His father owned a store that sold textile dye to shepherds.
There was a brief time when my father wore a mustache.
At the same time, I remember being warned as a child that there were anti-Turkish people in the world, people who held old grudges and could cause problems. P., a Kurdish-language channel débuted on Turkish national television; in 2009, Erdoğan went on the air and expressed good wishes in Kurdish.
For a while, Erdoğan really did seem to be trying to counter this kind of adversarial thinking—to open up business and diplomatic relations with Turkey’s neighbors, to lift the taboos on mentioning the “Kurdish issue” and the Armenian genocide. This would have been unthinkable a short time earlier.
But she would get even more annoyed than my father did when she thought that people were invoking God to do their jobs for them—for example, when she saw a bus with a sticker saying “Allah Protect Us.”Both my parents always told me that, in order to be a good person, it was neither necessary nor desirable to believe in God; it was more noble and efficient to do good for disinterested reasons, without thoughts of Heaven. They thought it had been unsustainable for Turkey to repress and deny its religion for so long—that the people had finally spoken out.
Nothing in the milieu where I grew up, in New Jersey in the eighties and early nineties, contradicted the idea I formed of religion as something unnecessary, unscientific, provincial—essentially, uncool. Its charismatic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been the head of state since 2003, after the A. Many spoke warmly of the anthropologist Jenny White, an important scholar of modern Turkey whose book “Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks” characterizes the pro-Atatürk Kemalist culture as one of “militarism, hostility, suspicion, and authoritarianism” rooted in “blood-based Turkish ethnicity.” Muslim nationalism, by contrast, has sought to replace “historically embattled Republican borders” with “more flexible Ottoman imperial boundaries” and to “privilege Muslim identity and culture over race.” In the A. P.-sympathetic world view, the Ottomans, whom Kemalists had blamed for selling Turkey to the British, enjoyed a vogue as models of enlightened Muslim multiculturalism. To me, as to most Americans, it seemed a tiny bit weird that nearly every public building in Turkey had a picture of Atatürk on the wall.
Having introduced a secular constitution and a Western-style civil and criminal legal code, Atatürk shut down the dervish lodges and religious schools, abolished polygamy, and introduced civil marriage and a national beauty contest.
Both were, and continue to be, passionate supporters of Atatürk.
I grew up hearing that if it hadn’t been for Atatürk my grandmother would have been “a covered person” who would have been reliant on a man for her livelihood.
Jenny White writes, “The term ‘Black Turk’ is used by Kemalists to disparage Turks of lower-class or peasant heritage, who are considered to be uncivilized, patriarchal, not modern, and mired in Islam, even if they have moved into the middle class.” Erdoğan proudly declared that he was a black Turk.
The black and white breakdown was difficult for me to understand.