The Veil and Elections in Turkey

An old joke runs that the population of Turkey is 172 million - 72 million people and 100 million portraits of Ataturk. The Father of Modern Turkey is still greatly venerated, and his image is everywhere - I bought a lighter, and was offered one with a photo of Ataturk in evening dress, Ataturk in a suit, Ataturk ... Ataturk dragged the country into the 20th century by Westernising it - this included reforming the language and legally banning the wearing of veils.

Every time I've travelled around the country during the last decade, I noted new mosques being built in most of the villages I passed through. In small towns in the centre of the country, one used to see women wearing the veil, but this was explained as being 'cultural' rather than religious. Increasingly Ramadan is being publicly observed these days. Turkey was very obviously becoming increasingly religious, with more and more Turks becoming publicly observant Muslims - literally wearing their religion on their heads. With time, this came through in election results and the Islamic party is now in power. The clash between active Islamicists and Ataturk secular Modernists is leading to problems; elections for the presidency were due on Wednesday, but were cancelled when the courts annulled the first round vote.

The Topkapi was almost empty on Tuesday, strangely vacant of tourists. Slowly a trickle of visitors can through, a few women, then busloads of them. Every single one of them was veiled - wearing either a headscarf or a burkha. Women and men were separated into different groups, as seen in the photos below. On Sunday there had been large demonstrations in the area by pro-secularists. These groups seem to have been bused in as a response to them, and it looked increasingly as if events would take for the worse the next day. It didn't, but given the increasing disparity between the two groups, it will soon. I've happily travelled on my own in Muslim countries since I was at school, by following a few simple rules such as tying my hair into a pony tail and not wearing revealing clothes. This week I was regularly and repeatedly was made to feel extremely uncomfortable - with people hissing at me, insulting me for not wearing the veil - and for the first time I wondered about the wisdom of walking down the street on my own in Turkey as a Muslim country.

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