Turkish President Erdogan’s grand vision of becoming a leader of the Muslim world is taking a more radicalised form in domestic politics as well. First conversion of two former Byzantine churches, namely the Church of St. Saviour in Chora and Hagia Sophia, into Mosques. And now annulation of Turkey’s ratification of Istanbul Convention. This convention was established by The Council of Europe to “prevent and prosecute all forms of violence against women, promote gender equality and ensure protection and rehabilitation of women who are victims of violence.”

Erdogan’s nationalist party clarified that Turkey stepped back because the convention demeans traditional family structure, promotes divorces, encourages acceptance of LGBTQ and homosexuality component in the society. And they will continue to work towards the cause even without the convention. However, the UN data tells a different story. According to the UN Women database on Violence against Women, 38% of women in Turkey aged 15-59 years’ experience physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime by their partners. Recently, police in Turkey fired tear gas at the Gay Pride rally, which shows intolerance for the LGBTQ community in the country. 

Erdogan’s attempt to paint himself and his party’s pan-Islamist foreign policy outlook in the colour of pro-Western Kemalist view has failed badly. The AKP party, initially perceived to address freedom and pluralism and work towards Turkey’s EU membership, received support from local groups like the Gulen Movement. It turned out to be hypocritical, just like its leader and was attempting to make Turkey emerge as the leader of Islamic countries. Liberals who supported AKP during the initial days have parted ways due to the party’s extremist and conservative stance. According to the constitution, Turkey is a secular state and denies discrimination based on religion. However, the ground scenario is a bit different. According to the 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom by the U.S. Department of State, “The government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim religious minorities, especially those not recognised under the government’s interpretation of the 1923 Laus Anne Treaty, which includes only Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. Even the education system in Turkey has been painted in the colours of radicalism. There are compulsory religion classes in school and religious minorities.”  

Turkey’s democracy is failing. The secularism component has been stripped off from it. Religious minorities are not given equal rights to the majority community. Turkey’s lofty aim to emerge as a leader of the Islamic world combined with radicalised Islamic ideology has increased the risk of it being the centre of various terrorist outfits promoting similar ideologies and has also increased security concerns for the countries in the region itself. Turkey’s continuous criticism of the major European countries’ alleged policy of “Islamophobia” and now annulation of the Istanbul Convention shows its disagreements with the EU and the West’s policies. Erdogan’s populist, authoritarian, anti-west and conservative tendencies have created a polarised society in Turkey, painting anti- Erdoganist people as traitors and enemies of the nation. 

Edit by Ronnie Mondal

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