New York Times, September 15, 2004
Adultery a Crime? The Turks
Think Again and Say No
VAN, 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 and abroad.
"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
"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
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 in 1997.
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
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 standards.
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
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
"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 women."
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.
<< New York Times -- 9/15/04 >>
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