Adultery a Crime? The Turks Think Again and Say No
Author: Womens UN Report Network
Date: September 15, 2004
September 15, 2004
Adultery a Crime? The Turks Think Again and Say No
By SUSAN SACHS
AN, Turkey, Sept. 14- After suffering a
wave of criticism from European Union officials, women’s groups,
newspaper columnists and finally from its own members, Turkey’s
governing party abandoned a proposal on Tuesday to criminalize
Even so, the party, which has sought for two years to reassure
Turks and foreigners that it had no Islamic fundamentalist
agenda, may have lost important political good will at home
“Especially now, when Turkey is doing so much for E.U. membership,
the fact that they’re trying to bring in this law raises questions
about them,” said Gulseren Demir, a caseworker at the Women’s
Association in Van, in southeastern Turkey.
“To tell you the truth,” a co-worker, Alev Sahar added, “we
never trusted them.”
The proposed adultery law had been debated in the news media
during the past month, while Parliament was in summer recess,
and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had repeatedly said
he endorsed it as a way to preserve the family.
His Justice and Development Party had been expected to introduce
it on Tuesday when the deputies reconvened to vote on a voluminous
new penal code. But by the end of the day, with protesters
in the streets and some European officials darkly warning that
it smacked of fundamentalism, the proposed law had not made
an appearance. No one even stepped forward even to claim ownership.
Party officials said the proposal, once fiercely defended
by some deputies, had won few supporters during a closed party
meeting the night before.
“There is general agreement that we will not propose that
kind of thing right now,” said Reha Denemec, a deputy chairman
of the party. “We’ve got something like 340 different articles
to get passed – we did 60 or so in four hours – and it’s very
important to do these things right now.”
During its brief and contentious public life, however, the
adultery proposal shone an unwanted spotlight on the backgrounds
of the party leaders. Most are veterans of Welfare, a more
militantly Islamist party that briefly ruled in a coalition
government in the mid-1990’s. The army removed it from power
Mr. Erdogan was a senior Welfare member and a former mayor
of Istanbul who spent time in jail in 1999 for reciting a poem
in public that talked of mosque minarets as bayonets. His action
has not been forgotten by the powerful military establishment,
which sees itself as the guardian of Turkey’s secular system.
But since sweeping into power nearly two years ago after his
party won nearly two-thirds of the seats in the Parliament,
the prime minister and his party aides have generally sidestepped
issues that might make the military and the nationalists bristle.
Instead, he has shuttled continuously between Turkey and European
Union countries, vigorously promoting Turkey’s bid to begin
accession talks leading to membership. He has also presided
over wholesale changes in the Constitution, a rewrite of the
administration law, revisions of the civil code and, now, some
hundreds of proposed amendments to the penal code – all to
bring the country’s laws in conformity with European Union
The European Commission in Brussels is expected to decide
whether to recommend a date for accession talks at its meeting
on Oct. 6. European Union leaders are expected to vote on the
matter at their summit meeting in mid-December.
A number of those leaders have already expressed doubts about
whether Turkey, a majority Muslim country, belongs in Europe.
In the face of those misgivings, the sudden appearance of the
adultery proposal last month brought a sharp warning from Günter
Verheugen, the European Union’s enlargement commissioner.
During a visit to Turkey last week, he said, he bluntly asked
Mr. Erdogan why the adultery issue was being raised now, and
he warned the Turkish leader that it would undermine its campaign
for acceptance in Europe.
Suspicion about the intentions of the party, which is known
by its Turkish abbreviation, A.K.P., has never really evaporated,
despite its general popularity as a can-do government and its
near-total dominance of Turkish politics since its success
in municipal elections around the country six months ago.
Even the party’s supporters appeared puzzled at the attempt
to legislate morality – adultery is forbidden in Islam, as
it is in most religions – at a time when Turkey has been trying
to prove its European credentials.
“It’s true that people’s suspicions about the A.K.P. were
awakened,” said Selahaddin Direck, a contractor and businessman
in Van who has been an enthusiastic supporter of the party
and Mr. Erdogan.
Even though the region is conservative and might have favored
outlawing adultery, he added, there was no particular demand.
“Maybe another time, or on another platform or in another
presentation, the issue can be put on the agenda again,” Mr.
Direck said. “But at the moment, E.U. membership is more important
than such debates. So it was very unfortunate. I don’t think
there could have been a worse time to introduce such a debate.”
Criminalizing adultery could bring more harm to women in a
country where honor killings, the murder of women who are suspected
of dishonoring their families through their sexual conduct,
are still not uncommon, according to the Women’s Association.
“There is already lots of violence against women,” Ms. Demir
said. “This law would endow the man with even more authority
and power, and could increase the number of crimes against
A previous adultery law in the criminal code punished a man
if it was proved that he had set up housekeeping with a woman
or installed her in a house. But it punished a woman simply
for having sexual relations with a man other than her husband.
Turkey’s highest court ruled that law unconstitutional eight
years ago, saying it discriminated against women.