The Turkish Femicide

300 women were murdered in Turkey last year. Femicide, a sex-based hate crime defined as the intentional murder of women, in this country has reached a level that the nation can no longer ignore. And now, the women of Turkey are refusing to back down. 300 is the number of women that were reported as murdered, but the number is likely much higher as many of the femicides committed in Turkey are mislabeled as suicides. Since 2012 alone, the number of femicides in Turkey has doubled and violence against women in the nation continues to be overlooked. 

Violence against women in Turkey has been a reoccurring issue and has only grown over time. Though there are laws in place to protect women in Turkey, they are rarely enforced or carried out to the fullest extent. Specifically, the ones pertaining to domestic violence.

On July 16th, 2020, 27-year old Pinar Gültekin disappeared. Her body was found five days later in a forested portion of Mugla, Turkey. Gültekin was one of five children of a Kurdish family and was the only one to become literate. She had just graduated from university, where she studied economics in hopes of becoming a governor or mayor, and planned to go home to see her family. But, she never got the chance. It is believed that she was murdered by her ex-boyfriend and that his actions were premeditated. Pinar Gültekin is not the first blatant victim of femicide, but her death has sparked outrage and a new cry for change in Turkey.

Gültekin’s best friend Berfin, now much more willing to speak out about how she, like many other women in Turkey, is living in constant fear. She stated that “maybe tomorrow, they’ll be announcing my death”. She explains that it “starts with the first flirtatious encounter,” before they[a man] say[s] “you can’t go there alone,” and “you mustn’t wear this or that”.

In May of 2018, 23-year old Sule Cet was raped in her office building by two drunk men, one of which was her boss. After the rape, they proceeded to throw her out of the office window. The two men told police that Cet had committed suicide, despite obvious inconsistencies found by the coroner such as tears around the anal region and a sedative in her blood.

The trial that followed brought out demonstrations and solidarity amongst the women of Turkey. The public pressure produced results: the perpetrator was sentenced to life in prison and his accomplice received close to 19 years in jail.

The case of Sule Cet brought hope to the people of Turkey that there would be a societal change in favor of protecting their women. Now, it is clear the public pressure felt by the government, turned Sule Cet into the exception instead of the rule. The belief is that there needs to be a change in society as a whole. But, more than anything, a change in the Turkish judicial system.

Far too many cases of femicide are covered up as suicides and pass through the Turkish judicial system undetected.

March 4 women protest Photo by Giacomo Ferroni from Unsplash Another recent example of the Turkish government failing its women is the death of 35-year old Ayten Kaya. Kaya was found hanged in her home, where investigators ultimately decided that she had committed suicide. However, there were also some major inconsistencies in Kaya’s autopsy report that were repeatedly overlooked. Discrepancies such as the failure to record the time of death in the autopsy and how Kaya’s entire body was covered in bruises. She had multiple hematomas on her body that were three days old, which correlated with the last time her husband had been present in their home. Kaya’s husband was a seasonal farmworker who came and went regularly. Knowing he was home exactly three days prior suggests his involvement in the murder of Kaya.

Many of Kaya’s relatives do not accept suicide as her true cause of death. They believe this version of events to be false and are adamant she was murdered, noticing all of the holes in the case. However, despite objections and the contradictory evidence of the case, prosecutors are unwilling to reopen the case.

In spite of the many more deaths other than that of Pinar Gültekin, Sule Cet, and Ayten Kaya, the Turkish government continues to refuse to acknowledge the issue. Last week, taking a step backward and further angering the people of Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan chose to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty to protect women. Turkey had been the first country to sign the Council of Europe Convention, a separate treaty which focused on “preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, and bring an end to legal impunity for perpetrators”. The Istanbul Convention seeks to achieve the same goal, making Erdoğan’s motives unclear in withdrawing.

Turkish flag waving in front of a mosque Photo by Meg Jerrard from Unsplash Conservative and religious groups within Turkey lobby against the treaty, arguing it “harms traditional family values”. Erdoğan ensures the people of Turkey that the withdrawal from the convention will not allow for regression in regulations and laws surrounding violence against women and women’s rights in general. However, it is clear that there is doubt amongst the Turkish people as women continue to rally and protest, the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention now being a significant part of their agenda. The doubt and the need for public solidarity is felt for good reason because of femicides constantly being conveniently covered up as suicides. The worst part is, that is only one example. There are plenty more to consider and uncover. 

Regardless of the solidarity amongst some women, there are many others, such as pro-government journalist Fatma Gülsen Kucak, who believe “what happens inside the four walls of a family’s home ought to stay there". Also believing things like the Istanbul Convention is contrary to the culture, traditions, and beliefs of the Turkish people. While this does not relate to every instance of femicide in Turkey, Pinar Gültekin’s case, for example, does refute a large portion. Out of the 440 women killed in 2018, more than a quarter of them were murdered by their husbands.

And so, in honor of all of the women in Turkey who have died without justice, those continuing to fight every day for the rights of those women who have passed, and all of the future generations of women to follow; I tell you the names Pinar Gültekin, Sule Cet and Ayten Kaya. I remind you that your freedom is a privilege and that you have the option to use it. Speak for those who cannot anymore. Be brave for the women who no longer have the option to. 

Two girls holding up flowers on a street corner Photo by alesia from Unsplash Sources: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / 11 / 12