Looking out through the bay window onto the city’s main thoroughfare, she listened and tidied her desk in a slow and precise manner, seeming to have learned to appreciate things and people as they are long ago. On the walls were several portraits of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938), founding father of the Republic, and there was a small old-fashioned table in front of the door and a double row of armchairs from another age. Nurten Öcal Camlibel is a muhtara kind of equivalent of a neighborhood mayor without any political affiliation, the privileged interlocutor between the state and its constituents.
At 55, she is the only woman to hold such a position out of some 120 muhtar in Erbaa and its surroundings. Erbaa, a former commercial crossroads of the ancient Silk Road, which was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1942, is a provincial city with a banal appearance and little history. Today it is best known for its free trade zone devoted to textile manufacturing, its strong conservative tradition and its member of parliament Özlem Zengin, elected by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party.
The author of a recent outburst against his own group in the Assembly – which she accuses of having sacrificed several women’s protection schemes for electoral reasons – the elected representative has changed constituency and is now listed as the AKP’s candidate in Istanbul for the May 14 legislative elections. In Erbaa, out of the five parliamentary seats at stake in the district, there are no longer any women on the lists of the main political parties, neither the majority nor the opposition.
A threatened official
“We are far from being rid of the patriarchy!” said Camlibel Öcal, herself from a conservative background. Elected with more than 95% of the vote in her district, which has nearly 16,000 residents, she said that she was threatened as soon as she took office. The attacks came from a local representative of the Hüda Par party, the Islamist party affiliated with the Kurdish Hezbollah, a militant group involved in numerous political assassinations in the 1990s and 2000s. In March the group allied itself with the AKP for Sunday’s elections.
At the time, Öcal Camlibel revealed the name of the person who had threatened her. She demanded a public apology to be broadcast during Friday preaching in a mosque in Erbaa. “Which he didn’t do,” she said, “but his superiors have discreetly transferred him to another city.” She herself now supports the candidate of the opposition coalition, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, leader of the Kemalist CHP (Republican People’s Party), but she recognizes that, even within this party, much remains to be done for women’s causes. “Erdogan and the AKP have captured the female vote with undeniable strength,” she said. “I see it every day with the aid, subsidies and patronage that have developed over the years, allowing the government to broaden and consolidate its electoral base.”
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