Leyla Güven, Turkish judiciary’s first ‘maternal racist’

The crime invented in the case of Kurdish politician Leyla Güven’s indictment is quite surprising. Güven has been charged with giving “speeches based on ‘maternally racist’ content.” The judiciary has indicated in this indictment that even the concept of a matrilineal society can be considered hate speech. But what incentive is there for this? Why Güven? The crux of the issue is that the person being charged is both a woman and Kurdish.

It has become a common practice among prosecutors preparing indictments to demonstrate an unbelievable skill for inventing new crimes. Despite it being so common, the crime invented in the case of Kurdish politician Leyla Güven’s indictment was quite surprising. Or rather, it is a case of us being surprised at first, but then later, being surprised that we were ever surprised in the first place. Güven’s is a case of discrimination on two fronts: she is a woman and she is Kurdish. Because of these factors alone, it is silly to be surprised. However, it is still surprising because it is the first time we have seen an objection to the concept of the matrilineal society, in which ancestral descent is traced through maternal instead of paternal lines.

Leyla Güven's speeches are known to include arguments such as, “A matrilineal society existed and male-dominated civilizations adopted policies to destroy it.” She is not the only one to have made such statements. One comes across such assertions anywhere in the world, or in Turkey, in the context of feminist speeches. Friedrich Engels, a famous German philosopher and revolutionary socialist, discussed the matriarchal order of society in “The Origin of Family, Private Property and the State.” The matriarchal society became one of the main topics of anthropology which developed in the late 1800s. Part of the theoretical foundation of feminism comes from the existence of female-dominated societies throughout history. However, in the feminist literature, in accordance with the principle of an equal social order, the concept of a matrilineal society is used instead of the concept of the matriarch, which implies hegemony. Such a concept is preferred by Leyla Güven and can be seen as having influenced her speeches.

Despite this well-established conceptual framework, the office of the prosecutor seems to have invented an entirely new concept of the “maternal racist” in its latest indictment against Güven. Based upon this invented concept, the prosecution seems to have also invented a new type of crime called “maternal racism.” One of the 18 charges against Leyla Güven states as follows: “The speeches contain denial of proof that humanity has come from the same root of ancestors; the lack of meaning and content, systematically based on ‘maternally racist’ content which is full of meaningless hatred designed to create aggressive feelings in the individual […]” The questions of which individual and why they would have “aggressive feelings” come to mind. 

The long history of matrilineal societies should be considered in this situation. Kurdish activist and feminist writer Figen Aras summed it up best, saying, “Jacob Bachofen and Lewis Henry Morgan come to mind, who lived in the 1800s. Bachofen revealed new information for the first time, unlike conventional historians: A matrilineal society has existed throughout human history. He visited indigenous peoples, spent a long time with them and saw the model of the matrilineal society exemplified there. He wrote his thesis on the subject in his book ‘Myth, Religion and Mother Right.’”

The judiciary, with its dependence on the government, has indicated in its indictment that even the concept of a matrilineal society can be considered hate speech. Let us put aside the scientific research, feminist theory, and theological debates for a moment, and look at some of the ways this concept is modelled in life. Have these prosecutors heard of telkin? I'm referring to the teaching given by the imam as part of the Islamic funeral prayer ritual. The imam addresses the deceased by his or her mother’s name. When you think of why this concept exists in its most basic form you can see that while the information of who you were born from is certain, you only know your father from what you have been told.

While we are discussing Leyla Güven’s indictment and the concept of a matrilineal society, so must we discuss the principle of accepting the assertions of women as true. Those who are intimidated by the concept of a matrilineal society likely need to stop fighting against the assertions of women in general. The prosecutors who have dubbed this concept a hate crime have now dragged the patriarchy under a double-edged sword: They must now choose between saying that a women’s assertion is elementary, or accept the concept of a matrilineal society.

It is easy to understand why those who see male domination as a social and political order place motherhood in such a sacred position. Because every person on earth knows who his or her father only through his or her mother's statement. The legitimacy of the father comes only from the mother’s mouth. Thus, the patriarchal society relies upon the statements of women to perpetuate its existence. As a result, motherhood has been blessed in every patriarchal society throughout history. Controlling motherhood is necessary to maintain credibility. This is not only the major dilemma of the patriarchy but also a major pillar. Thus, the patriarchal order is sustained by using force against women to keep them in this maternal role.

With the advancement of science, DNA paternity tests have weakened the already deteriorating structure of the patriarchy. With this scientific development, the mechanisms set up to hold women in this maternal position for the survival of society are no longer necessary. Perhaps this is why the concept of a matrilineal society frightened them so. The core of the strength of the patriarchal system is at risk of collapse. As a result, perhaps Güven’s indictment assumes that those who hold their mother in this sacred position will experience “aggressive emotions” if they encounter concept of a matrilineal society.  

How can one indictment evoke such complex thoughts, you may ask, but the crux of the issue is that the person being charged is both a woman and Kurdish. As the patriarchal system quivers, those who benefit from it are also having a hard time finding an explanation for the ongoing ethnic discrimination.

Undermining gender equality and Kurdish political rights with one indictment must be considered double the value by the judiciary. What is being done to Leyla Güven here is also being done to many other women, she just happens to be doubly unfortunate as she faces discrimination as a result of her being both a woman and Kurdish.