. And perhaps because of this, there has always been some tension between more secular urban dwellers/western and coastal Turkey, and the more conservative inner Anatolian and eastern populations.
Now the government is far less secular than society (‘smart religious conservatives’ often revile the AKP even more than the secular opposition, as they understand that the AKP is truly neither truly religious nor truly conservative, but rather using this angle to gain votes and consolidate power). Since Erdogan’s ‘decisive victory’ in last year’s presidential election (elections some questioned, and some still question as certain ballot sheets and ballot boxes were never made public) the party has actually moved to destroy some of the secular foundations of the Turkish Republic – a move that could be interpreted as Islamic or (more likely) a desire to micromanage and consolidate power.

Also in the news today, government-ordered police forces fired water hoses against crowds of students and teachers protesting the de-secularization of school curriculum in Izmir, and one man was arrested for “insulting the president” (which was counted as threatening his person).
These issues are not unrelated. There is a government in power that believes the founding principles and the country’s constitution do not bind them, a government that has little real respect for its citizenry, and a government apt to make irresponsible remarks or push policy without thinking through all possible implications simply in order to gaol a certain portion of the population.
What happened in Turkey on February 11th was tragic, unthinkable. But a government that does not respect its citizens cannot expect citizens to respect each other.

In the past, when the government in power moved too far from the republic’s secular ideas, the army came in and cleared out the house with a coup. A popular movement has never toppled the contemporary government; people have often looked to the army to tilt Turkey back to center.  A little over a year ago Erdogan jailed almost all top army generals, effectively cutting a potential coup in the bud. This time there will be no army coup; civilians can’t expect a savior. Civil society has to grow its own opposition, frame its own demands, and make a determined persevering stand for what rights they refuse to cede.

Ozgecan Aslan

Hopefully this will happen.  Hopefully this tragic crime will spurn more people to act. Even now thousands of women across the country are calling for the dismissal of the “Family” minister (who made the revolting statement in No. 7).  Hopefully they will persevere.  Hopefully this won’t die down, like so many street protests have in the past.

Update on the case: Tragic. The girl was killed when she used pepper spray against her attackers to deter rape.

A quote from her mother:

“She had goals. She wanted to graduate and open a clinic to treat patients…I cannot comprehend that she got on a minibus to come home and was murdered. Was it a mistake? Getting on a minibus to come home?”

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