CHP Istanbul head Canan Kaftancıoğlu sues Erdoğan and Soylu for “terrorist” smears

One of the leading lights in Turkey’s main opposition Dr. Canan Kaftancıoğlu is suing Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu for 1 million TL each for defamation.

Kaftancıoğlu, who is the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) regional head for Istanbul, initiated legal proceedings against Erdoğan and Soylu after they branded her a “terrorist” last week.

A petition has been filed at the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, which accuses Erdoğan and Soylu of ‘insults, ‘abuse of power’ and ‘attempting to influence the judiciary’, according to a report in local paper Duvar.

In a separate petition filed at the Istanbul Anatolian Civil Court of First Instance (Anadolu Asliye Hukuk Mahkemesi), Kaftancıoğlu has also made a claim for damages of 1 million TL (approximately £100,000) from both Erdoğan and Soylu over their remarks.

Last week, Turkish media carried reports of Erdoğan and Soylu referring to Kaftancıoğlu as a member of various terrorist groups.

She was accused by Erdoğan of being a “DHKP-C militant ” on Jan. 8 after she publicly supported protests at Boğaziçi University against the new rector, Prof. Melih Bulu, who is close to the government and was appointed by presidential decree.

Devrimci Halk Kurtuluş Cephesi (Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front), or DHKP-C, is a proscribed radical Marxist-Leninist group, which has mounted deadly attacks across Turkey since the mid 1990s.

The Interior Minister also used terror slurs against Kaftancıoğlu, allegedly claiming she was “a jester of terrorist organisations.” He is reported to have said the CHP regional head is a member of various terror groups including the DHKP-C, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK).

Erdoğan and Soylu’s insults against Kaftancıoğlu were repeated by multiple politicians from their Justice and Development (AK) Party. In addition, some politicians and party members are said to have circulated a fake photo of Kaftancıoğlu as part of the smear campaign against her.

Lawyers acting for Kaftancıoğlu are said to be currently identifying who was involved in the distribution of the fake pictures and making defamatory comments about her. She is expected to launch civil and criminal proceedings against them too.

Who is Canan Kaftancıoğlu?

A physician turned politician, 48 year-old Kaftancıoğlu is credited as the brains behind Ekrem İmamoğlu’s electoral success in the 2019 Istanbul Mayoral Election, and challenging CHP’s nationalist mindset.

Over the past decade, she has championed a more tolerant approach towards minorities and Turkey’s pious Muslims, who were traditionally shunned by CHP’s dominant and fiercely secular Kemalist faction.

Canan Kaftancıoğlu is credited as helping Ekrem İmamoğlu defy the odds & win in the 2019 Istanbul Mayoral Election

Embed from Getty Images

The married mother of one came from humble beginnings. She grew up in a village in the Black Sea province of Ordu, the child of housewife and a teacher father of modest means.

She went to the Istanbul School of Medicine, specialising in forensic medicine. While there, she turned activist, defending the rights of her headscarf-wearing peers who were often denied access to higher education due to the country’s strict secular laws.

Kaftancıoğlu wrote her thesis on torture cases, which had become widespread in Turkey at the time.

After graduating, she worked for a time with Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and later co-founded the Collective Memory Platform to support families seeking justice for their relatives, who were victims of politically motivated, unsolved murders.

In 1980, her father-in-law Ümit Kaftancıoğlu, a film producer, writer and columnist for the left-leaning daily Cumhuriyet, was killed by suspected ultra-nationalists.

Kaftancıoğlu initially worked as the party’s head of press, culture, and communications in 2011. The following year she became deputy head for CHP Istanbul, and in 2018 she was elected to her current position as the party’s Istanbul chair.

Her ability to connect with grassroots issues and diverse people has played a vital role in her approach to reforming the CHP.

Kaftancıoğlu was key to expanding the party’s support base and mobilising them for the 2019 Mayoral Election campaign for İmamoğlu, who defied the odds by beating former AKP Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım.

Since 2019, Kaftancıoğlu has become a target for the AKP, who have tried to discredit her and brand her a terrorist.


Main photo, top, of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (right) in 2019, photo © Адміністрація Президента України, CC BY 4.0 via Wikipedia, and Süleyman Soylu in 2017, photo © Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons