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Europe diary: Headscarf chic

9 November 2006

BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell talks to headscarf wearers and headscarf opponents to get a full picture of the Turkish debate on Muslim dress - plus more thoughts on the Ottoman slaughter of Armenians.


Fashion designer and model
Undo the clips, and it's a revealing halter neck
Rabia Yalcin looks stunning. I am not sure I should write that about someone who prides themselves on dressing in accordance with the Islamic dress code, but she is an Istanbul fashion designer who says her aim is "to show the beauty of the flower, while covering the flower". She's wearing a bright scarlet headscarf, a grey jacket and trousers modelled on Turkish pantaloons.

She has an interesting, not to say cheeky, take on the religious rules. She shows us one of her latest creations. It's a floor length pink gown with a black velvet headscarf. Very modest. But a couple of clips undone here and there and it becomes a very revealing halter neck evening dress leaving little to the imagination. Rabia says it's of course only to be worn at home in front of husband and family.


She has a similarly ingenious way of coping with Turkey's headscarf ban.

Ataturk poster
That's a kalpak, not a fez
The Turkish Republic has a bit of a thing about the political symbolism of headgear. Its founder, whose picture still adorns every office, every public place, Kemal Ataturk banned the fez as a head covering and expected men to wear the hat. His own favourite was evidently the Panama, although he's often depicted wearing a kalpak, a tall black fuzzy number which in certain lights could pass for a fez, but which obviously has some crucial difference that I'm missing.

Like all his dramatic changes to Turkish society, from a new alphabet to public dances, it appears to have been accepted with remarkably little fuss. Although he banned religious dress in public places and railed against veiling women he didn't make much progress against the headscarf. It was left to a government in 1979 to make that illegal.

Rabia's ingenious solution? Her daughter is at university and she has designed haute couture items to satisfy both Koranic law and the Turkish state. Her daughter wears funky hats that cover all her hair... Many of her fellow students and lecturers just thought she was ultra-fashionable, and I guess rather eccentric and blessed with a talented mum, until they saw her out of class wearing the traditional head dress. Then the penny drops.


The story of Rabia's personal assistant, who doesn't have a designer mum is rather different. Aslinur Kara is one of those people who immediately makes you think: "I wish she worked for me." She exudes no-nonsense efficiency and directness. She's also devout and had a hard choice when the time came to go to university.

Aslinur Kara
Aslinur wanted a degree, so she had to remove her veil
She told me that she decided not to waste her education and ruin her life. So she took the scarf off at the doors. She said it was hard, against her values, an insult and against human rights. But in time it didn't hurt so much, and she came to feel that for her fellow students it was brains, the person inside, that mattered, not what they wore. One is tempted to say, "Well, precisely!" But I don't.

She now has a job where she can wear the headscarf. But the law remains and she couldn't go into politics or the civil service or teaching without making that hard choice again.


I suspect many, probably most people in Britain would see this as a matter of freedom of choice, but it's not seen like this here. The government's tentative plans to change the law meet fierce opposition. Just last weekend there was a march through Ankara, a crowd of 12,000 people, to protest against the very possibility. It's an interesting twist that people who most probably would be leftie Hampstead liberals in Britain are here supporters of the army - the principal opponents of any weakening of what they see as the secular state.

Bedri Baykam is an artist who clearly loves to shock. He's working on a series called Picasso's women and his studio is covered with photographs of naked women. He says that women who wear the headscarf these days are making a statement that they are warriors for militant Islam. He says their head covering is not like the headscarves worn by his mother or grandmother but have tight elastic so that not one scrap of hair escapes. He says it's ridiculous that people should treat hair as though it's a sexual organ.


The former four-star general Edib Baser goes further. He says that religious groups pay poor women to wear the headscarf and he too makes the point that these are not the traditional dress of his mother and grandmother. What the secularists miss is that mum and granny would not be allowed into universities.

Spending a great deal of time and effort passing laws required by the EU is not the usual prelude to Islamic revolution
I don't know how Rabia and Aslinur vote but they certainly don't strike me as having a particularly strong political agenda. But terms like "political Islam" are slippery. The ruling party is Islamic but prefers to see itself as Conservative. As one academic remarks dryly, spending a great deal of time and effort passing laws required by the EU is not the usual prelude to Islamic revolution.

I spend some time chasing a rumour that high taxes have been imposed on alcohol in some parts of the country, before it strikes me that Tessa Jowell is Urging the same thing at home.


But there's no doubt some people feel deeply uncomfortable with the current order.

The Cetin family
The Cetins think the headscarf ban is like a growing cancer
Nilufer Cetin was in her fourth year studying to be a doctor when the headscarf ban was introduced. She went to Hungary to finish her education but still can't practise as a doctor. She said: "I was shocked. It was unbelievable, it was a terrible situation. But I think it was just a pretext to attack believers."

Her husband, also a doctor, is still angry. In fact he radiates anger. When I tell him that I can never see the headscarf being banned in public institutions in Britain he is derisive and insists I will be proved wrong. He says the ban will have to go: he's a doctor and "it's like suppressing the function of a cell, if it goes on a cancer will grow, there will be chaos."


Thanks to all of you who answered my plea to help me with understanding attitudes to the Armenia killings within Turkey. They are all very thought-provoking and interesting.

I haven't met many people here who deny that something terribly wrong happened. Many however want to put it in context. It's true I did speak to one highly intelligent individual who should know better than to try to convince me that Ottoman soldiers were merely trying to escort Armenians out of a danger zone when attacked by Kurdish brigands. But such effrontery is rare.

I have heard several stories of how Turkish families sheltered Armenians or helped them escape. One academic made the point that while Germany, as a state, has made full apology and admitted the Holocaust, few Germans who were around during that time talk easily about it. By contrast, he said, Turkish people have many stories to tell and it is the state that cannot tolerate debate.


But it was Professor Halil Berktay who had us entranced. The interview went on for rather a long time and I was about to apologise to the rest of team when Xav the cameraman said: "That guy is so interesting, I could stay here all afternoon and listen." So I'll offer without adornment Prof Berktay's take on why the Turkish state cannot face up to what happened.

The Armenian genocide, the tragic uprooting, deportation and annihilation is not something that sits well with [Turkey's] narrative of pure victimisation and suffering
Professor Halil Berktay
As the Ottoman empire broke up, nations were created from the Balkans to the Arab world, he says: "All of which were conceived in anger and hatred and enmity and antagonism towards one another. In each case, these nationalisms never like talking about what they have done to others. But they can speak for hours and hours of what others have done to them. Especially in this part of the world. In the Balkans and south-east Europe and the Middle East everybody loves to talk about how they have been victimised but they have never hurt anyone else.

"The Turkish grand narrative turns to a very large extent on how Great Power imperialism kept hounding and persecuting the Muslim Turks of the Ottoman empire, and eventually the Turkish rump that was left. Then we had to wage this glorious nationalist struggle against them and against plots to partition us. Now, the Armenian genocide, the tragic uprooting, deportation and annihilation is not something that sits well with this narrative of pure victimisation and suffering."

He compares it to a child believing that they were brought by a stork, that their parents couldn't possibly have had sex and calls his theory "the immaculate conception of the nation state."

Your comments:

What people living outside Turkey cannot understand is that the headscarf issue is not a simple case of "oppressed conservatives vs oppressive secularists". Since 1950, the Islamists, who organized themselves into political parties and illegal sects known as tarikat, have been carrying out systematic attacks on the non-scarfed, liberal part of the Turkish society. For years, they fantasized about a bloody Islamic revolution, which will abolish the secular republic. However, after realizing that the Turkish army would never allow this, the Islamists changed their game strategy. Don't be fooled by their "freedom of choice" and "democracy" cries. While they demand freedom for their veils and scarves in the name of human rights, they pressure the government to pass laws that make adultery illegal or triple the taxes on alcoholic beverages. If you want to bash Turkey for taking drastic measures to defend its secular regime, so be it, but don't come crying to us when you lose the only secular, democratic Muslim country in the world.
Seteney Suay, Istanbul, Turkey

Modesty is a quality often lost on smug civilisations at the peak of their dominance. Progress does not result from decadent behaviour. Fashion is a fickle issue and to debate its importance misses the point. A headscarf is merely a personal expression of faith. It should in no way hinder societal progress. Intolerance and government (religous or secular) intervention will.
Umar Hassan, London, UK

I think that it is very brave for the secular movement within Turkey to continue to fight the forces of conservatism in this manner. As revealed recently by the comments of the Australian cleric Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilali, the belief in covering up is often associated with an offensive attitude towards those that don't. As Deniz KARA points out this is just a slippery slope, no sooner are headscarves allowed then they will become compulsory and other forms of dress will be banned. In England we should be following France and Turkey's example, not criticising it.
Dr Jones, Manchester, England

In Izmir it is acceptable for a woman to walk around with or without a headscarf. In the city of Konya, Turkey, a woman without a headscarf would be made to feel uncomfortable by her peers. All discrimination practised by people is based on one's opinions/beliefs. My Turkish wife is not required by myself, the state, her parents or her peers to wear a headscarf. However if we lived in a more conservative or fundamentalist culture she would be. The secular side of Turkey is trying to assure that aside from governmental offices and schools one is free TO wear or NOT wear a headscarf. That's a tricky balance to hold on to.
Hector John Zois, Izmir, Turkey

Turkey wants to enter an established organisation with established values. Is it so strange that Europe asks a certain amount of cooperation before you fit in? We asked the same of Poland, Spain, etc before they could join. We ARE minding our business, as who joins the EU is our business! And if the differences between various members in fundamental things like human rights, freedom of speech etc are too big, it will only make the EU incapable of agreeing on anything (it's hard enough as it is right now!)

As for headscarves, they are not disliked for the sake of insulting people or religious beliefs. As long as they are abused as a mark of a political organisation that doesn't respect others' freedoms... they will be seen as a statement. As long as POLITICAL Islam... refuses to respect the beliefs of others and imposes totalitarian rule any place it gets a strong enough foothold, there will be paranoia towards the symbols associated with political Islam... Turkey has a choice to make. Will they continue their move towards Europe, or do they wish to become more like Iran? Choose & accept the consequences.
N. Stapleton, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

I want to look this problem from the economic angle. Everybody in the world, even in USA or EU, has to obey the rules of working life, right? You can't wear anything you like as a teacher, doctor or whatever. And reasonable people get a university degree to participate in working life to serve their country and community. But most of those fundamentalist women don't want to work with men. They consider being in the same room or talking or any contact with strange males is a sin and unacceptable. And as a developing country we don't have that much resource to give free education to people who don┐t want to add any value to this country.
Sermin Senturk, Istanbul, Turkey

As a US citizen I grew up with a strong belief that freedom of religon was sacred. I do not understand why people care if someone wears a scarf? And I think it is awful that women are forced to choose between their religious beliefs and equal access to education and careers. If a nun felt she wanted to wear her habit to honor her religious beliefs would she be denied university access?
JC, Melbourne, Australia

It's different in Malaysia, where all Muslim women have to wear a headscarf, but not the kind that Rabia wears, it's another that is plain and unimaginative and wraps one's head till it's all sweaty and stinky - the 'tudung'. Muslims here get arrested by the authorities if they renounce Islam - apostasy. There's no freedom of religion for them. I guess the Turks have it better. The women get to do what they want- wear headscarf at home. Here you have to wear it even at home. It even unofficially extends to those not of the faith in the civil service. To me, the headscarf is a symbol of Muslim men's domination and their sense of inferiority that prevents them to treat women equally. I support the headscarf ban in Turkey.
John Tan, Kuala Lumpur

Beautiful balance between opposite views on this "Have Your Say." Finally we don't just listen to the "Evil Turks did this and that..." refrain over and over again, but read different views trying honestly to understand the Turkey problem. Being Turkish (and not much of a nationalist) I lately find it openly irritating to see the way some Europeans treat the subject. It shouldn't be this easy to condemn and degrade an entire nation. Much like any other nation, we try to be a decent nation, we have a hard-working and relatively educated and prosperous people, have a functioning state and democracy and like any other nation, we try to make the best out of everything in our lives. We have no secret agenda, we do not terrorize the world. I don't mind what people think about Turkey joining the EU (my own views are mixed about this), but what I do mind is the way Turkey is being pushed and tossed around by people who hardly know anything about the country or its circumstances, let alone its neighbours. Blaming Turkey, the Turkish people and our history for all the wrongs in Europe just shows me the kind of "Ottoman" illusion Europeans still live with. We are not the "sick man of Europe" anymore.
Diren Yardimli, Istanbul, Turkey

The Islamic world needs to understand the central point in the headscarf debate: it is forcing women (and only women) to cover themselves up. If Moslem men like the headscarf so much they should wear one themselves. I would have no problem with both the husband and wife being covered, but just the wife doing it is wrong, it's discrimination. Turkey allows women to form part of its modern society and more or less have equal rights, it is in my opinion a beacon of hope to the rest of the women in the Islamic world.
Leon, Toronto, Canada

I guess India is the example to follow. Those who wish to wear headscarves should be allowed to wear them wherever they want to. Being secular is about taking into account every citizen's religious beliefs and accommodating them. Governments shouldn't be imposing dress codes.
Sanjay Guha, Mumbai, India

The issue isn't one of trying to make Turks feel bad. Before reconciliation can take place, there has to be acknowledgement of what happened. The Armenian Genocide has been studied and discussed, hashed and rehashed for over 9 decades by historians. There is always find someone willing to say, "It didn't happen." You can still find historians today who say the Holocaust didn't happen. But anybody with a brain knows the truth. That over a million Armenians were massacred to keep Armenians from having a claim on their ancestral homelands in eastern Turkey.
Greg Serabian, NYC, USA

I really do not know where we are heading to in this present generation were Islam is the topic for everyone's discussion. It's always all about Islam teachings and its values. I do not put on the headscarf, but I admire girls who do and there is no difference between me and them. Let Muslims feel free to dress they way they were raised and taught to do. Most girls and women in my country never covered their heads, but now most are practising it and that's great! I would love to do it someday too. So let us be, please. Let us think of how to love and cherish one another and make this world a better place to live in.
Alimatou, Banjul, The Gambia

With regard to "Istanbuls" comments that the Qur'an does not have a law obliging women to cover, of course it does. There are certain paragraphs where God talks about women being covered. When the companions of the Prophet asked Muhammed about the paragraphs, the prophet said that all the woman can bare is her face & hands.. That's evidence to me, my friend.. The Qur'an gives us laws, but the Hadith (sayings, actions, silences) of the prophet goes into much more depth.
Abu Abdullah, Glasgow

I am a Muslim, and I wear the "hijab" or headscarf. I have known many Turkish women (I am not Turkish myself), and I have heard people make the comment that the hijab is a "political statement" in Turkey. The closest thing political that I have ever heard a hijab-wearing Turkish woman say is this, "Do not call him 'Ataturk' (meaning, 'Father of the Turks'). He is NOT my father!" We should respect the determination and spirit of these women who, despite all the obstacles, still continue to follow what the Quran says!! (Yes, the Quran DOES say for a woman to "cover her adornments," despite what some people may say.)
Inaya, Chicago, Il

Kalpak is a hat made from lamb skin worn by Turkish military men (and some military women as well) starting from the beginning of 20th century. It is the traditional headgear of the Caucasus Turks. During the War of Independence of Anatolian Turks, it became widely popular, because it was regarded as the symbol of the nationalistic movement "the rebirth of Turkishness". The fez, on the other hand, was taken from North Africa by the Ottoman rulers at the beginning of 19th century. In time, it became the symbol of the collapsing and corrupt Islamic Ottoman Empire. As you can see, as a symbol, kalpak is exactly the opposite of fez.
Ceylan Yuksel, Istanbul, Turkey

I think it is a gross violation of basic human rights for anyone to dictate to Muslim women that they cannot wear whatever they desire to. Turkey, as a predominantly Muslim country, should be ashamed of itself for wanting to ban the headscarf. I would suggest the leaders sit down and read the Quran for some guidance.
Madenia Safodien, Cape Town, South Africa

As a secular person, I don't care if a person is wearing a scarf or a bikini... But I KNOW that when people with scarves multiply, they won't let me or my wife/mother wear a bikini. In religious places in some cities in Turkey, if a woman gets out at night without a headscarf, she will probably be treated as if she is a "slut". That's what people with headscarves think. And that thought is what drove Iran to darkness in 1970s.
Deniz KARA, Izmir Turkey

Bedri Baykam talked about hair that people treat it as thought it is a sexual organ. In my opinion, I believe that hair is a sexual organ of human because it generates the beauty in a person. If a person wouldn┐t has hair, he/she doesn┐t look attractive.
Atif Qureshi, Manassas, USA

The headscarf issue in Turkey is certainly an emotive one as your article rightly asserts. I do however feel that by focussing on such well educated and emancipated women as those featured in your article, you are doing a grave disservice to the multitude of other women who are coerced into wearing a headscarf. Such women as Rabia Yalcin and Aslinur Kara are unfortunately in the vast minority in their freedom of choice. When the prime minister's wife herself recounts that she became covered only after being beaten by her brother for returning home late from school what choice does a 12 or 13 year old girl have when instructed by her parents? It is an unfortunate truth that the recent comments by Australian cleric Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilali are closer to the opinion of many the fathers, husbands and brothers of covered women.
Simon, Istanbul, Turkey

I am not an extremist, on the contrary I believe am a very logical person and the head cover is an option for those who want to show more devoutness to God as Muslims, so modesty is a must for all females in Islam but head cover is for extra credit if you may say so. Therefore, for Mrs Rabia Yalcin to be responsible for photographing a half naked woman to be posted on the BBC, as on of your designs for the hijab wearing ladies to wear at home for husbands and family, well excuse me that is plain hypocrisy, if you feared god in a logical way you would not accept to be responsible for that picture, you would not have allowed it...Hypocrisy and shallowness in worship that is what it means!
Nihad Mahmoud, Cairo, Egypt

Rabia is playing with the precious values of islam by projecting stupid dresses named as fashion.She put veil on her eyes and on her mind too to not to see what is real bad or what is good and supporting western propogenda of rediculing islam.On the day of judgement shewill cetianly suffer.
rashid , Pakistan

Islam is all about democracy. So to all the women who believe in themselves' think for yourselves and fight for your rights.
Yousuf Zahid, Karachi, Pakistan

The veil seems to symbolise secrecy rather than freedom & openness; I think one of the reasons why Turkey has progressed more than some of its neighbours was Kemal Ataturk's desire to espouse modern values and democracy & move away from a mediaeval mind-set.
Chris Read, Brighton

Undressing and underdressing may be banned on account of morality, but dressing up or covering any part of body cannot be banned on any count. It is akin to freedom of expression so valued by the West.Some of the laws in the West and Turkey are really bad and crazy. These laws deserve to be reviewed.
Jamil Ahmad, Kolkata, India

Allah has stated in the Quran that women must guard their modesty. " Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty ; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof. " [Quran : 24.31] " Say to the believing man that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty ; that will make for greater purity for them, and God is well aquatinted with all they do. " [Quran : 24.30] " And O ye believers turn ye all together toward God, so that ye may attain bliss. " [Quran : 24.31]
Moin, Bijapur,Karnataka,india

I just wander why all this argue about the head scarf? You are the free, civilized, moderated, world stand against a piece of cloth over the head of a woman!! Discussing, banning, and attacking a scarf covering the hair of little young girl not forced or obliged to ware it. But she ware it and proud with it cause she know that it is like a crown over here head. Why you consider it as a battle you have to win against -that I can call from my point of view- the pureness, virtue and eminence. Review your situation against the hejab and don't that it is a personal issue.
Bassem, Cairo, Egypt

It bothers me that women should get so upset, when there is no obligation under Islam to wear the headscarf. (or veil or anything but a suggestion to wear modest dress, really) It's simply a matter of choice. And people have decided to use it as a political tool. The sooner it's banned all over, the better off women will be, even if some of them don't realize this right now, because they are still emeshed in the 'scarf as a sign of religion' myth. Religion should not need any outward signs.
Jennifer, Paris, France

There is no Koranic law forcing women to cover up. It's Islamic tradition. That might seem like a trivial point, but I think it's important. Wearing "funky hats" is an old trick at Turkish universities. A trip to, say, the Bosphorus Univsersity should convince you that your Rabia shouldn't be taking credit for it.
, istanbul

Being Palestinian, I have a great hatred for the modern Turkish state,as it's helped Israel so much. I find it ironic that the secularists in Turkey & in Europe feel free to pass laws forcing women to dress a certain way,yet denounce so-called Islamists who also force women to dress a certain way! Next they'll force Orthodox Jews to cut their curls and wear pink. Oh I forgot, it's only Muslims dress differently.
Omar Aysha, Sheffield, UK

I own a house in Turkey and have many turkish friends. It also depends on the age and circles of those you talk too. Many young turks I know are more interested in Clubs and Bars than Headscarves and Genocide. I also think that as british the pride they hold in the nation is sometimes at odds to our own self depricating nature.
Ben Shepherd, Farnham, Surrey

Despite being a Pakistani muslim, I agree wholeheartedly with the comment made by Mahatami Gandhi to the effect that... Turkey is trying to go from being a first class Asian nation to a third class European nation. I think the Turkish government is achieving this goal very well but with a slight difference that they will NEVER be accepted into Europe no matter how much backwards they try to bend to appease the EU commissioners. No matter how much they suppress the real muslims there. Ataturk was a hypocrite and a tout of the West and it is his policies that are still prevalent in Turkey. The more one tries to supress, the more the supessed becomes resilient. Banning any kind of dress is nothing but hypocrisy and suppression of freedom of legitimate choice.
Ikbaal, Leicester, UK

I am worried the present secularist [behind the scene] power will someday decree that people must be naked when they visit designated public places. May God help the intelligent, wise and reasonable people of Turkey and elsewhere.
Mohsin, Dhaka, Bangladesh

I think Muslim women who want to wear the headscarf sould be allowed to. Its obsurd, that the Turkish government is putting a headscarf ban, as a 99% islamic country it is a foolish act that their government has taken. I find it very strange how a country with such profile can put a ban on such important issue.
Rashid, Auckland, New Zealand

I suport the ban of headscarf and ask God that it will a suportive bill to all islamic women. Pleas could we have our heads free!?
Lucy muasya, Mombasa, Kenya

Mark Mardell thinks Britain will not ban the use of headscarves wherever but fails to mention that muslims make up hardly 2% of the population and half of these are women. If they all wore head scarves it would hardly be noticed, but in the case of Turkey as the overwhelming majority are muslim it would be a threat to the secular credentials of the country (attempting to gain entry to the EU). Therein lies the dichotomy - be overt muslims and no EU admission, renounce Islamic dictates, be welcomed to the EU. And there is no provision in Islam to allow anybody to convert without fatal punishment.Ergo Turkey will never gain entry into the EU till that little hurdle is overcome! Or will the EU turn a convenient blind eye to this?
m. padman, bangalore, India

There is a level of paranoia here about the headscarf. The people who don't wear it and consider themselves educated are obsessed with the idea of Islamism dominating their country. We are generally used to the idea of having freedoms here such as going to a bar, wearing western style fashionable clothes, listening to rock music in public... A Saturday night out in Ankara isn't unlike one in Birmingham or Liverpool in fact. Young people out drinking, girls meeting young men and the atmosphere is very liberal. However go to an area where the headscarf is more visible and the Islamic code is more strongly adhered to and you will see a difference. No bars, no western fashions, miniskirts will not exist, no young people out on a Saturday there, only men's cafes and women at home making pies....The headscarf, and the huge overcoats that generally go with it.. even on summer days, are not so much religious symbols here but symbols of a totally different philosophy to life.
Ian Hanley, Ankara Turkey

Scarf is the sign of internal fear from other humen fellow beings and immaturity in cultural trends. That is non sense of minds and be stopped practicing.
padi, "Karachi-Sindh "-Pakistan

The Veil: "O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their bodies so that they should be known and not molested" (Quran 33:59). Islamic veil is a means of protection from unwanted attention.
Ahmed, India

How wearing specific clothes has become a part of any holy doctrine is questionable. Yet, it is considered very important in some countries. They will imprison and even kill those who do not follow their dress code. That defies religious teachings of respect and the sacredness of life. We are all born naked. If any lack of clothes is a sin, then we are all guilty at birth through no fault of our own.
Richard Namon, Miami, USA

I would let people be themselves. What God given right does anyone have to restrict any human being what they can and cannot wear. So long as they are wearing decent clothes and not showing any of their private parts in public, what does it matter what one can and cannot wear. We need to learn to be respectful of all cultures and not restrict their traditional dressing.
Hussein Jiwani, Atlanta, Georgia

It is sad to see that Aslinur Kara had to remove her veil in order to get an education. Islam does not allow the sacrifice of it's principles and rules to achieve a worldy desire, however, at the same time, Islam does not restrict women in pursuing their goals. The discrepency therefore, lies in the failed administration of Turkey, and the weak inner concious of Aslinur who chose to violate the Divine Law.
Nazir Khaki, New York, USA

Re Funky Hats - What differentiates Kemal Ataturk's headgear from the fez that he banned is the absence of a tassle. Think Tommy Cooper.
Rob Morgan, Port Douglas, Australia

Kalpak is worn in winter. It is to keep your head from cold. Fes is not for winter since it has no function of keeping your head warm. Kalpak must be similar to Brit ceremonial guards' rather fluffy and big head-cover.
Ahmed, Milwaukee, WI

I am Turkish, my wife is Armenian. My name is Diren (Turkish name), her name is Karen (Armenian/Western name). Her grandparents probably fought against mine in the past, and mine against hers. Today we fight against each other. About who's going to do the cooking that evening. To all the Armenians and Turks out there, life can be very sweet, if you want it to be. And to the rest of Europe, Canda and the USA, mind your own business. Stop messing up with other people's lifes, cultures and consciences. Your are not in a position to judge anyone as you have not been nominated by anyone to be the Grand Jury of the History of the World. Neither have you once been honest about all the damage you have done the rest of the world. And by the way, our cat's name is a combination of both our names, Ka-dir, which happens to be Arabic. (Who are brutally being oppressed, murdered and despised today by almost everyone)
Diren Yardimli, Istanbul, Turkey

Prof. Berktay's observation that Turks focus on slights against them, but ignore Turkish encroachments on the rights of others is painfully true. He's also correct that this bias (known as a fundamental attribution error) pervades the Balkan's and Middle East. Indeed the comments posted to last weeks diary support Berktay's claim. The fact that Armenians and Kurds also killed Turks does not justify or excuse attrocities. Both sides have to recognize that an eye-for-an-eye does not equate with justice for either party.
Peter Lee, Ankara, Turkey

Your across-the-board snarkiness is not appreciated. What reeks out of your diary is, more than anything, a sense of superiority, as if you think that Birtain is so perfect. You walk around comparing everything to it and making underhanded little jibes, but I note that when you came to the part about the Armenian genocide, you were happy to report the professor's commentary about the Turkish narrative "without adornment". I haven't noticed many other empires apaplogising for their widespread abuses of human rights, except for the Germans who were forced to do so.
Shereen Zaky, Cairo, Egypt

On Turkey and the Armenian genocide: Professor Berktay's explanation is relevant more widely than in the Balkans and the Middle East (and I've lived in the Balkans, and recognize what he's describing). Any state that lives eternal victimhood cannot eventually escape becoming a perpetrator, because by definition it acts only in self-defense and acts done in self-defense are seen never to be immoral. Sadly, the US since 2001 has fallen into the same trap. See how USG officials react to criticism of racial profiling or Guantanamo Bay: they will remind you that the US is the victim. The one has nothing to do with the other.
Carey McIntosh, Kigali, Rwanda

Professor Berktay is absolutely right. That IS the problem, I would say. Bravo, Mr Mardell, this time my praise goes to you for finding such an interesting source (although everything else is also wonderfully interesting). Many thanks, and I hope this, together with the very intelligent comments I have read, will go some way to clearing up our perception of the matter.
D. Fear, Heidelberg, Germany

An empire breaks down and the people living in it do suffer from it. While the Ottoman empire was breaking down, from the 18th century to the WWI, the people living from the Balkans to the Caucasia suffered the most. The interventions of the imperial powers, like Russia, USA, Britian, Austria-Hungar empire, French, got the situation worse. Armenians were called the "devoted" by the Ottoman regimes. They were the last one to revolt against the empire and they were the ones that suffered the worst, just like a brother because the betrayel of a brother hits a man worse then anything else. Lets accept the guilt of what has happened to Armeninians and mourn for them, by every party, but let the sinless one among you throw the first stone.
Arif Mirac Ozdogan, Izmir Turkey

All past empires have ignominious doings to their credit. It is better that the butchery perpetrated by the present incumbents be acknowleged as these utterances cannot bring back lost lives or tormentations but will bring a change in human thought process. What is happening today in Iraq, Guantanamo and many other places is no less than armenian or Jewish massacre. May I suggest that more effort be diverted to alleviate the sufferings of living human beings being tormeted across the world.
Gulzar Khan, Pakistan, Karachi

"The immaculate conception of the nation state" is the perfect way to put it. We in the US can try to tell ourselves that we didn't displace people who were already living in the Americas, but it isn't true.
Kathryn Jones, Boston, USA

I am the son of a genocide survivor. My father, who past away ten yeas ago, was a survivor of the genocide, thanks to foreign missionaries who picked him up and put him in an orphanage in Baghdad and to the generosity of Muslim Arabs of the region that he survived. Your work contributes in, first of all, educating Turks of what really happened and secondly reminding the world that a nation was literally brought to the brink of extinction.
Zaven Zakarian, Montreal Quebec, Canada

Outstanding article Mr. Mardell! I'm up north and we have a lot of Turks working with us. I think they'll find your article interesting.
Marc Liebhold, Contractor in Iraq


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