Femicides In Turkey: No More Black and White Pictures
Trigger warning: domestic abuse, violence, murder
"Enforce law 6284 and the Istanbul Convention. Prevent femicides immediately."
“I did it in a moment of rage” was Cemal Metin Avcı’s testimony after strangling Pınar Gültekin to death, putting her body in a barrel, and covering it in cement. It was once again rage, like anger or jealousy, that led to the death of the 27-year-old Turkish woman, according to her ex-partner Avcı.
It was late July 2020 when a post surfaced on Turkish Twitter that a woman named Pınar Gültekin had recently gone missing. All the details of her disappearance were known and the last place she was seen was a shopping mall with dozens of security cameras. After days of searching, Pınar was found, but not alive: in the barrel Avcı put her body.
This was certainly not the first case of femicide in Turkey. It was not any more gruesome than others. But it shook me to my core, as well as many other women, and led to public outrage and protests. A bit like the murder of George Floyd in the US, the hate crime was so crystal clear, so out in the open that it made everyone face and grasp how common and how usual it is. Women all around the world posted black and white pictures of themselves, similarly to the pictures of femicide victims in news articles, as part of an awareness campaign. While women in Turkey were protesting to end domestic violence and attacks towards women, they were attacked by the Turkish police, forcefully detained, beaten, and abused.
"(Toxic) masculinity is deadlier than coronavirus"
The timing of the brutal incident was also a definitive factor to the mass reaction of women. At the time Pınar was killed, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) had been campaigning for the country’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe, signed in 2011. Also called the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, the treaty aims to protect the human rights of women and minimize cases of domestic violence and abuse.
Turkey was the first state to ratify the treaty, but now it is one of the first to plan to withdraw from it, as Erdoğan and his party claim that the treaty is not in line with Turkey’s cultural values. The treaty was never properly enforced ever since it was ratified, despite the legislation Turkey adopted in accordance with it. Many domestic abusers and murderers walked free or received reduced sentences for reasons as nonsensical as dressing smartly in court, claiming to be religious, and being a supporter of AKP. The failure of the Turkish government to comply with its international obligations had been rising the levels of frustration within women’s rights activist groups. This frustration achieved its peak the day Pınar Gültekin’s body was found, as AKP declared on the same day that they would withdraw from the Istanbul Convention.
The killing of women and girls, named femicide, is a centuries old virus spread worldwide, but still a very prominent and contagious one in Turkey. In 2020 alone, 300 women have been killed by their husbands, boyfriends, ex-partners, brothers, fathers, sons, and men they are completely unrelated to, with 171 other suspected cases, according to the organization called We Will Stop Femicide. The anonymous platform anitsayac.org, an online memorial for femicide victims, displays that 405 women have been killed by domestic violence in 2020. In other words, let’s rephrase this: Turkish men have killed at least 300 women in 2020 alone. It was never about rage. It was never about jealousy, or anger, or a heated argument that led to a crime of passion. Systematic killings cannot be emotional. If they are claimed to be so, the perpetrators have the system on their side.
In 2009, it was reported that 42% of Turkish women between the ages of 15 and 60 have experienced some form of abuse, physical or sexual, by men they have been in a relationship with. It is likely that this percentage also rose dramatically, like the killings which have risen 471% in the last 16 years, since the time that the study was conducted. The statistics are clear as day, the women in Turkey have been suffering from male violence for decades and there has not been much improvement.
Academics point to different reasons as to why this is the case. Some point to the hasty modernization of Turkey and Turkish men’s difficulty to adapt to the changing role of women in the society, manifesting itself as the most violent form of fragile masculinity. In 2011, 60-year-old Kezban İncebacak was killed by her husband because she asked if he ate the yogurt in the fridge, which is a gruesome but clear example of how a woman is punished as soon as she “acts out” against her man, questions him, disagrees with him, or wants to separate from him.
Some argue that the male-dominated politics and legal system enhance the gravity of the situation. Victim blaming is very common. Many politicians, like the former mayor of Ankara Melih Gökçek and like Erdoğan himself, have expressed hostility towards women and held them responsible for the attacks they have suffered from. While the judicial system allows men to act out of jealousy, rage, or anger, it expects women to have a supernatural level of intelligence, immediately identifying men who could be abusive from afar.
Victim blaming adds onto the decreasing rule of law and the erosion of the legal system country-wide, especially after the failed coup attempt of 2016. A functioning system that not only protects women from being killed; but prevents men from killing women and getting away with it is vital. As women’s rights activists in Turkey argue, the government needs to present stricter legislation as well as real life cases to show men that if they attack a woman, they will be brought to justice with an appropriate sentence. In this regard, complying with the international obligations accepted in the Istanbul Convention and implementing its components is of great importance for Turkey.
Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights. Many countries around the world, Turkey being one, fail to protect the most fundamental human right, the right to life, of their female population. If a legal and societal system allows men to act without thinking twice but judges women for not thinking twice before linking with such men, a woman’s life is not perceived to be worth the same as a man’s. Such a system sides with the perpetrators, not the victims.
A woman’s life is worth more than a man’s impulsive burst of violence. Turkey needs to work on reforming its patriarchal societal structure and keeping to its international obligations by fully enforcing the Istanbul Convention. No more black and white pictures of women lost to hate crimes: stop femicides for good.