Earlier in November my book Women and Turkish Cinema was published by Routledge. Here, I would like to share some thoughts on the volume for those who may have an interest on the topic. Every book is and offers a journey, and so, here is a part of mine...
Following a decade of increased and violent polarisation between Left and Right in Turkish politics, the army decided to intervene to put an end to what appeared to be incipient civil war. The military intervention of September 12th 1980 aimed towards a period of depoliticisation in society as it crushed all political parties and particularly leftist organisations, while temporarily suspending democracy and thereby bringing normal political life to a complete halt. I, Atıl Eylem, was born a year after the coup. My name is an extremely politically resonant name which literally means ‘go for action’ and has an overt link with the leftist political activism that both my parents were involved in. As I explain in detail in the Introduction of the book:
“The story behind my name does not only refer to the name of one of the left wing journals (Atılım) which had to be published clandestinely, but also assigns me the role and pride of carrying the keywords of the left wing activists who fought, and at times were either killed or went through serious physical and mental torture, for their ideas. I was born a year after my father lost his comrade (arkadaş) who was shot while being carried wounded in his arms (still trying to voice his ideas); and after my mother and father had cried for their books which died in the cold damp cellar of a friend’s house, while being hidden from the police, who were inspecting every house to find censored books. Whoever had a copy of Das Kapital, was to be stamped as leftist, and hence needed to be under strict scrutiny by the police. These books full of ‘dangerous’ ideas should be burnt. Those who had managed to read them did so by covering them with gazette papers or hiding them behind the covers of other non-dangerous books. I was born on a day when no newspapers were published, because it was a religious holiday.”
This personal background informs my initial interest in analysing this decade’s political, social and cultural environment from a critical perspective. In the repressive and depoliticised atmosphere of the post-coup period, the first social movement that emerged and articulated its demands was the women’s movement. It expanded the scope of pluralism and democracy in Turkey through different concerns communicated by women in the public realm. Although feminist ideology is overtly political, in this period of depoliticisation the movement was only able to exist because its activists sought to free themselves from both the Right and the Left and any other clearly partisan political label and they did not found any institutions seeking to increase women’s political representation. Following the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923 women had been given rights by the state through what is often termed state feminism. In the 1980s women were, for the first time, raising their own independent voices through campaigns, festivals, demonstrations, publications of journals and the forming of consciousness-raising groups.
Profoundly affected by the social and political milieu, Turkish cinema went through a period of change in the 1980s. Overtly political or social realist films were censored, banned or destroyed as a result of the forcible depoliticisation in the aftermath of the coup. Women’s lives and issues (perceived as neither Left wing nor Right wing and hence apolitical) became prominent in Turkish cinema and this led to the production of an extensive body of women’s films.
This brings me to the central proposition of this book, that is: the enforced depoliticisation introduced after the coup is responsible for uniting feminism and film in 1980s Turkey. The feminist movement was able to flourish precisely because it was not perceived as political or politically significant. In a parallel move in the films of the 1980s there was an increased tendency to focus on the individual, on women’s issues and lives, in order to avoid the overtly political.
The key questions that frame my analysis here are: What is the link between the women’s movement and representation of women in Turkish cinema in the 1980s? Were cinema and the women’s movement both affected in the same way in the post-coup political milieu? Were films affected by the movement or were they simply marginalising political issues by focusing on women’s lives?
In the book, I also focus on contemporary women filmmakers in Turkey who tend to concentrate on a range of issues around political, cultural and ethnic identity as well as memory. It is also in this section that I offer a further study into the representation of women of Turkey in several documentaries made by women directors who live outside Turkey, which has the relationship between religion and women’s place in Turkey in the centre of their narratives. Olga Nakkas’ 2006 film Women of Turkey: Between Islam and Secularism, for instance, draws on interviews with women and examines the individual and political resonance of the headscarf and veiling. Binnur Karaevli’s 2009 film Voices Unveiled: Turkish Women Who Dare provides a critique of the ban on wearing headscarves at the same time as touching upon issues including female officers in mosques; violence in the name of Islam; lack of education and economic dependence of women; women and Turkey’s EU candidacy and the tensions inherent between Muslim and Western cultures.