Yeşil Sol Party’s feminist candidate Özgül Saki: We need a political axis which will eliminate the ‘family is sacred’ concept

We met Özgül Saki, who is one of the Yeşil Sol Party’s (YSP) parliamentary candidates for the second  district of Istanbul, at the Beşiktaş Pier. Despite the rain and cold, she was distributing leaflets in front of the party’s information booths. Just a few days before the May 14th elections, campaigning has both accelerated and became intense. I borrowed her from the booths for a little while and asked my questions. 

Saki, who has been fighting for women’s and immigrants’ rights for a long time, starts with emphasizing that all the articles included in the Women’s Manifesto for Elections of the YSP are also vital for LGBTQI+ rights.

‘‘When we debate the potentially new constitution, LGBTQI+ people should be recognized as political subjects in order to punish the violence against them. Feminist and LGBTQI+ movements should be strong in order to put this into practice. Not just on November 25th or March 8th, LGBTQI+ people should politically exist and be included in all demands of the labor and socialist movements. How we will do this, how we will construct something collectively, we should look into that.’’

In their manifestos which are published specifically about LGBTQI+ rights, the Yeşil Sol Party mentions propositions such as expanding the content of the hate crimes (Referring to Article 10 of the Constitution: All individuals are equal without any discrimination before the law, irrespective of language, race, color, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion and sect, or any such considerations. Men and women have equal rights. The State shall have the obligation to ensure that this equality exists in practice.) for LGBTQI+ people, involving the sexual orientation and gender identity phrases in the Constitution and equal employment opportunities for LGBTQI+  people. Saki, one of the first candidates who signed the LGBTQI+ Rights Protocol, reminds that the fight against homophobia, transphobia and misogyny does not go on just “outside” and that none of the institutions is free from these phobias. She points out that every local and organized effort is precious in order to increase the range of the feminist and LGBTQI+ movements via more participation. 

‘‘Patriarchy is not only a social problem, it also belongs to the areas we organize in, such as labor unions, political parties. If something affects most of the society, it would also spread over smaller institutions. Thus, we should work on homophobia/transphobia issues, do the groundwork for solidarity in our own institutions and get organized in every area. We even should clean the parliament from homophobia, transphobia and misogyny.’’

In fact, political axis of the Cumhur Alliance, which is under the leadership of the AKP and the MHP, is shaping around the “protecting the family” issue for a long time. This baseless argument is used as the most legitimate excuse to justify withdrawing from the İstanbul Convention, cover femicides, and criminalize the political struggle of  LGBTQI+ people. ‘‘The Great Family Marches,’’ which were organized in İstanbul, İzmir and Antep in September, 2022 and were advertised on the national TV by the support and permission of the Supreme Council of Radio and TV, government’s official broadcast watchdog,  were an output of this process. During their political campaigns, both Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ran a smear campaign claiming that voting for the Millet Alliance would mean approval of the same-sex marriage and proliferation of the LGBTQI+ people would be dangerous. Just a few days before this article, Soylu claimed that LGBTQI+ includes marriages between humans and animals as well. In order to understand the historical aspect of this process, we should go back to 10 years ago. 

The LGBTQI+ movement took an organized and active role in the Gezi Protest, which started on May 28th, 2013.The LGBT Block was established during this process and the struggle became more visible. The most crowded Pride Marches were organized on this era, in 2013 and 2014 and the Pride Week events were extremely popular. Indeed, we could say that the LGBTQI+ movement became the target of the ruling parties during this process. When the movement extended its impact, the ruling parties have targeted LGBTQI+  people with all the tools they have. Saki remembers the pace that the LGBTQI+ movement picked up during the Gezi Protests, but she disagrees with the ones who relate this narrative only with the protest itself. 

‘‘But this visibility is achieved via their own struggle, not by someone’s favor. In the new era, when these ruling parties are replaced, we will start building a new social life. We should be ready for discussions that will be conducted collectively with all social movements during this process.’’

One of the first organized protests of trans women was at the Gezi Park in April, 1987. Trans people protested against police violence via sitting on tstairs of this very park facing the Taksim Square. 

Speaking of the Gezi, I asked about Pride Week and Pride March after the elections. She said: “ We would really want to organize the Pride March all together, for sure. We could also organize something festive on May 31th, as a memorial to the Gezi Protests.’’

We can say that the LGBTQI+ movement has been re-enforced via coming together with feminist movement and literally walking together. Especially since the early 2010s, March 8 protests have become a medium that LGBTQI+ people shout slogans against patriarchy together with the feminists. But since 2019, March 8 Night March has faced with police intervention because of the political targeting and the ruling parties’ attempts to criminalize the LGBTQI+ and feminist movements. Yeşil Sol Party’s parliamentary candidate emphasizes the strategic importance of these election seasons again and again, when the society’s focus is mostly on politics. She also points out that: 

‘‘During these times, it is important that LGBTQI+ people and feminists present their political discourse as a whole and the political parties which claim that they value this discourse should take a stand accordingly.’’

And she adds that this state of togetherness, communication, and organizing should not be specific to the election season:

‘‘Speaking of the elections, the Parliament is neither divine, nor the highest peak of the struggle. On the contrary, the stronger you get in the social life and political struggle, the more powerful your voice would be in the Parliament. Members of the Yeşil Sol Party consider making their voice heard in the Parliament and maintaining the natural bond between the struggle in there and the one on the streets, extremely important. Unfortunately, radical change/transformation could not occur only in the Parliament.’’ 

Rejoining the İstanbul Convention is extremely important in terms of preventing the violence against women legally and not confining the debate about gender into parliamentary discussions. Saki emphasizes that re-signing the Convention is vital, too. She interprets the Millet Alliance’s -of which the CHP is also a member- shared consensus text, which does not include a clear statement about rejoining the Istanbul Convention, in this way: 

‘‘The alliance formed by the CHP prevents them from mentioning the convention openly and this is very dangerous. We should pursue this process closely. Besides, we should plan for improving the No. 6284 Law. This could not be done by parliament members only, for sure. The Yeşil Sol Party comes from an astonishing struggle tradition: socialist formations, the Kurdish movement, feminists, the climate justice movement… Actually, we are a broad alliance of struggles. If we take our part in the Parliament, we will carry on as representatives of this tradition. We will do this together with LGBTQI+ people, feminists, and workers; who dignify the fight on the streets.’’ 

Since December 2022, the ruling parties have been plotting to add a new amendment to the Article 41 of the Constitution which is as follows: ‘‘Conjugal union shall be established via none but the marriage of one man and one woman’’. Many civil society organizations state that this amendment, which would go  against some basic principles such as equality and respect for human rights, would increase the possibility of criminalizing LGBTQI+ relationships. Saki and I talk about this planned but postponed (for now) amendment on Article 41:

‘‘We should not let that pass as well. The tone after the elections is extremely important. Everyone is playing big in order to prevent the AKP’s win for now, but after the elections, they may take their former positions back. In order to invalidate the arguments of the alliance including the AKP and the MHP, we need a political axis which will eliminate the ‘family is sacred’ concept. The LGBTQI+ movement has been constructing its political discourse against those for years.’’

After that, we talk about what we can do against the ruling parties’ claims about the LGBTQI+ associations’ ‘‘spreading being LGBTQI+’’ by using western funds and their frequent targeting of these associations as well as the LGBTQI+ movement itself. Özgül Saki looks at this issue from a broad perspective and reminds me that in 2019, the ruling parties appointed trustees to the municipalities, especially to the ones which the Halkların Demokratik Party (HDP) won such as Diyarbakır, Van, Batman, Iğdır, Ağrı, Kars, Erzurum, Muş, Şırnak and Hakkari. During this era, 43 women’s centers were closed in Diyarbakır only and men trustees were appointed to most of the women’s centers. Therefore, women have no local place to consult about their various problems. 

‘‘The Women’s associations, media, and the art associations were closed first. Everything was gone, local managers were taken into custody. Shadow of this incident fell on all civil society organizations who work with disadvantaged groups of the society, victims of the discrimination. Empowering the family, ‘family is sacred’ phrases were also added to the mix. The ruling parties and the political parties who are close to them legitimize themselves via their hate for LGBTQI+ people, so the LGBTQI+ associations have become the target.’’

She state that  “collective struggle” is the only way of doing something special for the empowerment of the LGBTQI+ associations: 

‘‘We assume that the opposition’s number of parliament members will not be able to ignore. Hate crimes, especially the crimes that affect immigrants and LGBTQI+ people should be the first in line. The ones who attack these groups, who harm them should be put on trial.’’

During our conversation, Özgül Saki frequently pointed out that political struggle is not confined within the parliament and it should not be not focused on the parliament only. The elections are an important milestone, but after that, the LGBTQI+ and women’s rights movements should pursue many important issues. No matter what comes out of the elections, we should remember and remind others that a long and bumpy road lies ahead of social struggles. As she stated at the beginning of this interview: ‘‘Achievements up to this point were not gained because someone made us a favor .’’