Girls have discovered their voice in Turkey, and given hope to others preventing for democracy throughout the globe | Elif Shafak

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Girls have discovered their voice in Turkey, and given hope to others preventing for democracy throughout the globe | Elif Shafak

Turkey is an attractive and complex nation that by no means ceases to bewilder not solely worldwide observers but in addition, at instances, its personal residents. The outcomes of native elections held final Sunday got here as a shock to many pollsters. The opposition gained a spectacular victory, altering the political panorama and shifting the dominant narrative. It will be naive to imagine that it alerts the tip of an period, but it surely certain seems like a brand new starting.

For thus lengthy now, the opposition in Turkey has been demoralised, fractured and weak towards an unbridled focus of energy and authority. The shortage of checks and balances, the shortage of freedom of speech, the shortage of free media and the shortage of the separation of powers – these all stacked the playing cards towards anybody who dared to query the Justice and Growth get together (AKP) authorities and its religious-nationalist-populist ideology.

Individuals who needed a secular, liberal and trendy Turkey felt trapped in a cycle of lethargy, as if in a variation of Beckett’s Ready for Godot – caught in sameness, repetition, ready for democracy.

On Sunday, this cycle was damaged. For the primary time in additional than 20 years the Republican Individuals’s get together (CHP), the principle opposition get together, was victorious on the nationwide stage and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP misplaced the favored vote. The CHP was vastly profitable, not solely in liberal cities corresponding to Izmir on the Aegean coast, however in historically conservative and patriarchal Anatolian cities and within the Black Sea area, which till not way back had been authorities strongholds. The final time the principle opposition achieved such a glowing outcome was in 1977.

About 61 million Turkish residents voted throughout 81 cities. The turnout was 77%: not as excessive as within the final nationwide elections however nonetheless spectacular. Amongst those that went to the polls had been 1 million younger individuals who had been voting for the primary time. The widespread public discontent with the state of the economic system has performed a considerable function within the outcomes. Turkey’s official determine for inflation is just below 70%. The unofficial determine is estimated to be a lot larger. The devaluation of the Turkish lira has hit companies of all sizes and harmed residing requirements.

However the outcomes weren’t solely in regards to the economic system. A cultural chasm is pivotal to it. Versus an inward-looking, navel-gazing, ultra-nationalist, ultra-religious, more and more authoritarian and intolerant Turkey, the dream of a secular, democratic, pluralistic, inclusive and trendy Turkey continues to be very a lot alive.

The person on the coronary heart of this dream is none apart from Istanbul’s charismatic mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu. Istanbul holds a fifth of Turkey’s inhabitants and accounts for a 3rd of its economic system; what occurs within the megalopolis has huge penalties nationwide. President Erdoğan – a former mayor of the town – as soon as mentioned: “Whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey.” Earlier than the native elections, Erdoğan led prayers on the Hagia Sophia – reviving an previous custom practised by Ottoman sultans earlier than they might wage a struggle. The Hagia Sophia, which had been made right into a museum by Atatürk in 1934, was transformed right into a mosque by the AKP, regardless of many objections from residents who needed to maintain it as a secular area to honour the constructing’s wealthy historical past.

‘The very last thing they needed was to lose to a younger girl.’ Gulistan Sonuk of the DEM poses for a selfie together with her supporters in Batman. {Photograph}: Reuters

It’s towards this backdrop that the incumbent mayor of Istanbul, İmamoğlu – Erdogan’s most important rival – achieved the very best margin of victory in 40 years. His motto has at all times been one among hope and optimism: “Every part shall be nice.” However it isn’t a shock that there are a number of authorized circumstances opened towards him. He could possibly be put in jail or solely banned from politics. In a transferring post-election speech, İmamoğlu mentioned to the celebrating crowds: “Ranging from tomorrow, Turkey shall be a unique Turkey. You opened the door to the rise of democracy, equality and freedom.” On social media, he then shared: “As we have a good time our victory, we ship a powerful message to the world: the decline of democracy ends now. Istanbul stands as a beacon of hope, a testomony to the resilience of democratic values within the face of rising authoritarianism.”

Within the capital, Ankara, the CHP mayor, Mansur Yavaş, additionally did remarkably effectively, gaining 60.4% of the vote. The chairman of the CHP, Özgür Özel, delivered a constructive and unifying speech whereas crowds chanted: “Turkey is secular and can stay secular.” For days afterwards, the celebrations continued as individuals lit torches and danced within the streets, honking horns and enjoying songs.

Some of the essential indicators of the altering political panorama in Turkey is a rise within the variety of feminine representatives. Prior to now decade, Turkey has witnessed a heartbreaking decline and regression in ladies’s rights and gender-equality targets. The AKP authorities has unilaterally withdrawn from the Istanbul conference, which is aimed toward defending the victims of gender violence. At present, a 3rd of all marriages within the nation contain youngster brides. Based on We Will Cease Femicide Platform, a grassroots motion constructed by varied feminist and LGBTQ+ rights advocates, at the least 563 ladies had been killed or misplaced their lives in suspicious circumstances in 2023 alone. Turkey will not be a simple place to be a girl. It’s, subsequently, exceptional that in these elections the proportion of regionally elected ladies has nearly tripled. At present, with feminine mayors ruling over 11 out of 81 cities there may be nonetheless a protracted approach to gender equality, however it’s a optimistic step ahead.

A big instance of that is Gulistan Sonuk, of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy (DEM) get together. Solely 31, she was elected in Batman, a deeply patriarchal and conservative metropolis that previously has been recognized for its alarmingly excessive suicide charges amongst younger ladies. Batman is a stronghold of Hüda-Par, an Islamist get together that’s accused of getting hyperlinks to the banned militant group Kurdish Hezbollah (which the get together denies). Earlier than the elections, the candidate for the ultra-conservative get together made a chilling comment below the pretext of a joke, saying that after they had been elected they might enable the ladies within the metropolis to decide on the color of their veil.

Regardless of this ambiance, Sonuk acquired 65% of the vote. Sonuk mentioned: “Hüda-Par didn’t see me as a competitor as a result of I used to be a girl. The very last thing they needed was to lose to a younger girl. That makes me extremely proud.” She was applauded enthusiastically by crowds chanting, “Girls, life, freedom”, in an emotional reference to the plight of girls in Iran.

“The important doesn’t change,” says one of many characters in Samuel Beckett’s play. However typically it’d. On this yr of worldwide elections, when half the world’s inhabitants shall be voting or have voted throughout 50 nations, this outcome needs to be seen as an indication of hope and solace.


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