Confessions of a White Turk
BELGİN AKALTAN - firstname.lastname@example.org
CHP lawmaker Şafak Pavey speaks in Parliament. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZLet me start with Bülent Ecevit, the leader I voted for all throughout my adult life, as long as he was alive. I adored him; he came into our lives like sunshine, enlightening us, introducing us to modern social democracy, adding layers of kindness, modesty, poetry and intellectualism, plus another layer of depth, culture, thoughtfulness, selflessness and ideals. I still adore him for these qualities of his. He was honest. (Honesty was important in those times.)
Did these features make him a good leader? Of course not.
It was during Ecevit’s minority government when Merve Kavakçı, a headscarf-wearing deputy, was elected to Parliament. We all felt like it was a challenge to the system, to everybody. To the Parliament. To women’s rights. To secularism.
I remember like yesterday when she dared to enter Parliament, took her seat in the General Assembly and waited for her turn to take the oath. Ecevit kicked her out of the grand hall in a historic speech, speaking with his usual effective tone of voice, his words echoing in our minds one by one. The day was May 2, 1999.
It sounded so correct at that time; that Ecevit speech in Parliament. I thought it was perfect. How little did we know?
How much more wrong could we be?
When I say “we,” I mean the White Turk. How would you define a White Turk? Urban, educated, Western-minded. A White Turkish woman does not wear a headscarf. A White Turkish man has nothing to do with a headscarf-wearing woman. Up until very recently, White Turks had very negative feelings toward women who wore headscarves. Especially when they set forth asking for equal rights with “us.” It was all right as long as they were doing the cleaning and the cooking…
The characterization of a White Turk is a good topic for a separate piece… This one is not about the White Turk. This is about the confessions of a White Turk.
It was again in 1999, the day was Feb. 12. It was evening at the award ceremony for the Magazine Journalists Association (MGD).
Yes, you got it. Ahmet Kaya announced that he would sing a Kurdish song and make a music video of it. When you read or listen to his words now, they cannot be more innocent. But at that time, when sentiments were running high, these words triggered uncalled for mass reaction that almost marked the end of his life.
Ahmet Kaya was protested at the ceremony, had to leave the hall and later the country. The media continued pursuing him.
Well, at that time, I wanted to congratulate those brave souls who were people of principle and bold enough to protest the guy. Good for them.
How much more wrong could we be? Could I be?
I was a grown-up and mature person or, as you would say in Turkish, “eşek kadar,” which would translate as “like a donkey,” meaning big, grown-up, mature person, when Sept. 12 happened. Yes, I was a girl “like a donkey,” aware of the world, not a child anymore, young but not naïve, a full, potential adult, when coup leader Gen. Kenan Evren said on TV that there were no Kurds in Turkey. “When they walk on snow in the mountains, they make noises sounding like ‘kart kurt.’ That’s why they are called Kurds. Actually, they are mountain Turks,” he said.
I felt enlightened. Yes, that was the answer to all the Kurdish issues. Kurds are mountain Turks. Full stop. They were tricked into believing they were different.
I’m ashamed to write these things now. I fully believed the above.
Again, how much more wrong could one be?
When Evren again said they banned Kurdish, that also sounded normal. This was perfectly sound logic: We are giving those mountain Turks everything they need, everything; what else do they want?
It was also a frequently asked question: “Is there a language called Kurdish or is it actually a dialect of Turkish?”
I remember asking a colleague who was married to a Kurd whose mother-in-law did not speak Turkish. I asked her, “Is there really a language called Kurdish? Can you not communicate with your mother-in-law in Turkish?”
I worked in Kosovo for several years for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission. There is a Turkish community in Kosovo. I have been asked there so many times and came across the same mentality so many times: “Actually, what the Kosovar Turks are speaking is not Turkish. It is a dialect of Albanian, right? Can you understand their Turkish?”
This question must be the symbolic sentence of the universal oppressor, used for Kurdish here and for Turkish in Kosovo.
The persuasion rooms in universities to convince headscarf-wearing girls to get rid of their veils so that they wouldn’t lose their rights… What a clever idea it seemed at that time, and up until very recently.
When did I stop being an ignorant White Turk and start to see the other side of things?
Did it start in Kosovo when I saw that every single concept about state-citizen affairs that was dictated to us was turned upside-down when it was the Turks who were the minority? Or was it when my intern, Ebru, told me that her headscarf-wearing mother could not attend Ebru’s older sister’s graduation ceremony at an Anatolian university because she was stopped at the entrance. I remember feeling that terrible pang of sorrow in my heart. And the dawning on me that “Something is VERY wrong here…”
The incident where female deputies attended a Parliament session wearing headscarves should not be newsworthy. But then again, with the deepest sincerity of being a White Turk, will it make the headlines one day when a female deputy dares enter the Turkish Parliament without a headscarf?
Correction: When I refer, toward the end of my piece, to people asking me whether the Turkish spoken in Kosovo by Kosovar Turks was really Turkish or was a dialect of Albanian, the people I am talking about was the international community governing Kosovo while I was there, before its independence. Although there were extremists among the Kosovar Albanians, one cannot talk about any kind of oppression against the Turks. Thank you for pointing that out, @Foreigner. The attempts to disregard the Turkish community in Kosovo came from the internationals, actually the head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Bernard Kouchner, who arrogantly dismissed the language rights of the Turkish community there and replaced it with English for the convenience of the internationals, many Kosovar Turks continue to believe...