- Politics of Intimacy in TurkeyA Distraction from “Real” Politics?
I do not believe in gender equality!” (Phillips 2014). “Do not delay marriage! Do not be too picky in choosing a spouse!” (“Evlilik konusunda çok seçici olmayın” 2014). “Have at least three children!” (Çetik, Gültekin, and Kuşdemir 2008). “Abortion is murder!” (“Erdoğan: Kürtaj bir cinayettir” 2012). These are the words of the previous prime minister and current president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose blunt statements on gender issues have become a characteristic of the Turkish political landscape of the twenty-first century. Erdoğan’s comments are part of a contentious array of government discourses and policies around gender, sexuality, reproduction, and family developed particularly in the later years of conservative Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party, AKP) rule in Turkey. Yet Erdoğan’s comments are often dismissed as mere discursive maneuvers intended to change the political agenda and distract from “real” politics. I argue that dismissing Erdoğan’s comments as distractions reduces the politics of intimacy to a lower significance and creates three obfuscations that hamper critical political analysis and coalitional politics. Dismissal of Erdoğan’s comments denies their vital significance for the lives of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people; hides the centrality of the politics of intimacy to the economic and political governance of the country; and obscures the gendered nature of political rule at large and the value of feminist and queer politics in the exposure and challenging of this gendered rule.
During the rule of the AKP for over a decade, a seemingly promising if mainstreaming inclusion of gender and even feminist perspectives into state discourse and policy early in the first decade of the 2000s has transformed or perhaps [End Page 112] matured into a state-sponsored familialism in the 2010s, illustrated by the replacement of the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs with the Ministry of Family and Social Policy in 2011. The most vocal and powerful mouthpiece of this increasingly antifeminist gender discourse has been Erdoğan, who first introduced his pronatalist agenda on March 8, 2008, International Women’s Day, when he recommended that women have at least three children. Subsequently, Erdoğan has continued to prescribe women’s reproductive decisions in increasing detail, recommending early marriage and having multiple children while condemning abortion, cesarean birth, and birth control at venues ranging from wedding celebrations to an international population conference.
Coming from the highest profile speaker of an emergent neoconservative gender discourse, president Erdoğan’s comments are perceived as seeking and promoting governmental influence and controls over women’s intimate lives. As such they created and continue to create much indignation among those with feminist, secularist, or liberal sensibilities. Curiously, this indignation is regularly met with caution by many in the left or radical wing of the opposition to the AKP, ranging from columnists to parliamentarians. These voices warn in omniscient solemnity that Erdoğan’s scandalizing comments on intimate topics are tactical maneuvers designed to change the political agenda, and they imply that responding to these comments misdirects oppositional political focus and energies. In the archetypal incident for this model of political interpretation, Erdoğan, at the International Conference on Population and Development in 2012, explicitly conflated the 2011 military air strike and massacre of thirty-four Kurdish civilians in the border town of Uludere (Roboski in Kurdish) with abortion. He repeated the antiabortion statement at the AKP women’s congress the next day and challenged those critical of his earlier comments, claiming that “every abortion is an Uludere” (“Başbakan: Her kürtaj bir Uludereʾdir” 2012). These words were widely decried as an agenda-changing maneuver in the parliament (“Kürtaj polemiği” 2012), the opeds (Barasu 2013), and the social media (“Her kürtaj bir Uludereʾdir” 2012), notwithstanding more nuanced feminist analyses (Kalıntaş 2012; Özinanır 2012). This event and its widespread interpretation set for the opposition a model of reading Erdoğan’s comments on intimate topics as a distraction from “real” politics. For example, when in 2014 Erdoğan claimed...