If you use Instagram or even scrolled through your Instagram feed in the last 24 hours, you’ve probably seen black and white selfies of women captioned with the words “challenge accepted,” along with the hashtags #womenempowerment and #womensupportingwomen.
As I stumbled upon these photos, it was difficult for me to understand what the “challenge” was exactly. Especially because it had zero context. It was only today that it became apparent that these black and white photos were indeed an expression of female solidarity sparked by the brutal murder of 27-year-old Kurdish student named Pinar Gültekin.
She was killed in the Aegean province of Mugla. According to autopsy results, Gultekin was strangled and her body placed in a barrel, which was then burned and had concrete poured on it. Her ex- boyfriend Cemal Metin Avci has been arrested for the murder. Police said he confessed to the killing during questioning. This then resulted in protests across Turkish cities against the violence inflicted upon women in Turkey.
I then came across this post which further discussed the meaning behind all of the black and white selfies in my instagram feed. An Instagram user attempted to explain the origins and meanings of the original challenge.
“Turkey is one of the top countries when it comes to femicides. Turkish people wake up every day to see a black and white photo of a woman who has been murdered on their Instagram feed, on their newspapers, on their TV screens. The black and white photo challenge started as a way for women to raise their voice. To stand in solidarity with the women we have lost. To show that one day, it could be their picture that is plastered across news outlets.”
However, the problem with the #challengeaccepted movement now that it’s gone mainstream is that all context has been erased, and that it doesn’t acknowledge the racism within violence against women. Pinar Gultekin was a Kurdish woman. Hevrin Khalaf was a Syrian Kurd killed by Turkish backed forces.
Twitter user Haje Keli explains how Turkish feminism is notorious for actively ignoring the plight of Kurdish women in Turkey, not just in terms of adding them in the conversation, but also in ignoring their political progress across the country as leaders and agents for change.
It is common to see well-known Kurdish figures being referred to as Turks (in an attempt to erase their identity). The Turkish state criminalizes the Kurdish struggle using “terrorism law.” It is a crime to even speak in Kurdish. Kurdish people continue to be robbed of their mother language because they are not allowed to learn Kurdish. In fear of embracing their Kurdish identity, many Kurdish women continue to assimilate and are portrayed as Turkish for this reason.
Anti-Kurdish sentiment in Turkey has existed since the 90s. The Zilan, Dersim, Maras, and Sivas massacres are all examples of systemic oppression and ethnic cleansing of Kurds (and Alevis) by the Turkish government.
The vast majority of black and white posts currently flooding our Instagram feeds are uninformative posts and misleading. In addition, the Instagram posts about Turkish feminism disregard Kurdish women who are raped, tortured, and displaced under the Turkish regime everyday. Just a week ago a 10-year-old child was abused by a sergeant in Şırnak and an 18-year-old girl was raped by an officer in Batman, Northern Kurdistan (Bakur). The Turkish state continues to silence victims and cover up the crimes of the perpetrators. What is more shameful is that we were not aware of the murder of Pinar Gultekin and those that were tried to paint her as just being “Turkish.” It is distressing to see her Kurdish identity being erased in a movement that is supposed to empower women and women’s rights activists.
The “empowerment selfies” all over Instagram are not only burying the rights of Turkish/Kurdish women, but it is also concealing the brutal murder of Pinar Gultekin.
To know more about who Pinar Gultekin was, here is a video from her family and community reflecting on her brilliance and life.
Here are some Instagram accounts to follow that not only raise awareness about women’s rights in Turkey, but also shed light on the oppression of Kurds/Armenians by the Turkish regime.
Maliya Naz is a Kashmiri/Pakistani American poet and human rights advocate. When she is not volunteering or translating Urdu ghazals, you can find her giving talks about all things Islam and spirituality.