Mine drove us to Lale's house over in Asia. (Lale is the co-author of the Rick Steves' Istanbul book.)
On the way, Mine explained to us that it is a tradition in Turkey to bring flowers to the hostess and sweets to the host when you are invited to someone's home for dinner. We picked up a pot of red flowers and some baklava. It was very cool to observe suburban Turkish life as we drove in the neighborhoods and stopped at these stores.
Lale lives in a beautiful housing complex. Land is in high demand all over Istanbul, so even well-off people in the suburbs like Lale live in apartments. We met her sweet mother — who didn't speak any English — but with her smile, cheek kisses and Turkish words, she still made us feel incredibly welcome.
Lale and her mother must have been cooking all day for us, because they had laid out a beautiful Turkish feast: shepherd's salad (cucumbers, tomatoes and onions), sultan's rice (chicken, apricots, nuts and a kind of fried rice), cheese pastry, vegetable pastry, meatballs and pinto beans. For dessert we ate the baklava we brought and a wide variety of fresh fruit.
While we ate, Jules, Isabelle and I grilled Lale and Mine with questions. We were curious about many things including the Turkish school system, political parties in power, Armenian issues, wearing headdresses at universities, Turkey joining the European Union, the Turkish economy, subjects they had studied and places they had traveled.
I will recount bits I found interesting:
They like Obama, but they find one fault with him, that he wants to call what happened to the Armenians in Turkey during World War I genocide. Lale and Mine call it a civil war. They say the Armenians allied with Russia and attacked the Turks because Russia promised to give them their own territory. They say people on both sides died and even many Armenians would agree that it was not genocide. They say that the Armenians have closed their archives to cover up the facts which illustrate it was a “war” not “genocide.” They say Obama is too much of a populist and just wants the Armenian vote in the States. I don't know what to think about this. My first inclination is to side with the victims, the Armenians. But Lale and Mine were very convincing that everyone, even Armenians in Turkey, believe it was not genocide.
Turkey is unlike the US in that its public schools are generally better than its private schools. Great educations are not bought; they must be earned. Both of Lale's parents came from very modest backgrounds. Her mother could only dream of being a midwife. Now Lale's mom has her Ph.D. in economics and is a well-paid banker. Her father could only dream of becoming an imam (Muslim prayer leader). Now he is a lawyer. So if you work very hard, the Turkish system allows you to become a great success. Of course, there are still those blessed with educated and supportive parents, and those from more privileged backgrounds, who have an easier time learning because resources are available to them.
Recently, some people in Turkey tried to ban girls from wearing veils in universities. Lale and Mine seemed to support the ban. They said that girls were wearing the veils in certain ways to express their political opinions, not their religion. Those who support the ban wanted students to leave their politics and religion at home when they come to school. Islamic tradition says religion is not something to be talked about publicly. In Turkey, you don't ask someone about their religion in the same way you don't ask someone their weight or age in the States.
Lale and Mine fear a religious revolution like what happened in Iran in the 1970s. They have talked to Iranian women who said they didn't see at that time such a revolution coming. Subtle changes, such as more women wearing headscarves, happened and then suddenly there was a revolution.
In Turkey during the 1990s there was a religious revival with more women wearing headscarves. Lale and Mine just want to discourage women from covering up — and make sure they are not encouraged to wear headscarves (some religious organizations offer female students scholarships if they cover up). They want people to be able to wear whatever they want, but they want to make sure Turkey doesn't experience what Iran did. For this reason they kind of like the ban, but not completely, because they believe in freedom of expression as well.
They really don't like their current system of government. Parliament members are elected by popular vote, but the president and prime minister are selected by parliament. To be represented in parliament, a political party must have at least 10 percent of the popular vote. In the last election only two parties won more than 10 percent so they make up all of the parliament — only 50 percent of Turkish voters are actually represented in parliament right now. I feel similarly about the electoral college in the States, but at least it's not as bad as what Turkey's system sounds like.
It is very difficult to make a living in Turkey. To get by, the average Turk must work 57 hours a week! Gee, I thought we Americans worked too much.
During the drive home, I asked Mine about her religion (timidly because she had earlier explained how Turks don't usually do that). She said she's Muslim, but she doesn't fast during Ramadan and she doesn't pray five times a day. She believes Allah created all things and is in all things, and that you should be good to all people. She could, however, be Jewish or Christian because she doesn't “pay attention to details.”
It was very interesting for me to hear this attitude toward religion from the Muslim perspective. All the Muslims I have met before, in Morocco and back home, have seemed to pay attention to the details. Our American media also likes to lead us to believe that all Muslims are radical, fanatic or fundamentalist. Mine's belief system seemed a lot like mine in that I'm Catholic, but I don't follow everything the Vatican says.
About This Entry
You are reading "Turkish Feast and Turkish Politics", an entry posted on 15 August 2008 by Jackie Steves.