Istanbul: Aufbruch am Bosporus


The revolution that went unnoticed

Religious, very conservative, powerful, yet cosmopolitan – this is how journalist Yasemin Congar describes Turkey’s new middle class. Congar “is not at all afraid” of these people, even though she knows that their political representative, the AKP, holds all the important offices. Islam is not her thing, but she does not believe there is much foundation to the Kemalists’ dire warnings of the threat of Islam.

This documentary sheds light on a conflict that has had a very real effect on Turkish society and politics during the past years. In the EU, too, the debate on whether or not Turkey should be allowed to join is often mixed up with the discussion on Islam and Islamist terrorism. Return to Europe dissects the power struggle between the old and the new elites, between bourgeois townsfolk and those who emigrated from the countryside, between the secular and the religious, between the elitist, authoritarian and paternalistic ruling classes and the often poorly educated groups at the bottom of these patriarchal structures who are now seeking social advancement.

The conflict was triggered by the country’s rapid economic upswing. As is typical for a country’s shift to an enlightened society, the self-confidence of the new middle classes has been accompanied by a process of democratisation. The journey to Turkey is perhaps the most exciting one taken in Return to Europe.

The power struggle is being carried out at every conceivable level. In Turkey it is still possible for the courts, the media and secret services to be instrumentalised for political purposes. Events like the assassination of the author Hrant Dink, the prosecution of intellectuals who question the armed forces and the official historiography (in particular that of World War I) have, however, stirred civil society into action. Against this backdrop, the hijab debate seems like an attempt to draw off attention from the real issues at stake.

Inci Bespinar, the female deputy mayor of Istanbul’s Kadıköy district, believes that the hijab is the least of the problems Turkish women face. She herself founded a women’s shelter and is very aware of the real issues for women: “Turkey has a serious problem with violence against women,” she says. And it also has a problem with education and employment, in particular in the ultra-conservative east and among the immigrants living on the outskirts of large cities.

However, one cannot speak of a regression in Turkish society. Social scientist Nigar Göksel believes that the increasing tendency towards more traditional family life is a sign of progress. She rejects the view that the greater the role Islam plays in public life, the more endangered women’s rights become. Return to Europe’s analysis of the situation in Turkey should help make the population of the EU more familiar with the important issues and may be able to add some depth to the often platitudinous and trivial immigration debate. (Adelheid Wölfl)

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