Erdogan Pulls Turkey From European Treaty on Domestic Violence

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The move is likely to please President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s conservative followers. He also removed the head of the central bank.

ISTANBUL — In two surprise midnight decrees, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan withdrew Turkey from an international treaty on preventing violence against women and removed the head of the central bank, moves likely to please his followers but further estrange him from Western partners.

Mr. Erdogan had floated the idea of withdrawing from the treaty, known as the Istanbul Convention, for more than a year as he courted conservative and nationalist followers to shore up his flagging popularity. Opposition parties and women’s groups were opposed amid concerns over rising violence against women in Turkey and women’s groups immediately announced a protest rally on Saturday afternoon.

The president, who has increasingly insisted on greater control over the Central Bank, appears to have opposed a raising of interest rates by the central bank chief, Naci Agbal, before dismissing him.

Mr. Erdogan has steadily concentrated more authority into his own hands over his 18 years in power and his latest actions came amid a flurry of attacks on political opponents that seem intended to solidify his political base.

Mr. Erdogan’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, defended the decision on the treaty by insisting that the president continues to be a champion of women’s rights.

“With the leadership of our President @RTErdogan, we are with determination continuing our struggle for women to take part more in social, economic, political and cultural life,” he tweeted. “Women are not objects but subjects of life.”

An International Women’s Day rally in Istanbul this month. Violence against women has been rising in Turkey.
Burak Kara/Getty Images

Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist-leaning government has sought to recast the debate over women’s rights by supporting traditional family values over equality and emphasizing women’s role in life as a mother and nurturer of children.

Women’s groups have protested that violence against women and deaths of women in domestic violence have soared during Mr. Erdogan’s 18 years in power, blaming it on his support of traditional conservative values and impunity for perpetrators before the law.

Mr. Erdogan does not face re-election until 2023, but his popularity has fallen amid an economic downturn. Opposition parties are gaining strength, and at this point he would likely struggle to win a presidential election even with his nationalist allies.

“Erdogan’s toolbox is Janus-faced,” said Soner Cagaptay, the director of the Turkish research program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, referring to the Roman god typically depicted with one face looking toward the past and another toward the future. “Distract, divide and court the opposition — it is not a linear path to him.”

Yet the latest moves are a departure from a more conciliatory stance by Mr. Erdogan and his officials toward the United States and European partners.

With the arrival of President Biden in the White House, Turkey had adopted a notably more muted tone toward the United States, talking up its longstanding alliance and shared strategic interests.

Relations between the two countries are at a particular low, with Turkey subjected to sanctions for purchasing the Russian S400 missile system, and facing heavy fines against the state bank Halkbank for its role in violating sanctions against Iran. Mr. Biden has not talked to Mr. Erdogan since taking office, but his administration officials have already brought concerns about human rights into the mix.

Mr. Erdogan has also reiterated his desire to join the European Union. But his latest actions were announced just after a video conference with senior E.U. officials on Friday in which they called for a de-escalation in tensions and the moves appeared to be a calculated snub.

The Council of Europe said on Saturday that Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention was “deplorable because it compromises the protection of women of women in Turkey, across Europe and beyond.”

The withdrawal from the international treaty was announced early Saturday in a terse line in the presidency’s Official Gazette, the website on which the government posts bills passed by Parliament as well as presidential decisions and decrees. The removal of Mr. Agbal was announced in a separate decree.

The central bank chief had been in place only since November, when Mr. Erdogan appointed him in an effort to stabilize the falling lira and an increasingly precarious economy. His appointment was welcomed in international markets as a sign of steadier management.

Many in Turkey denounced a week of authoritarian decisions.

Atilla Yesilada, an economic and political commentator in Istanbul, described the move as “a despicable act of recidivism, as well as a harbinger of early elections.”

Burak Ulgen, a writer, tweeted: “Abolishing Istanbul Convention means patting the men on the back, and tell them ‘Please go ahead you can kill women.’ The blood of all the women murdered in this country is on your hands.”

The decrees followed recent attacks on political opponents of Mr. Erdogan that seemed aimed at satisfying his political supporters.

On Wednesday, Turkey’s top prosecutor filed a complaint to the Constitutional Court to close down H.D.P., the largest pro-Kurdish party, accusing it of links to a Kurdish militant group. That brought a swift warning from the State Department that such a move “would unduly subvert the will of Turkish voters.”

On the same day, the Turkish Parliament voted to strip a prominent H.D.P. lawmaker and human rights advocate of his seat and ordered him removed from the chamber. And on Friday, a leader of the country’s Human Rights Association was detained in a morning raid on his house, one of similar 20 detentions in Istanbul and Ankara.

Mr. Erdogan’s moves against the H.D.P. and human rights defenders who are considered sympathetic to the Kurds are seen as a political calculation to raise the standing of his alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party, which has been losing support to its rival Iyi Party in recent months. The tactics also appear to be an attempt to divide the opposition.

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