Take a tour of Turkey’s women-only beach
Sibel Arna - ANTALYAOn my visit to Sarısu Beach, the free-of-charge, women-only beach in the southern province of Antalya that has recently caused such a stir, it perhaps should not have been a surprise to see that a Salvador Dali image was the only reference to a male in sight.
While at the beach, I met with Neriman from Trabzon, who said she wanted her youngest daughter to be a model, and also with Özlem, a burka-clad women living in Lyon who is fluent in French. I was also very impressed by Kerime, who told me that she had “bought a bikini for the first time in her life” for her trip to the beach.
Arriving in Antayla, I asked a local 20-year-old gas station worker for directions to the women-only beach. He blushed and then started to look at me with a teasing smile, as if I had asked “Where’s the nudist beach?” He then told me to turn left after about a kilometer…
“Soon enough, guys like this young man will be trying whatever they can to get a peek at such a beach,” I thought to myself.
The beach is located very close to the Konyaaltı neighbourhood of Antalya, and I found it easily with the help of road signs. It has kebab and fish restaurants, a tea garden, a beach buffet and a marketplace made up of a market and six shops. I don’t know if it was because it was only the fourth day after its opening, but it was the cleanest beach I have ever seen. The grass was green and the flowers were beautiful. The women responsible for rubbish collection waited until I finished my bottle of water and then took it away.
Even though it was Wednesday, the beach was quite crowded. All 300 sunbeds and the 150 umbrellas placed on the beach were taken. I sat in the cafe after changing my clothes inside a harmonious wooden cabin. Thinking that it would break the ice, I ordered a Turkish coffee as soon as I sat down. Guess who I met? Salvador Dali winked an eye at me from the coffee cup…
Rather than getting lost in the Dali details, I looked over to three young girls sitting at the next table. The group was made up of a junior high school student and two senior high school students. All three were dressed casually, but they were there to accompany their headscarved mother, who they appeared to be a little annoyed with. But, after all, this is their duty as daughters.
On the beach, there was a shared feeling of discomfort. Everyone seemed to mistrust one another because everyone was “undressed.” No one spoke with the person on the next sunbed. I only heard one woman say, “Here is some tea if you want it.”
When I started taking pictures half an hour into my visit, a woman yelled at me, “Put your mobile phone back in your bag.” When I asked why, she explained: “I heard that there were journalists around here.” I smiled when I saw the same woman topless within a couple of hours.
Going back to Neriman from Trabzon, who wants her youngest daughter to become a model, she told me that she felt uncomfortable with the atmosphere on the beach. “I’m not coming back again. It has a strange feeling. It made me anxious that women are so distant from each other. There will be many fights here,” she said.
I spent a long time chatting with Özlem, who has lived in Lyon for eight years. She came here with her little daughter and her sister from the Turkish province of Isparta. She was happy in her hashema, the Islamic-style full-body swimsuit. “Even the French don’t treat every headscarved women in the same way. They can distinguish an educated person from 10 meters away. But we are different,” she told me. Did she sense that I was a journalist?
However, I got a different impression from Kerime. “I have bought a bikini for the first time in my life, it’s so delightful to swim in it. Thank God!” she said, playing with the waves as she shook the skirt of her bikini. She must have been cooling her body in this way for the first time ever.
Saime, who approached me while swimming, asked me: “Do you wear a headscarf?” I said I did not, then made up a story about my fiancée being a jealous person, which is why I had come to the beach. After hearing that, she replied, “You’re right, there are people like you, too.” We talked about how relaxed we were without men around, not caring about whether our breasts were seen or feeling that we had to cover our bodies on the beach.
I also saw a woman with a crescent-star necklace. She turned out to be a teacher and a staunch republican, but said she came to the beach out of curiosity. “They are using women to control society. Even democratic parties have done that. We were not allowed to take off our nylon socks until the May 19 national holiday celebrations. The ideology is different but the point of view is still the same in my opinion. Women shouldn’t fall into this trap,” she said.
All over the world there are facilities that provide autonomy alongside liberty. We don’t find nudist and adult-only beaches to be strange. From this perspective, the Sarısu Women-Only Beach could be considered in the same category. However, we can’t share the same enthusiasm when a cleric, whose salary is being paid by our state, declares that it is sinful for men and women to dance together. I wonder how Dali would picture that scene?