A country of passion: Funerals, Football and Romeo & Juliet

When I’m sad I become inconsolable, when happy I create a positive energy around me and it radiates and doesn’t go ignored, when I am angry I am feared, I wear my heart on my sleeve… I am turkish.

I can be so erratic sometimes feeling all my emotions so strongly that people take it to mean anger, irritation or intimidation when I am passionate about something. At first I found it a struggle to understand why people couldn’t understand when I was overly excited or couldn’t sympathise with the degree of sadness I could feel. Later I found that this inability to get people to understand that all my extremes were a display of passion was something inherently part of my genetics. Turkish people are so passionate about everything, they are loud, they are blunt and abrupt but in a very endearing way. For many this can be quite intimidating, for many don’t make their emotions clear. If there is one thing that is for sure if I think something, I say it. This doesn’t make me rude, its just how I am, I tell it how it is, and theres definitely a turkishness to that.

I thought I would display many examples I have connected with turkish passion that I found help me to understand my own reactions to situations in my life.

Cultural difference between East and West

English people are known outside of their country as quite cold people, and as someone who grew up in London I did not fully understand how that conclusion was made. It is only when I moved to turkey that it became clear. It is not that we are cold it is that we are less passionate people, in someways still very victorian-esque it is deemed not proper form to blurt feelings and over share emotions. If you are ill, you be quiet and push through, when in love it is not in a overt kind of way just a more subtle and unspoken.

Funerals and Mourning

An example of this difference is in mourning for ones death. In turkish culture screaming and crying loudlyis seen as a natural retaliation to someones death. English on the other hand have a more prude display of emotion, trying to hold in their tears and upset during the funeral out of respect. To a turkish person this is ludacris and means a void of emotion and lack of love, for an english person a turkish response would be overly dramatic and unnecessary.

The art of Conversation

Passion is displayed in the turkish in many ways, the first is in conversation. Noticeably a family dinner would consist of people talking very loudly, sometimes what seems to be an aggressive nature, and always talking on top of one another. For someone who does not understand turkish they would immediately be taken back by a polava of noise and take their language and gestures to be negative towards each other. Yet this is normal form for turkish people and is not taken to be aggressive or intimidating. A mutual understanding is present that it is a conversation, not an argument (even if this is not what it seems.)

Sport and Football

Another passion is seen in men and sport. Football hooligans are from England? You obviously haven’t met a Fenerbahce or Galatasaray supporter. These teams rival each other like chelsea and manchester united, but to such an extent that if a Galatasaray supporter walking into a turkish coffee shop, with their team uniform on, during a Fenerbahce game would be the end of him. The teams are rivals to an extent that they act like gangs, with their own club supporters seeking out each other for violence and arguments.[example] Such anger and passion driven from a mere ball game? But to discuss their team is like talking about their family, they are very passionate about their team and the people who support their teams.

Romantic Gestures

The most dominant form of passion can be seen in love. This can be seen as very overwhelming for a non turkish with a turkish partner or sometimes the non turkish partner actually appreciates and values the relationship because their turkish partner loves so strongly. I will love you forever, until I die in for someone who is english may make them run a mile or at the very least it is very strong language, but this is normal speech to ones partner in turkey. They can be jelous but also they love so much that it is something that many can be unprepared for. I would say this is the biggest display of turkish passion. For us the story of Romeo and Juliet is a wonderful lovestory but tells the tale of something rather unrealistic, whereas I know many turkish men to have watched the film version, and have connected to Romeo as a character, probably feeling the same strength of love and happy to go to the same lengths to achieve it. If overwhelming it is an impressive way to love.

The same sort of love is displayed for family. The lengths one would go to retaining a families respect and the love people have for their parents and siblings is very strong, a bond we do not cherish to the same degree in england.

So next time you feel you meet someone in Turkey and are finding it hard to understand their opinions, or responses to certain situation, just remember they are passionate people, and approach all things that they could be passionate about (love, family and their country) with respect.

It means that sometimes their passion becomes something negative which stereotypes into football hooliganism or obsessive, jelous relationships but it can also mean a cherishing of family, an undeniable and strong love towards their partners and patriotism towards their country that has been lost our society today.


The woman who spoke – Turkish Culture

The women who spoke: The first broadcasted interview

[This translation is a shorthand of the conversation that took place between Nuraycan (The woman), another lady and the presenter. This is not a word for word translation, just displays the most important elements of the interview]

Second Lady is grilled by presenter on her facebook page which promotes the iranian islamic political regime.

Second Lady: I like and respect Khomeini (Shia Law iranian ex president and religious and political revolutionist)

Presenter: but its Shia islamic?

Second Lady: It’s not important that its Shia law it’s important that Iran is muslim. I like Iran.

Presenter: Do you like Ataturk?

[Silence and Pause]

Nuraycan: Do I have the right in the Republic of Turkey to dislike Ataturk? If nothing will happen to me for saying this, no I don’t like him.

Presenter: Why? The person who saved this country…

Nuraycan: Because I don’t believe that when he took the power from the Sultan, he took it to create a Turkish Republic

…. if in the name of Ataturk you are going to limit my freedom and my rights, you can’t expect me to like Ataturk.

Second Lady: We were all muslim. It is only because in the name of one man, we have created a whole ideology that this question is being posed to me (Nuraycan suggests that her issue is with the ideology not Ataturk but that the negative energy towards what she says is created from the fact that they are holding Ataturk and the ideology as one and the same).

We know he was a good soldier, and we know it is because of this that we got the Turkish Republic, we aren’t arguing with that.

Presenter: But you don’t like the man who did this for us, that saved Turkey?

Nuraycan: To be honest many people may have my view but if I political party were to form in favour of people with my view it is immediately abolished in the name of Ataturk, or in the name of the republic, or democracy, whatever that may be they take our freedom out of our hands.

Two condemning women ask: You say you dislike Ataturk and the regime, what type of regime do you want then?

Nuraycan: I want us to have rights. I feel we have been threatened by the people who believe we are against the republic to be made to feel we don’t have a voice.

Presenter: You say it as though you are saying ‘you’ and ‘we’ as though you separate us as believer and non-believers of Islam which is not right.

Nuraycan: I am not making comments on your faith. What your religion is is none of my business, your religion and beliefs are your choice.. You could be muslim, of another religion of have no religion at all, it’s not an issue. The issue is that we as headscarved muslims are treated as minority citizens, and that you have issues with us practicing our faiths. We should be entitled to the same freedom as any other person.

I embrace the republic, I just want the people who want to wear headscarves to be given the right to do so.

Opinion and debate

I think Ataturk was a man who did fine things for Turkey and I feel Turkey has come far as a more modern islamic country. I think the rights that were given such as voting, the rights of the people for running the country, the rights to women cancel out the small changes to religious rights.

 Philosophy: Ethics

We can see that Ataturk had a view that restricting the happiness of women that wear headscarves was a necessary evil for a more long term happiness, a happiness of the state driven by modernisation, westernisation and all the positive developments that occur with it.

The Headscarf debate opens up a bigger philosophical quandary, the ethical plausibility of a Utilitarian view of politics. Is it okay to sacrifice the short-term happiness of people in the state for a bigger vision that promotes and facilitates maximum happiness in the future?

Is there another way of tackling the problem? Is there another way of developing and maturing the ideology of the state without restricting rights and freedom?

What Do You Think?

The tradition of Kolonya

Kolonya is found in every house in Turkey, probably one of the widest selling household goods on the market. I know its a strange topic to discuss, but it is so significantly part of the culture that it can’t go unmentioned.


Kolonya comes from the world cologne to mean fresh scented water. Usually it is scented with rosewater giving it a very sweet flowery smell that fills the whole room.The turkish use this water in the same way as cologne was traditionally made to be used, until it was later developed into something used merely for cosmetic reasons.

It was originally used for medicinal purposes, and is still used for this in Turkey today. Drops of cologne are used for its antiseptic properties, and for massage as relief for muscle and joint pains.

It is also used for scrubbing the skin. Much like the hamam experience where they scrub skin ferociously to remove the dry and dead skin cells, in homes the cleaning of the body is treated the same way. Very harsh stones, scrubbing cloths are used to rid of the skin. After showering my auntie would scrub the areas of her face where our hair usually lies that makes the skin extra oily or dirty. Backs of ears and neck are scrubbed with Kolonya which very effectively cleans what a general shower might not do effectively.

Most significantly, Turkish people use it on the hands of guests after an exchange of pleasantries. This is very important etiquette in turkish social life and not doing this is a sign of rudeness.

You are likely to be offered cologne not only in homes, but on buses, whose passengers are looked upon as guests. When visiting someone who is ill or buying souvenirs for friends during a visit to another part of the country, a bottle of cologne is one of the most acceptable gifts. Cologne is probably produced in more variety in Turkey than in its homeland. 

Almost every part of the country has its own distinctive variety.Izmir is renowned for its Golden Drop, Secret Flower and Izmir Nights colognes, Antalya for its bitter orange flower cologne, Rize for its tea cologne, Duzce for walnut leaf and tobacco leaf colognes, Trabzon for hazelnut and anchovy cologne, Amasya for apple cologne, Isparta for rose cologne, Edremit and Ayvalyk for olive blossom cologne, Syndyrgy for pine cologne, Balykesir for white lily cologne, and so on.

Whether the common lemon and rose cologne or these more exotically scented varieties, cologne has played a part in the polite formalities of Turkish social life, refreshing guests, travellers and the sick, for more than a century.

Sitting on the bench [the headscarf ban in Turkey]

I find this topic so interesting, as its something so heavily debated in Turkish culture. Many of my less travelled friends ask me why I don’t wear a headscarf because I am half turkish, not knowing that unlike many islamic states it is not mandatory. Not only is it not mandatory, it is in some cases banned.

Turkish lady asks for Ozgurluk (Freedom)

This might strike people as confusing as its an islamic country but this is part of a great reform by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

In an attempt to secularise and europeanise turkish way of life he removed articles of clothing with religious attachment from society. He did not abolish headscarves as such but made regulations that restricted religious attire of any form in public services and education. No MP, Doctor, Teacher or Student could wear these articles as they encouraged an anti-secular traditional islamic way of life. It was his decision to ensure Turkey was not non-muslim but much like western world, would have freedom of thought and choice when it came to religion. He felt freedom of religion would be repressed by an overly islamic state so banned this form of clothing.


I know this seems quite baffling. Most people of philosophy and logic would state that this ideology is fundamentally flawed by the premise that freedom of religion = repression of religious expression. These seem quite incompatible. and it would be right but as we know of many debates on concepts of freedom, religion and politics there is never  perfect answer to these questions.

What is most interesting is the social divide on this issue in turkish culture and also how much it represents their internal turmoils between holding onto their islamic identities and continuing their development to a more westernised, european country.

It’s quite hypocritical and confusing that the turkish are both muslim, anti- other religions and religious policies and pro islam, and yet at the same time do not permit many significant muslim traditions. Now I am not religious, and I believe that a world without it would be a happier one but yet, I am not entirely sure of turkish standpoint. I am not saying they should encourage more islamic practices or that they should just throw religion out the window but they are sitting on the fence, which is a very baffling place to be.

Many turkish women wear headscarves, and many who do not wear headscarves on a daily basis cover their head during funerals and practices in the mosque. People do not frown upon the scarf. Even if they are kemalist they have nothing against muslim tradition. The complications occur when these muslim traditions attempt to be solidified within law and governing documents. This is when the people for Ataturk (most of turkey) get angry.

Also, they have no issue with someone acting against Ataturks wishes by wearing these clothing articles, and they respect muslim traditions and embrace them, but they do not condone the people who do this way to openly disapprove or dislike Ataturks reforms.

Funny how the essence of this issue is a hypocrisy in itself. One of the purposes of Ataturks reforms was to create freedom of thought and yet not allowing someone to have a freedom of thought on Ataturk or the changes he made, including the headscarf ban, is restriction on freedom of thought in itself.

Lets just remember though that Ataturk did not ask Turkey to ban negative words against him, it was citizens and government on his passing that made this decision. So one could say on his passing Turkey made a significant mistake of not adhering to Ataturks changes by this restriction.

The Lady who Spoke

I remember I told this to a turkish friend of mine, and it wasn’t taken well. A video was cast of a lady who left turkey because she could not be educated in university without removing her headscarf. She was brought on national tv and slandered for the country to see.

The presenter made sure to ask questions that placed her in a situation where she either has to pretend she agreed with the headscarf ban (which is stupid because she had one on her head, and the rule had ruined her life, she clearly couldn’t say that even if she wanted to save herself) or she would have to say she didn’t agree. So obviously she stated that she disagreed, she told the truth.

Following this she was then asked whether she didn’t agree with Ataturk’s policy. She was placed in a position where nothing but bad news could arise, she had to public state she disagreed with the current policy.


(Let me know if anyone would like a translation of the interview)

My friend posted this video on facebook and called her a whore, a bitch, a cow who should get out of Turkey. Other people commented saying that if they saw her they would stab her. Such rage and passion for a women saying she disagreed with policy. And yet surely the purpose of the policy was to create freedom of religion and thought: is this not doing the opposite?

History of the headscarf ban in recent years:

  • In 1998, a Turkish student was banned for wearing a headscarf at Istanbul UniversityIn 2000, Nuray Bezirgan, a Turkish female student, wore a headscarf at her college final exams. A Turkish court sentenced her to six months jail for “obstructing the education of others”.The European Court of Human Rights upheld the ban in 2004, saying the rules on dress were “necessary” and did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights. In October 2006, the European Court of Human Rights upheld the university ban again, rejecting a complaint filed by another Turkish university student.
  • In May 1999, the ban on headscarves in the public sphere hit the headlines when Merve Kavakçı was prevented from taking her oath in the National Assembly because she wore a headscarf. She was the newly elected-MP of Istanbul of the pro-IslamistVirtue Party, and she refused demands to leave the building. The secular opposition members protested by chanting ‘out’ for 30 minutes, and the then prime minister Bülent Ecevit accused her of violating the principles of secularism.  A state prosecutor investigated whether she might be put on trial for provoking religious hatred. She received much support from Iran, by the Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati and hundreds of women demonstrating in support of the deputy.
  • In October 2006, Turkish president Ahmet Necdet Sezer refused to allow AKP politicians whose wives wore headscarves to a ball marking Turkish independence, saying it would “compromise” and undermine the secular state founded by Atatürk
  • In March 2009, Kıymet Özgür who wore the çarşaf was attacked by CHP members when she tried to get into an election bus in Istanbul.
  • The CHP (Republican People’s Party) is a Kemalist party, however, its then leader Deniz Baykal surprised supporters by allowing those who wear the çarşaf to become members of the party in late 2008. 
  • Prime Minister Erdogan campaigned in his victorious 2007 campaign with a promise of lifting the longstanding ban on headscarves in public institutions. However, as the Turkish deputies voted in Parliament, tens of thousands protested outside in favour of the ban
  • On February 7, 2008, the Turkish Parliament passed an amendment to the constitution, allowing women to wear the headscarf in Turkish universities, arguing that many women would not seek an education if they could not wear the head scarf.
  • On 5 June 2008, Turkey‘s Constitutional Court annulled the parliament’s proposed amendment intended to lift the headscarf ban, ruling that removing the ban was against the founding principles of the constitution. The highest court’s decision to uphold the headscarf ban cannot be appealed


If you have read my article A guide to Turkey and it’s people: The story of Ataturk you’ll already be very much familiar of Ataturk, the first president of Turkey’s reforms to the country and how he set to change Turkey to a more modernise european state. Well this caused quite a stir to Islamic countries who feel Islamic religion is not seen to be old-fashioned but that Islam is the true belief and that in the future it will be the one religion. In their eyes islam should permeate every part of the culture and country if it is a true islamic country.

Turkey Then

Ataturk’s changes to policy were offensive to many who felt he was taking away Turkey muslim identity. Religious attire was abolished, religious intervention in government and education was banned, and many concepts that were very much connected to their god and and the religious book were changed.

God was named ‘Tanri’ instead of the term used by the Quran and the rest of the islamic world ‘Allah’. This was in order to give a term that people could use if they weren’t muslim, as Ataturk’s belief was that people should have freedom of religious choice and that language should reflect this.

Turkish language was transformed into european roman letters instead of traditional arabic script, to make turkey more europeanised. Ataturk learnt alot from overseas and tried to implement it in Turkey to make life better for its citizens.

This was not to be taken well by other islamic countries, or by more devout religious Turkish people.

The once caliphate ottoman empire, and Turkey being the prime country of this empire, Ataturks reign ridded Turkey of its islamic caliphate roots.

A chief symbol of the Ottoman Caliphate was the “Great Banner of the Caliphs,” a large green banner embroidered with texts from the Qur’an and with the name of Allah emblazoned on it 28,000 times in golden letters. It was passed down in the Ottoman dynasty from father to son and only carried into battle if the Sultan himself or his specifically designated representative was there in person.

The Ottoman Caliphate Flag

The new flag

You will notice that the old flag was green and the new flag is red. The green flag is green as a sign of the Caliphate and Islam. The red symbolises secular religion. The red and green was used to symbolise this for religious institutions.

When the Turkish National Movement occurred a new non-islamic government was formed and the intervention of religion in the state was stripped. Caliphate was a position of islamic power in muslim countries, but the position has been stripped of authority and Kemal was against the traditions of it as:

The Khalifa has no power or position except as a nominal figurehead.

Still, the Caliphate was not abolished outright, as it still commanded a considerable degree of support from the people.

Then an event happened. Two Indian brothers distributed pamphlets calling upon the Turkish people to preserve the Ottoman Caliphate for the sake of Islam. Under Turkey’s new nationalist government, however, this was construed as foreign intervention, and any form of foreign intervention was labeled an insult to Turkish sovereignty, and worse, a threat to State security.

The National Assembly abolished the Caliphate on March 3, 1924. Abdülmecid was sent into exile along with the remaining members of the Ottoman House, marking the official end of the Ottoman Caliphate.

Turkey Now

Now it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Turkey has been insulted and seen to be against true Islam by Islamic states.

Whilst turkish people originate from the Islamic Ottoman Empire, and therefore are muslim culturally, they also have a massive amount of respect and support for the ideas Ataturk had, to modernise and europeanise turkey to move forward. Every turkish person is muslim, this is undoubtable as their faith still exists in their hearts and their cultural relics, monuments and conventions, and yet they are not part of the shia islamic faith all other islamic countries are.

I was once deeply offended being half turkish myself by a pakistani man who said to me that turkey was ‘The bastard of the muslim religion’. I was taken back by such an insult and may have said you f***ing *d***head and stormed off, but then later realised this is not one mans view, this is a view of all his countries people.

Turkey has been shunned by the islamic world, told it is not islamic enough. The more religious turkish citizens cry out in despair over the secularist country it has become.

Politics in Turkey is much like that of the way Turkey feel amongst the islamic world and europe, completely divided politically as strict islamists and secular turks battle between which government should take the reigns knowing it may influence religious factors in society.

It’s sad that neither europe deems them european enough (e.g. the inability to get into the EU) and yet Asian Middle Eastern islamic countries have shunned them too. Turkish people are wonderful and what makes them unique is that they are fixed in between these two very different cultures, some might say they have found a balance so sought in other countries.

Turkey is not only identified with both asian/ middle eastern muslim faith and europeanised state, its quite literally torn into to continents. Funny that

They don’t pull there tops off on public TV and do promiscuous things live that teach people that binge drinking and acting like a whore is okay. Non religious england is sometimes seemingly void of virtue, pride and respect something that may be connected to the loss of faith and morality and yet religious countries go the other way, they force their women to be hidden beneath clothing and repress their identities. If thats not turkey at a balance I don’t know what is.

More on the current state of Kemalism and Islam in Turkey now:

Turkey: Is Ataturk Dead? Erdogan islamism replaces Kemalism

Kemalism is Dead, but not Ataturk (CNN News)

Anti- Kemalist Blog Spots:

Dictator Mustafa Kemal Tyrannizes in Muslim Turkey

The Comment section of this website is really interesting at seeing the debate on this topic: Top 10 Profile: Kemal Ataturk

Today’s Zaman talks about the incompatibility of democracy, freedom of expression and Kemalism 

A Guide to the Turkey and it’s people: The story of Ataturk

Maybe your travelling to Turkey are interested to learn before you experience, maybe you merely feel ignorant and want to learn more. I thought I would write a few blog posts on Turkey since I noticed how little people try to know about its people.

On so many occasions people care very little on their summer holiday to turkey to think about who turkish are and how they are, merely seeing it as a weeks pissup and beach holiday. In many instances I am found dumbfounded by people ignorance about their political, social and religious views. I think learning about Turkey is necessary to truely experience and understand it, and not knowing the facts in these blog posts effects your perception of their culture.

So today’s blog is on the main man of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal (aka. Ataturk) and the importance of him to understanding modern day Turkey,

You told me this was a lesson on Turkish culture, why do I need to know Ataturk?

Ataturk permeates every part of Turkish culture. He is the ideology they live by, seen as second, or may be even first, to their Islamic faith. In some ways the following of Ataturk’s teachings, the continuous adoption of Ataturk’s laws and concepts are a faith in their own right. The followers are Kemalist (derived from his true name Mustafa Kemal), and few oppose the ideology.

To understand Ataturk is to understand to Turkey and the minds of the Turkish people. To understand their political turmoil’s, their social practices, their religious connections to Islam and modernist Westernisation all at the same time.

Who is he?

Ataturk (1881- 1938 is the nickname given to Mustafa Kemal, army officer, revolutionary statesmen, writer and president of Turkey. He was the founder of the Republic of Turkey and his surname, Atatürk (meaning “Father of the Turks”), was granted to him (and forbidden to any other person) in 1934 by the Turkish parliament.

Atatürk was a military officer during World War, and later led the Turkish national movement in the Turkish War of Independence.

What is the Turkish War of Independence?

The war of the Turkish against the Ottoman Empire. Turkish to be divided from the Ottoman Empire, so that it was not partitioned into individual countries. The defeat of the Ottoman government meant that Turkey (Anatolia) became and independent nation.

Anatolia (Old Turkey) before the Republic

Now Turkey encompasses the whole territory

Ataturk was a revolutionist and on the conquer of the republic, became president and swiftly worked towards creating massive reforms to traditional Ottoman Islamic rule.

What did he do to make modern day Turkey?

Atatürk embarked upon a program of political, economic, and cultural reforms, seeking to transform the former Ottoman Empire into a modern, secular and European nation-state.

In summary

  1. He Changed Education:

  • Schools were built
  • Primary education was made free and compulsory
  • Women could be educated
  • Removal of religious articles in education

2. He made Religious Changes:

  • He abolished caliphate (an Islamic state led by a supreme religion)
  • replaced the old Muslim calender with the Gregorian calendar
  • Disconnected government and religion
  • Abolished religious clothing. Profession, rank, sex and religion were understood by clothing such as Fez, Headscarf and Turbans. These were removed from state. They are not allowed in Turkish universities and schools and other public professions. (though in recent times this has been amended)
  • Encouraged teachers, doctors, lawyers. Discouraged Ulema’s (Islamic practitioners) to remove them from politics.

3. Made changes to rights

  • marriage was considered civil and not religious and polygamy was abolished
  • Women’s right to vote and hold public office
  • Freedom of thought
  • the burden of taxation on peasants was reduced.

4. Made changes to language

The Turkish alphabet was Arabic for thousands of years, but was not adequate script for expressing the Turkish language. He was not the first to consider changing the alphabet, but was the first to implement it. Turkey now uses roman alphabet like westernised countries, other than a few extra vowels.

Old Arabic Script (The old turkish script)

Modern Turkish Script

Why is it relevant to understanding the Turkish faith?

Because Turkish people are muslim, and kemalist. To understand both these concepts is to understand the answer to the questions:

Why don’t all Turkish women wear headscarves?

 I though turkey spoke and wrote in arabic? huh?

Why is it that some turkish don’t pray 5 times a day or commit to ramadan?

But I will go into some of that a bit later in more detail, don’t you worry.