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Turkey Considers Quitting Treaty On Violence Against Women

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Istanbul Convention is an international agreement aimed at stopping violence against women. In an effort to please his conservative supporters, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, may pull out of it. But there's opposition, including from one of Erdogan's daughters. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The idea of pulling out of the Istanbul Convention drew a chorus of condemnation, including by the Women and Democracy Association, a conservative, normally pro-government organization that includes Erdogan's daughter Sumeyye Erdogan Bayraktar on its executive board. The convention was signed here in 2011, but it set off a backlash and ongoing debate, as when conservative writer Yusuf Caplin (ph) called the convention an attack on family values and, quote, "a project to legalize homosexuality." An excerpt from his remarks was posted to YouTube.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YUSUF CAPLIN: (Non-English language spoken).

KENYON: "The strongest families exist here in this society," he said, adding, "that's why they made that damn convention here in this country and gave it the name of Istanbul."

Meanwhile, the number of murdered women continue to rise. In July, the body of Pinar Gultekin, a 27-year-old student, was found beaten and strangled in the Aegean province of Mugla. Her ex-boyfriend is facing homicide charges. Outraged by the push to take Turkey out of the convention, women's groups launched large demonstrations in Turkey's major cities.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in non-English language).

KENYON: At a recent rally in Istanbul, women chanted, the father, the husband, the government, the nightstick - in spite of them all, we still rebelled. Twenty-two-year-old Seher declined to give her family name for fear of retribution. She says she was raped as a child, and when she tried to bring legal action against the rapist, the charges were dismissed.

SEHER: (Through interpreter) All our lives, we're exposed to violence, and there aren't many legal venues or laws we can use to fight against this. That's why the Istanbul Convention is important. The law is there to protect us all, and we won't give that up.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Non-English language spoken).

KENYON: As the names of murdered women were read out, one of the demonstrators, Nursel, says an obvious step would be to actually enforce the Istanbul Convention in the way its drafters intended.

NURSEL: (Through interpreter) Our daughters should not be dying. They're going to school, and we're afraid for them. We want freedom. We want our women to live. Are we asking too much? We want justice.

KENYON: American and European officials have called on Turkey to stay in the treaty and enforce it. Meanwhile, this year's toll of more than 200 murdered women continues to grow. A recent morning paper brought the news of Merve Yesiltas, fatally burned by the man she was living with after they reportedly had an argument. And in early August came the devastating story of 7-year-old Dilek Karatas, hanged by her father, a man who had already been in prison for the killing of his nephews. The girl's mother told Turkey's DHA news agency that she had begged the courts to keep him away from her daughter. An excerpt was posted to Twitter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Through interpreter) I had only one child, and she was taken out of my hands. How can I live with this? The love of my life is gone.

KENYON: The ruling party says it's working on what it calls an alternative to the Istanbul Convention. Women's rights advocates say if the government caves in to patriarchal demands to pull out of the convention, it will be condemning more women to death.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.