GUILTINESS OF THE TURKS

She sees herself as a citizen of the world. She was born and raised in Turkey, studied in the United States and currently lives in Berlin. Others see something quite different when they look at her.

In Berlin, I spend most of my time with the liberal expat or expat-friendly community–the kind of people you wouldn’t expect to be judgmental towards other cultures. But even so, when someone asks me where I’m from, I feel an awkward hesitation. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ashamed of where I was born, not at all. I find Turkish culture very beautiful. The reason for my hesitation is fear of what the answer “Turkey” triggers as a response.

Sometimes the response is a sudden loss of interest. Those young hipster boys who want to get inside my pants when they think I’m a western girl, suddenly feel mortified to have been attracted to a girl who shares the same nationality as those ugly and vulgar Turks from the spätkauf or döner imbiss. The conversation arrives at an awkward stop, the flirtatious hipster whose penis deserves the most Arian of vaginas leaves and doesn’t look back.

Sometimes I receive white supremacist racism posing as a compliment. “Oh, you don’t look Turkish at all. You’re very pretty. I was sure you were Italian.” How kind of you to say that, young man. This is the nicest thing anyone could ever have said to me. I look European, now that’s a promotion! I’m very flattered, my existence finally makes sense. I should blow you right here, right now to show my gratitude!

Every so often, I’m held accountable for Germany’s immigration and integration problems. “Ha, a Turk in Panorama Bar! Turks[WITH HATEFUL TONE] are everywhere in Berlin!” Turks are not everywhere in Berlin. But perhaps their dark skin contrasting with the beautiful white snow renders them a bothersome visibility. They are everywhere in Kreuzberg though, because that used to be their neighborhood, “Little Istanbul”, before all the gentrifiers came.

All the dark scary Turks you see in Kreuzberg, in other words “everywhere in Berlin”, came to Germany during the 1960s as guest-workers together with other Mediterranean immigrants (from Italy, Spain and Greece) because, the sudden decrease in population in Post-war Germany was in urgent need of workers. As the Turkish guest/workers were not expected to stay longer than 2 years, no steps were taken for their integration. Turks didn’t see the need to approach Germans as they were only there to make some money for a better life when they’re back in their home country. Similarly, Germans did not see the necessity in teaching the German language and allowed Turks to form their own communities in the districts they gathered in. However, these guests ended up wanting to stay for many reasons including needing more money to start new businesses in Turkey, the worry that they wouldn’t be able to find jobs when they’re back, having children born and attending school in Germany, having brought their children in the course of family reunification who now had their lives in Germany, wanting to benefit from the German healthcare system after having worked for many years for the German economy and so on. On the other hand, it was more profitable for the German economy to keep the trained and experienced workers instead of employing new ones who would need to be trained. But, of course, I don’t have time to give a history lesson while the music of Panorama Bar fills my ears, silencing the voice that accused me of Turkish intrusion.

Sometimes as a Turkish woman, my body and sexuality is further objectified than the usual female. “Oh Turkey, huh? I knew you were exotic since I first saw you.” or “I love belly-dancers.” Yes, every Turkish female is born with the ability to belly dance. Also, we love and excel at anal sex because that’s what we do to save our vaginal virginity for marriage. Honor killings, you know! And yes I’m exotic like a camel or the Hagia Sophia.

Then, there are those people, who ask me the most dreaded question of all Turks: “So how do you feel about Turkey’s EU membership?” Baby, please, I have nothing against you and I honestly appreciate your interest in world politics, (no sarcasm here– I really do appreciate it) but you don’t wanna get me started on that!

At times when I say I’m Turkish, I arouse suspicion because I have some good qualities that no Turk can possibly posses. “Oh, but you weren’t brought up in Turkey, right? You study in America? Are your parents there too?” No, they are not. And they are just as progressive and “European” as your parents. And no, I don’t owe my progressive politics or my knowledge of art and culture to the western education I received in a western country. Muslim countries occasionally make mistakes and create intellectuals instead of the usual kebab-eating, wife-beating immigrants.

And then there are those people who forget that I’m Turkish and include me in their “us” category versus the category of “them”, fucking Turks! One Friday night at Görlitzer Bahnhof, the iPhone of a white expat friend of my white expat boyfriend’s was stolen by a young man with brown eyes and brown hair who’s skin was darker than a “native” German’s. The thief with the thick dark eyebrows grasped the iPhone from the white girl’s hands as she was showing a video to her friends. He ran away and handed the iPhone to a brown-skinned, brown-haired friend of his who caught the arriving U-Bahn and disappeared. The original thief, when confronted, spoke in German and acted like he didn’t know what was going on. We, “the whites” (or should I say the “whitish”?), were scared for our lives and didn’t push the dangerous brown criminal any further. The formerly iPhone possessing white girl was devastated, crying. Trying to be strong, she said “That Turkish fuck can have my iPhone and do whatever he wants with it. Fucking Turks!”

The incident happened all too quickly. There was no time for the poor white girl to learn the name of the thief, check his passport to see where he was born, see the names of his parents to determine their and therefore his country of origin or ask the thief what languages he speaks other than German. One could think there was no way of knowing whether the thief was Turkish, Spanish, Greek, Arabic, Portuguese etc. Fortunately, racial stereotypes came to the rescue of the white victim. She could clearly see that the thief satisfied plenty of the properties of Turkishness: brown hair (check!), brown eyes (check!), thick dark eyebrows (check!), having been spotted at Kreuzberg (check!), barbarity (CHECK!), criminality (CHECK!). Come on, a tanned somebody who steals an iPhone in Kreuzberg had to be Turkish! Thanks to the way I dress, my whitish skin and my white boyfriend I was spared of the guilt and not included in the shameful set of “fucking Turks”.

I don’t mean to paint a frightful picture of my treatment as a Turk in Berlin. I’ve encountered many people who show sincere and unbiased interest in Turkish culture and ask me insightful and polite questions. I’ve seen some beautiful individuals whose eyes lit up when I say “Turkey” and they start explaining to me that they dream about visiting Istanbul or that they’ve been to Turkey and absolutely adored the culture. There are some wonderful Berliners–German and expats–who utter some sweet words in Turkish to me or start talking about Turkish tea, baklava or their Turkish best friend while growing up. Many people, like me, don’t really care where you’re from. There are also people who have a negative opinion of Turkey but still ask for and listen to my answers to their criticisms. And to be honest, Turkey has had some policies which are hard not to criticize. (Yes, you got it, the Ottoman Empire and the Armenians, a.k.a the second most dreaded conversation topic for Turks. Let’s not go there. I have a word-limit.)

There is a difference between educated criticism on the policies or practices of a country and an ignorant and unjustifiable contempt for people from a foreign culture. There is a difference between my white journalist friend who, after traveling in Turkey, disapproves strongly of the treatment of women, with good reason; and the Obama-loving white artist who accuses Turkish gravel workers of stupidity and being less than human “because they barked in Turkish all night”, through a sarcastic Facebook update. (See the irony? Campaigns rigorously for a president who’s a member of the black minority in the US but blatantly insults workers belonging to the Turkish minority in Germany). The difference is prejudice.

There is nothing wrong, shameful, criminal or animal like about being a Turk. Turks are in no way inferior to Europeans or white people. (We are all equal, get over it!) There is nothing about having darker features and coming from a Muslim country that makes you a thief, rapist, homophobe, wife beater, honor killer, or stupid. What can turn people into these things, regardless of their nationality or culture, is lack of knowledge and awareness– which sadly the highly rigid and discriminating German education system can lead to. The same thing, lack of knowledge and awareness, is also what can make someone a racist, xenophobic, anti-muslim, white-supremacist little pislik! Pislik is a Turkish insult which means “piece of dirt.” Yes, I’m imposing my culture on you, invading and infiltrating your perfect Western civilization. Sorry, but that’s just what us Turks do.


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  • Emal

    You fail to mention that you are part of the oppressing class, no matter how liberal your parents were. The class which bare their butts at Berghain, while workers bare their butts over gravel holes in the street.
    As a woman from a periphery country, you might stand lower in the hierarchy than your expat buddies. This is a silly thing to be upset about, since you stand far above the iPhone thief – which you are obviously aware of, as you try to distance yourself from “these people.”
    The core statement of your rant seems to be: “I might be dark outside, but I’m bright inside.”
    Like many people of our generation you are blinded by this neo-racism, this belief that national borders are equal to cultural borders. In reality, global society is divided by horizontal borders which need no check points. It is easier to migrate from South Sudan to Berlin than to migrate from Marzahn to Zehlendorf.
    President Obama is not a member of the black minority; his father was an African government minister, his mother was white, he was brought up far from the ghetto and just stayed there briefly as a social worker before going to Harvard, like most any other “white boy.”
    The culture you AND your friends are prejudiced against is not Turkish, German or Patagonian. Your prejudice is class prejudice: “I’m proud to be Turkish, I’m proud to be middle class, so stop ruining my self image, you stupid frat boys.”

    • stural

      Thank you for enlightening me about the “reality” of a European who has obviously never had to apply for a visa or visit the foreigners police. Before putting me in your “Oppressors” box check your privilege and thank your parents for creating you at the right side of the border – the border which really does exist for all of us who weren’t fortunate enough to never be introduced to the concept of visas, living or working permits and deportation. Class conflict is an issue of grave importance but it’s not “easier to migrate from South Sudan to Berlin than to migrate from Marzahn to Zehlendorf” Racism is not a myth or the rants of a middle class girl. (which I am not!). Neoracism is something us, the people of color, experience on a daily basis no matter how liberal and progressive Europeans and Westerners claim to be.
      I wrote this article to share my experiences and show that racism happens in Berlin. People who left their country to move to Berlin discriminate against other people who also left their country to move to Berlin based on their race or color. I’m not upset that I am lower in the hierarchy than my “expat buddies”. I am upset that I’m constantly in the position where I have to represent or defend my race. (Something which does not happen to the white majority. Obama is a member of the Black minority because his skin color is black and black people(people whose skin are black) are a minority in the US. Obama represents his whole race with his actions in a way a white president never would. Similarly the Turkish gravel workers are insulted in a way that white gravel workers never would be.) Race is connected to class, that’s true but racism is not something which will disappear on its own if classes disappeared.
      I never tried to distance myself from Turks and never used the phrase “these people”. In fact my whole paragraph about the Iphone thief is about my frustrations that people do not see me as a Turk, again assuming that the thief really was Turkish. This article is not about my self-image or my struggles to rise up in the hierarchy of my white middle class friends. It’s about the hatred against Turks in Berlin and how this hatred is not about the victims or the perpetrators but more about the general approach. I’m quite different than a stereotypical Turkish girl yet I experience racism. The people who are racist towards me are quite different than the racist stereotype but still they are racists. Therefore, this article is not about fratboys, or middle-class Turkish girls. This article is about a systematic racism which is embraced by most, even the ones you wouldn’t expect.

  • dim

    This crap about one individual representing the whole of Islam or The German genocide, the American slavery of the black people (or even the Greek genocide of Turks) makes me sick. All individuals must be assessed by their own merits, nothing else.

  • Koray

    The drawing pretty much made my day (that’s from a Turkish bearded young’un), completely hilarious. The paper is great work. However, Emal I can see your point but she’s talking about Turkish culture and the way it evolved in Germany for decades. One country, one specific situation. Global immigration occurs on horizontal lines, sure. But, the way a community develops itself in a foreign country can create hundreds of different contexts.

  • hasan

    as I’m reading this, I’m smoking my extremely large hookah, telling my 3rd wife to cook me some kebab, and sitting on a camel’s back with a laptop, while humping my moustache and saying Allah Allah.

    Also, when I finish writing this comment, I’m gonna beat my 2nd wife, and go do some hard anal with my 1st, and yell some curses about the holiness of untouched vagina.

    maybe I’ll go and work my ass off in the field tomorrow to make my skin more darker and more criminal.

    p.s. : I just stole another iphone from a white german girl, yay.

  • Marcos

    Whatever people say above, this is a nice insight for understanding how a person from the same intellectual, financial and social background can be seen as different when describing where she is from. However, by describing where she is from to a complete stranger she also expects the receiver to attach a stigma or connotation to it (that’s why we all say where we are from),

  • Abu

    so you’re calling your friend that someone stole an iphone from a racist. come on if someone looks or sounds bavarian and steals my phone ill call him a fucking bavarian.. no racism and you should fucking stick to your friend.
    see, i agree that there is racism around here and that it is a problem. but you just seem really whiney. cheers.

  • Anna

    Hey,
    i read your post and i feel like listening to one of the racist germans you describe in your text. You are angry about the germans who see all turkish people as criminals and exotic. But it is the same you do: you see all german people as being prejudiced against turkish people. As the germans you judge, you suggest from one to all. And that is also the problem of the germans. Some turkish (or polish, or russian, or …) guys behave terribly and we(the germans) judge all turkish(russian, polish,…) people as criminals. So when i’m on my way home in the night and someone with dark skin, hair, etc. is stealing my phone what should i think? The same is when someone is asking you where do you come from: you feel uncomfortable to tell that you’re from turkey because you suggest that this fact will affect his behaviour. So why is your racism better than ours?

  • Paul

    Well, firstly I would like to say that this was an interesting read. I would also like to say that I am from India, and have been living in Germany for around 3 years. Of course, you have probably lived longer in Germany than me, so your experiences might differ, but I personally haven’t had much problem with racism here. Most people I met were nice, and I’ve had no problem discussing controversial issues (maybe that’s just me). I’ve met a lot of Turkish here, and I’ve had no problems with them. Hell, one of my closest friends is Turkish, and we were really close. I’m not sure if and why people get suspicious if you’re from Turkey, in my case people react normally when they find out that I’m from India and don’t all creepy.

    Regarding the stolen phone story, that was definitely strange, but my viewpoint on this matter is that you probably need to get some new friends. I have friends from all over the world (Europeans, North Americans, South Americans, Africans etc) and never did I hear them talking racist stuff (except for one guy from South Africa). Is it possible that you’re hanging around with probably not the best group?

    Just my two cents.

  • Oguz

    Did not read after your “Also, we love and excel at anal sex because that’s what we do to save our vaginal virginity for marriage. “. I literally do not care about your choices in bed but, please, do not impose it to all and raise more “orientalism” on that issue.

    • N

      Google “irony”
      Google “sarcasm”
      Educate yourself on the subject.
      Read that part again ( once you have improved your mental abilities.)

      • Oguz

        WOW THANK YOU I ALREADY FEEL MORE INTELLIGENT AFTER JUST READING YOUR RESPONSE . THANK YOU FOR EDUCATING PEOPLE LIKE ME you simpleminded hipster.