Paper | Part 1 of 2
Radicalization of the Middle East: Turkey
A Secular Perspective through Women and the UN Millennium Development Goals
“Secularism is a principle that involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from
religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law.”
― National Secular Society (Secularism.org.uk, 2015)
Revised and Expanded version: July 12, 2015 - A few minor updates made in this on March 6, 2016.
By BIRCAN ÜNVER, Founder-President,
The Light Millennium and Head
NGO Representative at the United Nations Department of Public Information
Photo credit: Edward Foster
Dedicated to: The 2016 International Women Day
“We must unite. Violence against women cannot be tolerated, in any form, in any context, in any circumstance,
by any political leader or by any government.
―Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, United Nations (UN Press, 2009)
The concept of this Paper initially presented during the
“HISTORICAL RIGHTS AND WRONGS: WWI, TURKISH SECULARISM AND RELIGIOUS CONFLICT”
Conference at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada on March 14, 2015.
Session 3: MIDDLE EAST RADICALIZATION: SECTARIAN OR SECULAR DEVELOPMENT?
C O N T E N T S : (in this page)
I. Introduction | II. Status of Turkish Women
This paper will present an example from the early period of Turkey’s, in particular from the 1920s time-period (Lowry, 2011). Following this, it will touch on the “women’s voting rights”, then it will be fast forwarded to the present time in connection with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (UN- MDGs). In the famework of this paper’s epicenter theme, “Radicalization in the Middle East”, Turkey will be presented as the main focus, highlighting “girls-women rights” and “universal education” from a secular perspective.
It is widely known both in Turkey and globally that since 2000, the Turkish secular and democratic system has been drastically threatened, having previously “granted” and existing rights enormously reduced not only on the constitutional level, but also through governmental and municipal level indications, encouragement and implementations. According to several accounts over the years, then Prime Minister and since 2014 the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, directly and openly demonstrated his aim for a social transformation towards a “unified religious life-style” through numerous changes in the national education system, political indications and pressures. All this change has lead to a big threat to the lives of girls and women in the form of an ever-increasing violence against them.
Turkey used to be a well-established role model for “women rights”, “gender equality” and “universal education”, particularly in the Middle East and Islamic world. However, through a decisive “radicalization” since 2000, through drastic and constant compromises from the principles of the secular system, separation of powers, and reversal of many of the early granted principles, values and rights, Turkey has been pushed enormously backwards –almost to the period before the 1920s and similar to the Ottoman Regime.
During the three consecutive governing terms of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), its harshly and strongly imposed, implemented and demonstrated overarching political agenda to reverse the country to an Islamic state, led to an autocratic regime in Turkey.
As a result, this process also has turned out, in particular, for girls and women, to be an ongoing life-threatening factor or road-blocker in front of their lives, by limiting their nourishment, progress, and development. More importantly, the most fundamental rights, “Right to Live” and “Right to be Protected” have frequently failed/been violated in Turkey towards the achievement of the UN-MDGs.
MDGs, initially described in the Millennium Declaration that defines “Freedom” and “Equality” under “Values and Principles” as follows, was adopted and signed by all the member states of the General Assembly at the time, including Turkey (Millennium Declaration, 2/6, September 2000).
Men and women have the right to live their lives and raise their children in dignity, free from hunger and from the fear of violence, oppression or injustice. Democratic and participatory governance based on the will of the people best assures these rights. (Millennium Declaration, 2/6, 2000)
No individual and no nation must be denied the opportunity to benefit from development. The equal rights and opportunities of women and men must be assured. (Millennium Declaration, 2/6 2000).
In this perspective, when we look at the formation of Republic of Turkey in October 1923 and seeing that it has risen, from the ashes of the fallen Ottoman Imperialism and transformed itself from the Islamic ruling to a secular democratic system, it is very hard to grasp this: how did Turkey, which also has been one of the UN’s active member states since the UN’s establishment (1945) and one of the signatory members of the Millennium Declaration (2000), end up where it is today?
Following the Lausanne Peace Treaty (July 1923) and the formation of the Republic (October, 1923), the new Republic of Turkey was designed on the “human and national” values and principles. That is also the center goal of the 2000 UN MDGs. The founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, set out a completely new and modern country, by introducing western values and transforming the overall human landscape of the country from middle-ages to modernity, mainly through universal education, gender equality, women rights and national based economic developments and self-reliance, all which at the time seemed beyond imagination.
MDGs, in particular, the MDG# 3, “Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women” to be attained by 2015, which is adopted and described in the UN General Assembly’ Millennium Declaration by all the member states of the General Assembly including Turkey (Millennium Declaration, 2000), has been the most troubling one for Turkey. Because it is not only devoid of a satisfactory progress towards achieving the MDG#3, but also has reversed the national universal and secular education system, and has constantly been aiming for amendments in the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey towards “dismantling” its secular backbone. As a result, it has embraced some extremely empowered religious institutions, of whose “religious values, life-style and affairs” have undermined the secular democratic system, lifestyle and girls and women rights. In this context, “religion” has been used as a tool for “regime change” in Turkey. A simple illustration of the Turkish Government’s annual budget for the Religious Affairs and related numbers will illustrate this in a much more direct way. According to Can Dündar’s article, “Sayıyla Kendine Gelmek” (Coming to Senses with Numbers) in his column “Ada”, in Milliyet Newspaper of June 21, 2007, Turkish Government’s Religious Affairs Annual Budget is presented as this: in 2000 – 270 million Turkish Liras – TL; in 2005 – 1 billion TL; and in 2007 – 1.7 billion TL.
With that in mind, when we fast forward from the year 2007 to 2014, we come across this: Abbas Tan, in his article titled, “2014 Yılı Diyanetli Bütçesi Şasırtmadı” (The 2014 Annual Religious Affairs Budget Is No Surprise) in Haber Kayseri Newspaper on December 18, 2013, points out the staggering increase in the Religious Affairs Budget as “5 billion and 442 million TL in 2014,” This is an increase of 18.2 percent compared to 2013 alone. He presents the following critical point of view: “Where does this 18.2 percent increase come from that no one is asking or telling about?” Then he asks whether the country’s Muslim population has increased 18.2 percent from 2013 to 2014. He replies: “I don’t think so”. He compares the 2014 Annual Religious Affairs Budget with an important item in the annual budget, Health. According to Tan, the 2014 Religious Affairs Budget breaks down to 136.05 TL for per person while annual Health Budget (2 billion 514 million total) comes to 2.82 TL per person. He continues with the following fundamental question: “Is belief more important than people’s health? Or does the state like to see it in that way as this budget indicates: “belief” –in this case, Sunni-Islam- is more important than people’s health.” (Tan, 2013)
This paper mainly aims to present a glance from a “Secular Perspective through Women and the UN Millennium Development Goals” in relation with the overarching concept “Radicalization in the Middle East.” The skyrocketing Annual Religious Affairs Budget since 2000, top 13 the highest annual budget in the country is by itself a strong proof of how religion has been used against girls-women and human development in Turkey as well as reversing the country’s secular system. According to Mustafa Durmuş, Siyasi Haber, 24 November 2014, “2015 Bütçe Tasarısı’na Ait Kısa Notlar: Diyanet Bütçesi” (“Brief Notes on the 2015 Annual Religious Affairs Proposed Budget”), the 2014 budget increased from 5 billion and 442 million TL to 5 billion and 743 million TL. He further indicates that the Religious Affairs Budget also received funds from other budgets such as Education, Tourism-Culture, Environment and many others… Furthermore, Durmuş states the following: “The Religious Affairs will educate 1.7 million students through Quran Courses and the circulation of their current three monthly printed magazines will be increased from 1 million to 2.34 million per year.” (Durmuş, 2014). According to the 2016 Annual Budget of Turkey, “6.5 billion liras” designated to Diyanet that its share of the budget has surpassed the budgets of 12 ministries.” (Hurriyet, 2015)
In addition to these facts and figures, the exceedingly prioritized and awfully empowered religious institutions and schools (İmam Hatip Okulları – only for boys) and the mandatory religious education in the national public school system point out that the motto “freedom of religion” has been used as a tool for “the quiet revolution”(Kinzer, 2003) in Turkey.
On the other hand, according to the author of this paper, Turkey has never imposed any “restriction and suppression” on religious affairs and practices in Turkey. This was solely guaranteed by the principles of the separation of powers. The founder of Turkey, Ataturk, defined “religion’s place” as between “the believer and his/her belief system” that should not be intervened by and mixed with the governing structure and political affairs of the country. To that extent, the outrageous level of the allocated funds and resources, in particular since 2000, has not only served to a “regime change” but also awfully empowered the religious establishment and fundamentalists. This has also undermined girls and women rights, gender equality and the secularist system, threatening all forms of basic human rights and “right to choose” and “right to live”. In one form or another, directly or indirectly, most of the families, especially in rural areas and underprivileged communities, are encouraged, bribed (business opportunity, job security etc..), forced, or pushed to send their children, specifically their daughters, to religious schools instead of public schools. Consequently, girls who are forced to be sent to “religious schools” as soon as they graduate from four-year elementary schools have to cover their heads at the age of 10. If they resist, they are threatened to be taken out of the education system completely. And this implementation has been presented in Turkey and to the world, as “freedom of religion”.
Based on some existing dogmas and religious practices, “gender equality and girls and women rights” have been deliberately undermined both in the poorest and some richest countries in the world for too long. These dogmas, “tore” in Turkish, customary, traditional, religious, and inherited practices have put young girls’ and women’s lives at risk within their own families and communities to the extent of being killed, or forced to “suicide” recognized as “honor killings” (Livaneli, Bliss, 2006).
As it is illustrated with facts and figures of a few selected years from the 2000-2015 period of Turkey’s Diyanet İşleri Annual budgets in the prior section, the enormously increasing budget on an annual base put the country in ‘a rapid radicalization process’ during the last decade or so. It also hindered Turkey from a “modern” country to a “middle age” track, setting out a backward example for girls and women rights not only in Turkey, but also in the Middle East and Islamic World at large. Although Turkey has been a secular Republic and democratic country through the Lausanne Peace Treaty (1923, MFA.Gov.Tr) and formed by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881–1938) in 1923, it couldn’t overcome “honor killings” even after 92 years of practices within the secular democratic system. As this paper unfolds, the situation has been worsened during the last decade or so! Why?
In order to understand the problem, we need to look at what has made Turkey what it is today, and what has been done to Turkey; how its enlightenment process was blocked, manipulated and twisted, and how the “separation of powers” and the secular and democratic political structure is tried to be reverted to an Islamic state!
Via this paper, the author aims to contribute to the international studies, secularism, women rights-gender equality, civil society organizations, journalists and Turkish-Canadian community. The author also aims to illustrate the ongoing threat and the darkest forces of the “radicalization” through girls and women with an ultimate goal to a reverse “regime change”, pointing out the price of ever-increasing attacks on girls and women and the death toll in Turkey.
II. STATUS OF TURKISH WOMEN
So far, this paper introduced the main problem, the political agenda behind the “radicalization” and the decisively created barriers in front of the “human development”. As it is well understood in the Western world, ‘leaving girls and women behind also has a direct negative impact on the nourishment and development of men’ because every man has a mother, and most of them have wives, daughters, and/or sisters. In this section, this paper will present one of the Republic of Turkey’s core visions and highly successfully implemented programs in order to halt “honor killings”, starting in the 1940s via formation of the Village Institutions (Köy Enstitüleri), which were completely shut down prior to 1950, about 12 years after Ataturk’s departure from this world.
The country’s educational profile was defined by Alexandre Vexliard and Kemal Aytac as: “In 1927, when Latin script was introduced in Turkey, 82.5 % of the male population and 92.5 % of the women population was illiterate”. (“The ‘Village Institutes’ in Turkey”, Comparative Education Review, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Jun., 1964), The Village Institutions (V.I.) (1940-1950) was one of the core visions and successfully implemented programs of Atatürk’s for the newly formed modern country in order to overcome critical social problems such as “honor killings” through an enlightenment process, through education and teachers.
Accordingly, teachers of the V.I.s could return to their villages and educate their countrymen and women in every corner of the country. Thus, V.I.s met the country’s urgent NEED, in particular, following the introduction of the Latin script in 1927. (Vexliard and Aytac, 1964.) It was also its first kind in the Middle East and Islamic World in terms of “girls and boys” attending a school together. The students were selected from the country’s poorest children in order to provide them a teaching career in the form of “free universal education”. This example alone is far ahead of the present times’ Millennium Development Goals (Millennium Goals, 2000) and the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 of the United Nations.
Before exploring the Village Institutions further, the below background and brief introduction of the 2000 United Nations Millennium Goals will set up a base for better understanding what “radicalization of the Middle East” has cost Turkey despite of its well-established secular system:
“In September 2000, building upon a decade of major United Nations conferences and summits, world leaders came together at United Nations Headquarters in New York to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets - with a deadline of 2015 - that have become known as the Millennium Development Goals. (Millennium Goals, Background, 2000)
The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 – form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.” (Millennium Goals, Background, 2000)
With this in mind, and going back to the Village Institutions, it had educated and graduated 1,308 women and 15,943 men (total 17,251), giving the poorest children of the country the opportunity to become young teachers, during its very short lifespan from 1940 to 1945. This alone has strengthened Turkey greatly and provided fundamental human resources to continue to nourish for many decades even after the institutions’ complete extinction. (Vexliard and Aytac, 1964.)
In this context, the “extinction” of the V.I.s might be considered as one of the earliest and harshest attacks against the infrastructure of modern secular Republic of Turkey by both some internal powerful fundamentalists and external dynamics.
When we look at it in perspective, it comes out very clear that the Village Institutions were never considered to be re-opened. On the other hand, and up to date, no government was able to fully overcome the serious social issues such as honor killings, domestic violence, and related consequences - reactions within family, relatives, village, town, city, and the country at large! The key question is, despite these chronic problems, why the V.I.s have never been brought back or restored by any of the past and current political parties via their educational and development programs for Turkey? The absence of such an intention and a political will is most troubling.
The sudden and complete removal of the V.I.s, while aforementioned chronic social and cultural ailments have been continuing to this date that these protected criminals over ones’ life-time that set out terrible examples in favor of man or religious or dogma base protection against girls and women. This has been extremely increased during the last decade that this approach has become a part of daily the political and legal system’s ignorance such violence acts that also openly or covertly further encourages potential criminals in the form of discharging them or not punishing those effectively through the legal system in the eyes of the general public for their awful criminal acts as if girls and women lives are not valuable and sacrifice-able in the pleasure of any man that which sets up a terrible model to his/her own community and society in the present times as well as for several decades to come. In this context, each and every unpunished criminal for his crime and/or violent against women therefore, humanity, also built up higher and higher fundamental barriers for “right to live” in front of the legal and basic girls’/women rights and human developments in Turkey.
Also because of the removal of the V.Is, the “full human development process” in Turkey” has been blocked thereafter. With that, the author of this paper thinks that “honor killings” still continue in Turkey despite the “gender equality” and “women rights” and “free girls-boys public school system” in place. Because the harsh attacks on the V.I.s that caused their termination have mainly kept and since been serving to the maintenance of the “ethnic custom”, wrong values, wrong interpretation of the holy book Quran, extreme oppression on girls and women in the rural areas, and illiteracy. As a result, the overall living culture and political agendas favor men –mainly illiterate, wealthy and well-established fundamentalist ones– where their crimes are not punished and in many cases, even protected. A combination of these factors caused and unfortunately still continue to cause the “honor killings”. To that extent, not only Turkey but all the Islamic countries must encourage and own educational institutions similar to the V.Is, in particular, for the poorest children of the rural areas in the region.
According to the United Nations Development Program, “women represent more than 70% of the world’s poor –population- due to unequal access to economic opportunities in both developed and developing countries” (UNDP-2007 & OECD-2008 Report). In this general context, Turkey had presented a remarkable model, a foundation for human development and self-reliance, and national level sustainability during the first 15 years of its formation, but it was completely dismantled by cutting off one of its most important components, which was the Village Institutions.
Another fact from the UNDP’s report: Despite technological achievements and women being in the work force and all levels of society, particularly in the developing countries, and despite the UN’s MDGs from 2000 to 2015, only 3% of women in the world owns property! (UNDP-2007 & OECD-2008 Report)
In this picture, how could Turkey, the Middle East, and developing countries, and the world at large, be safe and secure; and how could development be human-centered in a sustainable and healthy environment?
It has become more evident that no one can be safe and sustain life for long unless the entire world political structure has been transformed into a secular, democratic, free, human development-centered, transparent, and accountable one!
Because, regardless of the developed or developing countries, it becomes clear that almost the entire world’s political and governing structure is formed in a one-sided manner; and it is as if all things have been designed around anti-women rights and anti-gender equality. International Center for Research on Women, on Assets and Property Rights (ICRW 2015), and Soraya Chemaly, Huffington Post (2012), indicates that women of the world own only 1% or less wealth or property in comparison to men.
In “The Bleak Reality of Women’s Rights in the Middle East and How far the Arab Spring Must go”, Free Middle East (2012) reports the following:
“In Turkey, according to the Prime Ministry’s Human Rights Report, in Istanbul alone, there was one honor killing every week and UNICEF estimates that as much as two thirds of all killings in the Palestinian territories were honor killings.
In Egypt, often considered one of the more liberal countries in the Middle East, UNICEF found that from 1997 to 2007, 96 percent of women between 15 and 49 have experienced female genital mutilation. In Palestine, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen, and Oman female genital mutilation is also an ongoing and chronic basic human rights violation issue.
Women’s personal autonomy is severely limited due to deeply rooted patriarchal family systems in the Middle East. For example, in most Middle East nations, it is exceedingly difficult for a woman to file for divorce, polygamy is often legal and socially acceptable, and there are even laws that ignore “honor killings” for disobediences of perceived unfitting conduct.” (Free Middle East, FME, 2012).
Based on the above report, particularly Turkey has been forced to dismantle, and eventually dismantled, all forms of secular and democratic governing mechanism, public institution, and potential initiatives along with the well-established national public education system in the name of “freedom of religion”. Instead of implementing Universal Declaration of Human Rights, MDGs, and forward implementing of the Post 2015 SDGs, this decisive ongoing process in favor of “radicalization” has reversed Turkey’s development drastically. As a result, Turkey is placed amongst the worst conditioned countries in the world in terms of “woman rights – gender equality” and “freedom of expression”. The country based statistics on this will be presented later on in this paper in correlation with the MDGs.
A unique early period role model Turkish Woman: Halide Edip Adıvar
Clarence K. Streit, in his book The Unknown Turks: Mustafa Kemal Pa˛a, Nationalist Ankara / Daily Life in Anatolia, January-March 1921, edited by Prof. Heath W. Lowry and published by BahÁe˛ehir University Press (Istanbul, 2011), provides one of the most concrete and early proofs of Women’s Liberation in Turkey. It even goes back about 2.5 years earlier than the announcement date of the Republic of Turkey’s official formation (29 October 1923). However, the process of “reversing” the secular system has directly been operated alongside religion through girls and women, As a result, when a family, girls and women at large, doesn’t go along with the government’s ideology and political agenda that presented itself transforming back to women to as a “secluded” being again. In other words, after 80 years of remarkable process in equal rights for women and girls in Turkey since 1923, and time to time ups and downs and certainly some hurdles, unfortunately, these long process in most critical areas such as public education system, and social life in all layers, have been drastically enforced through the political system to an unwritten form of segregation in all levels of society. When a secular family or wife or daughter resists this political twist, then they face the consequences, such as losing their jobs, not being able to get a job, being excluded from potential equal business opportunities, facing attacks for just going to university, wearing skirts over the knees or wearing leggings, etc… Hence, during the first 15 years of the 21st century, “segregation” between women and men has been re-implanted in people’s minds, politics, and all levels of social and economic daily life, as well as by the way of converting public schools to Imam Hatip schools, which are religious vocational schools.
Unfortunately, despite the June 6, 2015 National Election in Turkey, and despite that AKP did not get enough votes for a single-party rule, the ongoing decisive damage on the secular universal public education system doesn’t stop. Cumhuriyet Daily Newspaper, in the article, “Imam Hatip Fren Tutmuyor” (Imam Hatip Has No Barriers), dated July 6, 2015, offers a recent snapshot on this critical issue:
“Ministry of Education (Milli Eitim Bakanl˝˝ – MEB), has speeded up opening Imam Hatip high schools after the election. During the last 1.5 months, 25 new Imam Hatip schools were opened and more than 1,000 classes–and–unused schools were converted to Imam Hatips in 45 cities. The existing majority Imam Hatips are converted to ‘only girls’ Imam Hatips. Among them, one of the ‘girl Imam Hatip high schools is converted to an international girl Imam Hatip.”
Yet, it doesn’t end there. On the same date, on July 6, 2015, there is another news in Cumhuriyet about the capital city Ankara’s 60 years old famous secular public school “Yıldırım Beyazıt”, the alumni loudly protesting the school’s being converted to a Imam Hatip. Even just by looking at these recent two news and snap-shots from Turkey, one can see that the “education system” alongside the “girls-teen generation” of Turkey has been one of the most targeted and dominant channels in the path to altering secularism with an Islamic state. In the process, secular societies in Turkey have been pushed aside and marginalized as if the “secularist” portion of the country deserves discrimination. The minority of the country who still follow the secular path has frequently faced the harshest practices of the AKP government’s autocratic regime in favor of radicalization against secularism.
From the perspectives of above exhibited latest conditions in Turkey, and the “Radicalization of Middle East” angle as the overarching theme of this paper, it will briefly introduce one of the brightest women profiles of the pre-republic era of Turkey, who since then and for the rest of her life had used both her maiden and married names together: Halide Edip Ad˝var (1883-1964).
Ad˝var’s story is also very relevant to this very date, with current ‘women status” in Turkey, in particular, from the United Nations Millennium Development Goals’ (MDG#3) Gender Equality and Empowerment Women perspectives. According to Britannica Online, Halide Edip Adıvar was:
“Educated by private tutors and at the American College for Girls in Istanbul, she became actively engaged in Turkish literary, political, and social movements. She divorced her first husband in 1910 because she rejected his taking a second wife (she married again in 1917, to a Turkish politician, Adnan Adıvar).
An ardent patriot, Halide Edib wrote Yeni Turan (1912; “The New Turan”), on the nationalistic Pan-Turkish movement. She also played a major role in the Türk Ocağı (Turkish Hearth) clubs started in 1912 that were designed to raise Turkish educational standards and encourage social and economic progress. This program included public lectures attended by men and women together, a great social innovation. During this period Halide Edib published her famous novel Handan (“Family”), about the problems of an educated woman.” (Halide Edip Adıvar, Britannica Online.)
Adıvar was absolutely far ahead of her time, not only in Turkey and the Middle East but also in many parts of the world. She had been an inspiration source to many young generations to come in Turkey. In a wider context of critical historical time periods that shaped the new world, living during the time of WWI (1914-1918) and the death of the Ottoman Empire, followed by the Independence War of Turkey (1918-1922), did not stop Adıvar from becoming the very first Turkish woman novelist, educator, activist for women’s liberation, and nationalist.
Imagine Adıvar’s time period and compare it with the conditions of the present Turkish girls-youth generations, who have been forced through the AKP’s three consecutive terms of ruling to choose between going to Imam Hatips wearing headscarves starting in middle school, or being taken out completely from their schools and education system. In the latter case, a girl doesn’t have any other option than becoming sort of a maid at her family home until she gets married.
With that said, at this point, this paper will focus on Adıvar’s one of the least known perspectives through an American journalist Clarence K. Streit. He documents his eyewitness accounts on Women’s Liberation in Turkey in his book The Unknown Turks: Mustafa Kemal Pa˛a, Nationalist Ankara / Daily Life in Anatolia, January-March 1921”, edited by Prof. Heath W. Lowry, and published by BahÁe˛ehir University Press (Istanbul, 2011). Streit states:
“[…] the Nationalists are paying to the education of girls, and that veils, except in the provinces, have already become a rarity. In Ankara, I was received in some Turkish families exactly as if there had never been a tradition of female seclusion.”
In the book The Unknown Turks, Lowry brings under the spotlight an extraordinary and rare eyewitness account. Streit has captured the times he traveled in Turkey astonishingly and conducted a lengthy interview with Ataturk in the early months of 1921, which is still not widely known even in Turkey.
Below is Streit’s extraordinary contribution to the world from 1921 to the present time via The Unknown Turks book. Under the section, “Mustafa Kemal Pa˛a, Favored naming a Women Ambassador to the United States” (p. 120), he writes about his first-hand observation that it was not only Atatürk but also the majority who approved. In the below section, Streit elaborates on it further:
“The Nationalists are contemplating nothing less than sending a woman, Halide Edib Han˝m, as Turkish ambassador to the United States when relations are resumed between the two countries. When I heard of this at Ankara, I made a point of asking various Turks whom I met what they thought of such an appointment. None of them made any objection, and a number were outspoken in their approval of it. When I interviewed Mustafa Kemal Pa˛a, I asked him if it were true that such a nomination might be made.”
Lowry presents in the book, Streit’s first-hand account about his question to Atatürk and his response on Ad˝var’s nomination to be the first ambassador of modern Turkey to the U.S.:
“We have women in Turkey who are as capable as men of occupying such high posts as that of ambassador. Halide Han˝m is one of these women, and it is certain that she could fill the office perfectly. The occasion to nominate an ambassador to the United States, however, has not yet presented itself to us.” (Lowry-Streit, The Unknown Turks, 121, 2011)
However, this vision and nomination was never materialized. Because mainly the United States didn’t recognize the Lausanne Peace Treaty (this is still a troubling fact in 2015), followed by the formation of Republic of Turkey, until 1927. Only then, Turkey was able to appoint its very first ambassador to the United States, Ahmet Muhtar Mollaoglu held the position from 1927 to 1934. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and, about after 10 years suspension of Turkish & American Relations, Joseph Grew was named as the first U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, who served in Turkey from 1927 to 1932. (Wikipedia.Org)
At that time, Ad˝var had already moved abroad with her husband, and when she returned to Turkey in 1939 (Wikipedia.Org) her and Ataturk’s paths had already been separated. Regardless, this was a huge missed opportunity for the entire world. Had she been appointed, it would’ve have had a great impact in the world.
As it is illustrated through Streit’s first account, the founding father of Turkey was far ahead of the United States and the Western world at the time. According to the American Ambassadors (2004), the 33rd President of the United States Harry Truman appointed the first female ambassador in 1949. In this context, Adıvar’s case in 1921, was far ahead not only of the Middle East and the Islamic World but also of the United States.
Streit’s first-hand account is also one of the most significant evidences about Atatürk’s vision and plans to create a sustainable human-centered development and society on the equal ground for women and men and for the country at large. When this picture is compared with the policy changes on “women and gender equality” in the last decade under the ruling of former Prime Minister and current President Erdogan it is striking that girls and women rights and the human development have gone backwards.
Considering from the Universal Education and Gender Equality and Women Rights perspectives, women had an increasing role and importance in the modern Turkish society in the 1920’s and 1930’s that young girls were encouraged to go to college in mid-1930s. Ankara University alone represents an important pillar for “gender equality and women rights” and “empowering women”.
Ankara University’s brief history in support of the above argument:
“Ankara University was founded by Atatürk himself in order to set foundation for his teachings and revolutions on which those would get stronger and spread wider, and for those principles that are the expressions of a modern society, science and enlightenment are hold dear and protected.” (Introduction, Ankara University, About, 2002)
The university’s online catalog indicates that the “Humanities” department of the university was open in 1935. World-wide renowned Turkish Archaeologist and Assyriologist, Muazzez İlmiye «˝ (1914 - ), alumna of the Ankara University, had enrolled in Department of Hittilogogy in 1936. «˝ has become the face of the modern Turkey. In her long professional life, especially during the last decade, she has also become one of the most courageous women in Turkey by challenging AKP’s “revising” policies and ongoing radicalization process.
As one of Ankara University’s many living legends, and the first Turkish Sumerologist, Çiğ, who is an ardent defender of the secularism, faced a court trial based on one of her published books in 2006, on the ground of her research on headscarves. Osman Orsal (AP), in his report titled, “Court acquits Turkish archaeologist charged for her view on headscarves”, in the U.S. Today, dated November 1, 2006, reports in Istanbul:
“A court on Wednesday tried and immediately acquitted a 92-year-old archaeologist for claiming in a book that Islamic-style headscarves were first worn more than 5,000 years ago by priestesses initiating young men into sex.
Critics say the trials and threat of prosecution act as a deterrent to free speech and are unacceptable. Cig's trial was initiated by an Islamic-oriented lawyer who was offended by claims made in her recently published political work, "My Reactions as a Citizen," in which she says that the earliest examples of headscarves date back to Sumerian times, when veils were worn by priestesses who engaged in sex to distinguish themselves from other priestesses.
Cig rejected the charge in court saying: "I am a woman of science. ... I never insulted anyone," private NTV television reported. Twenty-five lawyers crammed into the small courtroom to defend her.
In what some said was a move to avoid endangering Turkey's EU bid, the prosecution supported dropping the charge, saying Cig's actions had not in any way "endangered public safety." It is not unusual for the prosecution to drop or change charges in the course of a trial. The judges then acquitted Cig and publisher Ismet Ogutucu of the Kaynak publishing house." (Orsal, US Today, 2006).
«i’s outstanding contributions in her research fields of archeology, science, history and humanities at large has made her a role model for Ankara University and Atatürk’s visions and an inspirational source to many who defend secularism versus radicalization in Turkey. Yet, even at the age of 94, she was taken to the court based on her academic research grounded opinions in her book.
A completely opposite direction from the Golden Age of Atatürk Era to the speedy transformation to the darkest ages under the name of “freedom of religion”. This is one of the most important ideologies that has been abused to bring the country to the edge of a cliff both internally and internationally. This strategy of reversing the Turkish secularism to an Islamic regime was mainly performed by a combination of the AKP and Fettullah Gülen or as widely known in the West, the Gülen Movement (G.M.). Although disagreements and power struggles between these two have been surfacing in all levels of Turkish daily life and political arena since December 2013, it is safe to state that there is no difference in between them and to alter the country’s “secularist” backbone to an Islamic state is still very much the main goal of the both.
Going back to 1935 in comparison with 2015 will sharpen the picture in perspective further in the minds of the readers of this paper. The first example is introduced above, Ankara University. Year 1935. Young Turkish women were strongly encouraged by Ataturk, by the founder of the university, and the country, to enroll and become the best in their selected field as well as to represent the face of the modern Turkey to the world. This is illustrated above in the case of Muazzez İlmiye «˝, who indeed has become Turkey’s first Sumerologist and a world-wide recognized archaeologist, a published author, and an advocate for girls-women rights and secularism.
In connection to that, a very disturbing report is written by Zülfikar Doğan, titled “Turkey offers cash rewards for marrying early“, Turkey Pulse/Al-Monitor, dated February 9, 2015. The report alarms the world through the latest governmental policies on girls and women, which has already advanced the AKP government’s “radicalization agenda” further. This report alone removes all the potential hopes for girls and women in Turkey. As long as the AKP government and/or its policies are kept in place, it darkens the future of the country at large. To that extent, Doğan echoes in his report the following:
“The latest promises of financial incentives by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu aim at getting young people to marry before graduating from university and produce at least three offspring.”
This section from the above report is in all acounts against fundemental human rights, international laws, universal declaration of human rights, millennium development goals and the upcoming United Nations 2015 Sustainable Development Goals perspectives, all of which Turkey has signed.
More relevantly, a statement delivered by the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on the host country agreement with Turkey for UN Women’s Regional Office in Europe and Central Asia, at the Turkish Mission to the United Nations, New York, 28 February 2014. In it, she stated the following:
“We now have an important chance to go that extra step through the post-2015 development agenda and sustainable development goals. The combination and confluence of these processes with the Beijing +20 review provide an unprecedented opportunity for all of us to make that change. I look forward to the Government of Turkey’s usual strong political support in this endeavor and for Istanbul with our regional office emerging as a strong convener in the region towards improved consensus on these key defining agendas of this decade.” (UN-Women, March 2014).
With this agreement, Turkey as the regional host country for the UN-Women that once cannot help not asking the following question: How will the ongoing and ever escalating politics against basic girls and women rights in Turkey, will be fully complied with the vision and purposes of the UN-Women as well as for the region at large? This is still the key question and a major concern at this stage to this author.
End of Part 1 of 2
Part 2 of 2:
III: Status of Muslim Women, the case of Tunisia, and
IV. Millennium Development Goals with regard to Status of Women