Women in Turkey tried to directly communicate with the President and convey their demands through the Presidential Communications Center (CİMER), which is advertised with the slogan “straight to the office of the president.” This campaign, which started on August 8, was in the news. For a couple of days, women sent questions, demands and petitions to CİMER.
These applications were led by EŞİK – the Women’s Platform for Equality. Not everybody participated in this campaign directly through the platform, as CİMER was also open to individual applications, and certain organizations sent their demands through registered mail. Currently, public institutions, including ministries, have completely shut down the option of e-mail correspondence. Due to this, CİMER has become the sole address through which one can reach the state, the government, or officials; it has become a channel that goes far beyond being “the direct link to the office of the presidency.”
In a period of 30 days, the majority of the demands of women have been responded to, but there are still those who have not received answers yet. However, the responses were extremely surprising to us. Most of us sent our requests by selecting the “directly to the president” option. However, from the replies we received, we understand that our demands were not sent to the president. For instance, my reply was written by the Department of International Organizations. The reply started with “Through our Ministry,” and ended with the list of ministries that cooperated as well in the reply, the Interior Ministry and the Justice Ministry. I had to infer from this information that the department that answered me was one of the departments of the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services. If I had wanted a reply from this ministry, I would have chosen their option. Without my consent, my request was sent to a Ministry instead of the Office of the Presidency. Apart from this, a second surprise was waiting for me in the content of the reply.
Women’s demands consisted of an end to the debate on the Istanbul Convention and the preparation of an urgent action plan to effectively implement the agreement. Also listed by many people who applied was the consultation of independent women’s organizations for any development related to the Istanbul Convention, including its effective implementation and an action plan. However, scanning through the answers received, we saw that the one I received was what we called the longer version, which had an explanation half a page long while some others received one paragraph and a couple of sentences. Our surprise was that the reply did not even mention the Istanbul Convention. According to our legislation, the Istanbul Convention stands at a place above the law against violence against women and domestic violence; it should be considered as having the force of the constitution. When the Istanbul Convention is not mentioned even once in the answers to the public, we of course could not accept the replies we received as answers to our demands.
We started a new writing and application campaign on Sept. 13. While stating that we did not accept these replies as answers to our demands, we had to reiterate that this time we wanted absolutely our demands to be communicated to the President. What happened after this sounded quite funny and thought-provoking for us. On the list of institutions CİMER provided, the Office of the President was not an option, meaning there was no direct communication to the President — we had to send our requests to the Directorate of Communications itself, like we did one month ago. But this time, we could not find this institution, the Directorate of Communications, headed by Fahrettin Altun, on the list. Women who tried a couple of times by continuously marking the CİMER option, after failing a couple of times, received the warning that “because of multiple failed entries, your account has been locked.”
It was around 6:30 p.m. on Sunday when I tried again. I was able to send my demand to the Directorate of Communications, which this time was not listed at the bottom of the ministries, but under the category of Public Institutions and Establishments, after the Diyanet, the General Directorate of Religious Affairs. Other women were able to complete their process around that time. However, later in the day, the option of the Directorate of Communications disappeared on the list. Screenshots were taken to prove that women were not able to reach CİMER throughout the night. During this night shift of ours, we joked about writing our demands on paper planes and flying them into the presidential palace through one of its windows. We thought Fahrettin Altun was playing a game of “keep away” with us. In fact, the department became visible again around noon on Monday — again, under the Diyanet. Many women who failed to post their demands all through the night, and even those who had not applied a month ago, are now taking action.
The number of applications is not too high: about 1,000 applications were made. We will see how many more applications we will have when the campaign is renewed. You will remember that the Ombudsman Institution reported that the Istanbul Convention should be abandoned because there were 200 applications in opposition to it. We know of that because this report was leaked to the press. In a place like Turkey, gaining over 50 percent of the vote is adequate to rule the country, but a 13,000 vote difference was not enough to rule Istanbul. We will see whether 1,000 applications against 200 have any meaning. I do hope that this time we will not have to wait for a 800,000 vote difference (like what happened in the repeat Istanbul local elections) for a decision to come up in accordance with our demands. There is silence around the debate regarding withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention, which gives the impression that the brakes were pushed due to objections. However, this silence is only a ban on news and discussion on the topic in order to conceal that road maps are being prepared under the coordination of Fuat Oktay, the Vice President.
I see this work as an effort to persuade conservative women, especially, to change their attitudes, as they are in favor of the Istanbul Convention, for the moment. My views are based on leaks from the government, even though their work is conducted in secrecy. It must be a part of these persuasion efforts that former decisions are again being published to show, to pious women especially, that the determination to fight violence is continuing. First it was the Justice Ministry that reissued its circular dated one year ago about the implementation of preventive and protective measures. Last week, the Office of the Istanbul Governor issued decisions — dated again, about a year ago — about the Coordination Committee for Preventing Violence.
The government is trying to give off the message that the political will in fighting violence will not weaken, even if we withdraw from the convention. Research by the polling company KONDA, their August Barometer, showed that some 58 percent of women were in the gray area, stating that they do not have an opinion. I think the government is aiming to persuade first those women who are members of their party, then conservative women organizations and through them, all the undecided women that are shown in the KONDA survey to be undecided regarding the Istanbul Convention. The fact that the Istanbul Convention was not mentioned in the CİMER replies sent to us also makes sense within this context.
As always, we are still on watch and patrolling. We’re still raising our voices and trying to inform the public. We issue press statements, declaring that we have not given up demanding, “Apply the Istanbul Convention.” The campaign to write to CİMER is another method of making our voices heard to the public.
We women are interlocutors in each and every aspect when it come to the Istanbul Convention. We want to see the top officials of the country, the President, the Vice President and the Communications Director of the President as interlocutors. In our press statement on Monday, we informed the public of the content of the applications and our demands as well as our appointment requests. All these statements and applications are registered in the state archives; they are all notes for history. We are, at the same time, preparing archive notes for those who will research, in the future, the debates today on the Istanbul Convention. These are notes for the history of the future. For this reason, I am enclosing my application text here, as one of the similar texts sent to the Office of the President.
TO THE DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATIONS,
Subject: As the response dated September 2, 2020 to my petition dated August 8, 2020, numbered 2003552432 has demonstrated, my demands were not conveyed to the authority I had selected, and the content was irrelevant to my demands in my petition.
I found out from the reply I received, surprisingly, that my petition, which contained my demand to end the debate on withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention and my demands to urgently and effectively apply the Convention, was directed to the Department of International Relations. At the same time, because I noticed, again with surprise, that the reply given to my petition absolutely did not contain an answer to my demands, I was required to apply again with my demands.
My petition was delivered to the Directorate of Communications to be forwarded directly to Mr. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Through your office, I submitted my demands to the Office of the Presidency. While applying online, even though options were available for the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services, I did not select these options.
What I derived from the reply sent to my petition, since there was no mention of a particular ministry in the reply, is that my petition was sent to the Family, Labor and Social Services Ministry without my consent. In the response I received, none of the topics in my petition were answered and there was not even one reference to the Istanbul Convention.
On the same days with my petition, and upon the call of EŞİK — the Women’s Platform for Equality, about 1,000 women sent petitions that were the same or similar to mine to the Directorate of Communications. Some petitions were forwarded to the Justice Ministry while others to the Family Ministry, but most of then were answered with the same printed form. Many of them have not received responses yet.
For this reason, I am writing my demands in a clearer manner. At the same time, I feel the need to clearly state that this request is entrusted to the Department of Communications to be delivered to the Office of the President.
I request that this petition of mine and the previous one be forwarded directly to the Office of the President, and at the same time to Vice President Fuat Oktay; that a response is given, negative or positive, to the appointment requests by EŞİK from Vice President Fuat Oktay; that the defamatory campaigns that have overshadowed the implementation of the Istanbul Convention be disregarded by the political will and that this is publicized; that the Istanbul Convention is applied effectively as well as the Law number 6284, which are crucial in the fight against violence against women; that necessary action is taken against those who are responsible for ignoring and legitimizing violence against women and who do not fulfill their duties and obligations to remove and prevent these acts, who allow the perpetrators to go unpunished; that policies against violence and discrimination are urgently implemented and that all necessary measures are taken to remove all obstacles that adversely affect me from living an equal, free and honorable life.