Turkey is a liberated country, westernized and free. It’s a Muslim country that has successfully separated religion from state. Now, however, the separation is becoming a divide. Recently, a violent government reaction to a peaceful citizens’ protest has brought this to world attention. Protests against plans to demolish a park in Istanbul were met with tear gas, water cannons and pepper spray.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has apologized for the excessive force but he is under fire for causing the division in the country. Many in Turkey are Erdoğan supporters but those protesting fear the loss of secularization. Some see him as moving the country towards Islamicism that threatens their freedoms, especially women’s freedoms. Limited access to abortions and birth control and suggestions that women stay home and raise three children have caused much of the ire.
Fatma and Narve are 2 young Turkish Muslim women living in Edmonton. They are both Erdoğan supporters. They like what he is doing for the country and don’t feel that their rights as women are under threat. Instead, they blame outside forces and western media for exploiting the situation to further their own interests.
“It’s not really about the trees or the park,” Fatma said. “The Turkish economy is doing well and some people don’t want to see Turkey succeed.” She explains that plans for a new airport, and a bridge across the Bosphorous will make Turkey stronger. “The media is not being objective,” she said. “The protestors are not all fighting for democracy, some want to weaken the government, and are using the protests for their own good.”
She may be right about that. Since the protests, there has been a world backlash against the Turkish government and protestors are demanding that the Erdoğan government step down. If he does, who will benefit? According to The Eurasia Review, intelligence analyst Rachel Marsden names Syria, Russia and Iran as possibilities. Another possibility is The Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a terrorist organization are supporting the protests, although the reason why is unclear. Turkey itself seems poised for world success. Erdoğan’s website claims that Turkey is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and they have set the target to be among the top 10 by 2023.
“Turkey is a free country,” said Narve. Although Muslim, Narve’s lovely long black hair is loose and uncovered. She is wearing a stylish royal blue dress that covers much of her skin, but reveals the shape of her body. “Women can do anything, go to school, go to work, or stay at home.”
Fatma credits Erdoğan for giving women back the right to dress as they please. The hijab has been a controversial issue since 1923 when the government believed that Islam would hold the country back. Women wearing the hijab represented everything the government did not want the country to be. Women working in the public sector were banned from covering their heads, punishable by fines and jail time. Erdoğan lifted the ban in 2008, despite opposition from its supporters. “Women can choose now, if they wear it or not,” Fatma said.
In Turkey, abortion is legal until the tenth week under normal conditions and until the 20th week if the pregnancy threatens the mental or physical health of the woman or if it is the result of rape. Consent of both the woman, and her husband is required. In pregnancy, Islam puts priority on the health of the mother and infant. Erdoğan wanted to limit access to abortion and lower the time frame to six weeks but since the protests, that idea has been dropped.
As for telling women to stay home and have three babies, Fatma said, “He just wants the population to grow. It’s just a suggestion, not law, and Turkey has excellent child support.”
Hallah, on the other hand, does not support the changes. Her family left Turkey for Iran when she was a child, and she fears what the loss of secularization may mean for her former country. “The way the Iranian government has applied religion is contradictory to human rights. In Iran, Islamic rule states that women are worth half of a man, entitled to only half of what a man has.” If Turkey follows Iran’s way, she believes that women’s rights will be the first consequence.
“I think that being religious is not bad. It’s moral and ethical, but when it is misused, people come to hate it. Young people in Iran have come to hate religion,” Hallah said, “because of the controls and the dominance that it has over their lives.”
Although divided on their opinion of its government, all three women agree that, today, Turkey is a good place to be a woman in.