‘12,000 Kurdish female guerillas died, Kemalist feminism is lousy’
How do you find the journalists in Ankara, I asked Sırrı Süreyya Önder before I started the interview that was published in the Hürriyet Daily News April 29.
“They are very Kemalist,” replied Önder, who is uncontestedly one of the most charismatic members of Parliament. “Of course I don’t use this term as a curse,” he added, but obviously it is no compliment to me and my colleagues, since I consider myself an “Ankara journalist” even though I have been living in Istanbul for the past eight years.
When I asked Önder what his problem with Kemalists was, his answer prompted an exchange about women’s rights, which I was unable to use in the paper due to length restrictions. Here is the conversation:
BY: So you don’t believe that Atatürk played a role in transforming this country?
SSÖ: Let me ask you, has Turkey transformed?
BY: Perhaps the fact that I as a woman sat in front you asking questions without a headscarf might be the result of that transformation?
SSÖ: Are you among those who think that women in Anatolia were going around in chadors everywhere?
BY: No, but I know they did not have prominent positions and lacked certain legal rights.
SSÖ: The prominence of women in social life was much bigger in Anatolia than most of the rest of the world. It is true that Islamic culture took this down a little bit, but women’s prominence in these lands’ genetic codes goes back 5,000 years.
BY: The woman from whom I got my name ruled over men in Central Asia. But we are not talking about these times; we are talking about the situation of women in the 1910s.
SSÖ: Turkmen clans are clans that were under the administration of women no matter how sedentary they became. Women were active enough before Atatürk “civilized” them. The question to be asked today is this: The rights that were given to women are being lost by the Justice and Development Party government’s initiatives on lifestyles. This society is fast becoming more conservative.
Take the transformation effect of the Kurdish liberation movement upon Kurdish women, think of its permanency and then think about the miserable state of you, the Turkish women. Kurdish women came to this point by struggling against their men; Turkish women got up one day and found out that Atatürk had done them some favors.
BY: So had it not been for Atatürk, do you think Turkey would have evolved to these days anyway?
SSÖ: You can’t do such a reading of history. But do you have an idea how many Kurdish female guerillas died? 12,000. In a region where women equal honor, 12,000 women have stood up against their father, brother and uncle and gone to join the guerillas. There are 4,000 convicted Kurdish female politicians in prisons. Take this and compare it with what Atatürk has done. How many of you have risen up and fought for your rights? [“When I say you, I don’t mean you,” he adds!]
There is co-chairmanship in the BDP, and it is the first party in Turkey to have such a policy. Dear Kemalist CHP! [Opposition Republican People’s Party] You brag about giving so much importance to women; were you able to implement gender quotas in the party’s administrative positions? Therefore Kemalist feminism is lousy, just like anything that is given from top to bottom.
I ended that discussion at that point, since I was running out of time and passed on to another subject. But I’d like to note that after attending the funeral of the late Şerafettin Elçi, a prominent Kurdish leader in the southeastern town of Cizre, I had written an article talking about the possible effects of the Kurdish female politicians on the ordinary Kurdish women living in the region. I had contrasted that phenomenon to the top to bottom approach that women in Turkey overall had “enjoyed” with the reforms of the early Republican days.
I therefore partially agree with Önder. Yet, despite the shortcomings, I can’t agree that reforms in the early days of the Republic have brought no benefit to Turkey.
By the way, when I asked how Önder found Istanbul journalists, his answer was “colorful.”