Turkish Politician Numan Kurtulmus earned widespread criticism this month by describing unmarried adults as ‘troublesome’ and ‘hedonistic.’
“Undermining the family is one of the most cunning [means] to destroy a nation,” said Kurtulmus, who serves as deputy chair of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
“Strong individualism, coupled with hedonistic trends…have put dynamite in the foundations of the family…[Those individuals] who live alone and see marriage as unnecessary are among the main problems we see now against the family and its values.”
Kurtulmus was immediately accused of insulting AKP ally Devlet Bahceli, head of the Nationalist Movement Party and a lifelong bachelor at age 71.
“Being left out of the Cabinet seems to have taken its toll [on Kurtulmus], who has not realized that his words may end up targeting [his party’s] small ally,” tweeted former Turkish ambassador Haluk Ilicak.
Kurtulmus immediately backpedaled, claiming his words had been directed at “single parents” and people with “alternative lifestyles.”
This is a weak defense considering the history of the AKP, which has long prioritized the traditional family unit, wherein women are seen as unable to be more than wives and mothers.
Turkish women should prioritize “no careers except motherhood,” said then-Minister of Health Mehmet Muezzinoglu in 2015.
The following year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized women who choose not to have children as “unnatural and incomplete.”
The AKP depends heavily on women for votes and for volunteer work during elections, and has rewarded them with small victories including parliamentary representation and the ability to wear headscarves at universities, notes Seyda Taluk, a political communications expert and author.
“[However], the stance of some party members and cronies on a number of issues – the Istanbul Convention, role of women as homemakers, insistence on patience in marriage – simply no longer sit well with its female members and supporters.”
The 2012 Istanbul Convention is a groundbreaking international accord that seeks to combat domestic violence against women. Last month, Kurtulmus sparked a wave of street protests when he claimed that signing the accord was “wrong” and described the accord as a ‘front for LGBTQ+ lobbyists.’
Ultra-conservative columnist Abdurrahman Dilipak took it a step farther, prompting a spate of lawsuits by describing the women who support the Istanbul Convention as “prostitutes.”
Last month, President Erdogan said he was considering withdrawing from the accord unless language pertaining to gender and sexual orientation is changed.
As noted by the Human Rights Association Women’s Commission, withdrawal from the accord could exacerbate Turkey’s domestic violence problem and increase sexist attitudes towards women.
“Not only does the convention prohibit any type of discrimination against women, it also recognizes that discrimination against women is a form of violence,” wrote the commission. “In a geography where women and LGBTQ+ individuals face such intense violence, Istanbul Convention still provides a legal assurance even though it is not fully implemented. The withdrawal from the convention shows that the militaristic and authoritarian mindset behind the violence legitimized by the state will gradually gain more ground.”
Conservative and Islamist critics oppose the Istanbul Convention much for the same reasons Kurtulmus dislikes single adults – they see the accord as damaging to family values and supportive of individuals who fail to obey those values.
The Turkish government is “listening to all sides, except those who express their opinions by insulting women,” as it considers whether to withdraw from the accord, claims AKP spokesperson Omer Celik. “We want to empower women and protect the family – we do not think these two are mutually exclusive.”
Author’s Note: Turkey is about to take a major step backwards, though I wouldn’t expect anything else from Erdogan. This sure makes me glad to live in the United States.