Ankara criteria for private life
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told his party members at the Kızılcahaman retreat, “Young female university students are staying in the same house with male students. There is no control on that. This is contrary to our conservative nature. We have given instructions to the governor. This will be controlled one way or another.”
These were a part of the overall Kızılcahaman story at daily Zaman last Monday. The same day, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç denied the story. Next day, the prime minister denied his deputy’s denial, and confirmed the story. He even went further, mentioning a legal arrangement if need be to prevent “a girl staying with a young man in a private house.”
Could he do it?
If he does, then he should be ready to face strong objections based on not only the 20th and the 21st articles of the constitution on “privacy and protection of private life” and “immunity of residence,” but possibly several other multi-dimensional consequences from the European Union.
The unfortunateness of these statements of the PM has multiplied because they coincided with the day when finally a new chapter in the EU talks had opened after a three-year break.
Turkey does not have an issue of “mixed-gender student houses” even in terms of the “public morality” which is open to further discussion. Before the PM brought it up, in none of the conservative media in Turkey, was such a ridiculous and uncalled-for discussion held.
Also, it is impossible that it has become a widespread practice for students to rent apartments in a coed fashion in the conservative provinces. But, naturally, it is possible for female and males students to visit each other’s homes and this is considered absolutely normal in modern societies.
Then, one should ask, “why is the PM doing this?” because he could very well have rested on his deputy’s denial. Since he opted for embarrassing his deputy, then he must have an aim.
Actually, he has three aims: First, this is an attempt to “call back the Gezi spirit.” If he can provoke a Gezi-type protest, before the local elections, he may be able to consolidate conservative and right votes in his own party in such places as Istanbul where his government could be at risk. He wants this. Istanbul is at the edge of a knife and a new Gezi action could change the equilibrium to his side.
The second one is using this extreme conservative discourse as a social pressure factor and making his bigoted moral mentality a norm dominating the entire nation. He is trying to form a perfect cooperation sandwiching the youth between neighborhood pressure and public pressure.
And the third is that the PM wants to criminalize all kinds of extramarital relationships.
The AKP had inserted at the last minute in 2004 a clause criminalizing adultery in the new Turkish Penal Code draft, however this was prevented by the EU. Now, this target is trying to be reached indirectly.
The extreme bigotry that was turned down because of the Copenhagen criteria is now planning to re-enter through “Ankara criteria,” turning up like a bad penny.
Whereas in democracies, it is free to sin as long as there is no harm to the life, property, rights and freedoms of others.
The PM says, “The mixed-gender student accommodations are contrary to our conservative nature.”
It could be. Nobody is telling those who declare themselves “conservative democrat” to go and live in the same coed house and without wedlock. However, if an authority figure who says he is conservative and attempts to send his governor and his police to other people’s houses just because it is contrary to his nature, then he loses his right to claim he is a “democrat.”
Also, “conservatism” remains too light and inadequate to define the content of this action.
Kadri Gürsel is a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this abridged piece was published on Nov. 7. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.