February 27, 2015 Special Dispatch No. 5978

Countrywide Demonstrations In Turkey Protesting Violence Against Women And Turkish Government Policies On Women

February 27, 2015
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 5978

On February 13, 2015, the body of Ozgecan Aslan, a 20-year-old old Alevi girl from the southern Turkish city of Mersin, was found in a riverbed; she had been missing since getting on a minibus to come home from university two days earlier. It was found that once she was the last passenger, the driver had attempted to rape her, and, when she resisted, had stabbed her dozens of times, cut off her fingers to obstruct identification, and had then enlisted his father and a friend to help him burn and get rid of her body. The murder reverberated across the country; hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in every city across the country.

In the past seven years, reported cases of violence against women and girls have grown by 1400% in Turkey, and hundreds are killed every year.[1] In 2014 alone, some 120,000 attacks were reported. In the majority of cases, the attackers are not brought to justice, and those who have stood trial have not been punished to the full extent of the law. Courts are lenient, citing mitigating factors such as the victim's "provocation" - skirt length, laughing in public, or being out in the evening.[2]

Demonstrators are blaming the Islamist AKP government's policies for this increasing violence against women. On November 24, 2014, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that men and women cannot be equal and praised women's status in society as mothers alone, in accordance with Islam.[3] In speech after speech, he urges every woman to have at least three children. On July 28, 2014, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said that women should not be heard laughing in public,[4] and the Islamist media are filled with suggestions as to how women should dress, behave, and live.

As Turkey mourns Ozgecan Aslan, media have reported on a dozen more cases of attacks on women, including murders of more young women.[5]

The following are excerpts and analysis from the Turkish media on the problem of violence against women in the country and from the enraged reactions of Turkish women:

Columnist Seeks Change In "Patriarchal Society That Sees Women As Sexual Objects"

Cuneyt Arcayurek, columnist for the center-left liberal daily Cumhuriyet, expressed his hope that Ozgecan's brutal murder would spark much-needed change and that it was a sign of societal awakening:[6] "This [violence against women] is a societal problem. In a patriarchal society that sees women as sexual objects, first society's perception of women must be changed. In our country [Turkey], a woman is generally seen as a possession. The AKP government is trying to imprison the woman in her home. Women who participate in social life are looked at with a perverted mentality. RTE [President Recep Tayyip Erdogan], who said that he used to kiss his mother's feet, invalidated his alleged sensitivity by saying that 'men and women are not equal by virtue of their creation.'[7]

"In one judge's assessment, 'we cannot prevent this savagery [solely] by changing the laws to increase the punishments. It can only be done by questioning our social backwardness, and by transforming our society into one espousing modern social norms and values."

Photo of Ozgecan Aslan, widely used in media and protests (Cumhuriyet, Hurriyet, Sozcu, T24).

Defying Islamic Law, Women Act As Ozgecan's Pallbearers, Protest Countrywide Against Culture Of Violence

At Ozgecan Aslan's funeral, women served as her pallbearers, in defiance of Islamic law which bans them playing any role in funeral services. Defying the instructions of the imam who conducted the service, they remained in the front of the crowd and carried the coffin on their own shoulders.

"Defying The Imam's Instructions, Women Act As Pallbearers At Ozgecan's Funeral" Photo: Hurriyet, February 14, 2015

Police Forcibly Put Down Women's Demonstrations, Arrest Protestors

Following Ozgecan Aslan's murder, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced, during a campaign rally, that "hands that reach out [to hurt] women will be broken."[8] However, police have used pepper gas spray against women demonstrating, and have arrested protestors at demonstrations against violence against women.

Photos: Sozcu, Hurriyet, Cumhuriyet, T24

Photo: Hurriyet, February 24, 2015

Photo circulated on Facebook and Twitter, February 15, 2015

Photo: Sozcu, February 15, 2015

Turkish Men Wear Skirts, Dresses In Istanbul March For Solidarity With Victimized Women

In response to Ozgecan Aslan's murder, men also took to the streets, showing their solidarity with women by wearing skirts and dresses. On February 21, 2015, they marched in Istanbul in her memory and against patriarchy and violence against women.

Photo: Hurriyet Daily News, February 21, 2015

Cumhuriyet: Erdogan's "War On Skirts Knows No End"

On February 25, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke at the collective opening of student dorms owned by the Service for Youth and Education Foundation of Turkey (TÜRGEV) on the board of which sit Erdogan's son and daughter.[9] In his speech he slammed the opposition and women protesters: "Let them continue to cry out for low-cut [tops] and miniskirts. With TURGEV, and our other foundations and associations, we will continue to work to raise generations, youth, loyal to their religion [Islam] and history."

The same day, in a speech to small and medium business owners, Erdogan mentioned the men who had worn skirts and dresses in the Istanbul protest. "They call themselves 'men.' What kind of men are they? Men wear pants, but they wear skirts," he said.[10]

Writer Oya Baydar: "This Recent Murder Of A Young Woman, Displayed An Explosion Of The Fury, Fear, And Helplessness Felt By The Sensitive, Secular Sector Of Our Society That Has Been Piling Up In Face Of Similar Murders That Have Reached The Level Of Massacres Of Women"

Writer and sociologist Oya Baydar wrote on February 18, 2015 in her column on the T24 news portal:[11] "In the unhealthy, heartless environment where every development and incident is exploited for political animosity, for partisanship, for the building of front lines, a political-ideological war is now being waged over our grief for Ozgecan. Women are rising up, young people are rising up, politicians take to the stage, the secular segment [of Turkish society] is in the squares, in the streets, in the media, demanding that the government account for the murders of women, and for assaults and violence against women. The government, reflexively defensive, is fluttering around Ozgecan's family; [President] Erdogan dispatched his two daughters to the family's home in Mersin.

"The barbaric murder of Ozgecan holds a mirror to the growing hatred, the corruption, the heartlessness in our society. This mirror reflects the dark faces of the AKP supporters, pro-government [Islamist media] writers, politicians, famous Islamist personalities, and fatwa issuing [theologians and] imams."

"Don't The Writers Of These Lines Feel Any Shame?

"A tweet by [pro-AKP singer] Nihat Dogan,[12] a media creature, brought [harsh] reactions, not only on Twitter. Unfortunately, many women, men, writers, politicians, and religious figures expressed their disgusting, perverted opinions in newspaper columns and on TV channels.

"For example, a woman writer known for her support for AKP and admiration for Erdogan [and who is now an advisor to Erdogan] wrote: 'Ozgecan's family came from Tunceli. She is the daughter of an Alevi family from Tunceli. Therefore she is from Dersim! She also carried pepper spray with her. She got on not any random minibus but on a minibus that a soldier helped her get. It seems that a suitable subject has been found [to serve as a pretext] for massive protests!!! It is also telling that [Kurdish party leader] Selahattin Demirtas rushed to [condemn] the incident.' Even the paranoid conspiracy theorists surrounding Erdogan would not dare go so far. In a shining display of the [Presidential] Palace's mentality, she certainly deserves her position as advisor there.

"And this from another woman writer from [the pro-AKP Islamist] Yeni Safak daily: 'A Muslim country, and an assault. Do not be opportunists [and link the two]. In America too women are assaulted every two minutes. Now shut your mouths!' Right, we should shut our mouths and open our legs, take the beatings, the [sexual] assaults, quietly bear male violence - and if we end up alive and are not killed, pray and thank Allah for that.

"This from another woman writer from the same paper [Yeni Safak] to women protesting Ozgecan's murder: 'Shut up and go to a doctor. First calm down, do you suppose you will become like the stars in TV soap operas?'

"Again from the same [Yeni Safak] paper, a man famed for talking with his reproductive organ rather than his head, and who mistakes [the EU university students exchange program] 'Erasmus' for orgasmus, screams on TV, as well as in his column, 'Media is the culprit. You, secular priests! If you bark day and night about sexual freedoms, individualism, and egoism, this [i.e. murders] is what happens!'

"One can quote hundreds of similar statements, not only from [Islamist] columnists here and there, and not only from covered and uncovered women lackeys of the [AKP] government, but from the ruling officials and politicians themselves."

"Equality Of Men And Women (Even If Made Into Law In Modern Societies) Can Never Be Accepted By Islam"

"As we search for an answer to the question of how to prevent the violence against women, the answer on which all the Islamists agree, as one of theirs wrote, is: 'Let's strengthen our Islamic conscience, and return to our nature by creation.'

"Starting from the president of Religion Affairs [Diyanet] to government spokesmen, all the way to their writers, their opinion makers, to the imams, their explanation for the violence and savagery against women is the loss of Islamic values, the diversion from our nature, and the attack of 'cruel and oppressive culture,' meaning Western culture. Some of them, pretending to possess some scientific knowledge, attempt nonsensical analyses of capitalism to further explain [the negative impact of the West].

"Going back to explaining violence against women with the dominance of men's 'nature by creation': Manhood equals dominance by his nature. The desire to dominate and tendency towards violence is in the nature of manhood (which in fact is gained, not created). Men find and produce their nature for dominance via women.

"Monotheistic religions tie this [masculine] nature, to creation and the Creator, suppressing aspirations towards liberation and freedom from chains [i.e. free will]. Submission to fate, to authority of the ruler, accepting the order and surrendering to dominance are all dictated [to women] as fate. However, the roles of sexes, men's and women's place in society, and the status of women are not the results of nature but the products of societal organization, culture, and mentality. The biological and physical differences of creation do not form a hierarchy, a superior/inferior relationship between men and women, but ensures that they will be equals that complement one another.

"These religions are fortresses of men's rule. Allah is the 'father.' Prophets, religious authorities, ulema [Islamic scholars] are all men. They make the rules, they write the holy books, what they claim is Allah's word is delivered through their men's language. Islam, especially Sunni Islam, is the religion of the absolute dominance of men. Equality of men and women (even if made into law in modern societies) can never be accepted by Islam. The perception of a Muslim man, in the best case, finds expression in what President Erdogan said after Ocgecan's murder: 'Allah entrusted women to the hands of men.'[13] The only elevation of women attributed to the Koran is limited to the 'mother-woman' that gives them [men] their children."

"The Treatment Of Women By ISIS, Boko Haram And Similar Organizations, Before The Eyes Of The Entire World, Is Not A Perversion [Of Islam]"

"The treatment of women by ISIS, Boko Haram and similar organizations, before the eyes of the entire world, is not a perversion [of Islam]. Those who advocate for a return to Islamic conscience and to the nature of our creation can find the clues about women in the ISIS model.

"Let's look at the truth: On the subject of women and sexuality, the dominant mentality in [Turkish] society is about prohibitions and fundamentalism, and way beyond conservatism. This mentality that ties a man's honor and dignity to the virtue and morality of the woman whom he owns, searches for a woman's honor and morality between her legs. This mentality, that defines collective morality through women's sexuality, has found expression in traditional and honor killings, in the inability to call a woman 'woman' but only 'Mrs.', 'ma'am,' 'lady,'  - all the way to issuing fatwas banning pregnant women from leaving [the home].

"No doubt, the current rulers [i.e. the AKP government], in their attempt to create the devout Islamic society model that they desire, show this primitive, misogynistic mentality in every step they take, by humiliating women, by restricting their role to motherhood; by struggling to separate men and women beginning from elementary school, even from the cradle; by keeping little girls away from little boys as a matter of religiosity and morality; and by denying women ownership and sole right to their own bodies. This is why the reactions and protests [against this treatment of women] are directed against the government."

Shared On Social Media: "The AKP Government's 'Model Intellectuals'"

Left to right: Nurettin Yildiz, Abdurrahman Dilipak, Omer Tugrul Inancer, Yusuf Kaplan

An image shared widely on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media in Turkey featured misogynistic statements by AKP government officials: 

Nurettin Yildiz: "A seven-year-old girl can be married. In Islam there is no age limitation to marriage. A child can be married at any age, to another child or to someone much older... The Koran and four hadiths clearly state that a woman can marry even if she is a child. He had also stated that a woman who works outside the home was preparing for prostitution.

Abdurrahman Dilipak of Yeni Akit: "Women who buy red cars are unable to marry [i.e. they cannot find husbands]. Credit cards show what we buy, where you shop and what brands we prefer. Do not say that it is not important to know all this. For example, women who buy red cars are generally university educated. These women smoke cigarettes and drink [alcohol]. These women are unable to marry, and if they do, their marriages do not last. These women are quarrelsome, and cause accidents, and vote for CHP [the main opposition party]"

Hayrettin Karaman of Yeni Safak: "Corruption is not theft [in response to corruption, bribery and nepotism accusations against the AKP government]. Equating 'corruption' with 'theft' or 'stealing' is wrong and constitutes the crimes of lying and libel according to Islamic law. "

Omer Tugrul Inancer: "It is against our accepted manners to [loudly] announce a pregnancy. It is not acceptable to walk on the streets with a belly like that. It is also not esthetic. After the seventh month, the mother-to-be can get some air by going for a ride in her husband's car. After dark, the couple can go out for a walk. Nowadays, you see these [pregnant women] showing up on TVs. This is shameful. This is not realism, this is insolence."

Yusuf Kaplan of Yeni Safak: "Not [the EU university students exchange program] Erasmus but orgasmus! An Erasmus generation is coming! A stupefied generation that is estranged from its country, its people, its spirituality. It is that serious! The Erasmus project is not an education project, but a project for degeneration, for idolization of sexuality, for creation of a herd of fools, running after sexuality!'

Kaplan also suggested that Bogazici, Bilkent and ODTU universities be shut down.

Vice-Principal Of High School Asks Boys To Form "Harassment Teams" To Harass Girls In Short Skirts

According to Turkish media reports,[14] a newly appointed vice-principal of a high school in the southern city of Antalya asked male students, at a meeting with class representatives, to form harassment teams to harass female students who wear skirts above the knee. She told them that the boys should follow and harass the girls until they changed how they dressed.

Some students disclosed the matter to other teachers at the school, who later confronted the vice-principal. The vice-principal did not deny her remarks, and added, "Who is guilty when someone is harassed? We cannot close our eyes to this going too far."

The head of the teachers' union in Antalya said that girls were being targeted and that the vice-principal was encouraging students to commit crimes. He added that a criminal complaint would be filed against her.

Photo: "What kind of teacher [says,] Let boys harass girls in miniskirts?". OdaTV, February 19, 2015.

Turkish Satirical Weekly Leman: "Police State Is Done; Now It's Time For Penis State"

The cover of the February issue of the Turkish satirical weekly LeMan displays quotes by Islamists in the AKP government and the pro-AKP media on controlling women's sexuality and behavior.[15]

The headline states: "Justice for Ozgecan Aslan; condemnation for the climate that creates women murderers and rapists"

The quotes read:

"[Skirts] above the knee provokes [a man] even if it is his mother's [knee]."

"It is insolent for a pregnant woman to be seen out on the streets."

"There should be pink buses for women [only]."

"If you wear a miniskirt, you will be harassed and assaulted."

"Have a minimum of three children, better yet, five children."

"To be a working woman means a woman is preparing to be a prostitute."

"There is no problem with a seven-year-old girl marrying."

"[What students are doing] is not Erasmus but orgasmus."

"It is unacceptable for a woman to laugh in public."

"Engaged couples must not walk hand in hand outside."

At the bottom of the page, one cartoon character says to another, "The Police State is established. Now it's the turn of the Penis State..."

Murders Of Women Up By 1400% In Past Seven Years

Guneri Civaoglu wrote in his column in the center, liberal daily Milliyet about the statistics on violence against women in Turkey:[16] "The Number of murdered women increased by 1400% in seven years [2002-2009]. Half of those assaulted were under the age of 18; 55% of these aged 5-10 and 40% of these aged 10-15 are victims of incest. Between 2005 and 2010, over 100,000 women were raped; 40% did not report the rape, out of fear. Half of these sexual assaults were gang rapes.

"Every four hours in Turkey a woman is attacked or becomes a victim of male violence. In the last 13 years, 241 police officers, 91 soldiers, 17 special team members, 15 security officers, and 45 prison guards have been reported and prosecuted, but none of them were convicted or sentenced."

Civaoglu adds that the government political statements excusing or, worse, justifying men's violence against women must be stopped.

In her column in Milliyet, Belma Akcura quoted figures from a survey conducted by Interpress:[17] "In the first nine months of 2014, there were over 60, 000 reports in the [Turkish] print media on violence committed by men against women. These reports included 5,383 murders of women." Akcura lamented the fact that even in the face of such a barbaric murder, i.e. of Ozgecan Aslan, the Turkish media had failed to take a united stand against such violence, instead splitting [along party and religious lines].


[1] Milliyet (Turkey), February 17 and 23, 2015.

[2] Milliyet (Turkey), February 17 and 23, 2015 and others.

[3] See MEMRI TV Clip #4650 - Turkish President Erdogan: Women Are Not Equal to Men, November 24, 2014.

[4] Hurriyet Daily News, July 29, 2014. The deputy prime minister said: "Chastity is so important. [The woman] should know what is haram [forbidden in Islam] and not haram. She must not laugh in public. She will not be inviting [attention] with her attitudes and will protect her chasteness. People need to discover the Koran once again. Where are our girls who slightly blush, lower their heads and turn their eyes away when we look at their face, becoming the symbol of chastity?"

[5] The burned body of an 18-year-old girl was found February 21, 2015 in the Western city of Manisa.

[6] Cumhuriyet, February 18, 2015.

[7] See MEMRI TV Clip #4650 - Turkish President Erdogan: Women Are Not Equal to Men, November 24, 2014.

[8] Cumhuriyet, February 16, 2015.

[9] Cumhuriyet, Hurriyet Daily News, February 25, 2015.

[10] Hurriyet Daily News, February 25, 2015.

[11] T24 news portal, February 18, 2015.

[12] Following the murder, he tweeted that the protesting women should not scream and yell and protest if they chose to wear (short) skirts.

[13] President Erdogan spoke at a campaign rally for AKP on February 17 and in reaction to Ozgecan's murder, he made the remark that Allah had entrusted women to men. He continued to attack feminists, "When I say this, those feminists, they say 'What do you mean women are consigned [or entrusted]? This is an insult'. You, feminists, have no connection with our religion [Islam] or our civilization. We look to the words of our forever-loved one [Prophet Mohammad]. He [the Prophet] said, 'Women are consigned to men. Protect what is entrusted to you.'"

[14] Hurriyet, Cumhuriyet, OdaTV, February 19, 2015.

[15] LeMan, February 18, 2015.

[16] Milliyet, February 17, 2015.

[17] Milliyet, February 23, 2015.

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