Turkey’s summer of discontent

Unveiling Turkey’s own “national and local” plan to combat violence against women, President Erdoğan said that Turkey was against violence of any sort. Given the events of the last week, from the police’s treatment of the LGBT to an AFP journalist, the words added insult to injury.

“We would have loved to bring you more upbeat news but the agenda this morning is grim,” said the presenter of my favorite morning podcast on June 30. The young voice, touched by innocent despair, somehow softened my cynical heart.
 
As the long, isolated winter comes to an end, with cafes, bars and beaches reopening and “happy hours with friends” replacing the locktail hours on zoom, our fingers ache to write something lighthearted, or at least hopeful and upbeat. As I left town for a week by the sea, my own plan was to write a cheeky column on why Şeyma Subaşı, self-styled It Girl and Gold-digger-in-Chief, received more scorn than sympathy when it turned out that her Egyptian billionaire boyfriend was a fake. (Don’t purse your lips in disapproval, Sputnik already covered it!)
 
But then, Turkey’s real agenda intervenes, delivering one punch after the other straight to the gut. An increasingly authoritarian state, which passes repressive laws daily and ensures their brutal implementation, creates its own summer heat, burning the fingers of those who dare come close. Taksim, once the scene of the liveliest, most buoayant gay pride parades, was marked by LGBT-bashing as crowded police teams pounced upon a handful of demonstrators with tear gas and mercilessly dragged them onto the floor.  
 
Yet the same uniformed men remain passive, almost subdued, as German singer Liana Georgi daintily strolls and dances on her high heels, blowing a whistle. “What, you do not dare touch a national of Mrs. Merkel’s Germany?” shouts one bystander, audible over the clip. The question is, “How dare you touch anyone, Turkish or foreign, as we demonstrate or shout slogans? How dare you grab people from cafes and order the arrest of anyone who answers back?” or simply “How dare you stop me from walking in my own country?”
 
But this “brutal courage” is in no short supply. Throughout the weekend, the video clips of police attacking transsexuals, or harassing people sitting at a café in chic Nişantaşı, dominated the Twittersphere. Taking those clips and putting them online carried a major risk in itself: a regulation that was passed in April criminalizes taking pictures or recording the police, depriving us of the right to document police abuse. What is the aim, protecting the state’s police or the police state?
 
Fortunately, some defy that. Otherwise, there might not have been any evidence of the police’s George Floyd moment, when four officers have put award-winning AFP photojournalist Bülent Kılıç on the floor and pressed him down with their knees at the İstanbul LGBTI+ Pride March. 
 
Children unprotected
 
The news that made the voice of my young podcast presenter tremble was the story of two children – aged seven and ten – who were harassed and forced into prostitution by their mother and stepfather. On June 27, the drawings of the two kids, as well as their hand-written testimonies on how they were sold to the couple’s friends, dominated the news. Pressure groups across Turkey expressed outrage that their mother and stepfather were released on bail until their trial in mid-September.
 
While expressing their outrage on social media, however, many people gave away the identity of the kids and violated their privacy. The news the following day showed the case to be a complicated one with widely differing claims; but the case rang, once more, the alarm bell on the widely spread child abuse in Turkey, right on the eve of Turkey’s “official withdrawal” from the Istanbul Convention, the most far-reaching international accord to combat domestic violence.
 
On June 2, pro-government papers screamed with headlines that Turkey’s national action plan, unveiled by none other than President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan the previous day, would “put an end to violence against women.” This great optimism, of course, aimed to provide balm to the criticism inside and outside Turkey on the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention.
 
In a move to assuage fears that the country’s withdrawal from the convention would lead to an increase in domestic violence, the government has been trying hard to give the impression that it is creating a new plan that would address the root causes of gender-based violence. However, a week before the unveiling of the plan, opposition deputies walked off the parliamentary commission that was created precisely for this purpose, saying that the whole thing was a sham. 
 
On June 1, the president said that Turkey was against violence – not just against women – but violence of any sort. Given the events of the week, including the police treatment of women demonstrating for the Istanbul Convention a few hours after his speech, the words sounded not only hollow and uncredible, but a total mockery of what’s happening.