A decades-old lawsuit expected to be concluded soon showcases the history of women's right to property in Turkey and how far they have come. Deniz Açıkgöz, a granddaughter of Fadile Yazar, continues to fight for the rights to title deeds for a large swathe of land in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır 66 years after Yazar launched legal action to get what she was entitled to.
It all started long before the lawsuit filed in 1952, when Hanı, Yazar's grandmother, was deprived of her father's inheritance. Her father, Şemdin bin Mamo, a native of Diyarbakır's Silvan district, had stated in his will that thousands of acres of land were to be passed on to his two sons. This was a common practice that still prevails in parts of rural Turkey. A patriarchal mindset is blamed for the practice and though laws order equal distribution of inheritance between men and women, people find legal loopholes, such as delaying the registration of daughters in civic registries. In other cases, daughters remain silent, fearing that a dispute over inheritance would disrupt their relations with male family members. When Yazar heard about the incident from her grandmother, she launched legal action. She won a lawsuit that designated her as legal heir and another trial started in 1968 for the return of her rights to title deeds. Since then, the trial has been handled by 20 judges and more plaintiffs joined Yazar. Currently, there are more than 500 plaintiffs and defendants in the case, including the grandchildren of Ömer and Abdurrahman, the two sons who inherited Şemdin Bin Mamo's lands and the descendants of Hanı.
Açıkgöz, 40, continues to lead the plaintiffs in the case, 18 years after the death of Yazar. "It started before I was born, and I remember the days when my grandmother would attend the hearings. It was a big struggle for her," she says. Abdulbaki İzci, the lawyer for Açıkgöz and the other plaintiffs, says the trial will set a precedent if it concludes in favor of Hanı's descendants. He said they now expect that a new report will determine the boundaries of the land soon, adding that the report will be the ultimate phase in the case. İzci said women were not registered in civic registries by their families in order to deprive them of their inheritance. "It will set a precedent in women's fight for inheritance. This is an important problem in Turkey, and it is more common in southeastern Turkey," he said. İzci said lengthy work involving a cadastral survey has prolonged the trial.