Berlin in the spring of this year, a party mood is the order of the day in many event halls in the German capital.
There is only a week to go before the elections in Türkiye that will decide the future of Ankara’s long-term ruler. And this weekend it was the last chance for Turks living abroad to vote for or against Erdogan. Of course, the Sultan of the Bosphorus and his AKP are trying everything to win over every single voter. To do this, the election campaigners use every means to make appearances with the help of the Turkish mosque communities and cultural institutions based in Europe. Especially in Germany, the Benelux countries, Austria, France and Scandinavia, crowded events have been observed again and again in the past few weeks, in which the AKP advertises itself, even, as in the German city of Nuremberg, election posters of the ruling party have been put up with approval of the municipal authorities.
“The women’s policy of the AKP government at home and abroad” reads a folder that is on display in the ballroom of a Berlin restaurant serving Turkish cuisine in Neukölln. It was published by the Women’s organization of the AKP, the women’s group also invited to the event.
Social media also shows how the AKP women are drumming up for their leader: home visits, street campaigns, lectures in Düsseldorf, Berlin, Nuremberg, Cologne. On Twitter, people even cheered last week that they have now reached more than 39,000 people. Hashtags like AKPwomen, OurOathtoLeader or AgainErdogan – they create a mood with them.
In a video, a woman is asked who she will vote for. The answer: “Of course Papa Erdogan”. Turkish women like her worship him as a godfather. Another contribution by the AKP women says: “We would give up our lives – Erdogan never!”.
In Germany alone, 1.5 million Turks are entitled to vote. From April 27 to May 9, they were able to vote on a new president and a new parliament in the diplomatic missions here. Perhaps their votes will decide the election. According to polls, it could be a tight race. In Germany Erdogan won in 2018 with almost 65 percent of the votes, in Austria it was even over 69 percent, but the AKP knows that nothing has been decided in Cologne, Berlin, Brussels or Vienna either.
In the run-up to previous elections, the Turkish president came here himself to show his compatriots: I’m your man. His foreign minister used a working visit to the Austrian capital to raise spirits at a banquet for his boss. He called Erdogan during his speech in front of over 1,000 invited guests and held his mobile phone to the microphone.
The women in particular have never left the president and his AKP alone in the elections, Erdogan has repeatedly emphasized in the past. In a speech in 2018 he said: “Our women in the AK Party are pioneer heroines. They are the ones who go into the houses and meet with our citizens, from the youngest to the oldest, and convince them to stand for the AK Party. The castle will be conquered from within.” Because once his campaign workers had convinced the wives, they would find ways to convince their husbands.
The AKP women bring “feminine wisdom, ingenuity and sophistication to politics. Sometimes under impossible conditions, sometimes on their own. But without breaking down and without complaining about the conditions, they shoulder the cause of the AKP ascetic devotion,” says the brochure of the women’s organization.
The end of the election campaign event in Berlin was recorded for the public, there is a small video on Twitter: 30 Muslim women, almost all with a headscarf, call together in Turkish into the camera: “We will make you president again, we swear to you, Leader.” Each one shows the Rabia sign, four fingers of the hand extended, thumb folded inward. The symbol goes back to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. In Türkiye, it is primarily associated with Erdogan and the AKP and serves as a commitment to political Islam and to mobilize against any kind of opposition. A hand is also formed in a wolf salute, i.e. the little finger and the index finger are spread out – with this they also express their sympathy for the right-wing, ultra-nationalist party MHP, with which the AKP is in coalition.
For most of the AKP election campaigners, religion is of enormous importance. Many Turkish women with headscarves also worship Erdogan because he anchored Islam in the middle of society and strengthened their rights. But Erdogan – whose wife Emine, like his two daughters, wears a headscarf – also scored points with devout Muslim women in other respects: in 2018, the President asked women and children to come to the mosque more often.
According to a survey in Türkiye after the last election, 60 percent of the housewives surveyed said they voted for Erdogan. In no other group did he have such high values. Studies from Türkiye show that AKP supporters are also dissatisfied with the economic situation, complaining about financial problems or that their children are not getting a good education. However, because they feared that their headscarfs would put their daughters at a disadvantage again after an election defeat, they continued to support the AKP. Voting behavior is therefore primarily determined by concerns about one’s own lifestyle. Those Muslim women who see their role primarily as housewives and mothers also feel particularly valued by Erdogan: “Our religion has given women authority, namely the authority of motherhood,” he once said. You can’t explain that to feminists, “they don’t accept motherhood. But we say that those who understand that are enough for us, with them we can continue on our way”.
Not only the AKP campaigns in Europe, but also the opposition. The CHP in Europe is taking to the streets with teams, and many Alevi communities are publicly opposing Erdogan. His challenger, Kiliçdaroglu, is an Alevi himself. They are a significant minority in Türkiye. Although their faith is influenced by Islam, they do not fast during Ramadan, do not make a pilgrimage to Mecca, and the women do not usually wear a headscarf. They have been fighting for social and state recognition for decades.
Türkiye withdrew from the Istanbul Convention drawn up by the Council of Europe in 2021, amid great protest from human rights organizations. This obliges the signatories to prosecute violence against women and to promote equality. Reactionary forces see their traditional family image in danger as a result of the agreement. The international treaty also stipulates that no one may be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation.
NGOs report that every day a woman dies from violence in Türkiye. “Many here far away don’t understand how bad things are with women’s rights in Türkiye,” says a Turkish women’s rights activist. In a report last year, the human rights organization Human Rights Watch detailed six cases in which women were murdered by their husbands or ex-partners, even though the authorities knew they were at significant risk. Now, before the elections, Erdogan has also joined forces with misogynist and extremist spit parties such as Hüda Par, which is considered an extension of Hezbollah in Türkiye.
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