No doubt, Turkey is more secular and modern than Afghanistan and Iran. But that is not good enough news for Turkish girls and women, who are increasingly subject to violence and forced marriages at young ages. The Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should be proud.
2022: A Violent Year for Women
A total of 327 women were murdered by their husbands, ex-husbands, fiancés and partners, between January 1 and November 11, 2022, according to the Turkish Federation of Women's Association.
In March 2021, under pressure from pious Muslims, Erdoğan announced that Turkey was pulling out of the "Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence," effective July 1, 2021. The accord is better known as the Istanbul Convention after Turkey's biggest city where, in 2011, it received signatures, including Erdoğan's.
"Turkey's decision to ditch a landmark international treaty to tackle violence against women and girls, could significantly set back efforts to tackle the problem," said Reem Alsalem, a senior UN-appointed independent rights expert.
Officially, around one out of four women in Turkey has suffered physical or sexual abuse from their partners, according to latest available government data from a 2014 survey, said Alsalem in a statement. There are also likely "hundreds of femicides" every year, she added, pointing to serious underreporting of the issue, owing to a lack of confidence in protection mechanisms, widespread impunity and gender-related bias and discrimination.
Islamism Overtakes Turkey
This is the gloomy background in a country where women won the right to vote in national elections in 1934, ten years before French women. In 1935, 18 women became Turkish MPs, or 4.6 percent of the parliament.
That was secular Turkey.
Today, in Turkey, the driving force is political Islam. On November 25, protestors gathered in several provinces to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. They were met with a heavy police presence and violent crackdown. Several women were detained in the protests, including 20 journalists. "We are not allowed to leave the [police] blockade," journalist Sultan Eylem Keleş wrote in a tweet.
This is a picture of Turkish "progress" between 1934 and 2022. It is only the tip of the iceberg.
Forced Underage Marriage
The marriage of underage girls and women is part of Islamist culture, including in Turkey.
As Erdoğan's political Islam has poisoned the uneducated masses' freedom over the past two decades, families have turned "medieval" in their social life. The prominent Turkish columnist Yilmaz Ozdil compiled a list of crimes committed in Erdoğan's Turkey in just the past few years:
- An 11-year-old girl, who had been married by an imam, gave birth: Bolu province.
- A 12-year-old girl gave birth under a fake ID that showed her age as 18: Gaziantep province.
- A 12-year-old girl gave birth: Izmir province.
- A girl named Kader, or "fate in English." She did not have good fate. She was forcibly married at 12, became a mother at 13 and committed suicide at 14: Siirt province.
- A girl was married, at 13, to a 40-year-old man. She ran away after severe violence from the husband. Her family rejected her. At 17 she, with her three children, had no place to live: Ordu province.
- A 15-year-old girl was forcibly married. She took refuge at a police station: Sakarya province.
- A notary public was caught endorsing the illegal marriage of a 14-year-old girl: Tekirdag province.
- A 12-year-old girl, who was forcibly married, appeared to be four months pregnant: Tokat province:
- A 16-year-old girl who had been married off by her family committed suicide by throwing herself under the train: Adana province.
- A 16-year-old married girl jumped from the seventh floor of a building: Konya province.
- There was a case of a girl of 14 being forcibly married to a man of 70, father of five and grandfather of nine.
- The Kanuni Sultan Suleyman Hospital in Istanbul reported to have received 115 pregnant girls under 15 in just five months. The hospital said it admits 500 pregnant girls in one year.
Before Erdoğan came to power, civil marriage was compulsory in Turkey, and conducting a religious marriage before the civil one was punishable by a prison sentence. Under Erdoğan, Turkish courts legalized religious marriages and reduced the legal age of consent for sex to twelve years of age.
The Sheik and his Six-Year-Old Daughter
Against this backdrop, even Turkey was shocked at news that a prominent Islamic sheik, the leader of a religious order fiercely devoted to Erdoğan, had married off his six-year-old daughter to a 29-year-old disciple. Six!
The girl had been forced into sex and became a mother at 14. She complained to the prosecutor's office, but Erdoğan's authorities apparently did not want to bother the sheik. As she became an adult, she collected evidence of abuse, made it public, and only then the judiciary acted. Initially the court decided to try the suspects without detention, but under huge public pressure, the court detained both the father and husband. The father, in a statement, said that he was answerable only to Allah, not to a court.
Hey, West! Time to get to know your NATO partner. Erdoğan's Minister of Family and Social Services, Derya Yanık (a woman), claimed that violence against women and child abuse are not the subject of politics because they are "human nature issues and can be seen in every society."
What is the link between these criminal acts and Erdoğan's government? First, the sheik who married off his six-year-old daughter heads a foundation linked to the influential radical Islamist Ismailaga community. Second, the Ismailaga community is one of many that fall under the umbrella of the Naqshbandi-Khalidi order, a branch of Sunni Islam of which Erdoğan is said to have been a follower. Third, the funeral of the Ismailaga sect's longtime leader earlier this year was attended by Erdoğan and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu.
There are civilized and medieval worlds in the 21st century -- and there are medieval leaders dressed in suits and ties who pretend to belong to the civilized world.
Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.