Retired ambassadors, retired admirals and a group of former MPs publicly shared their criticism of the Turkish government. Those statements are the aftershocks of the social and political tremor that was caused by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention. One of the points that was discussed in the statements was whether the withdrawal through a presidential decree was legal according to domestic law.
The government is keen on suppressing all forms of dissent with regards to its decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention. And those statements from the retired ambassadors, admirals and MPs gave the government an opportunity to associate with a “coup d’Etat” and divert attention from the real issues it faces.
But let us not get distracted by this narrative. The “imaginary threat” of a coup against President Erdoğan, is being used as an instrument to cover up the seizure of women’s rights and their bid for equality that were guaranteed by the Istanbul Convention.
Let’s remember how the Montreux Convention (1936) entered our agenda and how the prevented important discussions over the violation of domestic law and authoritarianism from being held.
Mustafa Şentop, the speaker of the Turkish Parliament was a guest at a TV program recently. When he was asked “Who has the authority to withdraw from the convention?”, there was a caption on the screen that read “In the new system, the President has the authority and the last say.”
Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention by a presidential decree at midnight on March 20. The journalist’s question and the way he asked it are noteworthy. The host, Muharrem Sarıkaya said: “I’m not referring to the current president. If another president is in office one day, can he unilaterally say, ‘I’m withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights’ or even from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?” The speaker of the Parliament answered, “Technically, it’s possible” within no time.
The other journalist, Serap Belet, wanted to interfere by asking “What about the other treaties?” but Muharrem Sarıkaya spurted out “What about the Montreux Convention?” The speaker of Parliament didn’t change his answer but went on to explain the President’s authority based on the sovereignty of the state.
This was the line of discussion that started with the Istanbul Convention and led to the Convention regarding the Regime of the Straits, better known as the Montreux Convention. The Montreux deal was already discussed when the AKP-MHP government came up with the Kanal Istanbul Project they so vehemently want to build.
Şentop’s words, “the final approval belongs to the president” was actually the real topic to be discussed but the issue evaporated during the TV program. Şentop’s words were the confirmation of the lack of any domestic law procedure that should take place in parliament before the President’s final word. This procedure wasn’t discussed during that TV program and this is why we call the withdrawal a so-called decision of withdrawal. Facts were drowned by imaginary threats. They presented the Montreux issue as if it were more important than women’s right to live. It was more important and appropriate for them to exaggerate the fear of a coup.
In another TV program this week, Ali Babacan, the leader of the opposition DEVA Party, talked about the relationship between the Istanbul Convention and our economic problems. It was the best political discourse I’ve heard recently. Babacan’s evaluation of this relationship is actually one of the oldest economic principles. Hearing the parallelism between women’s rights and problems, and economic issues from a party leader is rare and important.
The patriarchal mentality minimizes women’s issues and regards them as secondary. We are confronted with this approach all the time. We rarely see politicians who say that women’s rights and their bid for equality are the basic issues of society, politics and economy. Ali Babacan, on the contrary, said that the decision on the Istanbul Convention was the real reason for the hike in the exchange rate. He said that the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention was not the cover for the economic crisis but its actual reason.
His speech is a milestone in Turkish politics. Ali Babacan reminded us of how the withdrawal from the convention and the sudden dismissal of the governor of the Central Bank, Naci Ağbal, resulted in the hike of the foreign exchange rate. About the relationship between the withdrawal from the Convention and the economic realities of the country, he said, “Withdrawing from an international treaty in this manner shows the lack of rule of law. Law is the foundation of a structure. You build the economy on that foundation. Democracy and human rights make up that foundation and the economic system can only be reliable if it rests on such a foundation. The decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention has cost the treasury 500 billion TL.”
The reason why only “the threat of a coup” was picked from the admirals’ statement was that it facilitated the procedure before and after the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention. The government was “clever” enough to plant the fear of being accused of being a putschist in the opposition.
This maneuver happened exactly when we were expecting a united opposition front against the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention. Still, the opposition’s only political tool to be protected from being accused of being a putschist is to cling on to the truth. We need a stronger rejection, all together, to the so-called withdrawal. We can give the necessary answer to the government, which is so determined to divert attention from the illegal withdrawal from the convention. A unified opposition can compel the government to remove that decision to withdraw from the convention. The question is, can the opposition do it?