Turkey's new Islamic government has not been welcomed by the country's westernised professional women. Maureen Freely, who went to school in Istanbul with the children of the cosmopolitan elite, remembers their past enthusiasm for the anti-imperialist struggle and the price they (and she) had to payby Maureen Freely / December 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Modern turkey has a tradition of women from the elite classes excelling in the professions. So it came as no surprise to me when Tansu Ciller, a graduate of the American College for Girls in Istanbul, became Turkey’s first woman prime minister. I, too, attended the American College for Girls in the late 1960s, while my father taught physics at Robert College, the neighbouring American university. Many of my classmates now hold top positions in business and academia. They are angry with Ciller for allowing Necmettin Erbakan, the Islamist leader, to become prime minister earlier this year. Back in 1970, many of them had different views about who the enemy was: it was American imperialism in general and myself in particular.
The girls had been converted to the anti-imperialist cause by their Che Guevara lookalike boyfriends, most of whom came from the sort of families that gave their children factories as 18th birthday presents. I knew this from my boyfriend, Jak, who came from a similar background, but who never apologised for it. He, and most of the Che Guevaras, were students at Robert College.
My revolutionary classmates at the American College for Girls were puzzled and amused by me. Because most of them were two or three years older than I, their attention was flattering. They would ask me about the course I was taking with them on, say, 20th century literature, but then, when I was least expecting it, the ringleader would turn to me with a sweet smile and say: “So, my darling Apple Cheeks, now you will kindly justify your mother country.”
The ringleader’s name was Seyla. Like Jak, whom she had known all her life, she came from a rich Jewish family that had lived in Istanbul for centuries. She spoke six languages, had beautiful green eyes and a passionate impatience that suggested no room would ever be large enough for her.
Nothing made Seyla smile more brightly than my fumbling attempts to prove that I was not a cultural imperialist. “How can you be anything else?” she would protest. “Your father, after all, is a government agent.” If I insisted that he was just a teacher, she would say that this made his influence far more insidious-he was here to subvert the young minds of Turkey with the corrupt ideals of his mother country. In desperate earnestness, I would tell her that the…