Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) and new ministers of Turkey pose during the cabinet members' introduction meeting at the presidential palace in Ankara, Turkey, 03 June 2023. EPA-EFE/NECATİ SAVAS


Only woman in new government of Turkey is Belgian-born hardliner


The Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has announced his new cabinet, where the only female will be Mahinur Özdemir Göktas. The controversial Brussels-born former municipal councillor, who holds both Belgian and Turkish citizenship, became the first Brussels Parliament member who wore a headscarf when elected in 2009, sparking fierce debate.

Since stepping down several years ago, she has now been appointed by Erdogan as Turkey’s Minister of Family Affairs in the Turkish government following his election for a third term last month.

In 2015, Göktas was ejected from her Belgian party, the Christian Democrats, because she refused to recognise what is referred to as the Armenian Genocide, the systematic killing of Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. During that episode, approximately 1.5 million people were murdered by the Young Turks, a political reform movement in the early 20th century that favoured the replacement of the Ottoman Empire’s absolute monarchy.

Following her removal, Göktas became an independent politician representing Belgium’s Schaarbeek municipality in the Parliament of Brussels, although in the next elections she did not participate as a candidate.

She originally became a Schaarbeek councillor in 2006 and won a seat in the Brussels Parliament in 2009. The headscarf issue caused controversy at the time regarding the wearing of religious symbols in Parliament, particularly as under Turkey’s secular laws doing so was forbidden in Turkey at the time.

While the religious aspect was contentious, she was highly popular in Belgium’s Turkish community, outscoring local party figures of Belgian descent.

She has forged close ties with Erodgan, who even attended her wedding in Istanbul. After Göktas left Belgian politics, Erdogan installed her as the Turkish ambassador in Algeria in 2020 and has now elevated her to the position of Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services.

“It is a great honour to serve Turkey,” the politician commented on Twitter, explicitly thanking Erdogan. She has stated her intention to work on the principle of “a strong family, a strong Turkey” in the coming years.

Conservative opposition parties in Belgium question what they see as split loyalties among Turkish individuals, which they feel is highlighted by the Göktas political situation. Turks tend to vote overwhelmingly for the left in Belgium but for the religious and autocratic Erodgan in Turkey.