Until recently, I never thought very much about Turkey. No, not the bird … the country. But ever since Erdogan became president in 2014, Turkey seems to come to my attention on an almost daily basis. Thrice so far this week, warranting yet another post about Erdogan’s Turkey.
For starters, Merve Buyuksarac, a young woman who was crowned Miss Turkey in 2006, was convicted and sentenced to 14 months in prison sentence this week. Her crime? She shared a poem from a Turkish satirical magazine, Uykusuz, titled ‘The Masters Poem’. She saw it, thought it was humorous, and then shared it on Instagram. Her sentence was suspended on the condition that she not commit a similar offense for the next five years. A fourteen-month prison sentence for a poem that she merely shared, didn’t even write? I had hoped to include the text of that poem here, but it has been deleted from the internet, and although I was able to find a snippet, it was in Turkish, so it does me little good.
Insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to 4 years in prison in Turkey. Can you imagine if everyone who insulted President Obama were to be sentenced to prison? The U.S. would need to build so many more prisons that there would be one on every street corner! Since last August, at least 60 people in Turkey have been convicted of the crime of insulting the president. I think it is safe to say that any semblance of ‘freedom of speech’ is becoming but a fond memory for the Turkish people.
Up next, Erdogan apparently has the idea that he can control policy in other nations, such as France, the U.S., Austria, and now Germany. A small bit of history is required in order to understand. In 1915, the Ottoman government murdered and displaced almost all of its minority Armenian subjects inside their historic homeland, which lies within the present-day Republic of Turkey. The number of victims is estimated to be as many as 1.5 million. The event has been widely called the “Armenian Genocide”, much to the annoyance of the Turkish government. Turkey absolutely denies that the ‘events of 1915’, as it is referred to by the Turkish government, constitute genocide. The world, it seems, disagrees: at present, governments and parliaments of 29 countries, including Russia, Brazil, France, Italy and Canada, as well as 44 states of the United States of America, have recognized the events as a genocide. When France formally called the displacements and killings genocide in 2011, Turkey temporarily recalled its ambassador; it did the same thing to Austria last year. It has threatened the US with the closure of critical NATO bases if the US Congress passes a resolution. German lawmakers will be deciding on a resolution to label the ‘events of 1915’ as genocide on Thursday, and Erdogan has warned that passage of the resolution would “naturally damage future diplomatic, economic, business, political and military relations between the two countries – and we are both also NATO countries.”
Apparently Mr. Erdogan is suffering from illusions of power far beyond those to which he is actually entitled. To an extent, Chancellor Merkel herself may have given Erdogan the idea that she would bend to his will, since she allowed an investigation into German comedian Jan Böhmermann, who insulted the Turkish president in a poem earlier this year. However, the two situations are quite different, as an antiquated law on the German books left Merkel with very few options other than to allow the investigation to move forward. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t be worse, as Erdogan continually threatens to back out of the EU-Turkey migrant deal. He has some leverage and is using it to attempt to control policies of other nations. In April, Pope Francis used the word ‘genocide’ in reference to the Armenian tragedies, and Erdogan summoned the Vatican’s ambassador to air his protest. Even the U.S. has downplayed it, shying away from using the word ‘genocide’, in part because the U.S. and Turkey share a common goal of fighting Daesh.
Lastly, Turkey is attempting to find ways to stop the ‘skyrocketing’ divorce rate among its citizens, at the cost of women’s rights. Surprised by that, aren’t you? To this end, the government established an investigative commission called “Protecting the Integrity of Family.” (Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but does not this sound similar to certain legislation recently passed in certain southern states here in the U.S.?) Turkish women are up in arms because there are, they believe, far more serious issues that the government needs to be concerning itself with, such as the fact that the rate of women murdered in Turkey has increased by 1400% since 2003, about half of which are the result of domestic violence. The only response from the government has been to tell women to ‘scream if you are attacked’, however they are able to devote time, money and effort to launch a full-scale investigation into causes and cures for divorce.
The commission returned with a 479-page report, including recommendations in four areas:
- It recommends lowering the legal marriage age for women from 18 to 15. The reason? So that if females under 18 are engaged in sex with adults and if they decide to get married then there will be no charge of pedophilia. This has been named in Turkish social media as “marrying your rapist” law. The justification? “When the men are jailed, the women and the children suffer.”
- As previously mentioned, domestic violence is an increasingly alarming problem in Turkey. The report, however, rather than recommending more ‘safe houses’ for women, focuses on ‘mediation for women’, and would require women not to seek help from nearby police but to travel long distances to issue a complaint.
- The commission further recommends that all divorce cases be heard in private, keeping independent observers away. Further, it recommends a reduction in the amounts and time periods for alimony. Most women in Turkey do not work outside the home, and those that do are paid very little. The intent appears to be to keep women from divorcing their husbands lest they starve to death!
- If the divorce court determines there is still hope for the couple and their marriage, they will be forced to work with family advisers, rather than being granted a divorce.
Yes, indeed, it appears that the women’s liberation movement passed over Turkey. One interesting note: the chairperson of the committee is … a woman!
The morphing of the Turkish government from a republican parliamentary democracy to a dictatorship. Erdogan apparently has a very thin skin and cannot abide criticism from anybody, including the media and private citizens both in and out of Turkey. As I have said before, it would be funny, if only it weren’t so dangerous. The day may come, sooner than we think, that Turkish citizens no longer have access to information, to the internet, but I believe there will always be those who are willing to take the risks to tell the stories that need to be told. I still believe the pen is mightier than the sword.