Five days after Pınar Gültekin was reported missing, her dead body was found in the woods of Muğla, a city in south-western Turkey.
Police say the 27-year-old student was beaten and strangled to death, her body then burned and covered in concrete. After the remains of Gültekin were found by the police, 32-year-old Cemal Metin Avcı, Gültekin's former partner, was arrested on homicide charges. According to Turkish reports, Avcı later confessed to the killing while under question by the police.
Ever since that brutal murder, women in Turkey have been protesting for further action against femicide.
After the first street protests, women extended the call for solidarity to social media, encouraging people to post black and white photos using the hashtags #ChallengeAccepted #İstanbulSözleşmesiYaşatır (Istanbul Convention Saves Lives).
It was also intended as a way of simulating media photos of murdered women in Turkey. Through the challenge which went viral, the meaning has been lost somewhat with celebrities from all around the world participating in the challenge, but failing to voice solidarity with the campaign against femicide in Turkey specifically. After a push to centre the original message, it seems things are changing, with the likes of Salma Hayek, Christina Aguilera and Demi Moore, among others, posting their support on Instagram.
Violence against women and femicide have been long-standing issues in Turkey, but they have increased substantially in recent years. According to femicide awareness initiative, Kadın Cinayetlerini Durduracağız Platformu (We Will Stop Femicide Platform), In 2019, at least 474 women were murdered by men.
Meanwhile, president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is openly questioning Turkey’s participation in the Istanbul Convention which focuses on preventing domestic violence, prosecuting accused offenders and protecting victims. Nevertheless, the women of Turkey are still demanding effective implementation of the Convention.
Turkish authorities signed the treaty in 2011 and adopted the 6284 law (otherwise known as the "law to protect family and prevent violence against women") in 2012 to prevent gender-based violence. Kadın Cinayetlerini Durduracağız Platformu's statistics paint a stark picture. In 2011, at least 121 women were murdered by men. Years later, in the seventh month of 2020, the numbers have risen to 155. In total, between the years 2008-2019, at least 3,185 women have been murdered by men.
Some conservative groups have petitioned for the abandonment of the Istanbul Convention on the ground that it damages “traditional” Turkish family culture and “promotes LGBT+ identities.” Commenting on the treaty on 2 July, Numan Kurtulmuş, AKP’s deputy chairman, said it was “wrong” of Turkey to ratify the Istanbul Convention. “Work on it, review it. If this is what the people want then remove it. If the people demand that it's removed, a decision according to their will, will be made”, said the president Erdoğan on the same day.
As conservative circles continue to debate, KADEM (Women and Democracy Association) – a women’s NGO whose deputy chair is Sümeyye Erdogan, daughter of the president, recently released a statement and gave support to the convention.
According to Bianet, a Turkish press agency, reports on male violence reveal that men killed at least 32 women in July 2020 and 59 per cent of murders happened at the homes of victims. If the reasoning behind demands from women in Turkey that the Istanbul Convention is implemented weren't clear before, they should be now. It matters that the convention is the first European treaty specifically targeting violence against women and domestic violence.
As part of continued protests, women in Istanbul gathered in Kadıköy and in many other cities on Wednesday evening. Activists held banners with the names of the murdered women and noted: “If the Istanbul Convention was implemented, they would still be alive today.”
“We read [the names of murdered women] and demand urgently that our names won’t be read by other women on protests”, said Feride Eralp from Feminist Mekan (Feminist Space), a women’s collective from Istanbul. “The Istanbul Convention is an assurance to children, women and LGBT+’s who suffer from male violence”, she added.
Turkish police were also condemned by Eralp, a well-known activist during the protests in Kadıköy. “Emine Bulut, who was murdered in front of her 10-year-old daughter by her husband in 2019, went to a police station only half an hour ago before she was murdered and she has already reported many times that her life is in danger. If the Istanbul Convention was implemented fully, she would still be alive today,” said Eralp, who urged police to take action when women report that their lives are threatened by men.
While the protest kept going and ended peacefully in Istanbul, police brutally attacked demonstrators in Izmir, on Turkey’s Aegean coast, and detained 16 protesters.
AKP was expected to announce the decision on the convention after its central executive meeting on 5 August. However, the government has postponed the meeting to 13 August. “They postponed the decision because of our resistance”, said Eralp to all women who have joined the protest. “Our resistance won’t stop and the Istanbul Convention will be fully implemented.”
As a young woman who was born and raised in Istanbul, the resistance of women has given me hope. While police and government fail to take action against patriarchal violence, the solidarity only grows and empowers women and LGBT+ people to care for each other. The dynamics of women's resistance is changing, flowing and finding new ways to exist despite oppression by the authorities. As we always chant at the protests, waving purple flags, "If you ever feel alone, remember this crowd; remember us."
Tuğçe Özbiçer is a Turkish journalist from Istanbul