No one is surprised when they hear hate speech from politicians in Turkey. Offensive comments about women, LGBTIQ+ people, Jews, Armenians, Kurds, Greeks, and Alevis are standard fare. Every now and then, beloved celebrities also come out of nowhere to jump on the hate parade.
Yonca Evcimik was a famous singer and actress in the 1990s. You might remember her from such pop hits as “Abone” and her role in the teen TV series “Çılgın Bediş.” This Nov. 25 was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and while nobody asked the pop singer for her perspective on the terrible rates of femicide in Turkey, Evcimik decided to weigh in anyway. And with a rap song, no less. On the surface, the music video for “Ayıp Şeyler” (Shameful Things) seems to show support for Turkey’s feminist movement. It features footage from Istanbul’s massive Women’s Day protests. Yet the song’s lyrics give an entirely different message.
“Ayıp Şeyler” is centered on the idea of honor and morality. It suggests that women experience violence because they don’t protect their virtue. At one point, Evcimik raps: “If you open up what is private, of course they’ll enter.” She describes women as “oppressed and letting themselves be oppressed” and goes on to ask: “Haven’t we suffered enough? Stand tall and be virtuous.” Unsurprisingly, Evimcik was promptly critiqued on social media for victim blaming. In the first 24 hours of her song’s debut on YouTube, it was disliked 15,000 times. The screenwriter of “Çılgın Bediş” stated that he regretted ever writing the TV show for Evcimik. One Twitter user remarked that it’s hard to write a song that is “both sexist, misogynist, moralist, and terrible” but Evcimik succeeded.
Femicide is a serious issue and it’s important for artists and celebrities to raise awareness. In Sept. 2020 alone, 16 women were killed and 20 died under suspicious circumstances. Yet blaming women for their own deaths, on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women no less, is an astonishing example of tone-deafness. Yet this attitude is not surprising coming Evimcik, who in 2018 also stated that men “become gay” because they cannot deal with women. Rather than make statements like this, it’s better to say nothing at all.
Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, actress and singer Seren Serengil used her TV platform this week to spout hatred against trans people. On the program Söylemezsem Olmaz, Serengil and her guests were discussing the marriage of Internet celebrity Selin Ciğerci and her soccer player husband. Though Ciğerci is trans, Serengil repeatedly referred to her as a man, showed pictures of her pre-transition, and used her dead name. Then came Serengil’s tirade in which she stated, “We’re not the Netherlands, we’re a Muslim country with its own customs.” She stated that being transgender is “abnormal” and should not be normalized in society because it encourages others to be trans.
If only the problem was as simple as washed-up 90s singers using hate speech to get back in the headlines. When even the country’s political opposition expresses the same bigoted positions, we have a serious problem. This week we saw former CHP presidential candidate Muharrem İnce trivialize trans people. Speaking on Haber Global, İnce lashed out at CHP’s head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu for a proposal to make gender confirmation surgery and hormone therapy covered under state health insurance: “The CHP general secretary’s assistant is saying ‘Let the state pay for gay people’s surgery.’ I’m not saying don’t pay for it, but coffeehouses and restaurants are closed, waiters are unemployed, and companies are closing. The dollar and euro are rising again. We’re in a crisis and look at what the CHP has put on the agenda.”
From İnce’s statement, you would think that the CHP’s proposal was calling for free ponies to be sent to every household in Turkey. There are certainly many crises facing the country at the moment, but there’s no reason to put them in competition with one another. The state should provide financial support for sectors suffering from the COVID-19 closures. It should also ensure necessary health care for all its citizens, including trans people.
The crowning moment in this week’s hate parade comes not from celebrities or politicians but a supposedly liberal publisher, Kırmızı Kedi Yayınları. Journalist Hüsnü Mahalli’s book “Filistin Benimdir” (Palestine is Mine) came out in October this year. Since then, the Turkish Jewish Community and website Avlaremoz have called attention to Holocaust denialism in the book, yet the publisher has yet to make a statement. In the book Mahalli describes the Nazi’s genocide against European Jews as “exaggerated,” writes that “tens of thousands” were killed instead of the accepted 6 million, and claims that gas chambers were actually only used as infirmaries for those sick with typhoid. It’s unbelievable that in 2020 there are still those who don’t understand that one can support the Palestinian struggle without being anti-Semitic, let alone denying or trivializing the Holocaust.
From 90s pop stars to TV hosts, opposition politicians to publishers, everybody has someone they like to hate. Unfortunately, every obscene statement they make becomes a trending topic and gets covered in the news. Perhaps the best thing to do is to ignore them until they fall into the irrelevance they deserve.