Turkey’s Saturday mothers gather for the 700th time

Every Saturday afternoon a group of mothers in Turkey gathers on a square in Istanbul to draw attention to the fate of hundreds of missing people. On Saturday 25 August 2018, they gather for the 700th time. Journalist Fréderike Geerdink tells us more about the mothers.

Interview for late night radio show Met het Oog op Morgen, Friday evening 24 August, Dutch public radio. In Dutch, obviously, listen from minute 0:37:37.

Women mayors and the support of the people

Cizre has a 27 year old female mayor now, Leyla Imret, from Germany. Diyarbakir has Gültan Kisanak, Mardin has Turkey’s first ever Syriac mayor, Februniye Akyol. All together the BDP had more than 44% female candidates in the local elections, and many of them won. But do they really have the support of the people?

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Women mayors representing the BDP: Leyla Imret, Gültan Kisanak, Elif Kilic

The Turkish election system is undemocratic. There are mayoral elections, but you cannot vote for a mayor, you can only vote for a party. The party designates the candidates, Continue reading “Women mayors and the support of the people”

Goodbye to an idol in Dersim

DERSIM/TUNCELI – ‘Our heart cries blood’, laments Kurdish politician Aysel Tugluk into the microphone. With long sustained tones she speaks to the thousands of people attending the funeral of Sakine Cansiz, one of the founders of the armed Kurdish movement, the PKK. Cansiz was murdered in Paris two weeks ago.

Aysel Tugluk is one of the women carrying the coffin to the graveyard.
Aysel Tugluk is one of the women carrying the coffin to the graveyard.

Shortly after Tugluk is one of the women who carries the coffin, covered in a PKK flag, to the graveyard. The procession goes from the cemevi (the Alevi house of worship) through the small city centre and then to Sakine’s last resting place, just outside the town. The route through the snowy mountain landscape is magical.

A day earlier, Thursday last week, tens of thousands of Kurds said goodbye to Sakine Cansiz and the two other female activists who were assassinated in Paris, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Söylemez. That gathering in the biggest city in the Kurdish southeast of Turkey, Diyarbakir, was not just a communal mourning but also a protest against the ongoing lack of a political solution to the Kurdish question. A cry for peace.

The funeral on Cansiz’ home ground,which she left as a young woman in the seventies to fight for her people, is also political. But it is in primarily a modest goodbye to a woman who meant a lot for the Kurdish struggle and for the freedom of Kurdish women. Or, as Selahattin Demirtas, Kurdish MP, expressed it in Diyarbakir: ‘There used to be not even a place for women of this land at the dinner table. But that we are here now, is also thanks to the struggle of Kurdish women for their people’.

Leyla Atac (37) walks along in the cortege. She was, just like Sakine Cansiz, born and raised in what the Kurds still call Dersim – the Kurdish name of the city that was replaced with Tunceli as part of the ‘Turkification process’ in the nineteen thirties. She calls the funeral the most important event in the city for years: ‘Sakine is my idol. She resisted, as a Kurd and as a woman.’ She joins in shouting the slogan of the day: Jin, Jiyan, Azadî! Woman, Life, Freedom!

The Parisian police have arrested two men in connection with the murders and released one of them. Who is behind the murder remains speculation. The early peace talks between the Turkish government and the imprisoned PKK leader Öcalan don’t seem to be affected by the triple murder. In her speech, Aysel Tugluk has a message for the killers: ‘Know that you can never stop our struggle for freedom’.

Fréderike Geerdink, Diyarbakir

PKK founder buried in Turkey

TUNCELI – PKK founder Sakine Cansiz has been buried in the eastern Turkish city of Tunceli. At least five thousand people from Turkey and Europe attended the ceremony, along with members of her family who live in Rotterdam.

The ceremony was Alevi, an Islamic path that is important in the province. An Alevi leader called on Alevi organisations to support early peace talks. Recently, the Turkish government has been talking to Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the PKK.

Kurdish politician Aysel Tugluk called for peace in a long, emotional speech. Others recalled other ‘fighters’ who had their origins in Tunceli province. Tunceli was called Dersim until the nineteen thirties, and was renamed as part of a campaign to forcibly ‘Turkify’ the province. The massacre in 1937 and 1938, in which the army brutally suppressed an uprising, still regularly causes controversies in Turkish politics.

The coffin containing  Sakine Cansiz’ body was carried to the graveyard by women, among them Aysel Tugluk.

Tens of thousands say goodbye to PKK founder

DIYARBAKIR – In the Turkish city of Diyarbakir tens of thousands of people said goodbye to PKKfounder Sakine Cansiz and two other Kurdish female activists, who were murdered in Paris last week. Her family members who live in Rotterdam were also present. The ceremony was emotional and passed without any incidents.

On Wednesday night the bodies arrived at the airport of Diyarbakir, the biggest city in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey. Thousands of people came to the airport and accompanied the women to a hospital mortuary. Slogans were shouted and candles were burned, and many people tried to touch the ambulances carrying the bodies. This gathering also passed without any incidents.

Cruel torture

At the massive ceremony in Diyarbakir the women’s coffins were at the front of a big square. There were speeches by several Kurdish politicians. They praised the women for their contribution to the Kurdish struggle and called for peace.

Sakine Cansiz founded the PKK in 1978 with leader Abdullah Öcalan and a group of others. In the nineteen eighties and nineties, she spent twelve years in the notorious prison of Diyarbakir, which was known for its cruel tortures. After her release she fought from the mountains on Turkey’s south-eastern border. For the last couple of years she worked for the organisation in Europe.

Rotterdam family

Sebahat Tuncel, MP for the Kurdish party BDP, praised Cansiz for her struggle for Kurdish and women’s rights. ‘The thousands of people who are here today support that struggle’, she told ANP news agency. ‘Europe has to understand that: the people support the PKK.’

The funeral of Cansiz will be held on Thursday in the province of Tunceli, north of Diyarbakir, where she grew up. The other two women will be buried in Mersin and Elbistan.

Part of Sakine Cansiz’ family lives in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. Sakine celebrated New Year’s Eve with them in Rotterdam. Sakine’s niece Tijda Cansiz (20, student) remembers the evening as a nice time with the family. ‘My aunt was a strong, positive, happy woman’, she said. ‘I am very proud of her, and her independence and strength are definitely an inspiration for me.’

The wounds can not heal

It is not just the families of the victims of the Uludere massacre who still feel the pain of their loss. The whole village is affected by the bombings, which occurred just over a year ago, on December 28, 2011. But the pain of the entire community can be seen in each of their stories.

‘It has been a year of tears and of thoughts’, says Pakize Kaplan (29), who lost her husband Osman (32) in the Uludere massacre. She was left behind with three daughters and two sons, now aged between 6 and 12.

Pakize is not very much on the foreground, compared to some of the mothers of victims of the massacre. She mourns mostly in private. What has she changed over the past year? Pakize: ‘We don’t know what exactly happened, and maybe we will never find out. But God knows everything, and that gives me some comfort’.

Pakize Kaplan, with the light headscarf, next to the grave of her husband Osman.
Pakize Kaplan, with the light headscarf, next to the grave of her husband Osman. (pic by me, click to enlarge)

Pakize takes the picture of her husband with her when she heads for the commemoration on December 28, 2012. This is what all mothers, wives and grandmothers of the deceased do when there is a meeting or ceremony concerning last years event. The fact that there is a routine to mourning lost family is as horrifying as anything. But this way, they give the 34 lost human lives a face and make sure they are not forgotten.

At the graveyard, where a few thousand people come together to commemorate and where several prominent Kurdish politicians and activists are present, all 34 names are read. After every name, the crowd shouts out “He is here!”

That the Turkish government hasn’t opened up about the details of the massacre hinders the healing of the villages where most deceased where coming from: Gülyazi (Bujeh in Kurdish) and Ortasu (Roboski in Kurdish). By implicating that the villagers who were smuggling petrol that evening last year were linked to the PKK, the government opens the wounds again and again.

The anger about that and the pain of the big loss, affects the whole community. Several young men no longer attend school because they couldn’t concentrate on their lessons anymore. One of them, 17 year old “S.”, says: “Our morale is totally broken. Now we try to work. Yes, we also smuggle. There is not much other work here. I’m not really scared to go. We never though that anything like what happened last year could ever happen. It will not easily happen again.”

For young women the situation is difficult too. Semire Encü, who lost her 13 year old brother, has just turned 18. She is not attending school anymore, and when asked about any wedding plans, she says: ‘I will never get married, never. The boys are dead.’

People make V-signs during two minutes of silence during the commemoration of the Uludere/Roboski massacre, 28 December 2012. (pic by me, click to enlarge)
People make V-signs during two minutes of silence during the commemoration of the Uludere/Roboski massacre, 28 December 2012. (pic by me, click to enlarge)

The community – as well as several villages in the surroundings – haven’t celebrated any weddings since the bombing. The huge Kurdish weddings with up to to one hundred people dancing a traditional govend on a green field between the mountains, are over. Nobody feels like celebrating anything, and nobody in the village can tell when they will resume again. The women all still wear black as they have for the past year, as their mourning continues and the mystery around the bombing remains.

Poet Abdurrahman Adiyan, from the western Turkish city of Bursa, visited Gülyazi and Ortasu several times in the last year. He wrote a poem about the massacre right after it happened, but he felt he needed to do more for the community. He ended up visiting all the families of the victims, talked to them about the one they lost and made a personal poem or every family.

“I hope poetry can help people in their healing,” Adiyan says. “At some point, the bombing must be left to history, and the memory must be kept alive. Art is a good way of doing that’”

Adiyan visited all the families again during the Feast of Sacrifice in October, and read the poems to them. The families requested that he do so. Adiyan: “I hope the families can picture their loved one before their eyes while hearing and reading the poetry.” Narin Ant (21), who lost her 19 year old brother Adem, gets tears in her eyes when she hears the poem again. “I do picture him,” she says.

At the same time, Adiyan realizes the village is a long way from leaving the event to history. “The mothers are still in such deep sorrow and so many questions remain, that it is too early. Still, I hope I have made a contribution. I chose poetry because it is lasting. It can help people in the future too.” A book with all the poems was published on the first anniversary of the massacre, called The Border Stone with Number 15, the border stone where the bombing took place.

Students fall on the ground one by one to symbolize the Uludere/Roboski massacre. (pic by me, click to enlarge)
Students fall on the ground one by one to symbolize the Uludere/Roboski massacre. (pic by me, click to enlarge)

The strength of art in the face of sorrow was also shown at the evening of December 28. A group of Kurdish students walked down from the graveyard to the place where the commemoration was held, holding torches and shouting slogans. Then they gave a heart breaking performance, watched by the community, including the women who lost their sons, husbands, grandchildren.

All the 34 names were read out loud. After every name, one student stepped forward, said, “I was bombed to death,” and fell down on the floor. They were wearing T-shirts with the pictures and names of the deceased. Meanwhile, the crying of the mothers, other villagers and many visitors could be heard. Maybe art, and the strong unity and solidarity of the community, can help the people heal.

These women don’t choose… between Istanbul and Amsterdam!

Move to Istanbul? Or stay in Amsterdam after all? Aygül, Cigdem, Mine and Ebru decided not to choose, but live their lives in both cities!

(These are not the pictures used in ELLE, these were provided by the interviewed women themselves.)

She remembers exactly how it was twenty five, thirty years ago. Her parents would buy plane tickets to Turkey months in advance. And on the day of travel, the whole family went with them from the small eastern-Dutch town of Westerveld to Schiphol airport, to wave them goodbye.

Aygül Sonkaya (32) sometimes thinks about it whenever she arrives at or leaves from Schiphol again. ‘Of course I plan my trips in advance as well, but not months in advance, and it often happens that I buy a ticket online in the morning and fly the same day.’

Aygül lives in Amsterdam, but also in the Turkish metropolis of Istanbul. Every three, four weeks she travels between the two cities. Choose between the two? She would never consider that. Aygül: ‘I have both identities in me and I want to feel, to experience them both. That is only possible if I don’t restrict myself to either Amsterdam or Istanbul.’

Aygül Sonkaya

Her own company makes it possible: she wanted her own advertising agency, and decided that Istanbul was a better location for it than Amsterdam. Aygül: ‘In the Netherlands, the advertising market is full and the economy is very slow. In Turkey the economy keeps on growing and there is much more development going on in the advertising business. But it’s a small world and it’s not easy to find a place in it. My business partner and I had to find a way to compete, and we do that by offering European quality for a good price. In practice that means that we do all the production, like making video footage, in Istanbul, because the production costs are low. The post-production is done in Amsterdam. Clients love it, rushing off to the Netherlands for montage and final touches. And me too!’

Every time she comes to Amsterdam, she has a feeling of relief, she says. ‘In Amsterdam I feel free. As a woman you don’t have to be constantly aware of your attitude and behaviour, like in Istanbul. The Netherlands has no class society, everybody is equal and I can’t live without that feeling.’ But it would be boring to only live in the Netherlands, she thinks: ‘Istanbul gives out so much energy. I need that too.’

Aygül is far from being the only young Turkish-Dutch woman who refuses to choose between Istanbul and Amsterdam. Who found a place to live in both cities, and who planned their work just right so it can just continue wherever they are, and who pack their suitcases again every few weeks to fly either east or west. There are no statistics, but if you ask around, you find one example after another. About migration itself of course there are statistics: in 2010 more people than ever moved from the Netherlands to Turkey: 2607 to be precise. 1569 of them were born in Turkey, the rest were born in the Netherlands and are either fully Dutch or have one or two Turkish parents.

‘Choosing would feel like a hindrance’

Cigdem Senel (33) is a good example too. The interview with her was to take place in Istanbul, but suddenly a text message came: ‘Sorry, I’m flying to Amsterdam today, can we do the interview when I get back?’ We decide to do the interview by phone so as not to miss the deadline. She gives her Dutch mobile number and a few days later she elaborates about her life in two cities.

Cigdem was brought up in a cosmopolitan environment. She was born in Amsterdam, lived in the North-Turkish province of Ordu from age five to sixteen, returned to the Netherlands, enrolled in an international school and built a colourful social life. ‘My father’, she says, ‘was an international furniture removalist. When we lived in turkey, we often went to Holland. And we travelled through the whole of Europe when we were on holidays.’

Cigdem Senel

She studied in Amsterdam and England, worked as a project coordinator for the Amsterdam municipality and was often in Istanbul, even more so after she found love there some five years ago. Coincidentally she came in touch with an American firm selling biological food supplements and energy drinks that wanted to open a branch in Turkey, starting from their office in Amsterdam. The perfect combination and Cigdem took the opportunity immediately: ‘I spend most of my time in Istanbul, but go to Amsterdam often, mainly for meetings and training. Of course, the travelling is tiring sometimes, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. If I had to choose one of the cities, it would feel like a hindrance.’

Cigdem likes the Netherlands because it’s quiet. ‘Amsterdam is a big village, I feel safe and sound there. ButI can’t be there too long: Holland is so structured and predictable. In Amsterdam, you don’t have to make an effort to exist. In Istanbul you do, nothing is certain there, it’s so dynamic and gives out so much energy. That is great and I couldn’t live without it. In Amsterdam I enjoy the canals, the small streets, I love to cycle, and Holland is so green.’

She explains the interaction: her life suits her personality, and at the same time her personality is shaped by the life she leads. ‘I don’t really plan my life, I only know I don’t want to be in one place. I want to be open to whatever comes my way, I want both rest and energy, and that’s what I have now.’

The urge to live in Istanbul

The differences between Amsterdam and Istanbul and between the Netherlands and Turkey are big. Istanbul has some 16 million inhabitants, Amsterdam less than 1 million. The average age of Turkey’s population is 28, in the Netherlands just under forty. The Dutch economy is very slow, the Turkish economy grew the last couple of years by at least five percent per year. For many Dutch people with Turkish roots, these differences give them just the last push to dare to move to Turkey.

Besides that, both cities are only three hours flying time from each other, the price of tickets keeps going down, and the cost of living in Istanbul compares favourably to that in Amsterdam. In short: no need to choose any longer. Life as a city hopper has become easy, now when the number of self-employed people is increasing.

Mine Önsöz

That’s all great for Mine Önsöz (30); she can’t even choose what to drink when she’s on a night out. ‘AndI don’t let go of things easily’, she adds. She has been living in both Amsterdam and Istanbul since 2008. When she is in Istanbul for a longer period of time, like five months, then she just has to fly to Amsterdam once. And the other way around it’s the same: because of her work she stays in Amsterdam now for a few months, but at least once a month she flies to Turkey.

She feels at home in both cities, but if she’s honest: just a little bit more in Amsterdam. Because of the family and friends she has there. But the urge to try to live in Istanbul was just irresistible years ago. She had her own business as an event organizer, had a job in Istanbul for a few months in 2006, and felt that she belonged there too, just like she belonged in Amsterdam. Her sister Ebru (33) was yearning to live in the Turkish metropolis as well. Ebru, in her office on the outskirts of Istanbul: ‘I wanted to leave the Netherlands soon after secondary school, but my parents stopped me. They insisted I study first. I did, and I got settled in Amsterdam with a boyfriend.’ But the relationship didn’t last, she didn’t feel she could get ahead in her job for the Amsterdam municipality, and the old dream reappeared.

The conclusion of the sisters was only logical: start a bureau for event organizing together, have an office in Istanbul and work for both Dutch and Turkish clients. Four years ago they got on a plane and kept one home in Amsterdam, because they would have to visit the city often.

Mine and Ebru talk in superlatives when they speak about that first year in Istanbul. Ebru: ‘Everything was an adventure, even paying the bills. Sometimes we had no idea how things worked, but it didn’t matter, we had such a good time.’ Mine: ‘Everything was exciting and positive. Ebru and I are sisters and friends, we complete each other and had the time of our lives.’

‘I sometimes wondered where my home was’

The sisters worked very hard, were flying back and forth to Amsterdam and had a lot of visitors from the Netherlands, who they took from club to restaurant to lunch cafe. Mine: ‘Our business was doing well enough to make a living in two cities. That was a grand feeling really. But it was also exhausting. I travelled more than Ebru, sometimes up to three times a month. It was kind of a strange life. I sometimes wondered where my home was.’

Ebru Önsöz

After a year the intial excitement was gone and the Big Adventure feeling slowly subsided. Mine missed Amsterdam and longed for a rather quieter life, a bit less travel. Ebru felt the event organizing business wasn’t stable enough and wanted something that would give more security. They both found a new path: Mine kept the business and would operate more from the apartment in Amsterdam, Ebru found a business partner in packing materials in Istanbul.

But by doing that, they didn’t choose for either Istanbul or Amsterdam, but still for both cities. Ebru produces her merchandise in Istanbul but sells it to Dutch businesses, and therefore she needs to be in Holland often. She might even open an office there. Mine still organizes events in Istanbul when they come her way: last year she spent months in the city organizing a ‘birthday party bigger than ten weddings’. And she just started organizing medical trips to Turkey, not for groups but for individuals who want full attention. ‘When that part of my company gets bigger, I will again spend more time in Istanbul. I’ll rent an apartment there, that’s very easy to arrange in Istanbul.’

Mine and Ebru mainly point at their parents as the ones who gave them their talent for living in two worlds. Ebru: ‘As a family, we never had the wish to return to Turkey. Our parents sent us to schools with few immigrant children, so we could put down roots in the Netherlands as much as possible. That was very successful, we never felt we were living between two cultures. But we did go to Turkey on holidays, and at home we learned to speak proper Turkish. I think our parents did that just right. We are anchored in the Netherlands, feel secure there, and that’s why we can easily adapt to life in Istanbul.’

A reflection of her personality

Mine adds: ‘In fact, we only got to really know our Turkish side when we discovered a youth club in Amsterdam where many Turks came. Turkish parties with Turkish music, and we met people who knew life in Istanbul very well. We were intrigued by that. When we visited our nephews and nieces in Istanbul on holidays, we saw their exciting life. That’s what we wanted too!’

And now they have it. Ebru says in the life she lives now, she can perfectly use her ‘luggage of life’. ‘In my job at the Amsterdam municipality I could also have worked with both my identities, but in the Netherlands that usually means you get a job in ‘integration policies’. I do find that important, but it’s also work with a negative angle, focusing on problems and differences between people. In my current life, the quietness of the Netherlands and the excitement of Istanbul come together, the both sides I find in myself too.’

For Aygül Sonkaya that’s exactly the same. How she works – offering European quality for competitive Turkish prices – could be seen as a reflection of her personality. Aygül: ‘I wanted to combine Amsterdam and Istanbul to get closer to myself, and I sure succeeded in that.’

Abortion will stay possible in Turkey

ISTANBUL – After national and international pressure, the Turkish government has decided not to introduce a de facto ban on abortion, as had been earlier announced. Turkish media report that on Friday.

Prime Minister Erdogan caused uproar at the end of May when he compared abortion to murder. Soon afterwards the information leaked out that the legal term in which abortion would be possible would be reduced from ten to four weeks. That would mean a de facto ban: in the first four weeks, women are not yet aware that they are pregnant.

In Turkey both women and men took to the streets to defend the right to abortion, and disapproving reactions also started coming in from abroad. Banning abortion, it was said, would lead to unsafe abortions, causing many fatalities among women.

The Minister of Health Akdag announced that the government was considering making contraception more widely available.. The abortion law will be slightly altered: abortions can only be carried out in a general hospital by a specialist doctor.

Abortion restricted in Turkey

ISTANBUL – The government of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is drafting a change in the abortion law that will most probably make the procedure illegal in practice. Erdogan announced the new law Tuesday in a speech at the opening of a hospital in Istanbul.

The Turkish parliament will soon debate a Ministry of Health report on abortion , in which a new term of four weeks pregnancy is being proposed for legal abortion. Erdogan has already ordered the Ministry to draft the amendments.

Abortion has been legal in Turkey up to the tenth week of pregnancy since the early eighties.. A maximum term of four weeks means a ban in practice: in the first four weeks, most women are not yet aware of being pregnant. An exception will supposedly be made for cases in which the life of the pregnant woman is in danger.

PM Erdogan opened the debate about abortion last weekend at a congress of the women’s wing of his party. He is strongly opposed to both abortion and caesarean sections: the medical procedures are in his eyes misused to limit Turkey’s population growth.
Caesarean section would, according to Erdogan, prevent women from having more than two children. Caeserean sections without a medical reason are booming in Turkey: almost 40% of babies are delivered that way. The abortion rate has been stable for years though: some 17% of pregnancies end in abortion.

During his speech on Tuesday, Erdogan compared abortion to murder, and claimed the matter has nothing to do with women’s rights.

Dutch Maaike left Turkey – with her children, but without her husband

Dutch woman Maaike Dekkers (32) is married to Veli, a Turkish man. They have two sons, Semih (3) and Kaya (2). Until recently they lived together in Turkey, but last June Maaike returned to the Netherlands. With her children, but without her husband.

Photography: Ernie Enkelaar

‘Veli knew what I gave up in the Netherlands, and why I had such a difficult time in Turkey. ‘Then why don’t you go back to the Netherlands?’, he once said. ‘But I don’t want to go without you!,’ I replied. He meant that I could go to Holland for a week or so, just to gain some strength and energy, but to me it slowly became clear that that would not be enough. One week in the Netherlands would just not be enough to get our life back on track again.

Maaike and her son Kaya. Photo: Ernie Enkelaar. Click to enlarge.

It started eight years ago. I was 24, and on holiday in Turkey with my mother. In Side, a tourist town on the south coast, I met Veli. We were instantly attracted to each other. He was a waiter in a hotel, and I found him different than all the other guys working in tourism. He was not macho, but shy, and he didn’t flirt with all the women like the other men.
He very soon declared his love for me. I was careful though: in such a touristy town women come and go the whole long summer, as I was aware of course. But I did really like him, and during the holiday I just enjoyed his attention.

After coming back to the Netherlands I couldn’t get him out of my mind. We stayed in touch, and I noticed I felt more for him than just some summer butterflies. He was kind-hearted and I’m attracted to that, and he turned out to be very curious. He has no education at all because there was no money for that in his family, but he’s very intelligent. He taught himself German and English, he was interested in many things, open to everything.

I decided to go back to see if there could be more between us. I hesitated at the last moment: I had fallen while horse-riding, my arm was broken and I was not sure how he would react to that. But he showed his most caring side. Did everything for me. Then it became clear to me: he is serious in his feelings for me. That’s why I could let go of my scepticism about holiday love, and give room to my butterflies for him. I kept going back, about six times in two years. Things were good between us, uncomplicated.

I was looking forward to building a life together

But the better we were together, the more difficult I found this long distance relationship. I wanted to be with him. Also, I really liked life in Turkey: less rushed and planned, and on the south coast the weather is always sunny.

When I visited Veli, I did see that life was different in summer than in winter. From May till October he worked hard, always as a waiter in the same hotel, while in the winter he only had irregular temporary jobs, for example in construction. But I thought we could manage with that. And anyway, if I moved to Turkey, I would of course work as well. In the Netherlands I worked in a children’s day-care centre and I had an extra job in a bar to finance my trips and phone calls to Turkey, and I was confident this experience would lead to a job easily. Also because I know my languages: English, German, Dutch and some French.

After almost two years of traveling, six years ago I quit my jobs and left the Netherlands. I had so much faith in Veli and me, and I was so much looking forward to building a life together. Still, I was of course aware that I had no idea what it would be like to not be just visiting Turkey, but to actually live there.

I had everything my heart desired

The first summer was hard. When I arrived, there were no more jobs available ; all summer job vacancies were filled. Veli worked long hours, I knew nobody and my Turkish was very bad. We lived in a village, and as soon as Veli left for work, neighbourhood women came to our house. They rang the bell, I opened the door and the next moment they would be straight into the living room, opening cupboards and drawers. One woman sometimes left her children with me when she had to go to work. I had no idea how to handle the situation, I felt so lost.

But after some time, the tide turned. I got to know some English people who owned a horse riding school. I could work there, even though I didn’t have a work permit. A dream job: I love children and horses. On their land there was a small house where Veli and I could live very cheaply. A paradise: it was far outside the village, we had a lot of space around us, we could grow our own vegetables, the natural surroundings were beautiful and I was outside most of the day.
Veli’s situation also seemed to improve, because the hotel planned to stay open during the winter, so he would have work and health insurance the whole year round. That’s when we got married. When friends asked when I would come back to the Netherlands, I said: ‘I don’t think I’ll come back.’ I had everything my heart desired.

From one day to the other, we couldn’t make ends meet anymore

The situation seemed stable enough to seriously consider having a family. We didn’t have much money, but that didn’t need to prevent our children having a good childhood, did it? There were many poor families, but they had a good life anyway, it seemed to me. In retrospect that was far too romantic a notion. Before you actually have children, you don’t know what it feels like to be a mother and what kind of things you will find important.

When I got pregnant, I immediately noticed I missed my family more than ever. My family-inlaw was hardly there for me. Turkish families are close, it’s said, but Veli’s family only showed up when it suited them, not when I needed them. My parents were not there when Semih was born because he was born a few weeks prematurely. When Kaya was born, only my mother could come, because my father was sick and not allowed to fly. Friends in Holland sent me presents, like baby clothes and Dutch sweets, but none of them arrived.
As if that wasn’t enough, our financial situation changed drastically. My job at the riding school ended suddenly: the owners hadn’t arranged things properly and were thrown out of the country. The hotel where Veli worked decided not to open during winter after all. From one day to the other, we didn’t even have enough money to pay our daily expenses. We couldn’t make ends meet without financial support from my family. For me, it was hard to find work: jobs are never part-time here but always six or seven long days a week, and getting a work permit is very difficult.

Do I want them to have a future like their father’s?

Children are not unhappy when there is not much money. I still believe that, but since I’ve been a mother, I have let go a bit of that Turkish mentality. The mentality of ‘tomorrow is a new day’. That attitude suits me, but not when it concerns my children. No health insurance for six months a year, that’s not okay, is it? Veli would say: ‘Come on, don’t be so negative, nothing bad will happen’. But I found that irresponsible and just wanted to have things arranged properly. The Dutch way, so to speak.

I also thought of the future of Semih and Kaya. In Turkey, if you don’t have money, you can’t send your kids to a good school. Do I want them to have a future like their father’s, without education, with only insecure jobs in tourism with no prospect of a better life? No, I want them to have more opportunities.

I felt increasingly lonely. I couldn’t go anywhere, because I had no transport and the village was too far away to walk. The children, colleagues and horses of the riding school were gone, and I was home alone the whole day with two little children. Veli was home in the mornings and returned from work only late at night. I was always eating alone with the kids, I always put them to bed alone, and when Semih and Kaya were asleep, I would sit alone on the couch. In winter it was the same, because in Turkey men and family come first. I always felt I came second, while I had given up everything I had in Holland, and had to manage as a young mother without my family.

I wanted to fight – one more time

That’s the situation we were in when Veli said: ‘‘Then why don’t you go to the Netherlands?” That was about a year ago now. But how could I go back? Going with the whole family was no option, because for that you need a minimum income and of course I didn’t have that. And without Veli? Maybe there was no other way, but I couldn’t make the decision yet. We loved each other, we had a family and I wanted to fight for that. One more time.

I stayed, but a few things needed to change. I wanted two mornings of child care for Semih so I would have a bit more time for myself. Veli would have to contribute more to bringing up the kids and he would have to seriously search for a more stable winter job.
For some time he seemed to make an effort, but soon our life returned to the same pattern. The importance of a stable life, a stable income, taking care of the family together, he just didn’t see it. In Turkey you are not automatically brought up with that, largely because financial security is just out of reach for many people. Veli himself grew up in a poor family, so for him that’s much more normal than for me as a Dutch woman.

Besides, it didn’t get through to him that I was reaching my limit. That I would really go away if my demands were not met. At least, I think it didn’t get through to him. I’m not sure what was going on in his mind. That bothered me as well: he’s not very talkative. And I only really noticed that when times got rough.

 He didn’t try to change my mind

When I told him I had reached my limit and that I would go to the Netherlands with the children, said he understood me. That he was sad he could no longer make me happy. No, he didn’t try to change my mind. Like I said: he didn’t realize what was happening. He put his head in the sand, also in the weeks before my departure. But this is vague for me too, because our talks about this remained superficial.

I have not regretted my decision after I made up my mind. I was all done in. I had been fighting for our relationship and our family for years, I couldn’t do it anymore. I’m a mother, I want stability for the children, and I made this decision for them. That only works if I’m one hundred percent behind it and totally devote myself to a new start in the Netherlands.

And I really didn’t hesitate. I still loved Veli, but my feelings had also cooled down because I got so little back from him. I noticed it at the airport too, when we said goodbye. That was dramatic, of course there were tears, but I wasn’t so much sad for myself as for Semih. Kaya didn’t know what was happening, he was too small, but when we passed through customs, Semih understood his father wasn’t joining us and he couldn’t stop crying.

To be honest: I’m blossoming

Veli misses us terribly; in the beginning he came home from work crying every night. All of a sudden his house was empty, and reality hit him hard. Of course, I’m also sad, but for me it’s different. It took me months to make this decision. I’m trying to get my life back on track. I have a small contract at a children’s day-care centre and work an average of three days a week. The boys and I live in the attic of my parents’ house, where we have two big rooms. I’m trying to find a house, and I want a more stable job so that I don’t need welfare anymore. There have been problems with my citizenship. In short, I’ve immediately landed right in the middle of organized, bureaucratic Dutch life. And I have the boys, for them of course it’s a big change too.

To be honest, I’m blossoming. I ride horses again, I sometimes go biking with the boys into the polder, I see friends, I work. People tell me I’m radiant again. At the same time, I miss part of myself. I still love Veli, I still love Turkey. Nobody in my family, none of my friends knows what life in Turkey is really like, what it was like for me and why I also miss the atmosphere, the sun, the Turkish lifestyle. Only Veli knows that part of me. And he is not here.

Was it a good decision to take the children away from their father?

Veli wants to come over, but I’m not pushing that. It’s not possible yet, because I still don’t make enough money to get a residence permit for him. We want to try to get him to Holland for three months before the tourism season starts again in Turkey, to see how he likes it here. He’s been here before, he found it ‘nice’, but I’m sure he can’t adapt here. In Turkey he has energy and is an active man, in the Netherlands he loses all his energy and becomes not my husband, but my third child. He can’t deal with change so well. He doesn’t fit in here, he fits in in Turkish life.

I feel that I am drifting away from him. I love him, but it also hurts me that he made so little effort for us. Of course I sometimes ponder in my bed, when I have time to reflect on this period in my life: was it a good decision to take the children away from their father? Will the boys ever hold this against me? How often are they going to see their dad? I don’t know, I can’t look into the future. But I take into account that we won’t make it as a couple, and that in the future we will both just be the parents of our children.’