Did you ever go to a ‘birahane’, a ‘beer house’ in Turkey? I didn’t. Not even once in the more than seven years that I have lived here. I often passed them. And of course, if the doors were open, I have slowed my pace and looked inside. Birahanes are dark, uninviting and sad places, with sad men on the seamy side of life drinking flat beers. The presence of women is not banned, but no woman in her right mind would ever go there. Nor would men in their right mind, for that matter. Plenty of other places where you can have a beer in a far better atmosphere and with livelier company.
And, do you often see waitresses in Turkey? I don’t. Even in the most modern parts of Istanbul, it’s usually men who wait on tables. Generally you only see waitresses in very trendy places, or in family businesses where the mother and daughters serve food and drinks.
I think realizing this helps to understand what happened in the city of Dersim (officially called Tunceli), in east central Anatolia, a few days ago. A group of some three hundred BDP youths held a demonstration against birahanes and against the fact that women were working in two of them. The women are reportedly ‘hostesses’, encouraging the customers to drink more and spend more money.
This is by no means the first demonstration the BDP has organized against things like the sexual exploitation of women, prostitution, the decline of moral values. I have seen such a demonstration here in Diyarbakir too, and they have been held in many different cities in the southeast over the last one or two years. I think there are two reasons that the BDP is trying to put this on the agenda.
Most importantly, part of what the BDP stands for is to try to build a better society. The family has a central place in this society, women play a crucial role in both family and society, and men work to provide for their family – and don’t take their income to a birahane and spend it on beers encouraged by a hostess. Declining values lead to tensions at home, to financial problems, divorce and other trouble. The banner shown in Dersim read: ‘We shall not allow the degeneration of our sacred and moral values and imperialism’.
Besides that, I think holding such demonstrations is a way to show that the party doesn’t only fight for the rights of Kurds but also defends values that other people also hold high, especially people who don’t vote for them (yet), like AKP voters.
A more ‘honorable’ job
It’s not that the BDP youth in Dersim doesn’t want women to work in a bar or to work at all; they think women shouldn’t want such a job but a more ‘honorable’ job (teacher, doctor, lawyer, you name it). And the bars just shouldn’t exist, luring men away from their responsibilities with a combination of women and alcohol. Very moralistic, and not putting the responsibility where it belongs (which is with the men going to birahanes and neglecting their families), but I think that’s what’s behind it.
Unfortunately, after the march and the press release, things got out of hand. Several youths covered their faces and started throwing molotov cocktails at two birahanes, which burnt down and are now rendered useless. People could have been killed – actually in the last couple of years seven people died in such incidents, and more than thirty were wounded. And what are these molotov throwing youths thinking? That they are going to advance the role of women in society by doing something so utterly macho and aggressive?