#kahkaha Swarms Twitter After Turkish Minister’s ‘laughing ban’ on women.

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With only ten days to go until Turkey’s elections, controversial remarks made by the country’s deputy prime minister over female modesty causes outrage.

In regards to the issue of “moral decline” in the country, Bülent Arinc, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, and co-founder of the current ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has sparked anger over his attack on women.

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According to Channel 4 news, Arinc at a gathering for the Islamic festival of Eid al-Fitr, stated, “[A woman] should not laugh loudly in front of all the world and should preserve her decency at all times.” Inevitably, there has been a backlash on social media, fueling anger about AKP’s views on women.

Where do AKP stand on the question of women?

Controversial remarks made by AKP ministers about women are not  uncommon. In 2010 prime minister Tayyip Erdogan asserted his opinion that,“women and men are not equal. They only complement each other”. AKP has been accused by many for being sexist, and for not being concerned about the treatment of women in Turkey. In the 2013 Gender Equality report of the World Economic Forum Turkey ranked in 120th position among a total of 136 countries.

Will This Affect the Election Result?

Arinc’s speech has so far inspired many to retaliate via social media, however AKP remains a strong political party in Turkey reaping in support from conservative Turks. Many however fear for Turkey’s future under Erdogan’s presidency.

The Dersim Massacre: The story of a Lost Girl.

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I wanted to write a post about something related to the Dersim massacre (1938). For those who are unfamiliar with Turkey, Dersim (once renamed Tunceli in the process of turkification, but recently renamed Dersim again), is an Alevi majority province in central eastern Turkey. As someone who’s family experienced living through the massacre, I have always been passionate about my heritage and roots…

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There are many things to discuss around this topic, however I am dedicating this blog post to Arshaluys Mardikian (1901)- A young Armenian girl from the town of Çemişgezek in Dersim.  This mainly being because I have only just found out about her. I have been researching Dersim since as long as I can remember, and I have just learnt about this wonderful and inspirational young girl. After the massacre of Armenians in modern day Turkey 1915 she witnessed the death of her family and was sold first as a slave in the Anatolian markets, then to a harem and shared amongst a number of Turkish pashas. She however refused to give up on her life, and fled to Erzurum. With the help of a group of Russian soldiers who had gained control over parts of Erzurum she escaped to Tiflis (modern Tbilisi, Georgia), then to St. Petersburg, from where she traveled to Oslo and finally, with the help of Near East Relief, to New York. Arshaluys wrote about the killing of the Armenians and Dersim people. The book was called Ravished Armenia and was also developed into a film. Arshaluys married and settled in America, but sadly suffered severe mental trauma in her late life due to what she had gone through. She died alone in 1994, and her story was forgotten…But definitely not by me.

Young Arshaluys dressed in traditional clothing.

Young Arshaluys dressed in traditional clothing.

A movie poster for 'Ravished Armenia'. Arshaluys had changed her name to Aurora.

A movie poster for ‘Ravished Armenia’. Arshaluys had changed her name to Aurora.

The Dersim massacre: Dersimite children held hostage. Behind them, Ataturk's Turkish army stand proudly.

The Dersim massacre: Dersimite children held hostage. Behind them, Ataturk’s Turkish army stand proudly.

BEYOND KEBABS: A GUIDE TO TURKISH STREET FOOD

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Making Gözleme. Pic by Carin

KEBAB shops can be found almost everywhere today. Generally offering a good size meal for great value, it’s no wonder kebabs are so popular amongst students. But if you’re lucky enough to study in Turkey- the kebab’s ancestral home, you’ll quickly find that there are many other tasty street foods available.

The exciting whirlwind city of Istanbul is home to some of Turkey’s best universities, such as Sabancı, and Istanbul Bilgi and Boğaziçi, as well as some of the most appetising street foods at affordable prices. Many of Turkey’s coastal cities boast mouthwatering fresh fish restaurants, vendors of grilled corn on the cobs and popular rice stuffed muscles.

Having been to Istanbul on a number of occasions, I’ve had the opportunity to have a bite of the many different types of foods available. One thing I’ve always loved about Turkish street food however, is not only the aromatic smells of herbs and spices, but the experience which comes with the food. The vibrant culture of Turkey and the country’s love of food is fused with the food preparation process, and you always get to see how your food is made.

Turkish cuisine often involves a lot of meat, however there are vegetarian options available too. Here are some popular options:

Gözleme
Gözleme is a savoury traditional Turkish pastry dish, very similar to a pancake but with the options of most often a goat’s cheese, onion and spinach filling or spiced minced meat. You’ll often see women sat down rolling out dough on a traditional wooden tableside, cooking the gözleme over a hot griddle. Gözleme’s are not only very tasty and super addictive, but cheap and healthy. They can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or throughout the day as a snack.

Simit
The Simit is another pastry based option, and a staple of traditional Turkish street food sold by street vendors. The Simit is a light and flaky dough formed into a large ring, topped with sesame seeds and baked a golden brown colour. It can be eaten by itself or as a breakfast food with some jam. One thing that always goes very well with a Simit is a nice hot glass of çay (Turkish tea).

Simit pastry rings. Pic by Aaron May

 

Kokoreç
For those who prefer a meaty, more adventurous option, you might want to try Kokoreç, although you may find it slightly unusual looking at its ingredients. Spiced offal is wrapped in lamb’s intestine and skewed on a large open fire until crisp. Popular in many Turkish cities and especially amongst students as a post-party snack, many claim it to be very tasty, and having tried some Kokoreç myself I’ll admit it’s not bad. However taste aside, it is very greasy and there have been concerns about the exact contents of the offal mixture, as well as questions about it’s health benefits as Turkey doesn’t have very strong food standard requirements. I wouldn’t recommend eating Kokoreç everyday.

A kokoreç stall. Pic by Ankara

 

Other foods and drinks you may come across in Turkey:

Ayran: A very popular savoury plain yogurt based drink.

Çay: Turkish tea, served everywhere in Turkey in small dainty glasses.

Maraş Dondurma: A very popular ice-cream originating from the eastern province of Maraş. Famous for it’s elasticity, vendors often offer a comical show which gets people laughing.

Midye: Mostly found in coastal areas, Midye is a rice stuffed muscle. Very cheap and very tasty. However again there are questions of food hygiene.

Turkish tea – or çay – is served in small dainty glasses

 

I originally wrote this article for Student World Online

The Importance of A Grandmother

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In response to The Daily Post on whether there should be another day in order of a special relative, my answer is yes, a day dedicated to grandparents, or in my case, my lovely grandmother. I call mine “annane” (Turkish for grandma). It literally means mother’s mother.

Now I can only speak from my own experience with my grandma. I understand that there aren’t many people who are that close to their grandparents, and truthfully I find that a little sad. I don’t know if it’s down to culture and different ideas on what family is. In my culture family is very important, especially family elders. Grandparents are seen as wise and special, and people you should always be respectful towards. I’ve always had a very close relationship with my “annane”, and so have my siblings. She practically brought us up – of course my mum did too, but my mum’s always been hard at work providing for the family as long as I can remember…and my dad…well not so much. In my opinion grandmothers are like second mothers, and my grandmother certainly is. No one’s love feels as warm and gentle as a grandma’s love. There’s just something special about them. Something kinda magical. My “annane” is the sweetest woman ever, but that isn’t to say she isn’t tough. I love that about her, and I love that combination of sweetness and “I don’t give a damn” confidence that comes with age. I’d love to be a grandmother one day. I’m not really scared of aging.

For me grandmothers deserve a day of their own, because they are such strong people. My grandmother came to London when she was in her early 20’s with FIVE kids! Yes five…two more soon to be on the way. She also had an abusive husband who she had never wanted to marry in the first place. At a young age she was basically kidnapped and made to marry him. She came from a remote village in Dersim, north-east Turkey. Eventually she left her husband. Today she’s almost always coming to visit us, and still as passionate and full of energy as ever, with a total of 7 kids, 12 grandchildren plus one on the way, and two great grandchildren at the ripe old age of 62. A phenomenal woman she is!

Turkey: A History of Sexual Violence

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This is an article I wrote a while ago for The Guardian’s International Development Journalism Competition. I was very proud that it was successful in being shortlisted for the competition as it’s an issue very close to my heart. I’m also glad that in some way the issue gained some public attention, even if only a little. Horrendous issues such as this go unheard of for too long in Turkey, and many other countries in the world. The article contains some graphic imagery. As Angelina Jolie has been urging more action to be carried out against sexual violence in war torn countries, I felt the need to post my article as it relates to the issue.

 

The rape and torture of Kurdish prisoners in Turkey are disturbingly commonplace.

“I was blindfolded, stripped naked, beaten…and they tried to put sticks up my anus. I fainted,” stated 37-year-old mother of three, Hamdiye Aslan.

Hamdiye Aslan’s alleged perpetrators were five police officers. According to a report from Amnesty International in 2003, she had been detained in Mardin Prison, south-east Turkey, for almost three months in which she was reportedly blindfolded, anally raped with a truncheon, threatened and mocked by officers.

Horrific and shocking as it may sound, activists state that Hamdiye’s case is one of many.

They say that such methods of abuse are regular practice in Turkish prisons, and have reportedly been used on many Kurdish and Alevi women to enforce fear and to humiliate. Hamdiye was told she was being arrested for sheltering the Kurdish rebel movement, the PKK; a charge she denied.

Reporting on cases of sexual abuse in Turkey is often difficult; the issue is still taboo in Turkish culture, as well as the fact that much of Turkish media don’t report on such cases as they tarnish the country’s modern and secular image. The result of this is that many injustices within Turkey, including systematic rapes carried out in prisons to maintain power over communities, go unheard by the rest of the world.

In the early hours of June 28, 1993, Şükran Esen, then aged 21, was accused of assisting the PKK by a group of gendarmes who had arrived at her house. She too denied the charges. A trial observation report by the Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) states that, in an aggravated felony court in the province of Mardin, a prosecutor indicted 405 members of the Derik District Gendarmerie Command, 65 of whom were senior officers, for raping Şükran Esen.

The victim stated that on the three occasions that she was detained she was: raped vaginally by the gendarmes and their officer; given electric shocks; put inside a vehicle tyre and rolled over; subjected to high pressure jet sprays of cold water; and threatened with death. On one occasion, as a result of the sadistic sexual violence, she was finally taken to hospital whilst haemorrhaging. Esen was blindfolded throughout the ordeal and was never able to recognise her perpetrators. Although nine witnesses testified to the arrest of the victim by the gendarme, the accused not only denied committing the alleged offences, but failed to acknowledge that Şükran Esen had ever been detained. A medical report from the International Berlin Torture and Rehabilitation Centre, where Esen had undergone treatment, certified that her injuries were the result of torture.

Both the women’s cases offer examples as to why Turkey has been denied entry into the EU by the European Commission due to the country’s human rights issues. The Turkish State classifies the activities of many pro-Kurdish organisations as ‘terrorism’ because they’re viewed as damaging the state. As a result of this, there have been many cases of Kurdish women allegedly sexually abused while in custody on accusations of being associated with such organisations.

There have been reports of women and children raped with serrated objects, beaten, and forced into so-called ‘virginity tests’ by government officials.

In April this year, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan hailed the withdrawal of PKK rebels from Turkey as the end of “a dark era” and stated: “Turkey is changing its ill fortune and is entering a new phase.” However as sexual violence against women, men and children by state agents remains both common and unmitigated, this promise of a change comes with a dark cloud of doubt looming over it. It’s poignant to question whether Turkey’s idea of fighting terrorism is being used, as it has previously around the world, to undermine human rights in more concealed ways.

The Turkish State doesn’t appear to openly accept its bloody history; the most recent incident being the Uludere massacre in 2011 where Turkish warplanes bombed teenage Kurds crossing into Turkey from Iraq. As time unravels, reports of rape during the systematic ethnic cleansing of Kurdish and Alevi people in the 1937 Dersim massacre have also come to light, though remain unpublicised.

Amnesty International’s 2003 campaign, ‘End Sexual Violence against Women in Custody’ highlighted the “state’s inability to implement its own new legal code and its failure to act with due diligence when complaints are made.” Furthermore, stating that there is “a general climate of impunity for those suspected of torture in Turkey.”

Recent years have revealed that children too are subject to sexual violence in Turkish prisons. In 2012, Turkish newspaper Dicle News reported on the alleged sexual abuse and torture inflicted on Kurdish children whilst imprisoned in Pozantı Juvenile Prison in southern Turkey. The children, all between the ages of 13-17, weren’t only sexually abused by prison officers, guards and soldiers, but denied medical attention and hung from basketball hoops until close to choking as a means of torture.

“Some of our friends were raped by the ordinary prisoners dozens of times. They sometimes tried to force our trousers down. Our experiences cannot be described,” claimed 15-year-old H.K.

With the use of social networking sites, the Pozantı case was exposed. The children were moved to another prison. Their crimes: throwing stones, or as some would point out, they were Kurdish children throwing stones. The Pozantı case is not an “isolated” case, as Turkey’s ruling right-wing Justice and Development Party (AKP) was quick to trumpet to its people. The same government was also very quick to detain the journalists first to report on the Pozantı children, on accusations of being linked to the KCK; a Kurdish organisation linked to the PKK.

Human rights abuses continue to be reported with a rise in complaints by Kurdish women who’ve found the courage to speak out. However, there remain many obstacles in the way of these women getting justice. Many women don’t have much faith in either the Turkish penal system or the police, and so don’t feel that fighting against the history of sexual violence carried out by those with power in patriarchal Turkey is a war which they can prevail.

This feature was written before May 12 2013 as part of the Guardian International Development Journalism competition.