Yeldana Kaharman was a 21 year old communications student from Kyrgyzstan. She worked at a local television station in in the eastern city of Elazığ. On March 27, 2019, she interviewed the parliamentary deputy Tolga Ağar in the latter’s house. Ağar is the Elazığ deputy of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the son of the former police chief and Interior Minister Mehmet Ağar, whose name is associated closely with the “deep state”.
The next day, Kaharman was found in her house dead, hanged. The incident was registered as suicide and the case closed. Recently though some allegations have been made concerning the circumstances of her death. It has been alleged that she was sexually assaulted by Ağar during the interview and left the house to report the assault to the local gendarme station. It was after this complaint that she was found dead. It is also claimed that Ağar was taken away from his house by a helicopter sent by his father. While these details are said to have been the talk of the town in Elazığ, this talk did not lead to the launching of an investigation into Kaharman’s death.
Nadira Kadirova was a 23 year old refugee from Uzbekistan. She was a domestic worker in the Ankara house of AKP deputy Şirin Ünal, a retired army general with some alleged “deep” connections. Kadirova allegedly committed suicide when Ünal was in the house on Sept. 23, 2019. When he was asked about this incident in the parliament, Ünal said, “I was going to send her anyway; she sent her by herself.” He also said to Nadira’s brother that she was a “maniac”. The general insisted that there is nothing to be gained by illuminating this incident. The prosecutor agreed and the case was pronounced a suicide.
After the autopsy, her brother took Nadira’s body back to Uzbekistan for burial. He says that there were bruises on his sister’s body. According to the official version, Nadira shot herself twice in the chest with the general’s pistol. It is also revealed that shortly before her demise, Nadira told one of her confidents that she had been sexually assaulted by the general.
Lawyer Eren Keskin: “Immunity is official policy”
A full investigation into the circumstances of Kadirova’s death is apparently on hold. Her lawyer dropped the case shortly after the incident, whereupon the renowned rights lawyer Eren Keskin of Istanbul Bar declared that she was taking over the case. According to Keskin, Kadirova case raises numerous questions.
Keskin says that she and the Human Rights Association (İHD) have pursued some 600 cases of alleged sexual assault on women and trans women by perpetrators with official positions and duties (including army and police officers, village guards, school masters, bureaucrats and parliamentary deputies), and her conclusion is that there is a definite policy of immunity.
“Turkey is a signatory to the European Commission’s Istanbul Convention of 2011 which rules for the legal protection of women against violence,” she said. “But the judges and prosecutors systematically ignore the clauses of this convention.”
Keskin also says that judicial authorities are restricting legal access to the Kadirova file, while Kaharman file remains closed.
Lawyer Hülya Gülbahar: “Politics, law and sexuality are deeply linked”
These “suicides” are only two among hundreds of alleged incidents of femicide and immunity. In 2019 there were a total of 474 femicides in Turkey, a new record for a twelve month period. Lawyers observe that court convictions of male perpetrators do not match these figures, and nor do punishments fit the crime. If trials do not result in acquittals, there are often significant discounts in penalties when the victims of the murder, sexual assault or violence are women, which operate as a de facto incentive.
In cases of Kadirova and Kaharman, if the allegations are taken into account, a pattern of sexual assault by influential male parliamentary deputies leading to the death of female victims followed by lack of judicial investigation can beseen. Moreover, in both cases the victims are foreign national women.
“Young foreign women are the targets because they are the most vulnerable,” says rights lawyer Hülya Gülbahar. Gülbahar points out that between politics, law and sexuality there is a deep and sophisticated link: “We should stop being naive about the state’s chasing its prey.”
Gülbahar says that the myth of the innocence of rich and powerful men should be destroyed and that they should be treated as presumed guilty, because their power makes it easier for them to commit crimes.
“They know that power, respectability and money will serve to their interests,” she says. “Beyond sexuality, the abuse of power itself becomes a source of enjoyment. They do it because they can.”
According to Gülbahar, immunity in femicide cases is the rule and it is conducted systematically. She believes that, along with political authority, social class is a factor in immunity. An example is the case of Şule Çet, a 23 year old student who “fell” from a 20th floor apartment in a building in Ankara in May 2018. Initially ruled a suicide, it was only after extensive social pressure that two wealthy men who were in the apartment at the time of her death were tried on charges of her murder.
In Gülbahar’s description women are preyed upon by violent men and this is made possible by the official soft approach and immunity towards perpetrators. “Femicide is an organized crime which involves not only a male perpetrator, but the collaboration of authorities in the cover up together with judicial unwillingness to investigate these cases”. Moreover, the real femicide figures, she claims, are much higher than those officially disclosed.
Gülbahar also says the sustainability of these patterns of assault, murder and immunity may indicate a comprehensive disciplinary practice of authorities towards women. “The steady increase in femicide since 2002 when AKP came to power is no coincidence.”
The data pointing to the escalating incidence of femicide; the soft approach by the police and judicial authorities towards male perpetrators; and the sustained immunity of men with political or financial power and influence all indicate some rather disquieting trends in Turkey’s social life: a safe haven for misogynists where women live in permanent insecurity. That or an official disciplinary policy aiming to push women back from social life to the domestic sphere, in compliance with conservative Islamic norms.