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Introduction: Transformations of the Gender Regime in Turkey

Azadeh Kian et Buket Turkmen
p. 15-22
Traduction(s) :
Introduction : transformations du régime du genre en Turquie  [fr]

Texte intégral

  • 1 The Academics for Peace initiative was brought together for the first time in November 2012 when 26 (...)

1This collective work is the outcome of a conference organised by the CEDREF (the organising committee was composed of Azadeh Kian and Buket Turkmen), which took place on the 22nd of March 2017 at the University Paris Diderot, with the financial support of the structuring action PluriGenre. The day was held in solidarity with our Turkish colleagues, all of them gender studies specialists, who signed the peace petition in Turkey and were discharged of their functions by the power in place. The 11th of January 2016, 1128 Turkish university professors signed a petition entitled “We will not be party to this crime”. In it they denounced the armed-conflict taking place in Kurdish cities and villages of Turkey, on-going since July 2015. Following the petition’s publication in the press, the Turkish president denounced the signatory academics and accused them of collaborating with the “terrorists”. Following this accusation, the number of signatories increased to reach 2213. They denounced exactions against human rights, repeated curfews, and the military operations in progress in the Kurdistan region. The petition, at the initiative of the “Academics for Peace”1, thus accused the government of committing serious violations of both international and Turkish law. They demanded that the government implement all that was in its power to resume the peace negotiations in the Kurdish regions, and volunteered to participate in those negotiations as independent observers, voicing their refusal to be complicit of this crime.

  • 2 Following the coup attempt in Turkey on the 15th of July 2016, a State of Emergency regime was impl (...)

2The mass firings that followed these brave position statements caused the exile of those who were able to leave the territory2. The authors of this collective work are part of these exiled academics. They took refuge in institutions across Europe, but continue to fight for peace in Turkey.

3The present collection offers an occasion, through the prism of gender, to analyse and debate on the connections between political authoritarianism and the gender regime. Authoritative regimes’ first attempts are to erase all of the achievements of past feminist struggles as these advances challenge the patriarchal, conservationist and populist discourses of non-democratic regimes.

  • 3 Nasr, Vali, « The Rise of Muslim Democracy”, Journal of Democracy, avril 2005, p. 13. 

4Since the AKP’s (the Justice and Development Party) rise to power following the 2012 legislative elections in Turkey, a new political current, termed “Muslim democracy”, was identified by some Political Islam specialists. They stated that unlike the traditionalists who do not attribute any genuine legitimacy to democracy but use it at best as a tactical tool with the sole purpose of gaining power, the aim of the “Muslim democrats” was not the establishment of an Islamic state or the inference of Islam in political affairs, but to participate in elections so as to form governmental coalitions that would serve individual and collective interests, both Islamic and secular, within a democratic arena3. Following this analysis, for the “Muslim democrats”, political change must precede religious change because it is not born out of theoretical principles but of political imperatives that then modify Muslims’ attitudes toward politics and society. This analysis has been detrimental to the actors and actresses of predominantly Muslim societies, who have been trying to introduce profound changes in religious thought through ijtihâd (reinterpretations), arguing that the adaptation of religious thought must precede political democratisation. Thus, the impacts of the AKP and its politics reach far beyond the Turkish territory and its society.

5Betul Yarar’s contribution examines the conceptual context and vocabulary employed by intellectuals and feminist militants, but also by other political groups that have criticised the AKP’s policies. She divides the AKP’s hegemony in two periods: the first, during which policies were defined by the regime’s so-termed project of “conservative democracy”, a project built on a coalition between conservative and liberal Islamic intellectuals. In this period, oppositional critical discourses were framed, in particular by some of the New Left’s viewpoints that are in resonance with the paradigm of New Social Movements. In the second period, the AKP’s position became increasingly authoritative and conservationist, as defined by their new slogan “one flag, one nation”. According to the author, the oppositional groups’ arguments started to become more efficient and concepts such as neo-kemalism and neo-fascism emerged to criticise this new political stance of the AKP. Betul Yarar here proposes an alternative theoretical frame that links various theories and advocates the upholding of a post-structuralist and neo-foucauldian reflective track, while seeking a new post-identity political trajectory.

6Hilal Alkan’s article shows the ways and the extent in which war politics make use of the stigmatisation of women and women’s representation. Her article demonstrates that the appropriation of three profiles of the Kurdish woman represent three stances that are taken regarding the Kurdish movement, all three of these characterisations being largely gendered: “the joyful freedom fighter, the woman to be saved and the dishonourable terrorist”. The female Kurdish freedom fighter is largely re-appropriated by the West, all the while underestimating the historical conditions that made way for her emergence, and fetishizing her image of fighter and liberator. In Turkey the two profiles most utilised by official media channels are: the woman to be saved and the dishonourable terrorist. The stigmatisation of the Kurdish woman, politicised under the representation of “dishonourable terrorist” legitimises sexual violence against these women. “The Kurdish woman to be saved” is, for her part, reduced to her mere biological and reproductive functions, crushed by traditions, and can be only be saved by governmental measures. For the author, all of these profiles work together to disregard Kurdish women’s subjectivity under war politics.

7Zeynep Kivilcim’s contribution demonstrates the point to which the State of Emergency, by using a judicial regime of exception, oppresses two gendered groups, the LGBTI and women. She shows the manners in which the weakening of the separation of powers prevents the women’s movement from advancing its agenda within the state apparatus, and how it demolishes institutional frames of solidarity. Thus, the new regime, all the while calling upon the public-security discourse, threatens women’s physical security as a result of the disruption of women solidarity networks. The destruction of the local democratic administration under the State of Emergency in Kurdish areas reinforces the public-security discourse and thwarts any civil organisation that would protect gendered groups in the region. Furthermore, Kivilcim, by drawing attention to torture practices, ill treatment and sexual violence that take place during interrogation, custody and detention, reinforces her hypothesis that the Emergency State, by using the public-security discourse, threatens the security of gendered groups. Nonetheless, both women and LGBTI continue to resist the Emergency State by taking to the streets and investing it as spaces of struggles. For Kivilcim, the crowds that fill the streets on the 8th of March and the 25th of November in Turkey, despite increasingly violent police interventions, are a testimony of this obstinate resistance.

8This resilience of women is also addressed in Buket Turkmen’s article, as she analyses the emergence of new female subjects during the 2013 Gezi movement. Turkmen underlines the difficulty for these new subjects, who emerged out of a pacifist and horizontal movement, to survive amidst a period of armed conflict. In this article, the new individual, still barely constructed on a basis of collectivist solidarity found in Gezi, is analysed in its relation with the State, the public space and Leftist movements in Turkey. The new Gezi female-subjects, in a simultaneous relation of rupture and continuity with feminism’s heritage in Turkey, knew how to intervene in both the language and the organisation of a mixed movement so as to change its patriarchal attributes. Thus they could suggest a new horizon for the Left in Turkey, by defying its patriarchal bases. However, these new female-subjects face new challenges as to the possibility of expressing themselves in a public space that is increasingly militarised and regulated by security policies, as shows Zeynep Kivilcim.

9In her article, Elif Gözdasoglu Küçükalioglu analyses the underpinnings of the gender regime by the ruling power’s discourses and through its policies targeting gender violence. She examines the legal and institutional changes aiming to prevent violence against women, all the while assigning women to their place within the family home. The author shows that legislative reforms are not necessarily followed by implementation, especially since this a context in which violence against women seems to be accepted as a part of daily life and reproduced through patriarchal discourse, notably that of the current president and of the AKP.

10In their contribution, Ayse Dayi and Eylem Karakaya mobilise transnational feminist theory, emphasising neoliberal globalisation. They analyse recent transformations by looking at the AKP’s health program and particularly reproductive politics and health’s neoliberal restructuring, which reduces the state’s role in the regulation of healthcare. In order to examine the impact of the debt economy on abortion and birth control services, the authors undertook a study in seven cities across the country. The results show the dismantling of public health care, the creation of individual debt and the quantification of care. These neoliberal mechanisms interact with the anti-abortion and anti-birth control conservative discourse, which leads to an erosion of women’s rights and of women’s access to contraceptive methods and abortion in Turkey. Women are assigned to their role within the family and family is designated as “the pillar of society, of national unity and well-being” thus denying women the social services of care.

11Cagla Aykac’s contribution is a brief report of the process which led our colleagues to Paris to participate in the study day. The process in question extends from a period of relative democracy and freedom in Turkey in the years 2000-2010, through the days of resistance in Gezi and the elections that followed, to a period of armed conflict in which the gains of the past period are fading away quickly and the borderline between “legal” and “illegal” resistance is becoming increasingly ambiguous and blurred. In the new period, the rules of violence and of conflict are imposed and individuals are invited to opt for silence and submission. The coming together of some academics around a petition proclaiming “they shall not be accomplices of this crime” is a strong and obstinate response to this silence requisite. Aykac believes that breaking the silence is the common feature of feminist struggles: “Our path is made by breaking the wall of silence and being cheerful about it. In truth we have never had the luxury of being neutral.”

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1 The Academics for Peace initiative was brought together for the first time in November 2012 when 264 colleagues from 50 universities, united around a petition supporting the hunger strike of Kurdish prisoners, with the aim of pressuring the government into resuming peace negotiations with the Kurdish movement. Then, in December 2012, they published a statement indicating their decision to produce scientific knowledge on the Kurdish problem. Accordingly, the Academics for Peace decided to pursue on an academic path that would concentrate on the production of knowledge on the Kurdish question and to integrate it in their courses’ syllabus. When the peace process started in 2012, these university professors contacted the government with their research and scientific reports to offer an academic support to the political process. The return to war, after 2015, incited many more academics to develop an interest in the question, outside of the initiative. These academics were not necessarily specialists on the question, nor were they all politically engaged, however, as Turkish citizens and intellectuals, they suffered from being mere witnesses of this war and the rise of terror, none of which was justified in their eyes. The 2213 signatures on the petition represent almost every university in Turkey, which is the sign of the broadening of this pacifist sensibility. Today, the Academics for Peace initiative regroups a very wide range of academics, and consequently reveals the convergence of struggles around the peace question in Turkey.

2 Following the coup attempt in Turkey on the 15th of July 2016, a State of Emergency regime was implemented. Under the State of Emergency, the purge against peace academics intensified: via law-decrees, 389 signatories were fired (along with hundreds of thousands other civil servants in Turkey). Amidst such political conditions, in December 2017 – one year after the petition – the Istanbul prosecutor opened individual lawsuits, with the same indictment against the signatories: they are charged with article 7/2 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which gives rise to 1 to 7.5 years of imprisonment. The trial was opened to 265 signatories in the beginning, but is it expected it will gradually include the rest of the signatories. The trials continue, and almost every week our colleagues are being judged in the court of assizes.

3 Nasr, Vali, « The Rise of Muslim Democracy”, Journal of Democracy, avril 2005, p. 13. 

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Référence papier

Azadeh Kian et Buket Turkmen, « Introduction: Transformations of the Gender Regime in Turkey »Les cahiers du CEDREF, 22 | 2018, 15-22.

Référence électronique

Azadeh Kian et Buket Turkmen, « Introduction: Transformations of the Gender Regime in Turkey »Les cahiers du CEDREF [En ligne], 22 | 2018, mis en ligne le 15 octobre 2018, consulté le 23 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Azadeh Kian

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Buket Turkmen

Visiting Professor, University of Paris -Diderot & University of Bordeaux

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