File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-04-03.022, message 48

Subject: M-I: Faces of Women in Turkey -II-
Date: Wed, 2 Apr 1997 12:45:18 +0300

Let me try to go ahead.

The march was at least 10,000 strong, perhaps more. This year had a stronger
crowd than the previous years, possibly due to the influence of two factors.
One, the anti-women attack of the Islamists, and the fact that ODP, the
freedom and solidarity party had attracted a rather sizable crowd of woman
to its ranks.

The biggest crowd, the pro-Kurdish Hadep crowd was a sight to see. They had
formed an all-women procession, but there were a lot of men, hanging around,
sort of nervously. The Kurdish struggle has made very important changes in
the lives of these women, who used to live under conditions even worse than
the Turkish woman, since bourgeois values, which are more advanced than
feudal/traditional values, had penetrated the Turkish sectors of the society
more thoroughly. Kurdish women stayed at home and worked like a mule, got
married and worked like a mule. Multiple marriage was common. Since these
women often didn't speak Turkish (whereas the men learnt it at some time in
their lives), it wasn't possible for them to even try to seek protection
>from bourgeois courts. After the Kurdish movement, which was much more
socialist in the beginning, an important transformation occurred. First,
there were women guerillas. Considering the make-up of the Kurdish society,
it is difficult to even begin to explain the significance of such a "sight".
These women had given up all hopes of marriage and children. The number of
Kurds who expected women to have anything in their lives besides their
husband and children was very small indeed. These women, "hevala", or
"female comrade" seem to form about 10% of those in the mountains.

Also, the Kurdish struggle has meant that many men and sons and daughters
were no longer their. They were in the mountains, killed, jailed, exiled.
Many women found themselves in the middle of the fight. Leyla Zana, the
female DEP (predecessor of HADEP) deputy in jail is the wife of Mehdi Zana,
former Diyarbekir mayor, who served long prison sentences himself and who is
now in exile. Leyla Zana used to be a housewife, according to her own
statements, and she was the one that cause all the uproar after she was
elected to the parliamant. She came on the first day wearing
green-red-yellow headband (the traditional Kurdish colors). She took the
oath in Turkish, and then she said, in Kurdish, "I took this oath is for the
friendship between the peoples". That was the first Kurdish heard in the
Turkish parliament, and there were many Kurdish deputies before her. She is
still in jail, and she is no Aquino. (One of this years Women's Day
activities was a campaign for "one day for Zana" - many women signed a
statement saying they each want to stay one day in jail for Zana, for her
freedom). I know I am going on at length about this, but the fact that
people now think of Leyla, not Mehdi, when they hear Zana is rather
remarkable in itself.

So, the Hadep procession reflected all the contradictions. At each march,
there are so many women who have obviously come out in an event like this
for the first time in their lives. You can easily tell the veterans as well.
There are many dressed in green-red-yellow, in defiance with the rather
strong police force that had turned out. Some of them do the victory sign in
an awkard way that gives away this is their first time. They are carrying a
lot of banners promoting "peace", the current official line of the PKK, and
"fraternity of the peoples", etc. Their slogans are a bit confused, unlike
those of experienced groups. Their dressing is a mixture between rural and
urban clothing. There are a few in chador. The older mostly have the look of
having spent their lives in courts and jails and morgues, in search of their
husbands, sons and daughters. The younger are clearly their of their own.
They often break into a "zilgit", a crying-like loud sound made with the
tongue. A traditional sound at weddings, it later became a symbol in
demonstrations, marches and funerals. They carry pictures of people like
Zekiye Alkan, who burnt herself on Newroz day in protest. By involving
themselves in the struggle, they risk detention and jail, which, almost
always means sexual abuse or rape for these women. 

Another interesting aspect is how the reaction to rape and sexual abuse
changed over the years. Kurdish women who are raped or sexually abused by
the police now come out, because the emphasis is now on exposing the
security forces. Before, it might have been reason for suicide in and of
itself, regardless of the criminal party, since it was such a source of
shame and social pressure for these women. Of course, the traditional fabric
has not changed, but women who go through such ordeals are now embraced by
the community, and even revered for standing up to such behaviour for the

A lot of the older generation still wears traditional islamic head-scarfs.
It is difficult to tell how deep the transformation will penetrate, but it
is clear there is a younger generation that is changed beyond the point of

Now, after the HADEP procession came the ODP procession. Such a world of
difference at a single moment. Almost the whole ODP procession was urban -
lower middle class. Teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. There wasn't a single
one with head-scarf. Most of the ODP women are socialist urban women. They
had "cute" purple "International Women's Day" and "ODP" bandanas. They were
clearly more at ease. ODP didn't have a crowd of men surrounding the group
in a worried mode the way HADEP did. To their credit, there wasn't a single
banner for secularism. They favourite slogan, which is hard to translate,
was "Love, in spite of everything; Socialism and Revolution, in spite of
everything". An alternative translation would be "Love, in defiance;
Socialism and Revolution, in defiance". It is very clear that these women
are not there with the role of the "mother", a theme that is commonly echoed
among many groups. There are the cadres, young men and women, and the
"mothers". Compared to the HADEP crowd, they are such a contrast in class
make-up. They have common slogans, which is heartening, but you can clearly
see that these women normally would never mix socially. 

Of course, it not a bad thing that these two types of women are out there on
the same march. However, there is a problem one should address. Hadep women
are more militant in some aspects and more backward in other aspects.
Especially the older generation, they are almost undefined in the struggle,
which carries the danger that, if the peace agreement is reached, a lot of
gains could be lost because these women would now just be subjects of a
bourgeois state, if in a better condition. Currently, their militancy is due
to the nature of the struggle. The ODP women are in the struggle regardless
of their husbands, brothers, etc., they are not defined as "somebody's
something". However, they clearly have the danger of not having a proper
base among the population at large, such a class composition would never be
able to reach out towards the kind of women Hadep brings to the streets, let
alone men. Teachers, doctors, nurses are and should be a part of the
struggle, but without the women who are cleaning ladies and housewives, it
will remain very limited.

These were the two sizable groups and I'll skip the others which did not
display any character of importance for this discussion. Now, the feminist
group, which is rather small in numbers but which had received the
permisson, was seriously problematic. A few feminist women made not-too-bad
speeches. The one thing clearly good about them is the ease in which they
address the Kurdish question. There was a speech made in Kurdish as well,
something you never see at social-democratic or union meetings. Only the
radical left in Turkey recognises the Kurds with any ease, and anyone else
who does deserves credit for it, it is no joke. Tours of the Kurdish areas
for the British tourists have been cancelled for some time now, which should
make everyone recognise the gravity of the problem. But, of course, just as
we were wondering how the feminists were not too bad this time, there was an
announcement from the platform. (socialist women and feminists have very bad
relations for some time now, because most of the feminist women have moved
>from criticising the left for not paying enough attention to women's issues,
to not paying attention to any other issue at all. Obviously, this is not
countered by the baby out with the bathwater, i.e. ignoring women's issues.
There were a few currents that tried to formulate how unpaid household
labour calculates in the wage-exploitation, and how male dominance is
connected to the military-police-bourgeois dominance, but those that defined
themselves only as feminists moved too far to the right). "All men, please
leave the area, there isn't enough room, the area is small and there isn't
enough room for the women." Ugh. Not only was there enough room for
everyone, nobody would allow for making the men leave even if there was such
a problem. The announcement was not heard all around because of the noise,
but those that heard it quickly started a decision - we'd all leave if it
came to be. The announcement was made a few more times, nobody moved, they
gave up. 

To show how stupid the feminists were, they asked the authorities *not* to
send male police. Right, it would be soo much better to have thousands of
women police in riot gear. Anyway, the police force does not have that many
women (luckily, women aren't accepted to the military, nor are they large in
numbers in the police, and the ones in the police usually do clerical work).
Anyway, we had a huge police force, larger than normal for the size and the
nature of the march. The police seemed a bit uneasy at confronting such a
large number of women, but of course, their superiors knew better - women
are dangerous as well.


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