Gendered violence pervades Turkish society while the government refuses to act

Southwestern Turkey. A small town by the beach. There’s drama afoot.

“What did I ever do to you except loving you?” asks the secret ex-lover of a married woman, as he stabs her very pregnant belly repeatedly. There’s no blood on his knife – because the woman is not actually pregnant, she was faking it.

“You are the devil!” he shouts, over and over again, as he stabs her again, this time avoiding the foam belly and aiming for her actual guts. Another woman sneaks up behind him and slits his throat. 

He falls to the ground. She falls to the ground. Roll credits.

The scene was from a teaser video hours before the latest episode of Star TV’s The Ambassador’s Daughter was aired on Monday night. The network shared this spectacle of double homicide with a hashtag, “#EnGüzelAn,” which means “the most beautiful moment” in Turkish.

In disgust, one Twitter account responded: “While femicides increase every day in the country, anybody who wrote, shot and broadcast this scene is culpable for every murder that is committed.” The account is run by women who sought justice for Şule Çet, a 23-year-old woman who was raped and murdered by her boss in 2018, and continue to demand justice for other victims of sex-based violence.

There are many accounts like the Justice for Şule Platform. It has become common place for abused women or families and friends of murder victims to take to social media to rile up enough outrage to force authorities to take action. 

Gülay Mübarek had been filing stalking complaints against Erdoğan Küpeli for two years. Küpeli was only detained after Gülay and her friends raised hell, and thousands of women joined in. Küpeli was arrested briefly, and when the social media outrage died down a little, he was released. This was in 2018. This year, Küpeli succeeded in killing another woman, Tuğba Keleş, after stalking her. 

It feels like the murders are escalating, too. As if Turkish women lived in the final season of a CSI spin-off, where regular murders don’t cut it anymore, so the writers have to get creative.

A few years ago, a woman stabbed on the street as she tried to avoid her ex-husband was the most brutal story you could find – which was brutal enough, to be fair. Then Özgecan Aslan entered the Turkish collective consciousness in 2015 when minibus driver Ahmet Suphi Altındöken killed her for resisting rape, chopped off her hands to get rid of evidence, and burned her body. 

This year saw Cemal Metin Avcı kill Pınar Gültekin for rejecting his advances, stuff her body in a barrel, burn her, and pour concrete over her remains.

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu doesn’t share this feeling of escalation. He thinks things are getting better.

Speaking at an assessment meeting for state efforts to combat domestic violence and violence against women, Soylu accused women who run Anıt Sayaç, or the “Counter Monument”, a website that has a counter and lists the names of every known murdered woman going back to 2008, of “being slaves to ideology and politics,” and manipulating numbers.

“Results derived from newspaper clippings create confusion for the whole of Turkey in terms of numbers,” Soylu said. “There is an understanding that doesn’t trust in us for numbers, and in a ideologically and politically motivated way, they collect these from newspapers.”

Anıt Sayaç and the We Will Stop Femicides Platform (KCDP) propagate the data used for the monument from reports on the media, because no ministries in Turkey actually make the statistics on violence against women or sex-based violence public - if they gather the data at all, that is. The activists state this fact clearly on the website.

But, unconvinced, “Everybody is working meticulously,” Soylu said. “Unfortunately we are condemned by this group of slaves to ideology because of wrongful numbers.”

Women organize marches and blame the state “as if the state was doing all the killing.” The women do nothing but “commit political violence,” he said. 

The official number of women killed in 2020 is 234, Soylu said. Anıt Sayaç’s counter sits at 353 at the time of writing of this article. Some of the discrepancy comes from the monument including names less favoured by the government: Non-citizen women murdered in Turkey, like Uzbek national Nadira Kadirova who was found dead last year in the home of Soylu’s colleague and Justice and Development Party deputy Şirin Ünal where she worked as a housekeeper. And transwomen like Hande Şeker, who was murdered last year by a police officer after the officer and his friend refused to pay for Şeker’s intimate services. 

“It’s like they are making fun of us,” Fidan Ataselim, secretary general for KCDP, was shouting during a demonstration last week, as dozens of women around her stood dead silent. “Where is Gülistan Doku?” she asked. 

Gülistan went missing in the eastern Tunceli province on Jan. 5. The primary suspect was Zaynal Abarakov, a Russian-Turkish dual citizen whose father is a police officer.

“What happened to Aleyna Çakır?” Ataselim asked.

Aleyna was 21 when she was found hanging by her bathrobe’s belt. Media reported her death as a suicide, but an autopsy report showed inconsistent injuries and male DNA underneath her fingernails. The Çakır family later discovered and released videos of Aleyna being beaten by her partner, Ümitcan Uygun. 

The man had on multiple occasions publicly threatened to kill Aleyna, who worked at a nightclub. “Why does Ümitcan Uygun still walk free?” Ataselim continued.

“Why does Musa Orhan walk free?” she asked again. 

Specialist Sergeant Musa Orhan had faced a judge for allegedly driving to suicide 17-year-old Kurdish girl İpek Er, who said in her suicide note that Orhan had sexually assaulted her, but was not arrested. His next hearing is scheduled for February.

“What happened to Rabia Naz?” she asked.

Rabia Naz Vatan was 11 when she died, by jumping off a roof, according to official records. Witnesses have testified seeing a car hit a child and flee the scene, and a crime scene investigation report has shown that in order for the little girl to fall the way she did, she would have had to run faster than was possible to pick up speed before jumping. Her father Şaban Vatan has faced investigations and harassment for continuing to seek justice for his daughter.

“Those sitting at those powerful seats, those who say they have all the resources in the country – can’t they find out where these women are, who killed these women?” Ataselim asked, and answered: “Of course they could. This is what we mean by political will. We have the will to bring these to light, my dearest women.”

“Domestic violence, killing women, these are things our faith has prohibited, it’s that simple,” said Soylu. “Our religion says nobody deserves to lose their life or experience violence, and gives us a duty to solve this.”

“The Interior Ministry says shaming men will solve women’s murders. Here’s the real issue: Why haven’t we ever heard of a law enforcement officer who was penalized for failing to implement 6284?” asked Ataselim in a tweet, referring to Turkey’s Law No. 6284 to Protect the Family and Prevent Violence Against Women.