Today on GoAbroad, we bring a post from our first Featured Contributor, Anahita Sotoohi, a student and travel writer studying in Istanbul, Turkey. In her post, Anahita focuses on the struggles Turkey faces as it strives to enter the modern, western world - offering a viewpoint that spotlights an area of the world few students choose for their time studying abroad.
Tell people you’re studying abroad in Turkey and you get one of two reactions; an excited ‘oh, how amazing, a friend of mine went there and he had such a great time.’ This, unsurprisingly, is the good reaction. The other, much more common reaction, is the polite ‘that should be…nice,’ as your conversational partner tries frantically not to ask you whether Turkey has running water and aren’t you afraid of…terrorists?
The latter is, while a world apart from accurate, completely understandable—a quick glimpse through articles on Turkey in The New York Times reveal headlines on tensions at the Syrian and Iranian borders and, well, not much else. And, of course, Turkey does have its troubles; Kurds continue to be denied basic human rights in much of eastern Turkey and the literacy rate for women hovers around an anemic 79%. But it is equally important, I think, to acknowledge that there is a wide, wide part of the country untouched by such conflicts, with great access to education, and that Turkey’s desire to be viewed as part of the western world, of Europe rather than the Middle East, and to join the European Union, is affected by far more than tempestuous borders.
Journalistic Freedom—Or Lack Thereof
Perhaps one of the most objectionable—and frankly, most backward—of Turkey’s actions is their nigh-constant jailing of journalists. Currently the number of journalists in Turkish prisons is thought to rival the numbers of Iran and China—countries which, we can surely all agree, are hardly models for a successful free press. Most arrested journalists are jailed based on so-called anti-terrorism laws, but these laws are both prejudiced and extremely general—for example, a Kurdish journalist can easily be arrested simply for being Kurdish, sort of the Turkish equivalent of driving while black. One particularly notable Kurdish journalist was sentenced to 166 years.
Turkey’s Military and Gay Rights
Equally noteworthy is Turkey’s military. Every man is required to serve, although service can be put off until the age of thirty. Gay men are not required to serve (and, it is worth noting, in the Middle East there is no question of ‘is gay marriage legal’—rather the question is ‘is it legal to be gay’), but in order to ‘prove’ their homosexuality, they are subjected to a hugely embarrassing set of tests wherein their reaction to various types of pornography is closely monitored. Indeed, there is a frequent joke in Turkey that the best porn collection in the country must belong to the military.
So Where Does Turkey Go From Here?
As a frustrating backdrop to all this is Turkey’s nigh-constant desire to be European and to join the European Union. In some respects this wish seems almost delusional—for example, the Turkish Airlines website lists Turkey as being in Europe, seemingly not realizing that only a tiny fraction of the country is not located in Asia. And the Arab Spring, which never spread to Turkey begs the question of when, if ever, social rights in Turkey will change for the better. But if Turkey ever wishes to truly join the modern western world, or even simply the European Union, there is no question that it will need to drastically alter its attitude to human rights.
Anahita Sotoohi is a twenty-year-old college student from Connecticut attending school at Agnes Scott in Decatur, GA. She has always known she wanted to study abroad in the Middle East, but the Arab Spring meant she couldn’t study in her first choice of Egypt or her second and third choices of Syria and Lebanon. But ending up in Turkey was by far the best thing for her and now she shares her journeys with everyone at letustalkturkey.wordpress.com!
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