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Podiumbouwer Maaike van Kempen made this website.
Makiyo Ahmed (25) is counting the days. Twentynine since she arrived in Istanbul. She doesn’t want to talk too much about the trip, but about the destination she is open: Istanbul is just a stopover on the way to Europe or Canada. Till then, she waits. For money coming from family or friends in richer parts of the world, for money to pay for a boat, a visa, a plane ticket. Makiyo: “Istanbul is not a place to stay.”
Makiyo from Somalia waits, sitting on mattresses day in day out, together with five other Somalian women. They play a game of cards, they say their prayers. Now and then they do some cleaning in Turkish homes, but that’s rare and she hardly earns anything. The little money that comes in, they spend together. Mainly on food, and recently they bought some insecticide. Their room measures about eighteen square meters. Big, compared to the dilapidated house a few streets down the block: in that house, around eighty of ninety Somalians are packed together in three rooms that contain three double bunks each. Sleeping goes in shifts: every six hours, the beds change occupancy.
An African community in Istanbul: anyone walking around the city as a tourist doesn’t even realise this community exists. But not too far away from tourist highlights like Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque, the area of Katip Kasim is located, one of the areas in town where an African community arose. Mostly they come from countries ravaged by anarchy or war, like Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan. Through Istanbul they try to reach other parts of the world.
Preferably legally of course, like Abshir Mohamed (18), who pulls his whole administration from the back pocket of his trousers to prove his story: he is recognised as a refugee by the UNHCR, the UN refugee organisation, and later this year he hopes to travel to the US. Another man hopes to get to the Netherlands soon: his wife and child have refugee status in the Netherlands and the procedure to re-unite the family is ongoing..
But if it doesn’t work out legally, then illegally is also good. By boat to Greece, overland to Bulgaria: those who have enough money will get from country to country somehow. Most of them do manage to get away to somewhere else: whoever you ask questions about how long they have stayed in Istanbul already the answer is usually at the most ten or eleven months. For most men and women, staying in Istanbul is just not an option. Ali, from Mali: “Immigrants have no rights here and Turkish people speak only Turkish. Europe is better, there you can get a lawyer and there is more work.” Turkey is the perfect in between-stop: the country borders Europe but has such long borders with so many countries that it is not too hard to get in illegally.
The house that about eighty Somalians rent for around 200 Euros per month, is in a terribly bad state. The steps of the stairs are bending dangerously, the walls are dirty and made of thin wood, and on the sticky floor broken electrical plugs are lying around. On the kitchen floor sits a small girl in dirty clothes, her hair carefully and perfectly plaited. The little girl lives on the highest floor of the building, where a group of women and children share four double bunks. The women sit on the beds bent over: they cannot sit straight because there is not enough space for that between the beds.
And still, says Osman Aydemir, the Africans are doing okay. Aydemir is the muftar (head of the neighbourhood, the lowest administrative level in Turkey) of Katip Kasim, and he lists the things the Africans have. Expensive trousers and watches, a house to live in, a mobile phone, and sometimes Turks give them work. No, he never spoke to them, but he sees it in the street. “One day, they will long to come back to Istanbul”, he says.
If he had money, he says hypothetically, and if it were his job, then he would build a special building for these people, with a bed for everybody and a school for the children. But, well, the city has its rules, and one of the most important is that he can only do things for registered residents. But he is doing as much as possible for them, he says: “Some time ago, a mother and her child came to my office. She wanted to know if her daughter could go to school. I sent them to another office.”
On the street, a few young men – dressed in fake designer clothes and wearing fake designer watches – take their SIM-cards from their pockets: they share a mobile phone amongst a large group of men. Do they work? “Sometimes Turkish people come and ask if you want to clean their car or want to help carry things”, says Maku Cuna (21). “We take every job, even though it hardly pays anything.” Someone else says: “Some time ago, I helped to carry furniture all day and at the end of the day, they refused to pay me. If you complain, they threaten to call the police.”
Not that they have too much to fear from the police. Turkey has no policy in sending people back to their own country, illegal immigrants are held for a few weeks and end up on the streets again. And why would the police give priority to that? Most of the Africans leave of their own accord: Istanbul is just a starting point to get to the rest of the world.
21 August 2007, published in the daily newspaper De Pers
There are hardly any independent newspapers in Turkey. The exceptions are satirical weekly magazines, which seem to have more freedoms and say they have a journalistic aim. “ Leman isn’t meant to make people laugh or to cheer them up. Leman is pure journalism.”
Istanbul – No, Zafer Aknar, editor in chief of Turkish weekly Leman, does’t have a special strategy for the coming elections in his country (July 22). It’s business as usual: criticise anybody who deserves it, whoever it is. Aknar – former war correspondent for several Turkish newspapers, with grey stubble, motorcycle jacket, helmet on the floor next to his chair – has only one goal with Leman: “Contribute to democracy and to more respect for human rights.”
That mission he tries to accomplish with a magazine that is bought weekly by around 60,000 (mainly young) Turks and is being read by many more. It’s not a magazine with deep investigative journalism, but a magazine full of cartoons, satirising just about everything that’s going on in Turkish society, from religion, gossip and politics to the roles of the sexes and the power of the army. Leman is not one of a kind: sister magazine Penguen also critisizes everything and many young people read it.
Cartoon magazines play an important role in Turkish journalism, says Ugur Gündüz, journalism teacher at Istanbul University. “These satirical magazines are always very topical, they comment very quickly on developments and events in Turkey and the rest of the world. Often they comment in a way you would not see in normal newspapers. They work independently, and that gives them an enormous freedom to target anyone and anything.”
Like, in recent months, the mass demonstrations against the Erdogan administration and in favour of the secular state. Erdogan was one target, but so were his political rivals, who were present at every demonstration only to, according to some people, get some political gain out of it – none of the long-established partiesare known for their ability to connect with the average Turk any more. And when at the beginning of this year the Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink was killed, Leman made a beautiful cover with an illustration of Dink surrounded by pigeons. On the inside pages the murder was spotlighted from different perspectives.
Leman (previously called Limon, meaning Lemon) and Penguen (Penguin) both have a print run of around 60,000 copies each week. Put in perspective: mass newspapers like Posta, Hürriyet and Zaman are ten times as big, but the satirical weeklies are on a par with smaller but not unimportant daily newspapers like Radikal (40,000) and Cumhuriyet (70,000).
The most remarkable thing about the satirical magazines is their independance. In Turkey most of the media are owned by a few big corporations which benefit from maintaining good relationships with government and politicians, and therefore never get too critical. Cartoon magazines are published without corporate patronage, and at Penguen the cartoonists themselves own the magazine.. “We don’t have to suck up to anybody” says Selçuk Erdem, cartoonist and editor of Penguen. “Not even to advertisers, because we don’t sell space for ads.”
The magazines survive on sales of the magazine,and retailing all sorts of Leman and Penguen products (like posters, comics, mugs and calendars), and Leman runs a cafe and a restaurant in Istanbul and Ankara.
Also Selçuk Erdem says ‘his’ Penguen plays a journalistic role. “It’s not our first aim, because that is just to make people laugh and to make them think a bit. You could say we are less engaged then Leman. But we do know that lots of young people read our magazine and that usually they don’t read other magazines. Also about the upcoming elections their opinions are partly based on what they see every week in Penguen.”
In the lead-up to the elections Penguen reserves some extra pages for political satire. “Turkish society got polarised very quickly”, says Erdem, “and we don’t join the polarisation. We look at it from a distance and give our comments. I think there is a need for this lighter perspective. It becomes more and more rare.”
When the newspaper Cumhuriyet was prosecuted in 2005 for publishing a cartoon of prime minister Tayyip Erdogan as a cat entangled in a ball of wool (as a symbol for a political issue he couldn’t solve), Penguen decided to reserve its whole cover for a Tayyip-animalfamily. The complaint that Erdogan also filed about this cartoon was not brought to court by the prosecutor , most likely because a judge in a case about a re-print of the cat-cartoon decided that public figures need to just deal with applause and critisism.
At the beginning of last year, Erdogan aimed his arrows at Leman, which depicted him as a tick. The person bitten by the tick (which can be seen as a symbol for Turkey) is wondering what would be more dangerous: pull it straight out or wait till it is gorged and drops off by itself. Editor in chief Aknar: ‘The prosecutor has decided not to take the case to court because this is a clear case of freedom of opinion. I don’t seek to provoke court cases but such a decision of course helps to broaden the freedom of speech.”
There are no cartoons or subjects that Aknar doesn’t allow in his magazine. But sometimes he uses ‘tricks’ to avoid court cases. By the tick cartoon, for example, the name ‘Erdogan’ is not mentioned, and if names are used, they are sometimes spelled a little different; Tayyib instead of Tayyip, for example. Aknar: “Then you can always say the person who complains wasn’t referred to. No, that’s no self censorship, it is on the contrary a way to publish more ‘extreme’ cartoons than we could otherwise. We want to be able to say everything we want, and if for that we sometimes need a trick, then so be it.”
Penguen doesn’t need those kinds of tricks, says Selçuk Erdem. “Because of our independence, we have a lot of freedom in the cartoons we publish, but that doesn’t mean we do just anything. The aim of a cartoon is not to be as cruel or harsh as possible, it’s about the message you have. The message is our protection. The Tayyip animal-family was a way to support the cartoonist who depicted Erdogan as a cat. Something like that has to be possible, so that’s why we decided to exagerate it a little.”
It seems weird that Aknar and Erdem talk so lightly about the freedom their magazines have. As if not one after another complaint is filed against journalists, writers and politicians that violate article 301 in the Turkish penal code, which makes belittling “Turkishness” punishable by law. And as if just a few years ago Cumhuriyet was not prosecuted because of a cartoon. Nevertheless, the fact remains that lots of complaints (often filed by nationalist lawyers) are in the end never brought to trial because the prosecutor sees no ground for it, and that many cases that do make it to court do not lead to convictions. These cases also don’t make it to the news.
Selçuk Erdem: “I cannot think of any cartoon we wouldn’t make. It doesn’t exist. And if a politician feels offended, he can go to court. But the last few cases turned out positively for cartoonists. By now, politicians must see that complaining about a cartoon only draws more attention to it?”
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.
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.
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
Weekly newsletter with news and analysis from all four parts of Kurdistan. Costs a little and brings you a lot, every Sunday!
Podiumbouwer Maaike van Kempen made this website.