Last week, the Turkish gendarmerie—a branch of the Turkish Armed Forces mainly operating as a rural police force—and the EU launched a comprehensive project to fight domestic violence against women. The project is co-financed by the European Union and Turkey’s EU Ministry with a total budget of USD 3.9 million. Alongside Turkey’s Ministry of Family and Social Policies, the gendarmerie aims to train its own instructors, with a total of 10,000 community police set to receive training in combating violence against women.
Domestic violence is an acute problem in Turkey. Honor killings, forced suicides and violent beating within the home have long been prevalent, particularly in the conservative southeast. Domestic violence is also not uncommon in Turkey’s western cities, especially among families that migrate from the east.
This latest initiative comes after a series of positive steps in the fight against domestic violence in Turkey. Attitudes toward the problem are changing as society sees domestic violence as an issue that concerns the public and the government instead of a private, family matter. Several high-profile attacks on women have highlighted the failure of the state to protect women who are at obvious risk. In 2004, a Kurdish woman was shot dead in her hospital bed in Istanbul for having a baby out of wedlock. She was in hospital, recovering from an attempt on her life the previous day, when her brother carried out the murder in the name of “family honor.” Similar stories have been all over the pages of Turkish newspapers.
The Turkish government and police have been slow to protect women from these violent crimes. Even though it is required of all EU members and candidate states, very few municipalities provide safe-houses for women and their children to flee from their abusers. The provision of women’s shelters in Turkey is hopelessly inadequate given the huge need for them.
With the launch of this new EU initiative, the gendarmerie hopes to hold abusers to account and provide shelter to the victims. Gendarmerie Major Songül Yakut told The Majalla that they are currently operating in fourteen different cities as “command posts” and hope to expand to all eighty-one Turkish provinces. She was confident the project would make a difference: “When women know we are there, they know they will be safe.”
Yakut and her colleague, Şenay Haydar, Turkey’s first-ever female gendarmerie station commander, are the personalities pushing for more cooperation between the Turkish military and civilian initiatives. Major Yakut said that they had started the awareness campaigns on domestic violence and other social issues right inside the barracks: “We are fully aware that we have to create an understanding first among young soldiers. We have started teaching gender equality [and] women’s rights to our rank and file as well. There is also a class for pre-marital education.”
That is a small step for women, but a huge one for the Turkish military. Even though Turkey has been a NATO member since the 1950s, the Turkish military’s relationship with the EU has been an awkward one. Europe has long pushed to see a shift in military–civilian relations in favor of the civilian authorities following the military’s track record of coups d’état.
Now, the gendarmerie is gearing up to protect the rights of women and children with the help of the EU. The European Union will not only provide funding but also guidance, education and organizational assistance with the help of local NGOs.
“We do not ask women to face their abusers and reconcile,” Major Yakut told The Majalla. “We protect them. Every day we patrol their neighborhoods, ask their friends and get information. They trust us; we can never let them down.”
The Turkish military and the EU are unlikely partners in this endeavor, but this may actually be the beginning of a productive relationship when it comes to tackling a problem that has gone untreated for so long.
All views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, The Majalla magazine.