Love of Country
headscarves, tolerance

Love of Country

Hi Angela!

It is very exciting to hear from you as you are in Istanbul! You guys are very lucky because you are staying at one of the best places. Bebek neighborhood and the Rumelihisar castle are such great places but there is a lot more beauty you are about to see! When you go up hill from the castle, there is the campus of my undergrad university. I can say that although I was witnessing that view of the sea/Bosphorus every single day, the magic never ended for me for four years 🙂

These don’t sound like words from someone who has given up on her country. The undergrad university that Meryem mentions in the above passage is the finest in Turkey, and the lush hills and quaint seaside towns around it are indeed magical. Meryem was an excellent college student, and after she graduated, she was accepted at a top graduate program in the United States, where she met my daughter, Angela. When Angela visited Istanbul this past summer, Meryem wrote a lengthy email message advising her of the best sights to see.

Actually I thought you would come earlier in this month. I was in Istanbul for a long time but now I am in Izmir visiting my husband’s family. Otherwise, I would love to meet you in Istanbul–help you do some shopping, definitely!

While welcoming Angela to her country, Meryem herself is not exactly welcome. The problem is that she chooses to cover her hair with a scarf, and in Turkey, that is grounds for discrimination. Despite her academic accomplishments, she isn’t allowed onto the campus of any Turkish public university. This rule goes back to the country’s founding father, Kemal Ataturk who, after World War I, united Turks in saving their country from foreign invaders. Brilliant, courageous and visionary, Ataturk broke the back of Turkey’s imams, but rather than separating church and state, he put religion firmly under the control of a new, secular government.

I can think of a million of places to recommend but since your time is limited, just check out these ideas and try to do the easiest ones:

Places to go: Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace, Ciragan Palace Maiden’s Tower, Beylerbeyi Palace, Suleymaniye Mosque

Even with her prestigious graduate degree, Meryem will have a hard time getting hired in Turkey. Recent Turkish studies indicate that highly-educated professional women who wear the headscarf often cannot find employment or are forced into unsatisfactory jobs. She certainly won’t be able to teach at a public university.

Places to shop: Istinye Park Mall, Nisantasi, Kanyon Mall, Akmerkez Mall, Grand Bazaar

The first trick is, when you are shopping in touristic markets like Spice Market, try not to buy things with the prices as labeled. Make an offer with a significantly cheaper price! This is the way things work 🙂

There is also Grand Bazaar, which is close to Blue Mosque area, it is amazingly big and you can find fancy jewelry, spices, leather stuff, and silk-cotton scarves.

Some nice brands I don’t see in MN, find here: ZARA, Mavi Jeans-they have cool ‘Istanbul t-shirts’, Mango, Roman, Park Bravo, Inci-shoes, Kemal Tanca-shoes, Yargici-accessories

I view the headscarf situation with sadness. It is the same old story of a group that is different being discriminated against. In this case, it has the added layer of singling out women.

The Qur’an is often interpreted as requiring women to cover their hair. Muslims don’t agree on this. But isn’t it a personal, a spiritual matter? Sankar and I think it odd that women wearing headscarves have more opportunities in India and the United States, neither of which is a Muslim majority country, than in Turkey.

Places to taste: Go to Sultanahmet Koftecisi, which is near Blue Mosque, and taste the delicious meatballs. Go to “Arnavutkoy Belediye Tesisleri” which is an (affordable) restaurant in Arnavutkoy (very close to Bebek) and taste some seafood (Levrek, Cipura, Cinekop), grilled chicken, beef or meatballs.

For dessert “Volkanik” is a must. It is warm brownie filled with milky chocolate and served with ice-cream. Go to Kale Cafe in the seaside of Rumelihisar for breakfast. Ask for traditional Turkish breakfast. It was featured in the TV show, No Reservations. MUST go to one of “MADO” cafe’s for traditional Maras ice cream.

Turkey is a democracy and several years ago, the AKP political party, described in the Western press as “mildly Islamic,” came to power. Rules are changing. But I don’t think Meryem will return to Turkey. The United States or another country will benefit from her talents.

I don’t know if Ataturk envisioned losing his people to other countries. To many Turks he was nearly infallible, but for me, this giant of the twentieth century becomes more human, more admirable, if his flaws and miscalculations are acknowledged.

Sometimes it seems as if we in the U.S. are being torn apart by disagreement. But in recent years we have come to recognize the easy cruelty of intolerance, and we are trying to fight this deep human tendency. I expect the Turks will soon begin to do the same.

The list is not exhaustive but I think it might be more than your time will allow you to try. I hope it does not overwhelm you! Let me know if you need anything. Enjoy your trip!


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