Every country and culture is host to its very own weirdness. In Germany, we keep believing that we’re succesfully processing the trauma of the Nazi era, while at the same time most of us are afraid to say “SS” when spelling out words like “Wasser”, “Tasse” or “Rassenschande”. Some Hungarians are sure to be direct descendants of the medieval Magyars, implying that there has been no migration along the Duna for a millenia. And in Timor Leste, voodoo superstitution and arch-conservative catholicisim co-exist hand in hand, sometimes even making out when no-ones looking. Naturally, Turkey is not free from fascinating contradictions. Here’re three bites I recently found.
It is forbidden to make fun of statues. General Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is generally regarded as the founding father of modern Turkey (hence his name which translates into “Father of the Turks”). In the 1920s and 30s, he shaped modern Turkey with political agendas such as secular reforms or language reforms (switching from the Arab to the Latin alphabet). In the 50s, after his death, the Turkish military started putting up statues of him, along with coup-d’etats against the government. His counterfeit is visible among Turkey almost everywhere, be it on advertisements for a bus company or on two pictures in my room.
Despite the fact that he seems to have been a reasonable leader at times in which other nations fell into dictatorship and totalitarianism, glorification of individuals always worries me. I’m afraid that the decisions made and the paths set by national heroes will be seen as perfect and not up to change, even when times are changing and call for new ways. Also, being oblivious for the flaws of one individual is in my opinion symptomatic for being oblivious in general. What strikes me is the fact, that in a democratic country, it’s not okay to be satirical about statues. In fact, to me this law seems to go against freedom of opinion at its roots. I see, statues of Atatürk supposedly symbolise the modern Turkish society as a whole. For instance, if I was Turkish, and I had the opinion that Turks should find other means of identification than a military leader, how could I express this? Isn’t it a basic right in a democracy to showing doubt through humour?
Turkish soldiers get pills to make them temporarily impotent. I bet you read that twice. Now, this isn’t an official thing, so it would be hard to find scientific evidence for this. But it appears to be common knowledge among Turkish young men, who all have to go to the army some time in their 20s. Apparently, the aim of this is to prevent homosexuality in crowded army showers. First of all: I doubt it works. Even if it does on a physical basis, I can’t imagine hundreds of young men jammed together not getting it going on with each other (not that I try to imagine that, too). Same goes for soldiers during dangerous deployment. Sex isn’t just a hormone thing, but also a social issue, an attempt to relieve stress, or whatever. People rape to show domination rather than affection, monkeys have sex in the same manner as we shake hands when we meet, and young guys boast with sexual experiences to be accepted in their group. That can’t be deactivated by a pill.
But what I find so odd about this inofficial policy is not as much the supposed inefficiency, but, again, that there’s no public outburst. This is about taking from men what in generally is most important to them. Do Turkish draftees accept their fate because they think it’s worth it for their country, because they can’t change it anyways, or maybe even because it’s a relief from the sexual pressure felt by many young men? Hell do I know!
Some Turks believe they’re incredibly different from the Greeks. This is actually very similar to what I wrote about Hungarians above. It’s a phenomenon occuring in many countries. Russians and Poles fight over the origin of Pelmeni/Pierogi just as much as Turks and Greeks about their Kebab/Gyros. The other day someone asked me if I ever tried Raki, and my response was “No, but I’m sure it tastes just like Ouzo” (it did, as I resumed in a state of hangover). Naturally, the people who I meet and I’m able to have a conversation with are most often young academicals interested in foreign countries, thus usually being rather liberal or even leftist in their view. They don’t share what most Turks seem to believe, though they tell me about it.
The peak of stupidity I encountered so far was the Greek-Turkish population exchange in 1923, following the Treaty of Lausanne and the Greco-Turkish war (Turkey won and the eastern coast of the Aegean remained Turkish). Apparently, there was a number of Greek muslims in Greece as well as a christian-orthodox Greek minority (Pontic Greeks) in the contested regions. And what do you do when two countries have minorites who differ to the majority in one aspect? That’s right! You exchange them, deporting hundreds of thousands from their homes and sending them to countries they’ve never been to and whichs language they don’t speak. Everyone loses, no-one’s happy, but the world is a bit more how nationalists imagine it to be. When I’m in Greece next year, I’ll walk around with a tradiotional Turkish fez and see if people realise the difference.