Last week, women across Turkey staged a “Las Tesis” dance performance. The dance was a replica of a protest that took place in Chile last month against gender-based violence. But the performance carried out in Turkey was also aimed at the male-dominated political sphere that fails to enforce the laws that should shield women from violence. For those who do not fulfil their duty to protect women are accomplices to the violence that is perpetrated.
Quite startlingly, as a group of women performed the “Las Tesis” dance in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district on December 8, police shut down the protesters’ sound-system and detained six of them. Later, as if to prove the protesters’ point of judges being patriarchal, the arrested women were freed on parole rather than on a decision of non-prosecution. This clearly resonated with the slogans that were chanted out during the protest: “You are the rapist, you are the killer. It’s the police, the judges, the state and the president.” The right to judicial review was seized. While it is unclear what will follow from that, the slogan “You will never walk alone” that originated in Chile and was embraced by women throughout the world has undoubtedly shaken the patriarchy. The justice and security apparatuses will not been left unmoved.
As defiant women gain ground in all spheres of society and in parliament, patriarchal political rulers are attempting to rise above the law and the constitution. With a demonstration staged by female MPs from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the lyrics of the “Las Tesis” chant echoed in the general assembly hall and even made it to the minutes of the parliament. The lyrics were the following: “To a patriarchal judge, our crime is to be a woman. You punish us, you watch the crime. The fault wasn't mine, nor where I was, nor how I was dressed. You're the rapist," You are the killer. It’s the police, the judges, the state and the president. Women are resisting everywhere in the world. You will never walk alone. You will never walk alone.”
This event will go down in history as the first parliamentary protest performed by women against the patriarchal political elite that is indifferent to gender-based violence and hapless in preventing it. It was such a milestone that Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu reacted bitterly stating that if the parliament would allow the MPs to carry on with their protests, he, “as the Interior Minister and despite the law and the constitution, would use his rights in the broadest sense”. These words do not bode well for the future.
Indeed, what comes to mind are the examples offered by India and China. In India, protests against a citizenship law were met with brutal police violence. The crackdown was such that Muslim protests were shot at with real bullets. It is said that police bullets killed four of the six people who died during the demonstrations. A law that subjected Muslim immigrants to discrimination as well as the government’s unilateral decision to change the autonomous status of Kashmir, thereby violating international law, sparked the Indian protests. The citizenship law would not only provide for the deportation of Muslim immigrants but also make the country’s already settled Muslims second-class citizens.
The situation in China is somewhat similar as any reaction to the isolation and brutal policies carried out against Muslim citizens – mostly Uighurs – is suppressed. The tragic fate of China’s Uighurs is met with silence from much of the international community, which prefers to follow its economic interests.
The German-Turkish football Mesut Özil has earned my respect. Through social media posts, he has denounced human rights violations in China, India and Israel, only to be silenced as well. The most recent example of this came when China’s state television CCTV cancelled the broadcast of a match between Arsenal and Manchester City in which Özil participated.
The leaders of these countries are no less than the contemporary iterations of history’s despots. The Hitlers, Mladics and Milosevics of the past century can be found today in the administrations of Myanmar, Israel, China and India.
Süleyman Soylu’s pledge to “use his rights in the broadest sense”, regardless of the law and the constitution, reminds me of those leaders. As a Turk, It also comes to mind that it was Interior Minister Talaat Pasha who carried out the massacres against minorities in the early 20st century.
Still, I believe Soylu’s words largely have to do with a strategy that aims to undermine the feminist struggle by criminalizing it and associating it with terror. It is a tactic the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has long used against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Such statements as “demonstrations against gender-based violence can conveniently be designated as terror” have already been heard from the government. Dividing women by criminalizing feminists is something this country’s religious segment has done for long time. Such a policy can undoubtedly be employed by the interior ministry and find support in the party’s grassroots.
A legal policy that would criminalize demonstrations against gender-based violence could be under way. Next year, a second judicial reform will be adopted to include provisions regarding a law on the execution of sentences. The media has been saying for a while now that a new law would be introduced to permanently lower sentences for certain crimes. According to press reports, the package was postponed and is now scheduled for January.
The package could include a similar or worse amnesty proposal. This would come three years after a first proposal was halted by a female protest that spanned all segments of society – including the AKP. Soylu’s overreaction to the protest in parliament pushes me to think this clause will be included in the package. The goal would be to fragment the feminist movement by associating “certain, marginal” women with crime whilst lowering the sentences for the sexual abuse of minors on the conditions that the age difference is no more than 15 years and that the defendant marries the child.
Süleyman Soylu’s reaction can only be interpreted as a political strategy. Beyond the feminist movement and the fight for gender equality, his words signalled the lifting of legal provisions against sexual abuse on underage girls. Rather than a kneejerk reaction to the demonstration, it is a calculated move. It is an attempt to stop all women from brandishing the slogan “You will never walk alone.”