GeriKristen Stevens Turkey fails to protect gay people
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Turkey fails to protect gay people

A demure beauty with big blue eyes, my niece melts hearts wherever she goes, especially here. Nineteen on Monday, she came from the U.S. to stay with us in Istanbul last week. With all the crap she has had to deal with in her life, and there has been much, she believes she is lucky. Her family on all sides has embraced her as gay.

My maid of honor as well as my godchild, I used to take her on forest adventures to find Winnie the Pooh and mica, nature’s looking glass. But she has been a girly girl since she was a baby, still picking pink whenever possible. She likes the look of designer things; don’t show her replica Dolce & Gabana jeans with an upside-down label. Smart, sweet-natured and shy, she speaks her mind on big stuff with brevity and a marked lack of ambiguity, a rare trait in anyone.

She has known - and shared her sexual identity with us - since she was 14. Hosting her here, it was easy to see how lucky she is to live in my hometown Atlanta where the large gay community has deep roots and is openly respected. Like many cities in the U.S., it has a network of gay couples who house and care for young gay people, from newcomers to outcasts.

But America is no model. In the same country lifted up by Harvey Milk and a flourishing gay movement, conservatives' rejection of gay marriage was pivotal in delivering the previous two presidential elections to George Bush. Seemingly more inclusive, President-elect Barack Obama has nonetheless invited Rev. Rick Warren to offer the invocation at his inauguration. Gays and lesbians cannot be members at Warren’s mammoth Saddleback Church. My former boss of five years, Ellen Hershey, a devoted education reformer and mother in San Francisco, wrote a letter to the editor published in the New York Times last week. I read it aloud to my niece. "President-elect Obama should have given this honor to a religious leader who welcomes all Americans equally into the house of worship, no matter how God made them," Ellen wrote.

Telling times
Also during my niece’s visit, Turkey failed to sign the EU-led initiative calling on all countries to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity forms no "basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention." A few days ago, the first publicly known transsexual in Adana, Şaban Çelen, was found murdered in the street. Ahmet Yıldız, who represented Turkey in a gay pride march in San Francisco last year, was shot dead this year with a machine gun. In November someone used a shotgun to kill transsexual Dilek Ince in Ankara. No one was charged in these cases. Not long ago, Ege Tanyürek, a young gay man, committed suicide in Adiyaman.

Turkey does not outlaw homosexuality but provisions of the Turkish Criminal Code on "public exhibitionism" and "offences against public morality" are sometimes used to discriminate against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

There’s no telling how many lesbians are hiding under headscarves and in plain sight. Common sense and percentages in places less closeted suggest that gay folks are in most Turkish families and every neighborhood.

In a quiet office in Istanbul, mothers and fathers of gay children have begun meeting with volunteer parents at Lambda Istanbul, a human rights organization defending lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. "At first they are reluctant but their relationships with their children are improving," a representative told me this week in a phone interview.

In a sphere that doesn’t look kindly upon women out past dark, lesbian women no doubt face a special challenge to connect with peopleÉ "or even find someone to talk to," she added.



For a kind word or a good ear, connect with Lamda (0212) 245 7068 www.lambdaistanbul.org. Their

Taksim office is open until 8:00 p.m. Biguti, meaning "hair curler," is a friendly lesbian bar on Balo

Sokak (No. 20, 3 Kat) between Nevizade and Istiklal. In Ankara, contact the Kaos organization at (0312) 230 0358 http://news.kaosgl.com. Internet

searches will reveal many groups in major cities.

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Defining ’elite’ for AKP's foreign minion

It’s often difficult to look at news of Turkey produced by the foreign press. Of course, some remarkable men and women in Turkey generate exceptional reporting for foreign news outlets. But they are few. In foreign news about Turkey the tired references to government critics as part of an old-guard or liberal elite are especially unsavory when this government is as elitist as they come. Yet they manage to fool otherwise savvy foreign news folks by dressing in populists’ clothing.

Two international academics who passed through Turkey on a six-month research stay, a married couple, argued Turkish politics and culture with such vehemence over dinner one evening that I found myself gulping wine to calm my nerves. "You’re way more nationalist than you think," the wife said, wagging her finger at my Turkish husband as he tried to outline the balancing act between the country’s secular experiment and political Islam. An Ivy League historian of Islam, she admitted to not having read newspapers or books about Turkey. But she barbequed and cocktailed with foreign journalists in their terrace apartments. When they aren’t expanding Turkey’s cultural bridges with more wordfill, foreign media tend to label those who challenge this ruling government as ’secular elites’ who are ’antidemocratic’ and ’anti-Islam’.

A key distinction also eludes them: Turkey’s laicism keeps religion from meddling in the state while American secularism protects the public’s right to religious freedom.

An American woman who has written in Turkey for top U.S. newspapers told me when I was a new arrival that Turkish journalists have a "quaint" perspective and are "rather juvenile" in their professional outlook. She, on the other hand, writes news of Turkey’s progress: the arrival of malls carrying global brands, foreign film fests and Belgian chocolate shops. She and her editor are paid to keep news light on context and heavy on contrast.

In this climate of sound bites and textable news, let’s cut to the ruse. The following is an abbreviated list of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s, or AKP’s, corrupt moves and alliances that benefit the wealthy Islamist few who go largely unnamed by the ’elite police’ in the foreign press.

w The electronic cash flow that bolstered economies around the world in the last decade is gone. If your economy depends on foreign currency instead of production, as Turkey’s does, it’s speculative and vulnerable to instability and global crisis. Thus, contrary to AKP claims and the praise-heaping consensus of the foreign press, the AK Party had little to do with any improvement in the economy, now fallen, since the 2001 financial crisis.

w These days all government bids on social housing are being awarded to the construction company under Albayrak Holding, which openly nurtures a close relationship with the AK Party. In fact, there are no more bids; decisions on large construction deals are simply made by the prime minister’s cabinet and other party officials.

w The parliament minister in charge of oversight set up to safeguard shipbuilders is an AKP member and a ship constructor. In the country’s main shipbuilding site in Tuzla, scores of people have died on the job in recent years. The minister has yet to ensure that sufficient safety regulations are put in place.

w Another devoutly pro-AKP company, Çalık Holding, won the bid to purchase pro-government media outlets ATV and Sabah newspaper on the last possible day when, by some divine handout, they got credit for $750 million from two state banks.

w The imbalance of taxation in Turkey is extreme. Direct, or income, tax makes up only 25 percent of what the state collects. Meanwhile indirect, or sales, tax comprises 70 percent. This means that the government takes far more tax from the people who aren’t earning the money.

The examples roll like rainless summer thunder. These guys get richer while the middle class and poor get poorer. They’ve turned social welfare that is guaranteed in the Constitution into thin charitable giving. This is elitism, and it’s running the country into the ground.
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Trees grow in the land of mothers

This month I ran to my mom in the U.S. for help. My husband is away shooting a film and with much work to do, I wasn’t up to single parenting. I don’t know how my mom did it. When she’s not live via Skype or laboring across continents to visit us, I have raised my son, who turned two Thursday, in a foreign land far from my mom and closest friends with kids. At 36, it’s not easy making new friends; it can be harder than dating. But the fellow moms I’ve met are key to survival. The Turkish women in the bunch are like oxygen-giving trees in Istanbul’s crush of metal and baby-hungry hands, cement and noise.

I had lunch recently with a friend whose daughter wraps gifts for her friends and plans the menu when they come to play. Her mom respects this devotion by making it to our Saturday playgroups despite flying in from work abroad as an executive sometimes at 5:00 a.m. Defne Su tells us her tired mom has been away earning money for her.

Another friend, a Turkish civil engineer who worked in Russia for seven years, brings to the group her wild-child beauty Nehir, her lack of self-consciousness and a wicked sense of humor. Talking with her while overseeing a bed-jumping session, I learned that she takes herself out on a date once a week. She always goes to the theater after some restaurant she is trying for the first time. It’s the most romantic part of her life, she says with a wry smile.

A virtuoso harpist with a new album and a concert schedule, Şirin Pancaroğlu, told me that things got better for her with the birth of her first child after forty. She said suddenly she was more in touch with what was essential to her. "For me, I found a new person inside myself, someone who could do more with less time."

So that’s possible, I thought. Or not, but nice to hear. As is explaining to Max that my work equals coins Ğ he loves coins, which conveniently for him is what I make. And, yes, I should find time for solo ventures out of my neighborhood to keep my humor. Or at least look for it in a dirty crevice down a dark alley.

Pushing borders
Not long ago, I met a Turkish rapper and deejay in her late thirties who was pregnant for the first time and turning out one new project after another in Istanbul, from plays to late night shows. The native Berliner told me that in Turkish society "you have to live within careful borders if you have a different sexuality or want to know a different way of expressing it." But she lives out loud and pushes those borders when many expectant mothers become more conservative. "That’s who I am," she said.

Naciye, a single mother and our child’s babysitter, borrowed cake pans and an oven from her neighbors last month to make a cake for her daughter’s 13th birthday between working three jobs. My husband and I are in awe of how she gets by on her own in Istanbul.

On a solo trip through the east of Turkey a few years ago, I stayed with the family of my husband’s former coworker in Spain. In this Kurdish family in Gaziantep, the mother was too proud to tell her son thriving at his own restaurant business in Europe that she had been ill for months. They had no phone and no heat that cold November. But she fed her adult relatives and neighbors seated in a circle on the floor whenever they came. She told me to treat her as my own mother.

My mom misses us. I suppose it’s hard for her living alone without her only daughter closer, especially after the loss of her beloved dog and three surgeries in five years. But she doesn’t say so. Instead she believes that my husband and I have made a good life for our family in Turkey, and says in this economy we would be wise to stay put.

Lale, a retired teacher and painter in Izmir, has two grown children, one of whom is my husband. She started taking English classes a few months ago because she wants to have "real conversations" with my mom who visits us in Turkey a couple of times a year. I’m glad to celebrate my mom on her turf this Sunday. Happy Mother’s Day to you and yours.
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Charming the prophets of spring

Like a miracle sprung from history and superstitions unfamiliar to me, one festival captures the sense of this country our son will always call home. Hıdrellez, the spring festival, takes place a week from this Tuesday. The 9th annual street festival is in Istanbul’s old-city Cankurtaran neighborhood each year on May 5. Here’s hoping this finds you in time to let me persuade you and yours in the direction of this night of nights.

A few large stages of gypsy music send electricity through the air, and from one street corner to the next roadside cafŽ the dancing doesn’t stop. A Roma brass band plays for dancing folks in the area filled with others joining in the tradition of jumping over a small flame. Then the band snakes its way down the street pulling residents out of windows causing women, covered and uncovered, to raise their arms high beside impromptu belly dancing men and women. Food stalls in the street serve up corn and meatball sandwiches along with fresh pineapple and cotton candy. Some families set up picnics and grills on the sidewalks. People on stilts paint faces of kids on their parents’ shoulders as fireworks fill the sky.

Pulling nature from slumber
Hıdrellez is a seasonal festival unique to Turkey, celebrating the arrival of spring. In folkloric tradition it is the day when Prophets Hızır and Ilyas met on earth, thus pulling nature from its slumber. Since ancient times people in villages and small towns prepare by presenting their best clothes and food. Houses are cleaned from top to bottom because many believe Hızır will not visit unkempt homes.

Some theories suggest that Hıdrellez is rooted in Mesopotamian and Anatolian cultures while others say its origins began with pre-Islamic Central Asian Turkic culture and beliefs. For millennia people from Persia to Greece believe Hızır will bring blessing and abundance to the places he visits and the things he touches. Food bowls, pantries and purses are left open. Windows too fly open to invite Hızır to visit houses. Those wanting a house or garden believe Hızır will help provide for them if they make a small model of what they want. Especially in spring he helps people through hard times, distributing bounty and health. Festival-goers in Istanbul hang wishes and drawings on the three-meter tall Nahil Tree.

Those who want a house or garden believe that Hızır will help them obtain such things if they make a small model of what they want. Some also hang designs of such wishes on the Nahil Tree.

On Tuesday, May 5 the Hıdrellez Festival in Istanbul will once again be organized by the Armada Hotel, where Ahırkapı Street and Keresteci Hakki Sokak serve as festival central in the heart of the Cankurtaran neighborhood. The whole area will be closed to traffic.

The festival begins at 7:00 p.m. Dance until the moon yawns low over the Bosphorus with the Koçani Orchestra, Kollektif, Loleburgazlı Tamer Kum, Mısırlık Ahmet Rhythm Workshop and Buzuki Orhan.

Ahırkapı Street is a five-minute walk from the Sultanahmet tram stop. The public bus, number 81 Yeşilköy-Sirkeci, stops at Çatladıkapı. You can certainly follow the crowd. It’s a rare sight in Turkey to see beer-swilling folk join the conservative, religious, wealthy, less fortunate and everybody in between. Neither religious nor patriotic, the festival lets people celebrate the best of each other.

Visit www.hidrellez.org for details, the program of musicians, parking and directions. Entrance is free.
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Red card Erdoğan for too many fouls

Exposing the underbelly of the government’s approach to women, the prime ministry released recommendations that aim to restrict access to public health care for families with many children in the east and southeast of Turkey. The findings stem from meetings between the Prime Ministry’s General Directorate of Family and Social Research and NGOs, though many of the region’s largest and most productive organizations were not invited.

This official document fails to view honor killings as a feudal tradition that disposes of a woman for being raped, finding work or following her heart. Instead it vaguely calls on families to seek God in punishing her "indiscretions" with something less than murder. According to the report "feminist language" adopted by the media should be replaced with accurate religious information. By failing to protect women whose families disregard them as humans and dismissing reproductive rights, the prime ministry reveals the depth of its own shameful ignorance.

The most alarming of the recommendations is a proposed law that would cut health services to families with children exceeding a given number. Added to this multi-level discrimination is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent insistence that Turkish women should have at least three children. Under the proposed law, heeding his advice would make millions of Turkey’s poorest families more vulnerable to sickness and poverty.

After the prime ministry’s ideological pirouette, some might accuse the government of punishing the region for its loss of local posts last month to the Democratic Society Party, or DTP, the party most popular with the Kurdish population concentrated in the east and southeast. With plans like these, the ruling party’s losses in the region come as no surprise.

Killing progress
More likely though, the report is one more blow in a line of maneuvers aimed at dismantling women’s progress in Turkey. Since women in Turkey battled to turn an inadequate Penal Code into one of the world’s most progressive on protection of women and their rights a few years ago, the government has all but declared war on the rights of women.

The ruling AK Party’s proposed constitution identifies women as a group needing "protection", stripping away clauses that ensured equal opportunity and rights. Under this government women have lost ground in employment while more men are finding jobs. Last month, Minister of Environment Veysel Eroğlu, replying to women’s complaints about unemployment, asked, "Don't you have enough work at home?"

In this ailing climate, an investigation into an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the Islamic-rooted government this week led police to raid the home of Professor Türkan Saylan, a one-woman force in getting girls to school in Turkey. Saylan, 76 and frail from chemotherapy treatment, runs an association that provides scholarships to 29,000 university students and 36,000 school girls. "Those who exercise their democratic rights are punished in this country," she said in an interview on NTV Tuesday. Detained in the round-up of people this week was Doğan Media executive Tijen Mergen, the woman behind another successful campaign that helped tens of thousands girls stay in school, especially in the east and southeast.

Backlash is petty. To use a metaphor that the prime minister, a once-aspiring professional footballer, can understand: Retaliation and tackling from behind gets you thrown out of the game. In the language of feminism, you’ve been warned.
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From baby bird to the cowboy mumble

I’ve been waiting for this since he was born. When will the talking start, I wondered, looking at his wrinkly newborn face frozen mid-screech, not unlike a baby bird. Our pediatrician didn’t help my quiet distress over this pre-verbal phase when she reminded me that in those first six months he was as different from a developed human as a butterfly.

As my husband and closest friends will attest, I’m a "relater". I was raised in the American south and schooled in the sarcastic northeast before settling into "let’s talk it out" San Francisco. I suffer from a hybrid need to tell stories the long way, think out loud, tease people and "exchaaange", as one friend refers to my style. Living abroad has certainly crystallized the longing for conversation and encouraged, finally, some fearlessness when connecting with others in Turkish.

As it turns out, my kid is a desperate relater like me, bless his heart. And a late talker. His father speaks Turkish with him and I speak English.They are coming, the words, little manifestations of brain synapses and a relationship to the world. He works so hard to tell us things in breathless streams or with words, repeating them with insistence, offering few clues as to what on earth they mean: Kadife, moab, ghanaybey.

My husband often crawls into bed with a sad face after checking on Max before bed, saying, "poor bug", southern for "poor guy", neither of which translates in Turkish. Exhausted, sometimes I ask "Why?" "He’s so little," Inan always replies. "He needs us for everything. He can’t explain anything yet." But I’ve seen him scare bullies off with a single glare. I’m only impatient to know him better, hear what he thinks. Plus, someone else speaking my language in our neighborhood increases conversation potential by 100 percent. Some of Max’s first phrases mimic my attempts: "Oh yeaaah" and "I know, I know," he says.

This morning his dad showed him fire, or ateş, on a ring of colorful flashcards that I thought might jumpstart vocabulary. Max rushed the image over to me pointing and shouting, "haht, haht" in mock urgency. Not much of a risk taker, he loves expressing and hearing about danger. Real words be damned; he’s talking on phones, with strangers on buses, via Skype with our parents. He starts asking to call my mom during breakfast.

I know when he’s speaking American English. Loaded with heavy ahrr sounds, I call it the cowboy mumble. Americans don’t move their mouths much. He uses it when he speaks to anneanne, my mom, but switches the sound with his Turkish grandparents. Last weekend, Max sidled up to a couple of serious-looking men on a bench fingering prayer beads in an Istanbul park. He began pointing to the sky and the trees in a tenor befitting their somber demeanor. No cowboy-talk there either.

Little linguists

Max goes into fits of laughter when his babaanne, my mother-in-law, says anything in English. Recently he started saying "oh-my-godt" with a Turkish accent. While I’m no saint with language, I don’t use that phrase often enough to spread the word, so to speak. Then I heard his Turkish babysitter Naciye saying it. "It cracks him up," she told me.

I wanted to know how he seems to know they’re not speaking their native language. Recent research, reported by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, shows that babies use the pattern of sounds within words to distinguish the ends of words, and can distinguish languages by nine months. This supports the argument that parents should stick to their native tongue when addressing their kids. Little ears are tough language critics.

I don’t even care that the new two-word combos are in Turkish. He wants to relate so he does. I suppose the Turkish beginnings also represent life with a bilingual toddler in his homeland, not mine.

Poor bug, he is not. Nor is he a butterfly, or buh-buh-buh, as he says. Wednesday night watching Turkey play Spain, languages united. Gooooooal, he shouts whenever he sees action on a green pitch. His father and I spent much our youth on those fields. But he learned to shout "goal", one of his first words, from his Greek godmother in a Turkish street watching Iraqi refugee boys play the world’s game.
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Media overlooks blood-red message

A well-educated young Turkish woman on a bus yesterday told me that her ex-husband used to beat and humiliate her. Several years on, she is having trouble creating goals for herself. This month, during a span of 12 days, 12 women were brutally murdered in Turkey. More, if we count girls and teenagers. Men’s lack of awareness about their role in violence against women is made worse by the media’s own ignorance and manipulation of the issue. Turkey’s media is no exception. But the indicators are all there, on page three in the newspaper and in our apartment buildings, that men are beating the life out of women.

Last month, I watched one of the country’s top talk show hosts, Beyazit Öztürk, interview rock vocalist Aylin Aslım on Kanal D about a project to benefit the "No to domestic violence" campaign. I talked with Aylin this week for the main story on the Women in Sight page about her role in the project. The compilation album and recent concert took its name, "Güldunya", from a previously banned song of hers addressing an honor killing case.

I heard Öztürk criticize the album cover for not relating to abused women because he said its image of bright red lipstick gave the album a cosmopolitan feel. "Unfortunately, people see this issue as far away from them in the southeast," Aylin replied. "It’s the same ratio in Istanbul as in the southeast. The level of education doesn’t have any bearing on the statistics either."

Undeterred by his lack of information, he then suggested that the campaign had gone too far by making violence an issue of men against women. "Shouldn’t we say that this is more a human problem," he said. "No," Aylin said, "It’s a widespread fact that men use violence on women. Women don’t rape their husbands."

"But women beat their children," he said. "Because they are beaten by men," Aylin replied. She told me that at that point, the mostly male university-aged audience groaned in disapproval at her response. And Öztürk told her that he thought she was being too harsh.

"It is so inappropriate to say we shouldn’t see this as a man’s problem," she told me. Disheartened by the young men’s response in the audience, Aylin said, "They made me feel more hopeless."

Whether they know it or not, those young men look to Öztürk as a model for their behavior and a reinforcer of their misguided values. Chauvinism that runs so deep is hard to root out but easy to feed.

And he didn’t stop there. "But I have a lot of ’girl’ friends who seem to get a lot of pleasure from the macho attitude when it comes to choosing a boyfriend," Öztürk said. "I don’t know what kind of women are around you but that’s not true of most women," Aylin told him.

Trickledown violence

They talked about how the streets have become more dangerous. "We used to have young boys protecting the girls and the neighborhood," Öztürk said, adding that those days were gone. "Girls shouldn’t need protection," Aylin said. Especially not from young boys.

"I think the bullying attitude that [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan represents, a man who carries a knife and isn’t afraid to show it to the public, this affects young people," she told me. "And it has an effect on the street. You can see a woman getting beaten and people don’t do anything about it."

Sadly Öztürk’s overt lack of sensitivity or information about the subject matter is not unique to his show. It seems to be a byproduct of a society equally possessed by violence and apathy. And it sure works for ratings. Not long ago, Aylin and Hülya Gülbahar, a prominent lawyer and an active feminist, were invited on a show by another popular host, Okan Bayülgen, whose program is billed as intellectual and high-class.

"You’re a popular face for women issues," he said to Gülbahar. "Is this because you were a victim yourself?" "No and I’m tired of this question being asked," she replied.

"How selfish," Aylin said, "to think that someone has to suffer to care."
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Names and faces of responsibility

Local elections next weekend provide a time to reflect on what the government has done to improve the lives of women and what it needs to do better. A lack of viable alternatives by opposition parties combined with the ruling Justice and Development Party’s, or AKP’s, unaccountable use of state resources and contract bidding to back their own interests have cemented the party’s dominance for years to come. They will add more local power this month to a 47 percent popular vote in the 2006 national elections that lent them 63 percent control in Parliament. As in any healthy democracy, such power deserves intense scrutiny.

In 2008 the new social security law created an incentive to hire women. When an employer hires a woman, the government covers the social security payments for the first year. Aside from this bit of job stimulus and general fulfillment of the duty to raise the standard of living for unemployed women, AKP leaders have openly blocked progress for women. With people rapidly losing jobs, urging women to be submissive mothers of three or more children, as the prime minister did last year, is like covering a fire with oil.

Domestic violence seems to be the only "women’s problem" this government will consistently address. And they don’t do it well. A recent report that found four in 10 women in Turkey are beaten by their husbands also revealed that 90 percent of those women do not report the abuses to any authority. When the Prime Ministry released the report this month, not a word was uttered about the sources of the problem: a weakened economy, a patriarchal society and a structure that lacks the tools to stop the abuse. Nor was man’s hand in the matter mentioned.

Instead, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in his speech marking International Women’s Day this month, "We have to cherish women because they are our mothers." He offered no other reason.

With no infrastructure, victims of domestic violence often have no place to go. With no real enforcement or rehabilitation, nor do their abusers. These are not cultural problems. It starts with nuts and bolts: Rehabilitate men who hurt women, lock up others and amend laws that let men off when the court perceives "provocation" by the victims. This is the government’s responsibility.

Backlash is violent business

Women fought and won huge success a few years ago on a penal code that had treated them as subhuman. Since then this government has pushed to place women in "protection" rather than equality in their ongoing draft constitution. In 1998 the country's Constitutional Court finally overturned a law that made adultery a crime only for women. But as recently as 2007, AKP members of Parliament pushed to revive the law. Both the prime minister and the president were outspoken in favor of it before EU accession talks made it too hot to handle. Their tone is consistent with their party’s intentional and systematic dismantling of women’s progress in this country.

Last month, AKP ministers blocked the new Gender Equality Committee in Parliament in the final hour, changing its name, and thus its aim under the law, to Equality of Opportunity. The change means women cannot legally demand of the prime minister or of Parliament quotas or special precautions in employment.

Good news for the people, bad news for a social state guaranteed by the Constitution: Hope for Turkey’s women remains in the hands of citizens and women’s groups who despite the odds bring about change on the local and national level. A new Women’s Platform against Sexual Violence met at Garajistanbul Wednesday and turned their attention to muhtars, the top official in each neighborhood. With better resources and information, they would have tools to provide real help. Muhtars know their responsibilities by name.

Can women continue to overcome the wave of government backlash? They can because they are productive by nature, wanting better for themselves and their children. In Turkey their progress is rounding every corner.
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Behind the banners and bullhorns

While some women celebrated each other by rocking out in concert halls or chanting and drumming in multi-block marches, others gathering soberly in squares to remember women killed in the name of honor or anger. A playback of what was said and done on International Women’s Day is worth a look in a country with so much daunting news to report about women and so few women given substantial voice in the media.

Some 6,000 women marched through Kadiköy, a district on the Asian side of Istanbul, gathering in Kadıköy square last Sunday. A representative of the 8 March Women’s Platform declared: "In the house, on the street, in the workplace violence is covered up. Women are harassed, raped and checked for virginityÉ "Ayşe" who wants to run away from her husband gets 14 bullets. When Hüseyin Üzmez is protected, the women who protested against him are taken into custody. Pippa Bacca is killed. This much rape and violenceÉis it all a coincidence?"

The group carried banners and shouted slogans, saying "We will resist the patriarchal capitalist system. We insist; we are determined." Last year Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged women to "have three children," to which the women protesters replied, "Listen, PM, don’t make me mad. You go hatch 1, 2, 3 little Turks."

This year’s demonstrations also drew vehement reactions to Turkey’s biggest pop star and now TV presenter İbrahim Tatlıses insulting invited guest, singer Yıldız Tilbe, on his live show. A man known for violence against women close to him, he announced that he had rescued her from pimps years ago.

Another slogan jabbed at Erdoğan’s statement in Davos, when he told Israel’s President Shimon Peres, "You are good at killing." Women protesters shouted, "You in power, you men, you are good at killing, harassing, raping, murdering, being provoked and getting reduced sentences." The reference to provocation and reduced sentences criticizes the judicial system for allowing reductions in sentences for violence against women for certain "provocations."

Women’s groups also protested the new social security law saying it "sentences us to marriage and a husband. Retirement has become a dream for us." They also demanded that domestic labor and caretaking be covered under the social security system.

Firing women in crisis

Emine Özcan reported on bianet that protesters spoke about the inequalities in labor, "be it at workplaces where women earn less than men, or at home, where women are left to cope with housework. The economic crisis, as well as women, were being used an excuse to fire women or keep their wages low."

Lawyer Filiz Karakuş said bosses are using the crisis to justify firing women workers first. But either as a worker or a housewife the woman is the victim of the crisis because their husbands or fathers are fired and women are the ones who are mashed as a result.

"We continue to remain oppressed physically and emotionally by our fathers and husbands, forced to be responsible for food, washing dishes and clothes, rearing children and caring for the old." She also warned that the policies of denial, destruction and war toward Kurds turned into poverty, harassment and rape for women.

Reporting for bianet, Aysel Kiliç asked women in Konya about what March 8 meant to them. Cleaner Fatma Selin asked, "Women’s Day? No, never heard of it. What use is such a day for us when we are worried about getting by, love?

High school student Sebahat Köse: "As long as Konya’s local men don’t leave us alone, as long as we cannot walk the streets by ourselves, 8 March seems silly to me."

Homemaker Deniz Yörük: I am 45 and I have spent so many years at home. I even feel lucky to have gone outside to do the shopping today. As long as the man earns the money, he is valued. We women are not considered worthy in the eyes of men. 8 March? I think I saw it on TV once. They cut a cake. Is that what you are talking about?
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Women who make progress happen

When the Daily News began the Women in Sight page last summer, we hoped to tell stories of women in Turkey with the plainspoken complexity and modest heroism that such a broad spectrum embodies. After spending a day or a decade in this country, it is easy to see that women, not issues, speak for themselves. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, allow me to share some of the voices and moments that have shined from this page, illuminating women who make their country better.

After 12 years of struggling for a parliamentary commission on gender equality, last month women in Turkey finally gained a commission mandated to represent them at the highest levels of government Ğ complete with a big budget and the ears of Parliament and the Prime Ministry. But the moment arrived despite setbacks, and backlash. Since women’s progress on the Turkish Penal Code in 2004, a clear backlash has emerged from all sides, leading women's advocate, Pınar İlkkaracan, told me in December. "First it’s coming from the government itself and filters through the police and the judiciary."

The rights organization İlkkaracan founded and directs, Women for Women's Human Rights (WWHR), confronts the government’s mounting efforts to control women through morality. Her group trains more than 3,000 women in intensive 4.5 month programs that help them realize their rights and abilities. Across the country these trainees have been establishing their own local organizations.

"What good news there is to report on behalf of Turkish women emanates from local groups and the changes they have brought about in their communities," İlkkaracan said. Such was the case in Van in December with the formation of a municipal gender equality commission. "In Cannakale, the local group ELDER started with police training and now all the people in the city are gender sensitive," she laughed.

Forging new paths

İlkkaracan edited a book published in English last year called "Deconstructing Sexuality in the Middle East: Challenges and Discourses" with contributors from Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Palestine and Turkey. In Turkey and around the world, doctors, lawyers, judges and lawmakers say looking at a woman’s hymen can determine whether or not she has had sexual intercourse with a man. "This is in fact a lie," said Emek Ergün, Turkish translator of ’Virgin: The Untouched History’.

In her translation "Bekáretin El Değmemiş Tarihi" released last year, Ergün reviews public debates around virginity since the 1980’s and problematic conceptualizations of virginity in major legal documents Ğ such as the Penal Code. She also exposes the medical profession for allowing virginity examinations and "repair" surgeries.

With only one in four women in Turkey working, dozens of women in the Aegean town of Ayvalık and in Diyarbakır are taking economic and environmental matters into their own hands. At Çöp (M)adam, women make fashionable handbags from empty ice-cream containers, potato chip bags and candy wrappers. This summer, a student grant winner in an American university, Ecem Erşeker, will distribute $10,000 in microfinance grants to enable Anatolian migrant women living in squatter settlements in Istanbul to pursue self-employment opportunities.

Following her peeled-back performance in Umit Unal’s "Ara", Selen Uçer told me in Adana hours before she won her first "Best Actress" award this summer that she was confident about her future, "whatever it brings." "I might quit acting and sing or meet a man and sell tomatoes." With good roles harder to find for everyone this year, I was lucky to find her onstage Thursday night singing sultry jazz. No tomatoes, no man, only Selen in the spotlight telling a story.
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Oppress working dads at your peril

Often women journalists and other professionals confess to keeping their children out of working, cocktail and boardroom conversations. Before I was an employee with a child, these women struck me as part of the problem. They seemed happy to contribute to the illusion of the unisex workplace free of messy children who might bring about worry, exhaustion and postpartum depression. Or family-friendly policies. I get it now. A woman who chooses to keep her children in the chit-chat closet is merely protecting her identity as a thinking person with plans for herself. A woman goes from being regarded as an individual with skills and merit acquired over a lifetime to becoming a sort of sacred cow. And it happens overnight. As soon as she announces her pregnancy, she is often perceived as a vessel for a child and, more quietly, a burden on the workplace. Will it spread among the workers, this urge to reproduce?

As part of my work, I follow the news and meet fascinating people. I pay income taxes that go into the public pot. Yet somehow there’s an image that I’m hanging around playing hide and seek with my kid all day. If I could afford to I might, but that’s another subject. Hardly anyone who sees I’m a mother asks me what I do anymore.

This might seem like a good place to dive into rationale for giving fathers the same amount of family leave to ensure that women aren’t discriminated against in hiring and pay. Or, by extension out there among the people. But this is obvious.

There is a larger point: Workplaces and governments need to reinvent "human resources" altogether to respond to the most underestimated phenomenon of modern times: Fathers and mothers who raise children as partners. Dads have pioneered their way to deserving recognition and respect. Demanding it seems to be a tougher matter. Maybe they should pick up on the collegial kiddie conversation where their wives have left off.

A draft law on paternity leave has been sitting before Turkish lawmakers for many years and should sit no more. It would be progressive, sure, but extreme measures are needed to combat the dark forces of a patriarchal society pushing hard to be on the world stage.

Turkey has the lowest rates for child care services for children under five among OECD countries. The law states that companies with more than 100 female employees should provide child care, but this is far from enforced. Women's rights advocates are pressing for the law to include companies with more than 150 employees, both males and females.

Left out between meatballs

At dinner with friends, questions about our child most often begin by someone addressing me. And there’s my husband, the one who most likely prepared our toddler’s dinner and is feeding him between dropped meatballs and random demands. Soon it’s obvious that we both answer with the same level of detail about our child.

Among broad circles of acquaintances, my husband admits to feeling overlooked when people treat me as the primary caregiver with the most insight and time invested in our son. My husband provides half the care and when necessary takes on the whole load without hesitation. He will care for Max Ali on his own while I’m out of town this month. He will do this even though he is working, making a feature film and completing his doctorate. He should have the same rights as any female worker to parental leave and child care.

Starting with infants, active father figures play a key role in reducing behavior problems and enhancing intelligence, reasoning and language development, according to a recent review of 22,300 sets of data in the U.S., the UK, Sweden and Israel. Women who had good relationships with their fathers at 16 had long-term benefits including better relationships with partners and a greater sense of mental and physical well-being at the age of 33.

This phenomenon of hands-on dads has become the norm in much of the world. It will change humans in profound ways. Technology has caused man to evolve from his need to fight or, for many, even work outside the home. Raising kids to be strong and happy suits man’s inclination to see that his family line continues. We know too much now about the benefits, and the needs, to look backward.

Big bosses and leaders, ignore the evolution at your peril.
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Leaving blood on their flags

Every primary school in Turkey has been commanded since January to show students a propaganda film vilifying Armenians as murderers of Turks in the early 20th century. The army produced it and sent it to the Ministry of Education, which distributed the six-part "documentary" to schools last June. Last month, the ministry sent the schools letters requiring them to show the film to students "when convenient" and report on student reactions by March 2. The images are downright gruesome and frightening, showing the bones and sculls of people the film claims were Turks killed by Armenians. For children ages seven to 13 Ğ around 10.5 million of them Ğ this degree of manipulation is particularly cruel. It puts hate and fear in their hearts before they form the next front lines.

Only in the face of recent protests by NGOs and teachers unions, Education Minister Hüseyin Çelik told news crews Wednesday that no such order by the ministry had been issued and that showing the film, "Sarı Gelin: The Inside Story of the Armenian Problem" to students was not their intention. "It was for the teachers, not the kids," he said. This type of lie is common here but it underlines the NGOs’ successful and persistent fight to expose the dark motives of leadership in this country.

The timing of this hate drive, which carries its own momentum despite the "revision", seems connected to recent events. In January, Turkish signatures on an apology to Armenians grew to thousands as the country marked the second anniversary of the nationalist murder of prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. President Barack Obama was greeted by open letters from the Armenian Diaspora demanding publicly that he pass a bill criminalizing denial of the events of 1915 as "genocide".

The film was meant to make a whole generation of Turkish children believe that the only victims of those events were Turkish. No matter where people stand on the matter, the number of Armenians who died Ğ by low or high estimates Ğ suggests this is simply false.

War kills Turks and kids

When the ministry sent its demand Ğ and schools began showing the film Ğ these kids were watching horrifying images on nightly news of Israel’s massacre of more than 1,000 Gazans, a third of them children. It would be reasonable not only for these children to hate Armenians after seeing Six Parts of this film but also for them to believe that ethnic and nationalistic divides end in wars that kill Turks, Muslims and children just like them. And, of course, thousands of Turkish-Armenian children could be traumatized by this "state" campaign or feel compelled to hide their identity.

Parents can only do so much to change first impressions formed in young minds. My son will be in Turkish primary school in less than five years, and this is the very kind of thing that makes me want to cut and run. I realize that the fight with propaganda belongs more to people born of this land, but the planting of such seeds in innocent hearts troubles me on a visceral, universal level. It makes me cry.

In her book "Deep Mountain" Ece Temelkuran discusses the weight of propaganda on Turks and Armenians. A year ago she wrote in the daily Milliyet about the brainwashing of children who made a Turkish flag from their blood to support the Turkish troops fighting Kurds. "If only this noise, which makes flags out of children and dead children out of flags, would end."
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Born to blindfolds and yellow ribbons

Blindfolds and yellow ribbons on mailboxes and lampposts dominate my first memory of the world as something more than digging to China. This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Iranian takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran and the 444 days American hostages were held by Islamic revolutionaries with the support of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini. In my first joke on memory, I told a group of adults in our home that in America the Ayatollah’s name meant "I a toilet". It was a bad joke; I was six years old. I had been born into Watergate and the last years of Vietnam. Times weren’t very funny.

For the vast majority of American children, though, the horror of our country’s actions abroad amounted to sanitary news items, frightful images at worst. We had made Iranians angry and it struck me then that a whole country couldn’t be that mad over nothing. After propping up Iran’s Shah in his elite opulence, American meddling had become intolerable for a proud people.

Then came layers of war in Beirut and the naive U.S. intervention and tacit support for Israel’s excessive aggression there. My aunt Janet Lee Stevens made her home in Beirut as a journalist-activist working with newspapers from Japan to France. In 1983 she was killed with 62 others in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy. The act constituted the first of many terrorist acts against the U.S. of its kind, introduced Iranian-backed Hizbollah to the West and killed off the CIA’s entire Middle East contingent in the embassy that day. After Hizbollah bombed the Marine barracks six months later, the U.S. pulled out of Lebanon. A precedent was set; Islamist resistance could succeed.

Born into risk

With the direct and illicit hand our government played in the region’s deadliest conflicts, Americans at home have never faced fear or consequences on any tangible level Ğ 9/11 aside. But people in the region Ğ like my husband in Turkey Ğ quicken at the pulse recalling how close those events came to their own homes and lives. This remains the case for young people here today.

Like all Turkish citizens, my husband Inan remembers being told that every Turkish man was a soldier. To him this meant if war reached Turkey, all men would go to war, including his father Ğ and eventually himself. As Beirut imploded and the Iran-Iraq war raged next door, Inan remembers at the age of seven listening to 10-year-olds play out World War III scenarios resulting from some American move or another. With compulsory military service in place, then as now, those boys had a direct stake in such a result.

Our son is both Turkish and American. Turks have already begun telling him at 20 months that he too will be a soldier. Whether he will or not, Max Ali will grow up with the notion that he might have to fight or be killed in conflicts not of his making. We will do what we can as parents to protect him from this fear and/or reality, but in the end the geography of his birth and the polarizing recklessness of the U.S. in the region have already put him and his generation of small Turkish citizens at grave risk. Nations, like religions, mask acts based on immorality and greed in the name of populations that become indifferent or hateful toward the "other". The children of Gaza have no mask, no country, no protection. Yet foreign-made weapons are their currency. These children are the truest face of war. They entered a world full of nations that treat them as subhuman. Dehumaization is war’s currency.
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Historical step on path to progress

After 12 years of struggling for a parliamentary commission on gender equality, on Thursday women in Turkey finally gained a commission mandated to represent them at the highest levels of government. This representation also comes with unprecedented power to serve the interests of women: a substantial budget, the authority to bring about real change and the ears of Parliament and the Prime Ministry. In the last couple of years, Turkish women have united to transform a dysfunctional Penal Code into one of the world’s most progressive on protection of women and their rights. Taking a united stand on the proposed Draft Constitution last year, 86 women’s groups signed a declaration that argued effectively that language identifying women as a group needing "protection" was unacceptable. These days, Turkey is using new gender-sensitivity training in the curricula of the army and state organizations.

Female representation in Parliament reached nine percent after the last general election, in 2007. Hastening efforts to form a gender equity commission, the 49 female parliament members from four parties began bringing proposals together in a united front. Their joint proposal Ğ owing much to decades of equal rights campaigning by Turkish women and NGOs Ğ finally landed in Parliament for approval on Thursday.

An NGO representative on the new committee, Dr. Selma Acuner, who co-founded the Association for the Education and Support of Women Candidates (KADER) told Bianet that the committee means an institutionalized spread of gender equality over all decision-making points. "It represents a turning point for the women’s struggle for equality."

The committee will have 25 members, with preference given to MPs with expertise in the area of women’s rights. CHP Adana Deputy, Nevingaye Erbatur, along with several other women in Parliament back enacting a quota system to ensure more political participation by women. On the other hand, more than half (29) of the female deputies are from the ruling AK Party, which has soundly rejected the possibility of quotas. This should make for a lively group. The committee’s impact could carry the indelible mark of politicking or reflect the type of cross-party compromise rarely seen in the assembly hall. Promises to ensure women’s representation do not translate into changes in women’s lives because too often the implementation of laws and measures protecting women’s rights are simply not in place. But this powerful committee can move beyond political promises in its ability to make laws easier to enforce or pass a gender equality law more quickly. Ireland’s broad equality legislation, for example, has been a model for other countries on issues such as allowing women to challenge hiring practices that appear to discriminate against them, a provision that is absent from Turkey’s labor laws.

Taking the local lead
With March 29 local elections on the horizon, last week Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the AK Party aimed to fill a third of the country’s city council seats with women. But his word has pretty low value: He and his party have already failed to follow through on their decision to name women to 15 percent of the AKP’s mayoral candidates.

KADER’s Ankara branch director İlknur Üstün demanded on Tuesday that local municipalities establish commissions on gender equality as well. "This would help local services organize with a focus on gender," Üstün said.

Much of the progress by Turkish women on equality emanates from local women’s groups and the changes they have brought about in their communities, a leading women’s rights advocate Pınar İlkkaracan told me a few months ago. In Canakkale, where women have mobilized the local power structure, the city "checks with its women’s group before building a road," she said. İlkkaracan recalled a husband who burst into a meeting of a local Anatolian women’s group to thank them for helping his wife become a better wife and mother. "We have a much better sex life nowÉ and I’ve told all my friends to send their wives to these workshops too," she recalled him saying.

It’s not hard to imagine a similar effect taking hold of men all over Turkey as women begin to lend greater voice to their communities.
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Promises, promises

There is a saying where I come from: When mom’s not happy, nobody’s happy. According to a recent UNDP survey, 86 percent of all Turkish voters were unhappy about the low representation of women in local administrations. In recent weeks, the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, abandoned its decision to name women to 15 percent of the mayoral candidate posts in the March 29 local elections. With nominations at the municipal and district levels drawing to a close, only a handful of women have been selected to run for the 3,225 mayoral positions, and none in the 16 largest cities.

However on Wednesday Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the AK Party aimed to fill a third of the country’s city council seats with women. This is wonderful news, if he's serious. Women Branches Chairwoman Fatma Şahin made the "15 percent" public declaration several weeks ago. Imagine how demoralized she feels. Imagine how women like Sibel Eraslan feel, without whose door-to-door campaigning analysts say the AK Party couldn’t have pulled off its 2002 victory. Still today, women's AK Party branches have no official power or budget.

Almost all the female respondents in a survey conducted by the Gönülbirliği Cultural Solidarity Association in Ankara said the number of female politicians was too low and that measures should be taken to increase female participation in state, political party and nongovernmental organizations.

Turkey has only one female mayor - Tunceli Mayor Songül Erol Abdil from the Democratic Society Party (DTP). Only 25 out of the AKP's 340 deputies are women. It would be polite to say that the prime minister’s lone female cabinet member State Minister for Women and Families Nimet Çubukçu has failed the people she serves, neglecting institutional abuse of orphans and women’s rights.

Vile permissiveness
More than 1,000 women and girls have been killed - and those are documented cases - over honor and virginity by their own families since 2001. Last month, a government-appointed District Education Board official visited an Istanbul university and forced 30 female students to answer questions about who in their dorms was drinking and sexually active. In November an 18-year-old was subjected to virginity tests after her Istanbul dorm manager alleged to the girl’s father that she was sexually active. The accusation and subsequent dismissal attempt was based on bruising to the girl’s face and neck.

If more female representatives were in government, it's hard to believe this "official" behavior would be so easy to get away with. President of Turkey’s largest teachers union, Eğitim-Sen, Zübeyde Kılıç told Bianet that the government’s position on women encourages such allegations which victimize young women. "It cannot be a coincidence that the virginity discussion is taking place at the time of the Justice and Development Party."

Remarkable, smart women - observant and non-observant - are willing to change conditions. They want to be part of a government that works for people, not one bent on pursuing a backlash against the progress that Turkish women have fought so hard for. The AK Party’s dim light bulb often illuminates what appears to be a black comedy about backroom thugs. But local elections are no comedy and these guys don't own the back room. If the AKP and its female candidates can pull off even half the increase Erdoğan seeks in women's city council seats, more men will see women for what they are: Valuable decision makers, not desexualized stay-at-home collateral.
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Obama’s new boss: Generation Now

With my 19-month-old son Max Ali on my lap, I was trying to keep my tears from falling on his head. Obama had been president for a couple of minutes when I was overcome with a sudden optimism for the world my son will know. He will not remember life before President Barack Obama. The Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millenials. Who are these new kids? The media will not be able to reduce them to a single country, name or a description. They are connected across borders in ways no previous generation has been. Maybe learning to heal the earth will be their link. At this turning point in history, can Barack Obama be their glue?

For the first time in history, a global generation will come of age with a common memory of an uncommon leader: People often use the word humanity when they talk about the new president maybe because they sense we’ve lost some of our own. The international exuberance about him could be a desperate need to feel that the future holds something positive. Whatever the reasons, around a billion people will recall seeing or hearing this man come to power, marking the first collective memory of this magnitude.

I met my husband a few months after 9/11, a date that established the "pre- and post-" dynamic is myriad ways. Caught up in the rapid upswing of common sense and goodwill in Washington this week, forgive me for kicking cynicism to the curb for a moment. This is sunrise in the post-Obama victory world.

Inheriting the earth
The 83 million Millennials, people born after 1980 who came of age around the year 2000, make up the first generation in 60 years that is unsure if they will inherit the superpower legacy of financial and military global dominance. I hope this new broader generation will see that it is this expectation, this sense of exceptionalism, that puts the U.S. - and the world - in peril.

Generational change was the rallying cry of the Obama campaign. It was a mix of political wizardry and the right tone for the time. Voters under 30 chose Obama by a margin of 2 to 1, including 70 percent of 13 million first-time voters. He spoke Tuesday of his hope that people will summon the spirit of service, a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. "And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all."

The timing of this transition of power could shift the tone of U.S. leadership from regard for the few to concern for the most for decades to come. The failure of the Republican brand of free market is so apparent that our toddler and his contemporaries could feasibly reach voting age after 16 years of Democratic administrations. Reagan was no hero then, and even less of one now.

One upside to global warming and economic crisis is that they help kids comprehend that what they do matters to the rest of the world. Kids are already doing things in their everyday lives to help people a world away, to make "farms flourish and let clean waters flowÉ", as Obama said when he pledged to work alongside poor nations.

Obama is a response to the call for wisdom and action by Millenials, Generation Xers, their kids and their kids’ global cohorts. It is not what he can do for them but what he can help them do for themselves. These bloody years since 9/11 have led to more than million deaths and a virus-like hatred of the "other", a scarring combination for a generation coming of age anywhere. But kids aren’t easily daunted, and optimism and unity are two of humanity’s most potent agents for change.
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Don’t most of us back terrorists?

Standing on a beach in Gaza a few years ago, I found myself between a group of young armed Israeli settlers and three unarmed Palestinian youths, two of whom were small. The Israeli guys were showing off for one another, for two young American Jewish women visiting and perhaps for me, an Associated Press journalist covering the last Passover in Gaza before Israel "withdrew" from the small coastal slip months later. The Israeli guys with army guns and training took turns acting out an attack on the threesome down the shore. For more than half an hour, the targets of this charade stood facing them without moving. The Israelis’ anger toward their Palestinian neighbors darkened when a couple of teenage Jewish settler girls waded into the cold choppy waves between them. Alone on this assignment, I was staying across the street from the gun-toting youths. I watched and waited at a distance, horrified and saying nothing.

For two weeks the following September, I was based in Gaza again as settlers were pulled kicking and screaming from their neat streets of spacious homes and improbable vegetation. Thousands refused to pack up, prepare their children or plan ahead. One couple was doing their press act from their kitchen when their toddler made her way to the street, amid a crush of riot police and television crews. Gripping a ring of keys, she was trying to get into the family car.

Images of young people often reveal the truth. The lifeless bodies of so many Palestinian children in Gaza this month tell of a people with nowhere to run. And of a ruthless occupier that has never really left Ğ or grown up.

’Why don’t you care?’

While attending the ’Call for Peace in Gaza’ meeting of first wives from Middle Eastern countries last week in Istanbul, a colleague from Yeni Safak newspaper asked me: "Why don’t Americans care about this? The press, the public, politiciansÉ?" It’s true that Americans see little carnage and even less of the dead children in mainstream media. It’s true that there is a powerful pro-Israel lobby. But this massacre, as in Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon in 1982 and others perpetrated by Israel and the U.S., come down to citizens who let them do it. On the U.S. side, most Americans don’t care about Palestinians. My parents’ generation came of age believing that Israelis were entitled and just and that Palestinians were terrorists.

Today, my generation faces a tougher challenge: ignorance and apathy. A lack of perspective is harder to confront than any conspiracy. But it can be done.

On behalf of a selfish few

Is America’s role complicated? Not really. Israel has always demanded more than it needs. U.S. foreign policy has always been reckless and selfish on behalf of a select wealthy group. It supports Israel near unconditionally to ensure footholds in oil, the Christian electorate and regional hegemony.

As a taxpaying American with a vote, I’m complicit in this slaughter in Gaza. The U.S. Congress sends Israel more than $2.3 billion each year. In 2005 I interviewed Bill Frist, then Senate majority leader, at the Israeli Prime Ministry. He confirmed that figure.

As I write, Israel is killing families and children with American rockets and bombs falling from $200 million worth of spare F-16 fighter jets and missiles supplied by U.S. taxpayers from 200l to 2006. As of Friday, half of the more than 1,150 people dead were women and children. Israel Defense Forces spokesman Capt. Benjamin Rutland told Fox TV last week that Israel reserved the right to target anyone they believed to be supportive of terror or Hamas. By this logic, Gazans are well within their rights to target regular Israelis and American families like mine.

Richard Falk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, condemned Israel for its "severe and massive violations of international humanitarian law" and impugned the U.S. for being "complicit ... and knowingly providing the military equipment including warplanes and missiles used in these illegal attacks."

If this isn’t terrorism, I don’t know what is. There on the beach I watched and waited at a distance, horrified and saying nothing. I don’t have that privilege now. None of us do.


To contact U.S. president Barack Obama: (202) 456-1414 president@whitehouse.gov and other elected officials: www.congress.org. To donate money to the people of Gaza: www.un.org/unrwa/emergency/donation
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Laid up: Between whiskey and credit

Sometimes, like now, life lays us out flat. Ok, it’s not entirely my kid’s fault, but rather a few days of hauling his stroller around cold London, seeking remedy in a smiling Chinese woman with a sadistic massage technique and working late nights upon return. This morning without warning, buildings I didn’t know existed at the base of my back collapsed as I reached for the wet wipes.

Now, for the second time in his year and a half of life, I’m lying here unable to move or care for my child. The babysitter came fast so little Max didn’t have a chance to turn the stove dials, filling the house with glee and gas by as I lie here prone. In this current immobile state, I spent the day reading what was in arm’s reach. Naomi Klein’s chilling book "The Shock Doctrine" recasts the emergence of free market capitalism as a patient plan to obliterate the senses in order to set its policies in motion: Think post-9/11 unencumbered torture begetting more hatred and war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina’s "cleansing" the city of its poor and South East Asia’s beachfront development of resorts where villages had been. Free market success, Milton Friedman explained in so many words, relies on chaos when people have lost sense of their rights and will submit to free market principles that obliterate safeguards for a balance of wealth and funding for health and education. Friedman’s last article before he died in 2006 said Katrina had given New Orleans a chance to do away with public schools in favor of the private charter schools - belittling the notion of a quality education for all. In the wake of his article, opportunists took his notion to New Orleans, 45,000 teachers were fired and kids with no public schools left had to carry vouchers to new private schools that are unattached to public accountability.Wealthy addiction boomingA couple of magazine pieces were also within grasp: One in the New Yorker was about a guy making the most of an upturn of wealthy people seeking drug abuse treatment and the other in Harper’s was about a guy whose business cleaning out foreclosed houses was booming. Both reveal the state of our chaos, but the latter was an intimate portrait of people whose lives had just been emptied - as wealthy addicts get wealthier.While in London last week for a film festival, conversations turned to economic woes and we overheard young people talking about upping the ante on gambling online. In Istanbul, friends say they have less and less business coming in at work. Same, say friends and family all over the U.S.But between muscle relaxers and sips of whiskey, one could view Klein’s diligent dissection as a prescient look at the good that comes from being knocked flat on our backs, unable to move economically. I can’t help thinking that this crisis might be the end of (a) history, to turn Francis Fukuyama’s famous free market book title on its head. Now we have that rare opportunity to rebuild an economy that is better and fairer, with leaner habits and more safeguards for people who need them most. The economic woes don't have to destroy us: We should recognize new chances - and good riddance. For example, I imagined Max's free will and crayons running loose on our walls just before gassing up the place. In my shock and confinement, I knew this was a lifechanger, and it had to be the beginning of getting strong again from the core. In a moment of confluence as I was writing this, Max found my wallet and emptied my credit cards into the toilet. Now, that’s the kind of policy change I’m talking about, son. Happy New year.

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Let the season of giving begin

With the holiday spirit of giving in mind, I wanted to share some information about how to give to folks in need around Turkey. When I found almost no information searching online in English for a place accepting volunteers and donations, it occurred to me that we could create a resource here. This is where you come in: If you know of a group that works with children - especially outside the major cities - pass it along and I’ll add it to a new list. This is by no means a thorough list but rather the result of coming across several of these organizations in person or searching in Turkish for groups that support children in need. A few groups providing help for refugees have also been included. If no one speaks English on the line, perhaps it’s best to visit in person to show a willingness to lend a hand.

Ankara

Turkish-American Women's Cultural and Charitable Society (TAWCCS) also in Izmir and Adana, participates in local charitable projects. (312) 490 03 45

Ankara International Charities Committee (AICC) is an international group of foreigners who visit schools, orphanages and hospitals. They purchase equipment or items needed. (312) 440 30 20

Association of Child Abuse Prevention Meşrutiyet Cad. Hatay Sok. Remzi Bey İşhanı No:8 Da: 5 (312) 417-9601

Foundation for the Training and Protection of Mentally Handicapped Children / Across from Vilayaetler Evi, Gülermak / Fabrikasi / Gölbaşi (312) 484-2470 zycvakfi@ada.net.tr www.ada.net.tr/zycvakfi

Foundation for Vulnerable People and Orphans of Turkey Fatih Cad. Güçsüzler Yurdu Keçiören (312) 314-3034

Istanbul

Association for Child Abuse Prevention and Rehabilitation /Bağdat Cad. Köşk Apt. No:108 Da: 29 Fenerbahçe 81030 Kadıköy (216) 348-0524 / opolat+@marun.edu.tr

Association for Protection of Vulnerable Children and Orphanages / Recep Peker Cad. Rıfat Bey sok. Barış Apt. No:1 Da: 4 Kızıltoprak, 81031 Kadıköy (216) 345-4347

Christmas Appeal for help with the winter heating bill at the refugee shelter. Contact Jonathan Smith jmgsmith@yahoo.com or Pastor Ian Sherwood at Christ Church.

Don Bosco Youth Center supports more than 350 Christian Iraqi refugee children. Funds can be deposited to: Rodolfo Antoniazzi /Account #: 47598015 / IBAN: TR96000670/000000081738427 / Bank: Yapi ve Kredi Bancasi/A.S. / Branch: 391 Harbiye, Istanbul, Turkey

Foundation for Spastic Children of Turkey Yeşilova Sok. Mete Apt. No:29 Da:4 Acıbadem, 81020 Üsküdar (216) 339-0999

Foundation for Street Children of Turkey Talimyeri Cad. Baraz Ap. No:7/1 Da: 5 Maçka, Beşiktaş (212) 259-8991

Turkish Foundation for Children in Need of Protection / Altan Erbulak Sok., Hoşkalin Apt. No4/5 Mecidieköy (212) 274-9545 www.cocukkoyleri.com

Izmir

Association for the Protection of Street Children / Nadir Nadi Cad. SSK İşhanı D.427 No:12 Konak, 35260 Konak (232) 484-6474

Foundation for Child Health Protection Şair Eşref Bulvarı Karaahmetoğlu İş Merkezi Da:117 No:21 Çankaya (232) 441-8686

Antalya

Foundation for Orphans and Vulnerable Children / 3.TRT Caddesi 3808 Sok. Meltem Mah (242) 237-3351
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Caught in the prime minister’s riptide

Honored at an international conference on working women last week, the prime minister chose a less than elegant moment to refer to a system that would ensure female political participation as "condemning women to men" "Women would be able to enter Parliament after men grant it; this cannot be," he said.

I’m still having trouble grasping what Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said next: "One cannot learn swimming on land. One reason that women’s employment seems low is the unregistered work."

Perhaps this was a coded message to millions of women in low-paying jobs with no contracts, benefits or rights to march seaward in rebellion behind textile worker Emine Arslan. Arslan is entering her sixth month of a solitary sit-in protest in Istanbul against her employer, leather goods supplier Desa, which fired her days after she joined a union. A Sink or Swim Revolution.

When world leaders in gender equality came to the Bosphorus this week for the International Conference on Women in Governance, featured on this page, the Balkans and Spain presented Turkey with a lesson on moving from total rejection to implementation of gender quotas.

Women represent 9.1 percent of the Turkish Parliament and 0.56 percent of local administrations, while the European Parliament is 30 percent female. With ongoing campaigns from groups such as the Association to Support and Educate Women Candidates (KA-DER) and The Turkish Coordination of the European Women's Lobby, or EWL, the demand for representation has largely fallen on deaf ears at the prime ministry level Ğ which ensured that the matter stay out of the state’s next five-year plan.

Turkey’s top business group TÜSİAD, employers’ organizations and unions have embraced using a quota system in Turkey’s governance. The leading opposition People’s Republican Party, or CHP, backs it as well, though their record of including women hardly reflects such a view.

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