How Victims Become New Oppressors: The Metamorphosis of a Pious Generation in Turkey
A lawmaker’s faint heed for the realities of the past sparked a debate over female empowerment in Turkey. It also recalled the transformation of yesterday’s victims to today’s oppressors.
“Before the AKP government, there was even no concept of woman in Turkey.” (Ozlem Zengin)
Ozlem Zengin, a lawmaker from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), inadvertently stirred an impassioned debate over the role and place of women in the modern history of Turkey’s social fabric and political setting. She attributed the greatest contribution to her party in empowering women in a patriarchal society to uproot the male domination in politics, economy, and education. In her account, the current government placed the woman in higher social esteem in a revolutionary way by introducing rights never enacted before. But her feeble attachment to the course of realities in history only undermined her embellished narrative unmoored even from the basic facts of today’s Turkey.
After the demise of the Ottoman Empire, Republican Turkey found by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his companion after a war of independence at the end of the WWI saw a radical transformation of state and society. The top-down secularization and Westernization of the socio-political setting in all facets laid the groundwork for women’s elevation as social bonds of tradition had been shattered. To the knowledge of few, Turkey was one of the first countries in the civilized world that gave the suffrage and political representation to women. Turkey was again among the few Muslim countries where a female politician became a prime minister (Tansu Ciller in 1993). Sabiha Gokcen, the adopted daughter of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, became the first female combat pilot in the world in the 1930s. (This episode, though, was not without its downside given her role in an aerial campaign to crush an Alevi rebellion that later morphed into a massacre in 1937).
For all other unpromising elements associated with the painful experience of political modernity in Republican Turkey, the story of…