15:51 GMT18 May 2021
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    MOSCOW (Sputnik) - The seating arrangement controversy during European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's visit to Turkey earlier this month has nothing to do with women's rights or her being European, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic said on Wednesday.

    Von der Leyen was left without a chair at a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in early April, claiming the incident was an overt case of sexism that deliberately took place "because she is a woman."

    "The seating arrangement issue during the visit of the Presidents of the European Council and European Commission to our country had nothing to do with being European, being a woman, the Istanbul Convention and the position of the European Commission. It was a result of the neglect and lack of coordination of the EU protocol," Bilgic said in a press release.

    On Monday, the European Commission president commented on the controversy, which has become known as "Sofagate," by saying that she "felt hurt and left alone: as a woman and as a European" because the incident made her realize "how far we still have to go before women are treated as equals."

    Because her colleague, European Council President Charles Michel, and Erdogan were prompt to occupy the only two chairs arranged in the meeting hall, von der Leyen had to retreat to a sofa facing Cavusoglu, whom she outranks under diplomatic protocol.

    "I am the first woman to be president of the European Commission. I am the president of the European Commission, and this is how I expected to be treated when visiting Turkey two weeks ago, like a commission president. But I was not. I cannot find any justification for how I was treated in the meeting, so I have to conclude that it happened because I am a woman," von der Leyen told the European Parliament, adding that "I felt hurt and I felt alone, as a woman and as a European," von der Leyen stated.

    ​The senior EU official stressed that the issue was not about seating arrangements or protocol, but about the values that Europe stood for.

    While a lot of women politicians and activists took to social media to express support for von der Leyen, insisting it was a case of sexism, others were unmoved, saying the incident was a breach of diplomatic protocol or even just an arrangement mistake, unrelated to gender issues.

    Others noted that von der Leyen ought to blame her European colleague Charles Michel for the seating controversy.

    Europeans, women's rights, Turkey, EU, Ursula von der Leyen
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