Ortadoğu Kadınlardaki Statüsü: Gözlemler ve Engeller

I was given the opportunity to speak at a symposium organized by the International Relations Department Student Organization at my host university two weeks ago. Though very excited for the chance to talk about women’s status, I was more than a little intimidated at the prospect of doing so in Turkish. I wrote an original draft in English, then translated it into the best Turkish I could muster. Later, I sat for hours with a dedicated and diligent group of friends who helped me work the draft into a more professional and academic register, which was the resulting speech below. Clearly, I was struggling a little bit with the pronunciation in that more academic register (so many suffixes!) but I hope my audience was able to take something away from the talk. Because of the time restraints and the language barrier, my ideas are of course less fully formed and explicated in this presentation than in real life, but “what can I do sometimes?,” as my students would say. In an event, a transcript in Turkish and my intended messaging in English is below.

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Ortadoğu Kadınlardaki Statüsü: Gözlemler ve Engeller

Saygıdeğer öğretim üyesi arkadaşlarım değerli Kirikkale Üniversitei öğrencileri ve değeri misafir öğrencilerimiz- Yapacağım konuşma dünya üzerindeki kadınların statüsüne değinmek olacak,ve bu konulara değinirken istatistiksel verilerden ve hikayelerden çok gerçeklerden yola çıkacağım. Fakat, Ortadoğu’da yaşayan kadınlardan bahsedilmek istendiğinde nasil bahsedilebilir? Bu önemli bir sorudur. Ben Amerikan vatandaşıyım ve yaşadığım ülkedeki akademisyen arkadaşlarımla büyük bir mücadele içindeyiz. Politikacılar ve güçlü medya firmaları Amerikalılar’ın ortadoğu bölgesi ve İslam dünyası hakkinda çok az bilgiye sahip olduklarının farkındalar. Ayrıca onlar da bu konu hakkinda çok eksik bilgiye sahipler. Politikacılar ve medya birlikte çalişiyorlar. “Ortadoğudaki kadınlar mazlum, bağımlı” diye anlatıyorlar. “Zavallı kadınlar için uğraşacağız” diyorlar. Fakat sonra ne yapiyorlar? Savaşıyorlar, aynı zamanda diğer ülkere yaptırım gücü uygulatıyorlar. Bütün bunları yaptıktan sonra kadınların artik daha güvende olacaklarını, daha özgür olacaklarını, daha eğitimli olacaklarını ve daha rahat yaşayacaklarını idda ediyorlar. Amerikan halkı da aynı şeye inaniyor; fakat ben onlar gibi düşünmüyorum ve böyle bir vaatte bulunmayacağım. Çünkü; Hiçbirşey o kadar da basit değildir.

Dünyanın hiç bir yerindeki kadınlar ayrı koşullarda yaşamiyor. Sadece bir mahallede bile bu durum çeşitlilik gösterebilir. Yaşamları, maaşları, okuryazarlık durumları ve eğitim düzeyleri, medeni durumları, dinleri…. Aynı zamanda çevre faktörleri var. Köyde mi yoksa şehirde mi yaşıyor bu kadınlar? Isınma imkanlari, içme suları var mı? Bunlar çok önemli sorunlardır. Bu konu milletlerden ve mezheplerden daha önemli olabilir. Amerika’da yaşayan köylü bir kadınla kentli bir kadın,Türkiye’deki köylü bir kadınla kentli bir kadının ortak noktaları olabilir.

Zamanım kısıtlı olduğu için genel bir konuşma yapacağım. Şu konular üzerinde duracağım: şiddet ve savaş, eğitim, ve kadınların siyasi faaliyetleri.

Üzerinde konuşmak istediğim ilk konu şiddet. Şiddet birçok farklı türde olabilir; yapısal şiddet, ekonomik şiddet, duygusal şiddet… Bu şiddet türleri üzerinde tartışıp değerlendirme yapmamız çok önemli ama bugün ne yazıkki konumuzun odağı, bölgede kadınlara uygulanan, fiziksel şiddet. Suriye Irak ve Filistin şu anki açık örnekler. Suriye’de yedi binden fazla kadın şu anki savaş yüzünden öldü. Filistin’deki kadınlar çok kötü durumda yaşıyorlar. Bir askeri işgal altında yaşıyorlar,Gazze’de kuşatma altındalar ve sık sık şiddet görüyorlar. İnsanlar Gazze’nin açık hava hapishanesi gibi olduğunu söylüyorlar. Irak’taki kadınların durumu muhtemelen üçünün arasında en kötü olanı.  30 yıldır sürekli savaş ve işgal yaşadılar. Evrensel insan hakları bildirgesi şunu söyler: En önemli hakkımız yaşama hakkıdır. Eğer bu hak saygı görmüyorsa(bu hak tehdit ediliyorsa, eğer güvende değilseniz) diğer insan hakları korunamaz.

İkinci bir konumuz da eğitimdir. Eğitim için açılan sınıfların, kadınlarımızın mücadelesi açısından çok önemli bir yere sahip olacağına inaniyorum. Buna bir örnek olarak; Türkiye’deki kadınlarımızın bir çoğunun, eğitim seviyelerinin çok kısıtlı olması gösterilebilir. Bir çoğumuzun çevresinde bu tür kadınlarımız var öyle değil mi? Eğitimin eksik olduğu bir ortamda kadınsal değerlerin de arka plana atıldığını birliriz.Buna Türkiye bir örnekti sadece, fakat bunun yanısıra Irak, Süriye, ve Filistindeki okulların saldırıya uğraması, Ürdün ve Lübnan’da da eğitimin popüler olduğu halde pahalı  olması, çoğu yerde de ataerkil yapının hakim olması, gibi konular da  kadınlarımızın ikinci plana atılmasına sebep olarak gösterilebilir.demem o ki kadınlarımızın toplumda yer edenebilmesi, eğitimlerinin önünün açilması ve onların da söz sahibi olabilmesi için onlara her türlü firsatın verilmesi lazimdir.

Bugün Üçüncü ve son konum kadınların siyaset ve sivil toplum katılımcılığı . Geçen hafta birleşmiş Milletler’de uluslararası kadınler konferansı yüzüncü yildönümü  kutlandı ve bu yüzden bu konu Değılmek istedim. Kadın politikacilarimizdan çok örneğimiz var.mesela, Türkiyede bir dönem başbakan olarak Tansu Çiler vardı, fakat ABD’de, kadın olarak başkanı çıkmadı. ABD’de kongre üyesi olarak kadın oranı yüz’de ondokuzdur. Türkiye’de meclis üyesi olarak kadın oranı yüzde ondörtdür. Bana göre, kadınların siyasi ortamdaki yuzdelik oranının dahada artması, kadınların statülerini yukselticektir. Biz kadınlar için Filistinli kadınlar örnek olmalı çünkü orada devlet sistemi olmadığı halde kadınların siyaste atılım oranları çok yuksektir, bunlara örnek olarak Hanan Ashrawi, Leila Khaled, ve Haneen Zoabi verilebilir. Bunun yanısıra ortadoğu bölgesinde çok aktif politikacı kadınlar da var; sivil toplum kurumlarında çalişip ve yeni kurumların açilmasında öncülük ediyorlar.

Netice olarak kadınlarımızın statüsünün yukselmesi için başta şiddetsiz bir ortamın sağlanması ve eğitim düzeyinin yükseltilmesi gerekir. Bana yardimcı olan arkadaşlarım Sena, Kaan, ve Gülçin’a ve siz dinleyenlere teşekkür ederim.

Women’s Status in the Middle East: Observations and Obstacles  One of the most important things I have to say to you today is not a statistic or a story, but concerns the way we go about talking about the role of women in Middle Eastern societies in general. Where I come from in the United States academics are fighting a difficult battle to allow rays of insight to shoot through a bleak media and political landscape, one that capitalizes on the ignorance of policy makers and the public alike; one that allegedly seeks to empathize with and then liberate via occupation Muslim and middle eastern women who, we are led to believe, are oppressed, without agency, and without a voice. I do not intend to fall into that narrative today.

But no picture is ever as straightforward as either media nor politicians would have us believe. In every place, in every nation, the lives of women cannot be discussed as a monolith. Even within a single neighborhood, there may be numerous fractures in lived experience, such as age, education level, marital status, income or family earnings, literacy, health, religion, as well as numerous environmental factors. Is the space urban or rural? Is there access to clean water and other crucial utilities? These are important questions, the answers to which often shape the lives of women far more significantly than nationality or country of residence. Indeed, the values and lived experiences of relatively uneducated women in the rural United States and Turkey may be far more similar than either would expect. For women in opposite circumstances, the same may be true as well.

So rather than itemize the detailed statistics of women in each of the countries I’ll be touching on today I am instead going to draw out a couple themes and provide examples within those themes. Because time is short, I apologize, I will be speaking quite generally.

The first theme I want to speak on is that of violence. Violence can take many forms; there is structural violence, economic violence, emotional violence… These forms of violence are very important for us to discuss and critique but today, unfortunately, my focus is on physical violence, which is inflicted on women around the region. Unfortunately, Syria Iraq and Palestine are the current obvious examples. In Syria more than seven thousand women  have died due to the current war. Women in Palestine live in a very bad situation. They live under a military occupation and in Gaza they are under siege and experience frequent violence. People say Gaza is like an open air prison. The situation for women in Iraq is possibly the worst of the three. They have had 30 years of continuous war and occupation. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that the most important of our rights is the right to live. If this isn’t honored ( if that right is threatened, if you are not safe) the other human rights can’t be protected.

The second theme I want to discuss is education. The classroom is a very important place for the fight for women to unfold. Without education women are without the tools they need to improve their lives and their status. As an example, we can look to the situation of the women in our lives here in Turkey where, too often, especially in the past, their educations have been cut short. There are some obstacles to education. One of the biggest in the region is violence, as we discussed before. While literacy rates across the region are generally higher than they’ve been in the past, the education of millions of women has been disrupted in places like Iraq and Syria. Schools in Gaza and Syria have been under attack, making getting an education very difficult. In other places like Lebanon or Jordan, private education is both highly valued and prohibitively expensive. Patriarchy remains one of the biggest obstacles to education access. With access to safe, affordable, equitable education, women are better able to take their destinies into their own hands. Education for all is not a privilege, but a right.

This brings us to my third and final topic, which is women’s participation in politics and civil society. It is fitting that last week was the 100th anniversary celebration of the international women’s conference at the UN. There are many important examples of women serving in political offices across the Middle East. A point of important comparison/contrast between Turkey and the United States is political participation and empowerment. For example, Turkey has had a female prime minister (Tansu Ciler), but the US hasn’t had a female president yet. In Turkey, 14% of members of parliament are female, in the United States that rate is 19%. My view is that by actively participating in the socio-political process, women are able to make the changes our societies so badly need.We can look to the women of Palestine as an example, where, though stateless, they play important roles in  aspect of Palestinian civil society and political life, for example Hanan Ashrawi, Leila AbuKhaled, and Haneen Zoabi. This is also the case in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon where I have personally met women fighting for rights, representation, and a decent life.

We can conclude by saying that while the situation for some women in the Middle East is very positive, too many still live under threat of violence and without access to safe education. Despite obstacles, women across the region work in powerful positions and in grassroots movements to affect change in their communities. If we know one thing, it is that as long as violence persists, the status of women, and indeed of all people, cannot improve. The cessation of violence is the first and most crucial step on the road to the betterment of women’s status in the Middle East, and indeed, across the whole world.

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Come As You Are: Mevlana Seb-I Arus 2013

The week leading up to December 17 is known in Konya, Turkey as the Mevlana Festival, in celebration of the ‘urs of Celaladdin Rumi.

Street Art in Downtown Konya

Street Art in Downtown Konya

‘Urs is an Arabic word which can be translated as “wedding day;” in this context it refers to the death anniversary of a Sufi saint, or revered Islamic mystical figure. The symbolism of “’urs” stems from Sufi symbolism in which marriage is akin to union with God following a long and deep relationship in life. In any event, the death anniversary of the mystic and poet known widely in the ‘West’ as Rumi, and in Turkey simply by the honorific Mevlana (sometimes accompanied by the grander honorific Hazreti, a religious title indicating deep respect, commonly used for prophets) is on December 17, and so a group of Fulbrighters traversed to Konya, located in South Central Anatolia, the site of Rumi’s tomb. (* note: generally, saint’s death anniversary’s are celebrated according to the Islamic (lunar) calendar; however, because it’s Turkey, it is always celebrated here on the evening of the 17th.)

A promotional billboard for the Mevlana Festival, displayed by the govt. of Konya

A promotional billboard for the Mevlana Festival, displayed by the govt. of Konya

Telecommunications megalith Turkcell's billboard, wishing a blessed celebration to the residents of Konya

Telecommunications megalith Turkcell’s billboard, wishing a blessed celebration to the residents of Konya

The journey was rather easy for the K-Town crew- there is a high speed train from Ankara to Konya that only takes a couple hours. We were fortunate enough to stay with a friend of our Fulbrighter cohorts there. While in Konya, I had a series of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, the most random of which being that I met and shared a meal with a Turkish woman (and former Fulbrighter to the states!) named Tess! To say Tess is a rare name in Turkey would be an understatement; hers is actually a nickname for ‘Teslime,’ (pronounced tes-lee-may), a beautiful Turkish name which means something like ‘striving for God.’

Konya had been at the top of my list of destinations in Turkey from the get-go. I read some of Rumi’s poetry and studied his philosophy and tariqat (Sufi brotherhood, the Mevlevi’s) extensively in my Sufism seminar in college.

Quick side note for those reading with an interest in Rumi and Islam: if you can, read the translations done by Jawid Mojaddedi of Rutgers University. Unlike the more widely known Coleman Barks, J.M.’s translations are richly informed by the tradition from which Rumi is writing, and symbolism and allusions are thoroughly researched and annotated (rather than eliminated). What’s more, Prof. Mojaddedi translates from the original Persian into iambic pentameter, which, besides being an incredible linguistic feat, is the closest in English (culture and literature) to the rhyming couplet ‘mesnevi’ (in Arabic, mathnawi) poetic form.

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one of my pictures from the Sema at the Mevlana Cultural Center in Konya

The activities of our trip were centered on the celebrations of the festival (‘urs) and included two major components: visiting what is now the Mevlana Museum and attending a sema, more popularly known outside Turkey as a Whirling Dervish ceremony.

banners hanging in the lobby of the Mevlana Cultural Centre in Konya

banners hanging in the lobby of the Mevlana Cultural Centre in Konya

The Mevlevi Order (tariqa) was established in Konya following Rumi’s death by his son, Sultan Walad. Shortly after the establishment of the Turkish Republic, Ataturk decreed the disbandment of all Sufi (mystical Islamic) orders in Turkey (in 1925). At this point, all Mevlevi tekkes (‘lodges’) were shut down. Many have since been converted into mosques (as I witnessed in Eskisehir), or into museums which are operated by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture (as in Galata in Istanbul, or in Gaziantep). The most notable of these museums, of course, is the Mevlevihane and site of Rumi’s tomb (the center of the Mevlevi order) in Konya, now known officially as the Mevlana Museum.
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The Ministry of Tourism and Culture oversees not only the operations of museums dedicated to the ‘formerly’ active Mevlevi order in Turkey, but they also control what are now performances of the Mevlevi Sema (Whirling Dervish ceremony) (performances, as opposed to ritual practice). Starting in 1953, the government began permitting replications of the ceremony for the purposes of tourism, initially only in Konya during the week of celebrations surrounding Rumi’s urs. This has since exploded into a major sector of tourism in Turkey—every guidebook, pamphlet, and website will tell you that seeing one of these ceremonies is a “must-do,” and many people across the globe are able to watch touring troops who perform the ritual. From the website of the order (which continues operations across the globe):

In sum, the sacred whirling prayer ritual of the Mevlevis has been largely taken over by the Turkish Government for the purpose of promoting tourism. The Government has little interest in lifting restrictions on the Mevlevi tradition: all it has wanted from the Mevlevis during past decades is to provide good musicians and whirlers (semazens) for Sema. At the present time, excellent musicians have been trained at schools and universities in Konya to play classical Mevlevi music, and there have been new generations of trained whirlers as well. As a result, there is a smaller percentage of musicians and whirlers who view themselves as Mevlevi (or who have had any additional Mevlevi training) than in the past. This matters little to the Turkish Government, which regards Sema as a form of “traditional Turkish folk dancing.”

Simply put, what tourists witness when they travel to Konya, Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey is not regarded as an authentic ‘sema’ by practicing Mevlevis.

One of my images from the ceremony we attended in Konya

One of my images from the ceremony we attended in Konya

The Mevlana Museum is the site of the former the headquarters of the Mevlevi order, and the tomb of Rumi (along with numerous other influential figures, including his father and son, and many others). The museum is a direct conversion and appropriation of the former lodge, as a museum space. The dervishes quarters are repurposed as viewing rooms for artifacts, organized by type or theme (musical instruments of the Mevlevi Order, paper documents, personal effects of Sultan Veled, ceremonial clothing, etc.) as well as a few rooms (as well as the kitchen) which are arranged “as they were” when the Order was legal. These are posed re-enactments, complete with dervish mannequins posed in ‘typical’ behavior misc-en-scenes— frozen in time.

the museum complex

the museum complex

 

Some of the affects of Shams - i- Tabriz

Some of the effects of Shams – i- Tabriz

 

Some of the many manuscripts displayed at the Museum

Some of the many manuscripts displayed at the Museum

 

one of many mannequin displays in the former lodgings of Mevlevi dervishes

one of many mannequin displays in the former lodgings of Mevlevi dervishes

What I’ve described above greatly colored my experience in Konya. Yes, the ceremony was beautiful. The information the museum imparted was thorough and well organized. But (for example) did the ceremony need a state of the art sound system and LED light display?
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What did floating floral images of ebru (the Turkish art form of paper marbling) have to do with the union with God the ceremony represents? I wondered what Sultan Walad would’ve made of the booths full of artwork, jewelry and chotchkies crammed into the Cultural Centre lobby, or the jugs of (alleged) ‘zem-zem’  water available for purchase on the streets of Konya.

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For that matter, I especially wondered what my hundreds of fellow audience members thought of it, particularly those who were moved to tears during the ceremony, those weeping and praying at the site of his tomb, those who’d memorized and cherished the verses of a man who has inspired such a rich (and very much living) tradition….

the entrance to Rumi's tomb. The large inscription above the door is an invocation: "ya Hazreti Mevlana"

the entrance to Rumi’s tomb. The large inscription above the door is an invocation: “ya Hazreti Mevlana”

Did any of that have anything to do with the tomb and ceremony I had traveled and paid money to witness? And I was paying money…

My photograph of a postcard (purchased at the gift shop of the museum) of Rumi's tomb. Out of respect for the museum's regulations, and more importantly, for those praying around me, I obliged the no photography rule.

My photograph of a postcard (purchased at the gift shop of the museum) of Rumi’s tomb. Out of respect for the museum’s regulations, and more importantly, for those praying around me, I obliged the no photography rule.

Postulations about the tension between tradition and modernity are thrown around a lot by scholars in the humanities and social sciences…. My questions following the weekend weren’t quite so black and white. What of spectacle? What of contemplation? What of commercialism, for Christ’s sake?

Many questions from this magnificent weekend persist for me, and I hope to potentially conduct further research to understand the contemporary relationship between the Mevlevi tradition and the Turkish tourism industry. I’ll conclude this post with a short video of a man playing the ney (reed flute, a very special instrument within the tradition) from my visit to the Mevlana Museum, and one of the most famous verses from Rumi’s Mesnevi (taken from The Masnavi: Book One by Jawid Mojaddedi (pg. 4).

Note: The man in the video is a visitor of the museum, not employed or endorsed in any way. In retrospect, this impromptu performance was the most meaningful experience of the entire trip for me. This was not a professional whirler, or a staid and (forgive me) tacky mannequin, but an act of devotion. Disturbingly refreshing, and hauntingly beautiful.

Exordium: the song of the reed (1-4)

Now listen to this reed-flute’s deep lament

About the heartache being apart has meant

‘Since from the reed-bed they uprooted me

My song’s expressed each human’s agony

A breast which separation’s split in two

Is what I seek, to share this pain with you:

When kept from their true origin, all yearn

For union on the day they can return.