All quiet on the Turkish front
BELGİN AKALTAN - firstname.lastname@example.org
There were no noteworthy street incidents to report from Turkey this week, were there?This week is a relatively calm week in Turkey; not much to write about. So, I will write about the new dress code in the State Opera and Ballet.
Recently, leggings, sleeveless t-shirts, shorts, sandals, slippers, stilettos and evening dresses were banned in the state opera. Afterward, officials defended the ban saying it was for the administrative staff only and not for the artists.
This ban reminded me of a similar dress code back in the coup days of 1980. It was after the Sept. 12 coup, and I was working in Ankara, in the semi-official Anatolia News Agency, which was not like today. At those times, I was proud to be working there – or maybe I was naïve, you decide.
The coup leader General Kenan Evren, after the dust was settled, appointed several of his classmates to head state institutions. One was sent to state radio and television TRT, who was always on the news. Others were not so much under the spotlights, like the one heading the Directorate of Press and Information; another one, our institution, Anadolu Agency (AA). I think we got the dumbest one. I don’t remember his name.
When he first stepped foot at the agency, he asked, “What do you do here?” (Rumor has it that each and every general manager of AA, the minute they first step into the building, asks the same question. Maybe there are a few exceptions.)
It was the 80s and there were no computers or the Internet, only telex, wires, telephoto and radios. We also had bulletins, paper copies of our news. When these bulletins were brought to this new general manager’s desk, he asked, “What are these?”
“They are AA bulletins, sir.”
“I am the general manager; I don’t read bulletins. Take them away.”
He acted like an administrative chief, like the head of the cleaners, painters, waiters, security, but was never interested in the news or what the AA was doing. Yes guys, this is just one small drop depicting how a military rule transpires into the smaller veins of the society and into its institutions…
Well, this new general manager came and changed the chairs, painted the building, renewed the fire instructions.
I was a young girl in my early 20s then. And DO NOT calculate my age. (I said do not.) I can still be considered a youngish woman.
Anyway, let me get to the point. When this retired general came to head the AA, he started banning things. He indeed messed with women’s clothes. What do they want from women’s clothes? Why can’t they make peace with women’s bodies and clothes, and maybe accept that they are all losers who will never have access to the ones they yearn for; that they need to settle…
Anyway, he banned pants for female workers. Then we insisted a little; that winter in Ankara was a real cold one; it was freezing. He, then, relaxed the ban a little. Anybody who was staying in the building was allowed to wear pants, but reporters and those who had “representative” duties like meeting others, they were to wear skirts. Fair enough.
I was in a night shift one evening and I put on some kind of baggy pants, thinking nobody would see me. (I had sewn those pants myself and they were semi-horrible.)
Our general manager was in a cocktail reception that evening. He looked around and saw some potential stories (Maybe somebody told him – I tell you, he was not that bright). There was no media around, so he asked permission from the chief, Evren, if his staff can come. The chief said yes. So reporters were rushed from the AA.
Because there were foreigners in the reception, they also grabbed me because I spoke English. We were told a former American Ambassador to Ankara, Robert Komer (not Commer) was also there. You know, the infamous envoy whose car was torched by students – reportedly by Deniz Gezmiş and friends – when he was paying a visit to the Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) rector.
My colleague Levent and I, and a photographer went to the reception. While we were on our way, I knew my pants would create a problem. I was telling the guys to please to stop by my apartment and I will change into a skirt in five minutes. (It is Ankara; it takes five minutes to go home in that city.) I was begging but they did not agree. They said my pants were not the priority or the issue at that moment.
Anyway, we went and interviewed people and produced very good stories, Levent and I. Somehow, I was feeling the eyes of our general manager following me, looking at my pants. But I was busy, doing my job.
I do remember; it was one of my unforgettable moments in my journalistic career when I asked Komer, “Where did you park your car, sir?”
We asked questions, recorded them in our tape recorders that were as big as a thick book hanging down our shoulders with a strap. Anyway we went back, wrote our stories. My, “Where did you park your car, sir?” story made headlines at daily Günaydın the next day – that paper also had more prestige in those days. All other papers also used our stories. It was a very successful task journalism-wise. But not dress code wise.
The next day, pants were totally banned in AA. The general manager had seen me wearing pants. He called my manager, the head of the international desk the next morning. He was insisting “one reporter, Belgin” was wearing baggy pants; she was insisting, “No, Belgin does not wear baggy pants...” Anyway, a circular was issued that day, banning all AA staff from wearing pants. He had forgotten to say “female” which meant men were also banned from wearing pants. We planned to have all males wear skirts the next day, but times were tough; nobody dared.
When I read the opera dress ban, I remembered those days.
Those were those times; now, today here we have these times... And you wonder why Turkey is underdeveloped, why it is stuck at the medium income trap, why we cannot go any further than being a cement republic?