Longing for the open sea

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Tales of a Turkish woman living in the Basque Country

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With our Spanish Class we went to a famous and huge market in Zumarraga, where local products such as cheese, Jamón, sweets and even whole animals were sold. Even though the fair was already quite impressing, the conversations I led throughout the day were the bigger highlight. It happened that I spent the day with a Turkish woman who is in my Spanish class, talking about our countries and the reasons for which she had come here.

Yildiz is a good-looking 42-year-old, with shoulder-long blond hair. Today, she is wearing black trousers with knee-long black glittering boots, a simple white sweater with a black cardigan over it. Her hands touch my arm from time to time to underline the importance of what she’s saying; I recognise that her nails are painted violet. Not what I would expect of the stereotype of a Turkish woman. But in these Modern Times nothing special anymore. “No”, Yildiz would correct me, “the times are not as modern as you would think. They speak of newly won democracy in Turkey, maybe the only one in the Middle East, they speak of a blooming Turkey with a great future ahead.” In terms of economics, Turkey might be blooming. According to Yildiz the country’s gross domestic product grew by seven percent last year, which is a huge increase compared to other European countries that are stuck in the crisis. “We don’t feel an economic crisis, as lots of other countries do at the moment. But what occurs in Turkey instead is a huge back leash in terms of democracy, freedom of speech and information as well as the separation of religion and state.” She amplified this by saying that while it was allowed to criticise the government in earlier years, one would now have to fear prison when stating his opinion. Like many journalists, who have been imprisoned for years by now, still without judgement or any kind of law suit.

What she criticises most about the pro-Islamic government, namely its strongest force in person of Tayyip Erdogan, is that he has weakened some of the achievements made by Atatürk, who is the founder of the Republic of Turkey and was its first President after the The Turkish War of Independence (Turkish: İstiklâl Harbi) .  “Atatürk is known for his modernisations of the Turkish state, among them the separation of religion and politics”, Yildiz says while we are testing different variations of Basque Cake, even though the content of her speaking is everything but sweet: “As a working woman, I have no chance to advance my position in an enterprise if I don’t prove full dedication to the executive party’s political views and/or practice my religion in public work.  But it’s not only that you have to be very religious to be successful in your own career, the bigger problem is that religiously important figures get the politically important positions. We are moving towards a religiously state.” That she reads in the news that Turkey is considered a democracy, the 42-years old simply doesn’t understand.

However, this doesn’t mean that Yildiz was opposed to her religion, the Islam. She does practice some important traditions and rituals. For example, I observed that she was not tasting Jamón at the market. She explained that she did not eat pork, fasted during the Ramadan and even prayed sometimes. But what she totally disagrees with is the manner in which the religion was used as a tool in politics as this sort of approach could easily damage the religion itself.

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“When I was a student and 20 years old, few girls were covering their hair”, says Yildiz. She estimates that nowadays it’s around the half of the Turkish women who wear a headscarf. Totally disagreeing with the political situation, Yildiz and her husband decided to come to Spain as her husband was offered a research professorship position by the Basque Foundation for Science more than a year ago. Her husband is now a professor at a private university and teaches Engineering Courses. Yildiz is looking for a job in this country she doesn’t really feel comfortable in, but which still is the better option than living in a state where she can’t say what she thinks. “However, when Tayyip Erdogan loses his power, we will go back to Turkey.” Then, she would like to go into politics for the party of Atatürk, who rescued women citizens from slavery (before him female citizens were not entitled to vote or to be elected) and brought democracy to the country for a long time ago, she continues proudly.

And Yildiz could escape the mountains of the Basque Country which she feels trapped in –probably just as she feels mentally trapped in Turkey – and exchange it for the open sea in her home town.

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