There are more independent candidates than ever before in the Turkish parliamentary elections next Sunday. Ayse Tükrükçü (40) and Saliha Ermez (37) are two of them. They were both forced to work as prostitutes but managed to escape.
ISTANBUL – She will never forget the first time she was brought into the brothel she was forced to work in: women in ugly dresses were sitting behind iron barred glass, men walked along to pick out their choice. “It looked like a zoo”, says Ayse Tükrükçü (40). Only then did she understand what she was supposed to do. Refusing was out of the question. After two and a half years, she managed to escape, but she is still registered as a prostitute. “That’s one of the things I want to change if I’m elected as a independent candidate”, says Tükrükçü. “If you manage to get out, it’s not fair that you are haunted by your past for the rest of your life.”Ayse Tükrükçü and Saliha Ermez (37) were both forced to work in prostitution and are both independent candidates in Turkey’s parliamentary elections, next Sunday. They both need 60,000 votes to be elected. They have high hopes, , as does Hayrettin Bolan, leader of the charity Sefkat-der (Affection Foundation), who supports the women both financially and practically in their campaign. The walls of her office are covered with interviews published in Turkish newspapers. “We have already managed to get more sympathy for the problems of prostitutes and former prostitutes”, says Ayse Tükrükçü.
Nursing a doll
The two women outline a shocking picture of prostitution in Turkey. Brothels that are checked by the government, but where most of the work is done under duress and in unhygienic circumstances. Women are forced to sign their official registration at a police station, sometimes in collusion with the vice squad. Forced to have abortions, and serve clients on the same day. Both women lost their reproductive organs, Ayse never had the chance to become a mother because of that. She lovingly nurses a doll, called Cennet (‘heaven’). “I had infections inside and in the end everything had to be removed. They deprived me of the chance to become a mother. And that’s what happens to many women in the brothels. They all crave for a house, children, a family. Lots of my colleagues got a doll to look after.”
Saliha does have children, but is not in touch with them any more: “My oldest daughter wanted to go to the police academy, but couldn’t because her mother is registered as a prostitute. Any government job is ruled out. She had to end her relationship with a soldier: a soldier can lose his job if he has a relationship with the daughter of a prostitute. My daughters feel I destroyed their lives.” Hopefully, she says, one day her daughters will regard her with more mercy, and they can build a relationship again.
A too revealing dress
Ayse and Saliha were deviously forced into prostitution. To cut a long story short, they had to sign forms in the police station, forms that they didn’t fully understand. Ayse: “I lived in Germany as a child and my knowledge of written Turkish is not so good. My husband forced me into prostitution: he got me arrested for prostitution when I was walking in a bad neighbourhood in a too revealing dress – my husband asked me to wear it because there was, he said, a ‘special occasion’. At the police station, he said I would bereleased if I signed some papers. I was also physically searched and my fingerprints were taken. I asked what it was for, but they told me to shut up and cooperate. I signed the forms and thought I could go home. But then I was taken to the brothel, this ‘zoo’. I resisted strongly when I saw a policeman, because I hoped he would come to my assistance. But he said: “Just go, you will get used to it.” It was a brothel that is registered and monitored by the government. In these brothels, they say all the women work voluntarily after freely registering as a prostitute.”
Saliha’s story is similar. She worked in different brothels for almost eleven years. Escape was practically impossible: she was threatened, beaten, and sometimes she was locked in a cellar for a few days. Saliha and Ayse both finally escaped with the help of a customer. Ayse saved some of her income to pay off ‘debts’ to her bosses and after that convinced a customer to marry her. Saliha asked a client to alert the police and media – she still feels protected by the media attention and by the fact that she is a parliamentary candidate now. “But I was threatened and because of all the attention, people know where to find me. What if I am not elected and the media attention fades?”
Finding a job as a former prostitute is extremely difficult, as both women discovered. When a potential employer wants to arrange social insurance and sees the working history of a former prostitute, a contract is simply not an option anymore. Ayse was in the first instance even refused as a parliamentary candidate. After protesting, she was allowed to stand for election. “If we are elected”, she says, “we will dedicate ourselves to all women whose lives were stolen, and for others who are social outcasts. As well, we will demand public apologies from those responsible for the conditions in Turkish brothels. Politicians, police, the justice system, nobody takes responsibility. Prostitutes and former prostitutes can count on nobody. Only on us.”
Published in daily newspaper De Pers, 20 July 2007