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TURKEY: Protestants exposed to discrimination, deportation and hate speech

Protestants exposed to discrimination, deportation and hate speech

By Uzay Bulut


Providence Mag (16.05.2022) – https://bit.ly/3wzUA49 – Only 0.1 percent of Turkey’s population is Greek, Armenian, or Assyrian Christian. The collapse of Turkey’s Christian communities is a result of decades-long persecution that includes genocideexpulsionspogroms, and official discrimination.

There is also a growing Christian demographic group in the country: Turkish converts to Christianity, many of whom converted to a Protestant church. This community has struggled with many problems, including a lack of official recognition by the government.

The “2021 Protestant Community Rights Violation Report” by Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches lists the community’s challenges. According to the report, Protestant Christians in Turkey lack legal recognition as a church and a faith community, which severely restricts their freedom of religion and belief. They are often exposed to hate speech in the press or social media. Since they don’t have an official legal entity, they remain unable to establish their own places of worship or use existing church buildings for services. Thus, they try to use other buildings, which brings other problems with it. They also cannot open schools to train their religious personnel. Whenever foreign religious workers come to Turkey to serve the Protestant community, they face the risk of deportation.

As Protestant Christians cannot worship within their own churches, they try establishing associations or religious foundations or become a representative of other such groups. However, the government does not officially accept them as a “church” or a “place of worship.” The report explains:

Because members of the Protestant community are mostly new Christians, they do not have religious buildings that are part of their cultural and religious heritage like traditional Christian communities have in Turkey. The usable number of historical church buildings is very limited. Therefore, a large portion of the Protestant community tries to overcome the problem of finding a place to worship by establishing an association or religious foundation,or by gaining representative status with an existing association or religious foundation and then renting or purchasing a property such as a standalone building, shop or depot that has not traditionally been used for worship. A very small number have been able to build their own free-standing buildings. However, many of these premises do not have official status as a place of worship and therefore they are not officially recognized as a place of worship even though they are used that way. They cannot benefit from the advantages, or the conveniences given to an officially recognized place of worship, such as free electricity and water, as well as tax exempt status. When they introduce themselves to the authorities as a church, they receive warnings that they are not legal and may be closed down.


The inability to possess legal places of worship created serious challenges for the Protestant community during the past year. Some examples include:

  • The church building that is part of the Diyarbakır Armenian Protestant Church Foundation, which was turned over to the General Directorate of Foundations (despite objections and the need for a church worship place in Diyarbakir) was rented out to the Culture Ministry as a library on February 21, 2021.
  • Tekirdag Protestant Fellowship started activities as part of an association in July 2021. Even though they did not bother those around them, neighbors and others filed complaints to the municipality, the governor’s office, and the office of the president. As a result, the government is continually bothering the church, conducting inspections, and pressuring it to move from that region.
  • The members of the Protestant community who live in Arhavi in Artvin Province have rented a property and want to do repairs and renovations. The repairmen who took on this job could not work due to social pressure; the landlord terminated the rental contract for the same reason. The congregation continues to meet in members’ homes.

In addition, the Protestant community does not have the right to train its own religious personnel within the Turkish national education system. It also cannot open schools to provide religious education for the members of church communities.

Therefore, the Protestant community trains most of its religious personnel through seminars or apprentice training in Turkey. A small percentage obtains education at theology schools abroad. Presently there are not enough Turkish Protestant religious workers or leaders to meet the need of the growing Protestant community, so foreign pastors need to provide the spiritual guidance of some churches.

However, the Turkish government creates challenges regarding that as well. Many foreign religious workers and members of congregations have been deported, banned entry into Turkey, or denied residence visas, a situation beginning intensely in 2019 and continuing in 2021. Some Protestants who have lived in Turkey for years have been given entry bans for at least five years for “posing a general security threat.” The report elaborates:

In court cases opened to challenge this situation, the authorities have claimed that these people are pursuing activities to the detriment of Turkey, have taken part in missionary activities and that some of them have attended our Family Conference, which our Association has held annually for twenty years or other seminars and meetings that are similarly completely legal and transparent.


Another significant problem facing the Protestant community is the increase of hate speech in social media. The authors of the report write:

There has been a noticeable increase in hate speech filled with insults and profanity directed at official church accounts, church leaders, Christianity, Christian values and Christians in general originating from the activity of social media groups that cultivate hatred against Christians and have targeted Christian websites and social media accounts.

Social media has become the center of targeting, marginalization, degradation and all kinds of discrimination and has also become the media where corruption of information is the highest. Hate speech easily finds an arena in this platform.

These types of activities [on social media] directed at all Christian denominations and minority groups creates concern in the Protestant community.


For instance, Emin T., a church employee, and the Aydin Kurtulus Church itself were threatened with messages posted on Facebook by T.U., who lives in Bursa. The church employee filed a police complaint because the content of the messages included threats to kill Christians by decapitating them or through other means. Various people living in Aydin also posted other menacing messages. One person living in Aydin was arrested but soon released. The church has not received information from the legal authorities regarding any investigation.

The members of Artvin Arhavi Fellowship were subjected to written and digital attacks.  Later “certain people” harassed and pressured the landlord to evict them from his property. The district president of a political party also posted on social media statements such as “we will destroy them.” The leader of the fellowship met with the district president, who then feigned to be more reasonable. But the negative response posted on social media and even openly expressed in the streets continues. The church fellowship leader still hears disdainful words like “dead priest walking” when he strolls outside.

According to the 2021 report, members of the Protestant community, as well as non-Christians who work for Christian organizations, continue to receive offers to become informants. In many cities with Protestant congregations, people claiming to be intelligence officers who made such offers reportedly used threats, promises, benefits, or money to gain information about Christians, churches, church activities, and Christian organizations. People who were offered the role of informant gave this information to members of the Protestant community.

Ali Kalkandelen, the founding pastor of the Eurasia Protestant Communities Foundation and the president of Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches, told Providence:

Protestant Christians have a legal existence problem. Turkish Protestant churches do not have a legal identity in the law. This situation creates many problems about our places of worship, our right to worship, religious workers, burial places, and proper representation in the protocols at government institutions, among others.  

Protestant places of worship are still not legally recognized and accepted in Turkey. All our attempts and efforts for official recognition have been in vain so far. In addition, nearly 70 foreign nationals with their families and approximately 10 Turkish citizens married to foreign nationals have been deported or face deportation on the grounds that they are engaged in missionary work, have founded a church, practice Christianity, or pose a “threat to national security.” While we find these accusations to be completely incomprehensible, malicious, and unacceptable, we also see them as an attempt to weaken the church.

In addition to this, there is a general misperception in society against the Protestant Christians that sees us as traitors, collaborators, sellout Turks, and enemies of religion, nation, and culture.


Pastor Kalkandelen says that “deliberate and massive pollution of disinformation in the media” is largely behind this misunderstanding. He elaborated:

Some written and visual media outlets make publications that spread this propaganda. Contents that call us or our places of worship names such as churches under the stairs, shop churches, apartment churches, sold out Turks, collaborators with foreign powers, or Turkish extensions of the crusaders are used by some media as a tool to increase their circulation. Publishing such content and showing our faith and worship in such hateful and untrue fashion is seen as “a national and spiritual value” by some media outlets. This kind of perspective unfortunately finds some approval among the general population. The public sees the Protestant Churches the way the media portrays us to be. As a result, such propaganda targeting and slandering our faith and churches has led to some protests, verbal taunts, the breaking of the signs, glasses, or crosses of our places of worship, and disrespectful writings on our church walls. Moreover, some Christians who have been actively serving in the church for years are still on death lists. State security measures have been taken to protect them.


Kalkandelen added:

Our most urgent need is the acceptance of the Protestant churches by Turkey on a legal basis with a sound definition and the provision of their representation rights as a legal entity. We also need the annulment of the court decisions against the Protestants, who are seen as a threat to Turkey’s national security and who have been deported or are about to be deported.


Soner Tufan, a member of the Board of the Association of Protestant Churches and its press and public relations officer, told Providence:

Having a legal entity would be a requirement that would meet most of the needs. Since we do not have a legal personality, we cannot build a church building, we cannot go beyond the mandatory religious classes at schools. We cannot create a solution to the issue of raising clergy. The fact that we as Protestant churches are not recognized as Turkish Christians deprives us of these rights.

If you ask municipal and government officials about Protestant Christians, they will say, “Of course, they have rights!” However, despite all our efforts, there is not a single building in Turkey which is registered as a Protestant church in the land registry with a signature of a governor and a district governor, nor a church which has legal personality in the last 20 years.


For comparison, there are around 85,000 mosques across Turkey that operate as part of the state-run Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

Meanwhile, Turkey has accelerated its campaign of opening mosques across the world, including in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, and South America.  Yet Turkey, which has a secular constitution, refuses to officially recognize the Protestant community, or to allow them to operate their own churches and freely share their faith with fellow citizens. At the same time, Turkey has converted many historic churches and monasteries into mosques, stables, warehouses, mess halls, ammunition stores, or private houses.

Turkey’s government officials falsely call democratic Western nations that respect religious liberty “Islamophobic,” but their own Christianophobia is seismic in scale.

Photo:Blue Mosque Istanbul cap-voyage.com


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TURKEY: METU Pride human rights defenders must be acquitted at upcoming trial

Joint Statement: METU Pride human rights defenders must be acquitted at upcoming trial

On 8 October at 10:00 GMT+3, 19 LGBTI+ human rights defenders will return to court for what is expected to be the final hearing in the unfair trial they faced for organising and participating in a peaceful Pride march on the campus of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University (METU) on 10 May 2019. We, the undersigned human rights organisations, call for the acquittal of all the defendants in the absence of any evidence of criminal conduct, and to bring an end to the series of postponements of the trial hearings, which have spanned over more than two years now.

The 19 LGBTI+ human rights defenders face charges of “participating in an unlawful assembly” and “failing to disperse despite being warned,” for participating in the Pride march on the METU campus on 10 May 2019. Earlier in the year, on 21 February 2019, the Ankara District Administrative Court No. 12 had lifted the blanket ban prohibiting all LGBTI+ activities in Ankara, introduced in 2017 under the state of emergency, on the grounds that it was unlawful as it restricted rights and freedoms in unconditional, vague and disproportionate ways. Nevertheless, the University management used the initial ban as the legal basis to prohibit the march.

The celebration of METU Pride had taken place peacefully on an annual basis since 2011. However, on 6 May 2019, the administration of METU unlawfully banned the peaceful gathering. On 7 May 2019, METU LGBTI+ Solidarity group challenged this ban at the Ankara Administrative Court. In the meantime, since the METU administration’s decision contravened the Ankara court’s February ruling, activists and students exercised their legal right to freedom of assembly and gathered to proceed with their annual Pride celebration on campus. In response, the university administration contacted the Ankara Security Directorate to request their intervention in order to prevent the celebration of the march.

The police used excessive force on peaceful protestors on the day of the march on 10 May: tear gas and plastic bullets were fired at the crowd, students were dragged across the ground, pushed up against trees and sustained head injuries. The excessive use of force deployed during the police intervention violates the right to peaceful assembly, which is protected under domestic law and international laws, including the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a party.

In June 2020, the Ankara Administrative Court No. 7 gave a judgement in relation to the case brought by METU LGBTI+ Solidarity, citing the 2019 ruling by the Ankara District Administrative Court No. 12 which had quashed the blanket ban on all LGBTI+ events in the capital, stating that “although specific assemblies and demonstrations may be banned, the right to peaceful assembly and demonstration should be protected as an inalienable right in a democratic society” and that “the State has an obligation to take necessary measures to ensure this right can be exercised securely”. This ruling confirmed that the METU administration’s ban on the May 2019 Pride March on campus had no legal basis. Despite this, the defendants have yet to be acquitted.

The defendants have been facing a trial that has lasted over two years since the opening of the criminal case against them in August 2019, and which hangs like a cloud over their heads and negatively impacts their everyday lives, affecting them personally, academically, and professionally.

We therefore call for the acquittal of all 19 human rights defenders at the hearing of 8 October taking place at Ankara’s 39th Penal Court of First Instance. We further call on the Turkish authorities to ensure that the security forces and METU administration uphold the right to freedom of peaceful assembly as enshrined in domestic law and international human rights law, by ensuring that future Pride marches at METU campus and in Ankara take place without obstruction. We also call on the Turkish authorities to conduct a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the excessive use of force by the police on the campus, and for police officers responsible for arbitrary or abusive force to be brought to justice.

Agir ensemble pour les droits humains Amnesty International

Civil Rights Defenders

Front Line Defenders

Human Rights Without Frontiers

ILGA-Europe – the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Netherlands Helsinki Committee

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

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EUROPE: Istanbul Convention – Symbol of Cultural Division of Europe

Novinite (16.04.2021) – https://bit.ly/3sOZztL – The so called “Istanbul Convention” once seemed relatively uncontroversial: a 25-page document meant to reduce violence against women across Europe.


But a decade later, the initiative, known as the Istanbul Convention, has unexpectedly become a proxy fight for the larger culture battles brewing between East and Western Europe.


One by one, Eastern European countries are turning their back on the document, claiming it will erode their version of “family values.”


Turkey, which hosted the convention that produced the document, will withdraw from the convention on July 1. Poland has signaled it is questioning the agreement. Other European countries, like Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, signed the document, but haven’t translated its provisions into law.


The backlash centers on a semantic dispute that was not the main focus for the document’s authors 10 years ago: how, exactly, to define “gender.” To a crop of increasingly socially conservative European leaders, the document’s definition is a surreptitious means to erode distinctions between men and women and “normalize” homosexuality. To the rest, the issue is not the definition, but what they see as a politically motivated interpretation spread using disinformation.


The division is a concerning development to many European officials and women’s rights advocates, raising questions about the Continent’s ability to effectively protect against gender-based violence and driving a further wedge between progressive and conservative forces in Europe. In the process, they warned, women’s lives are being put at risk.


“This is not just against the Istanbul Convention, it is also an anti-European, and an anti-EU gesture,” said Daniel Höltgen, spokesperson for the Council of Europe, the international organization of 47 European states that produced and oversees the convention. “It’s traditionalists against progressives in Europe.”


Höltgen added: “The convention is against violence against women and nothing else.”


The convention, which came into force on August 1, 2014, was initially signed by the 45 Council of Europe member countries and the EU as a bloc. After that, Turkey was the first country to ratify the convention, and 21 EU countries followed. In 2017, the EU signed the document and started working to ratify it as a bloc. In total, 34 EU and non-EU countries have ratified the convention.


The document was intended to provide the bloc and other non-EU signatories with legally binding standards to “protect women against all forms of violence,” including sexual harassment, stalking and forced marriage.


At the time of its drafting, the issue was less about gender than it was about the scope of violence, said Johanna Nelles, one of the document’s authors who also assisted the drafting committee in its negotiations.


“It was to what extent the convention should focus specifically against violence against women … or whether the scope of application extended to men and boys,” said Nelles, who now leads the Council of Europe’s efforts to get countries to implement the text.


Nelles said the document had to define gender since it was trying to address gender-based violence. The word appears 25 times in the text and is defined as “the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men.” Often, the word shows up as part of terms like “gender-based violence,” “gendered understanding,” “gender-sensitive” or “gender equality.”


“Gender is the recognition that society subscribes us all certain roles, behaviors and activities that are considered appropriate for women and men,” Nelles said, noting that “many” of these roles “contribute to the perpetration of violence.”


Nelles admitted feeling surprised at the current outcry over the document in Eastern Europe, arguing the topic had been co-opted by “social movements, conservative think tanks [and] religious extremists who have a vision that doesn’t comply with women’s rights.”


Indeed, the convention has been swept up in disinformation campaigns and used as populist propaganda.


And opposition is growing across Eastern Europe.


The EU as a whole has not ratified the text in part because six signatories — like Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic — haven’t made the document’s text legally binding.


EU member Poland ratified the text in 2015, but is now questioning its content under the ruling conservative Law and Justice party. Its leaders are hung up, like others, on the document’s use of the word “gender.” Last month, the Polish parliament’s lower house voted to submit a bill called “Yes to Family, No to Gender” to parliamentary committees for examination.

The rejection has taken different forms elsewhere.


In Hungary, parliament refused to ratify the Istanbul Convention in 2020 after Viktor Orbán’s government described the measure as promoting “destructive gender ideologies” and “illegal migration,” according to news reports.


In Bulgaria, the constitutional court in 2018 ruled the convention unconstitutional.


In Slovakia, lawmakers voted in 2019 against ratifying the convention.


But Turkey has grabbed the most attention in recent weeks after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pulled out of the convention by presidential decree.


“The Istanbul Convention, originally intended to promote women’s rights, was hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality — which is incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values,” his office said in a statement following the announcement of Turkey’s withdrawal.


The topic was top of mind for EU leaders when they traveled to Turkey this week to discuss migration and the customs union. European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen took the opportunity to also confront Erdoğan about his decision.


“I am deeply worried about the fact Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention,” von der Leyen told reporters at a press conference following her meeting with the Turkish leader. “This is about protecting women and children against violence. The EU will never hesitate to point out further negative actions.”


Von der Leyen’s comments reflected the growing fears in Brussels and at the Council of Europe’s headquarters in Strasbourg that other skeptics could follow Turkey’s lead and withdraw fully, further derailing the EU’s effort to ratify the convention as a bloc — an endeavor that is already on the rocks.


Council of Europe officials and gender equality experts argue the Istanbul Convention has nothing to do with homosexuality. In many countries, they note, the document has served as a model to better define gender-based violence, increase financing to support victims and set up help lines and shelters. Such efforts have been especially important during the pandemic, when domestic violence has surged.


“In Sweden, following the entry into force of the consent-based legislation on sexual violence, the number of prosecutions have gone up because many cases that used to be disqualified as rape can now be prosecuted,” said Marceline Naudi, who chairs the Council of Europe’s expert body that monitors the convention, during a recent online conference on the issue.


“This demonstrates both the transformative momentum created by the Istanbul Convention as much as the high degree of engagement among state parties,” Naudi added.


Still, the EU is making alternate plans, sensing it may never be able to ratify the Istanbul Convention as a bloc. The European Commission recently announced it would launch a new legislative proposal to “combat gender-based violence” by the end of the year. The EU could then, potentially, adopt the new legally-binding text via qualified majority, avoiding the need for unanimous approval.


Photo credits: NoviniteEU

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TURKEY: Turkey’s Christians face increasingly dangerous persecution



Newsweek (13.04.2021) – https://bit.ly/2Q7kFq2 – Once upon a time, tourists in Turkey eagerly made their way to Hagia Sophia—a historic architectural marvel shimmering with the golden light of ancient mosaics. Although marred by many centuries, images of Jesus, Mary and John the Baptist reflect the spirit of a fledgling Christian world. In fact, Turkey’s earliest churches are recalled in the New Testament itself—in Antioch, where St. Paul began his missionary journeys, and in the Seven Churches portrayed by St. John in his Book of Revelation.

Christianity once flourished in Turkey, until the Ottoman Empire’s 1915 genocide of Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks and other Christians. Now the Islamist regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his neo-Ottoman agenda has magnified Turkey’s anti-Christian hostility. Since a failed coup attempt in 2016, the regime intensified its scapegoating of Christians, while occasionally making deceptively amiable gestures toward them.

In July 2020, Erdogan officially declared that Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia—beautiful mosaics and all—would once again become a mosque. Erdogan announced that this would gratify “the spirit of conquest” of Mehmet II, the Ottoman sultan who captured Constantinople from the Christian Byzantines in 1453, and turned the church of Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

That, and the transformation of Istanbul’s beautiful Chora Church of the Holy Saviour, merged into a swelling stream of Turkish Christian churches being confiscated, shuttered, torn down, or converted into mosques.


Troubles within the Greek Orthodox patriarchate and a disputed election of the Armenian Orthodox patriarch have also sounded international alarms. But even more troubling are the enmity and abuse displayed by the regime toward Christians themselves, both as faith groups and individuals.

During the genocidal ISIS invasion of Syria and Iraq, floods of refugees poured into Turkey. Most were Muslim, but a considerable number of them were Christians representing venerable Middle Eastern churches. As a bloc, the refugees were useful to Erdogan who, if his political demands weren’t met, periodically threatened to release millions of them into Europe.


Meanwhile, according to numerous sources, Christian refugees in Turkey have been treated with contempt, consigned to remote locations, far removed from existing churches or co-religionists. Neither Turkish speakers nor Muslims, the Christian men could not legally find employment, while language and religious issues sidelined women and children struggling to work or attend school.

Unwarranted confrontations with authorities have become commonplace.


My friend Charmaine Hedding is founder of Shai Fund, a Christian charity. After the ISIS invasion in Iraq, she visited Turkish refugee centers across the country several times in order to provide food vouchers for destitute Christian families. On one visit, quite unexpectedly, she and two colleagues were roughly taken aside by a local government official. He ordered them into a room, locked the door and then angrily slammed a Koran onto the table in front of them. He pointed a finger at each of them, demanding that they convert to Islam. This angry radical lectured them for several hours before their release. They were terrified.

One beloved Christian, who selflessly assists refugees who fled ISIS, is a Chaldean Catholic priest named Father Remzi Diril, who visits and comforts Christian families, providing religious services, sacraments, infant baptisms and charitable assistance. He “logs thousands of miles tending his flock, the community of Iraqi Christian refugees in Turkey. Their exact number is unknown, but it is estimated to be 40,000.” Unsurprisingly, Father Diril has also faced harassment.

Ominously, Father Diril’s elderly parents—71- and 65-year-old residents of a tiny Christian community—were kidnapped from their home in 2020.

AsiaNews reported in March 2021, “Turkey’s human rights agency has rejected the request by Fr. Remzi Diril for an investigation. Nothing is known about his father who went missing over a year ago while his mother’s body was found naked, with signs of torture.” This horrific crime remains unresolved.

As Father Diril prays and waits, we’re reminded of the arrest and imprisonment of American Pastor Andrew Brunson. After serving as a Christian clergyman in Turkey for 23 years, he was suddenly locked up in solitary confinement in October 2016 under ridiculously false charges. Brunson’s case became a top news story in the U.S. while former President Donald Trump repeatedly demanded his release. Brunson, who struggled with intense anxiety and depression during his imprisonment, finally walked free in July 2018.

In the meantime, friends inside Turkey report, since 2019, some 73 foreign Christians have been expelled from the country, including spouses of Turkish pastors, thus tearing innocent families apart. Some of these workers are denied re-entry at passport control upon arrival. Others receive N82 visa stamps on their travel documents, falsely labeling them as a threat to public health, safety and/or order and making their return to Turkey impossible.

Recently, Morning Star News reported, “A German pastor fighting expulsion from Turkey is hopeful that he may be the exception to a wave of foreign Christian leaders expelled from the country as ‘threats to national security.'” And a Syriac Orthodox monk was accused of terrorism, tried and sentenced to more than two years in prison for providing bread and water to hungry monastery visitors.

Violations of religious freedom against Turkey’s Christians are increasingly rampant. I asked former Turkish parliamentarian and Foundation for Defense of Democracies scholar Aykan Erdemir to explain.

“The Erdogan government’s glorification of the Ottoman ‘spirit of conquest’, and references to the ‘right of the sword‘ in converting Hagia Sophia and other churches, have relegated Turkey’s Christian citizens to an inferior rank of conquered minorities,” Erdemir said. “Such supremacist policy and rhetoric will exacerbate precarious conditions for Christians. They will be at the mercy of a repressive government that swings back and forth between outbreaks of persecution and spectacles of tolerance.”

Lela Gilbert is senior fellow for religious freedom at Family Research Council and a fellow at Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.



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TURKEY withdraws from European treaty protecting women against domestic violence

By Zeynep Bilginsoy


AP News (20.03.2021) – https://bit.ly/3skP0PN – Turkey withdrew early Saturday from a landmark European treaty protecting women from violence that it was the first country to sign 10 years ago and that bears the name of its largest city.


President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s overnight decree annulling Turkey’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention is a blow to women’s rights advocates, who say the agreement is crucial to combating domestic violence. Hundreds of women gathered in Istanbul to protests against the move on Saturday.


The Council of Europe’s Secretary General, Marija Pejčinović Burić, called the decision “devastating.”


“This move is a huge setback to these efforts and all the more deplorable because it compromises the protection of women in Turkey, across Europe and beyond,” she said.


The Istanbul Convention states that men and women have equal rights and obliges state authorities to take steps to prevent gender-based violence against women, protect victims and prosecute perpetrators.


Some officials from Erdogan’s Islam-oriented party had advocated for a review of the agreement, arguing it is inconsistent with Turkey’s conservative values by encouraging divorce and undermining the traditional family unit.


Critics also claim the treaty promotes homosexuality through the use of categories like gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. They see that as a threat to Turkish families. Hate speech has been on the rise in Turkey, including the interior minister who described LGBT people as “perverts” in a tweet. Erdogan has rejected their existence altogether.


Women’s groups and their allies who have been protesting to keep the convention intact immediately called for demonstrations across the country Saturday under the slogan “Withdraw the decision, implement the treaty.” They said their years-long struggle would not be erased in one night.


Rights groups say violence against and killing of women is on the rise in Turkey but the interior minister called that a “complete lie” on Saturday.


A total of 77 women have been killed since the start of the year, according to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform. Some 409 women were killed in 2020, with dozens found dead under suspicious circumstances, according to the group.


Numerous women’s rights groups slammed the decision. Advocacy group Women’s Coalition Turkey said the withdrawal from a human rights agreement was a first in Turkey. “It is clear that this decision will further encourage the murderers of women, harassers, rapists,” their statement said.


Turkey’s justice minister said the government was committed to combating violence against women.


“We continue to protect our people’s honor, the family and our social fabric with determination,” Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul tweeted.


Erdogan has repeatedly stressed the “holiness” of the family and called on women to have three children. His communications director, Fahrettin Altun, said the government’s motto was ’Powerful Families, Powerful Society.”


Many women suffer physical or sexual violence at the hands of their husbands or partners, but up-to-date official statistics are unavailable. The Istanbul Convention requires states to collect data.


Hundreds of women and allies gathered in Istanbul, wearing masks and holding banners. Their demonstration has so far been allowed but the area was surrounded by police and a coronavirus curfew is begins in the evening.


They shouted pro-LGBT slogans and called for Erdogan’s resignation. They cheered as a woman speaking through a megaphone said, “You cannot close up millions of women in their homes. You cannot erase them from the streets and the squares.”


Turkey was the first country to sign the Council of Europe’s “Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence” at a committee of ministers meeting in Istanbul in 2011. The law came into force in 2014 and Turkey’s constitution says international agreements have the force of law.


Some lawyers claimed Saturday that the treaty is still active, arguing the president cannot withdraw from it without the approval of parliament, which ratified the Istanbul Convention in 2012.


But Erdogan gained sweeping powers with his re-election in 2018, setting in motion Turkey changing from a parliamentary system of government to an executive presidency.


The justice minister wrote on Twitter that while parliament approves treaties which the executive branch puts into effect, the executive also has the authority to withdraw from them.


Women lawmakers from Turkey’s main opposition party said they will not recognize the decree and called it another “coup” on parliament, which had unanimously accepted the treaty, and a usurpation of the rights of 42 million women.


Photo credits: AP Photo/ Emrah Gurel

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