I am honored to be here as a contemporary author of modern Turkey where great leader Atatürk introduced secularism, ninty one years ago.

I feel so lucky to have grown up in Atatürk’s Turkey,  and also in a family where girls, for generations, had been raised as praised individuals with rights to study, to choose their way of life,  to choose their husbands with whom they stood beside with love all the way. Those women were strong and brave and they set a great example for me.
Presented by

At the Multi-Participatory Session of the
Peace, Women, Security & Secularism Event at
The Salvation Army Intl. Social Justice Commission, New York City
On April 11, 2019
Led by The Light Millennium
Associated with the United Nations Department of Global Communications

We need strong, independent and compessionate women to achieve a better world. But we also need men with the same qualities to support these women. We need politicians who are strong, visionary, democratic, secular who urge upon equality, and  believes that the women’s rights also has an equal standing with men in human’s rights.

But not all the women have the chance I have. And although I have always cherished and embraced the knowledge of being an independent, self assured woman, I never took it for granted. I know well that women’s rights can not be imposed as privilages. Privilages are given, and then they can be taken away as well. But our rights are our possessions from birth. So, I see women’s rights as human rights issue.

The women are oppressed, tormented and tyrannized in different scales in so many countries, all over the world. Most of the time it is done in the name of culture, traditions and religion. Sometimes the tyranny over women is screened and cloaked with false presentations as if it is done for the sake of the safety or well being of the women. Then, there are also highly civilized countries where we see women, again, become subject to violation, sexual harrassment, physical and emotional abuse. And there are also many women in the higher echelons of the business life who are struggling with the un-democratic wage and promotion system of the corporate world. 

It is the womenkind who have to endure the most difficulties, the hardship of life; during both peace and hostility times. Women are struggling in sea of troubles all over the world; physically, mentally, emotionally. Most of those women in my family, I mentioned, have gone thrue such ordeals. Many of them had to leave their mother land, loved ones behind due to the bloodshed of revolutions, they endured the immigration, war times; some as a toddler, some as a young girl, some as grown up woman. Being strong and brave could not save those women from any of those unfortunate fate but it helped them not only to survive but also to hang on life with a glowing pride, courage and power.

The hardship, the struggle, the fear, the sadness, the yearning, the autrocities they had to endure are still engraved in my soul and in my genes. So, when I narrate in my novels about the hardships of womenkind this genetic memory gives me great dynamics to decipher and translate the feelings of the women who are going thrue the same ordeal.

We all know that if in a society where the female sex is underestimated, belittled, rejected, oppressed, depressed and dismembered from the public with accusations of her gender, we can not talk about peace, security, democracy and, secularism and it is so vice versa.

In a society where there is no understanding of what the womanhood really is, we can not build up peace, love, compassion, progress.

In a society where womanhood is cursed and despised by the male sex, dictated by the political, religious or social impositions we can not talk about honor and dignity.

For a civilized, refined, healthy society the women have to have their equal rights, integrity in every way. 

Women have to be celebrated for they are the initiators of the society, creator of the new generations, architect of the families, keepers of the past, designer of the future. They have to be praised for their natural gift of power for the ability to create. 

It is not without reason that native intelligence is called “mother wit”. And not only that “mother wit” is the gray matter, power, ability, capacity, capability, aptitude, potential, talent, genius, cleverness, resourcefulness, inventiveness, ingenuity, skillfulness, it is also common sense, practicality, sound judgement, wisdom, voice of experience, prudence, secernment, foresight, longheadedness, intuition, gut feeling, understanding, presence of coolnes of mind, perspective balance, composure, calmness, sangfroid, reasonableness, affection, nurturing instinct, quality of mercy, bear, beget, procreate, originate, create, produce, design, mastermind, raise, care for, protect, shelter, keep in tow, smother, watch over…

Unfortunately today we are still surrounded by those who are scared of the power that women have although most of them do not know the qualities of women I just mentioned.   

Those who can not cope with the woman power simply turn their fear into hatred and hatred into vicious atrocities, violence, disgrace, evilness, either physical or emotional brutality.

What is worse is that this violance is encouraged, protected and even nourished under the sacred means of religion, customs and traditions and in some cases it is also protected by the political power.

And what is even more dangerous and alarming is the women, I quite often witness, who volunteer to give up their identity, let their honor, pride, self-esteem crushed, allow their physical, emotional, mental, spiritual existence be a slave to a man. These women, surrendering to their oppressors may think to have found a secure and comfortable life under the wings of their tyrants. But with this submissive behavior, they are not only disregarding and humiliating their own individual entities but also the whole womankind and the future of mankind. 

What alarms me the most; these submissive women –with choice or not- also are or will become mothers, aunts, teachers to new generations, and they will be mothering, raising the mothers and fathers of the future.

It is very ironic that women again like in so many other things are responsible even for the future of mankind.

What is it to be a woman? Is it fate? Is it a feeling? Is it a state of mind or behavior? Is it a  mode of comprehension or submission? Is it a way to exodus or taking wings into the fire?

Is woman the one for whom the sacrifices offered on the altar or is she the one who is chosen as the offering on the sacrificial table? Is she the sacred, untouchable one, or is she the one to be stoned and burned at stake? Is she the one who is desired or is she the one who is rejected?

Is she the one for whose love men battle for, or is she the one who is chosen to be the archenemy?

Is she the one from her power and fertility the hundreds of goddesses have been created or is she the one who is punished and withdrawn from her privileges for the same reasons?

What is the deep-down feeling of men towards women? Is it a compassionate love or hatred caused by hopeless envy?

How come same mankind has built up shrines, temples in the name of deities symbolized by women and then sacrificed them in stakes, stoned, burned, buried alive them?

How come after all those centuries that her sex was praised and put on a pedestal woman came to be designated as the underserved of the man in almost every religion, supposedly by the orders of God himself.

But if you read the fine points of the historical facts, you see that these rules made merely by the man himself, either by the clergy or the rulers simply not to allow womenkind to have a place and hope for higher echelons in the society. 

Mankind have been occupied with the conception of “woman” and “fertility” since their first “Hello” on earth. But, funnily enough, men had no idea of their role in the conception of a child during the early times. So, women for them besides being the perfect partner for their physical, sexual urges, were also the creator; creator of babies, new lives. It was believed that babies came out of the woman’s menstrual fluid directly.
So figuring that women had a special relationship with the moon cycles, and bared babies due to this heavenly connection, societies placed the woman on the altar for this extraordinary, unique and supernatural gift.

It has really taken some time before the function of man is discovered in creating babies. Meanwhile, all the civilizations in the ancient world adorned the shrines with goddesses crowned with the highest degrees of divinity. And in some cultures, not to leave the other sex behind, they also created the basis for the man to give birth. But men did not have menstrual moon blood, they did not have vaginas nor wombs. So mythology provided them with some miracles. For example: in antique Egypt according to the priests of Ra, their God had given birth to first humans from his mouth. According to Satapatha Brahmana; the God Prajapati also delivered early humans from his mouth. Padma Purana narrates that God Sukra first lived in the belly of Shiva and then was born from his penis.

In Hellenistic mythology, God Zeus gives birth to Goddess Athena who is more prominent than himself, from his head. But he could succeed this only buy swallowing Metis who was already pregnant to Athene. And Zeus again gives birth to Dionysos from his hip. But still, Zeus could achieve this only after he killed the already pregnant Selene. And just after, Hermes,  the governor of the souls, taking the six-month fetus from the womb of Selene and sowing it to Zeus’s hip, Zeus becomes able to give birth.

Antique Chinese God Khun has had un-bearable sea section to give birth to Yu who was the founder of the Hsia Dynasty.

God Loki only after eating the heart of a woman could get pregnant and gave birth to Odin’s horse.

So, if we look at the examples in mythology, we can easily see that men although they had great respect and admiration for the other sex also had great envy towards them. And they resented women so much that they had to empower their Gods with fertility. But they still needed woman characters for that. This envy does not reflect itself only in childbearing Gods, but also we see it in traditions such as; castration ceremonies immitating the pattern of menstrual blood or circumcision rituals with boys wearing girls’ dresses are all reflections of the desire of men to be a woman with the womanly powers.

But, alas! All this effort, all this make-believe fabrication has not served its purpose for making the men women. Womenkind kept her special, mystical and miraculous encounter with nature and the Great Creator and nature kept man always in need of woman; for his physical pleasures, for the fulfilment of his ego, for his satisfaction of reproduce… The ego tormenting pressure of needing a woman could have been suppressed for some time, but with the knowledge of man’s part in reproducing, everything changed.

Now it was the time to take revenge! Women who had a secret connection with the moon, an extraordinary power coming from her nature, who was blessed with the miracles of the Creator now was out in the open, vulnerable to all the atrocities of men who have been in a rage all this time. Now it was the time for the patriarchal rule entirely. Dominion of men should regulate the society, religion, education, economy, art and should punish women for everything that was sacred about her before. 

And, menstruation which was considered as a divine occurrance till then, became a “dirty”  matter. Women who had menstruation admitted “dirty” and bent from all her social and religious activities during that time. 
Women’s ability to give birth which has been acknowledged as the sign of her miraculous connection with the Creator, now twisted into a burden which would crush woman under… and it lasted for centuries…

Women earned their importance and became integrated with life again with the modernization in the world. This integration is a giant step accepted as the necessity of a modern, civilized age. It is not easy at all for a society to be modernized. During this process; culture, traditions, education,  and religion are very significant. Because what keeps the social elements in line is the traditional foundation. 

Turkish women, by the 1920s, had already come a long way in this respect; and long before other women in other countries,  thanks to revolutions on women’s rights which was presented by Atatürk to Turkish women on a gold platter.

During the late period of the Ottoman Empire, in the “Higher Society” if we may call them, both entellectual men and women were already discussing about women’s rights.  But such drastic changes need more than just debating. It takes a great vision, courage, leadership, determination and also an ability of a firm conviction for the necessity of the changes and sanctions.  And these were all present characteristics among the many other outstanding features of Atatürk. 

Atatürk knew and believed that the “freedom of thought and “independence of women” in the society were linked. He was sure that it was not enough just to have a secular state for great achievements but also the individual thought, education, science, and art had to be free from the religious aspects. Whatever modernization he wanted to bring to the new Turkish Republic, he wanted women to become part of it in every way, in every area of life; educationally, socially, economically, politically.

Changing the alphabet from Arabic to Latin, he also made sure that the Holly Kuran could be read and studied in Turkish so every one could learn the religion directly from the original source and not fouled by those fake, fabricated interpretations. This allowed women to see the political reasons behind the religious sanctions created for them. 

Whatever discussion took place on women’s rights before, turned into a feminist movement with Atatürk’s reforms. 

With the “civil law” which was enforced on February 17, 1926 the Turkish women earned their rights of being an individual free from man, to vote, to have an education, to proceed careers, to work, to have the equal rights with man on inheritance, to be the sole wife of a man,  was among this law. By 1930 Turkish women gained the right to be chosen to City Councils and in 1934 to the Turkish Parliament. 

Although these may sound very simple for some today, we know that there are so many women who still do not have these rights and many others had to get them so many years after Atatürk’s gift to Turkish women, and Western women earned it with hardship and even after some bloodshed.

Atatürk did not only establish a Republic based on secularism, and equality when he opened a way for women to live, to educate, to work, to vote and be elected as equals with men but he also insured that the new laws would secure the safety of these rights.

Unfortunately,  the lack of active political movements to enhance Atatürk’s revolutions on women’s rights have slowed down the achievement. Besides, with some women adopting the new kind of feminism rising in the West,  which was about not only equality with men but women’s social behaviour and sexual freedom, allowed to widen the gap between the conservatives and the modern.

And after the 1990s  Turkish women have been subject to, as some describe: “Islamic feminism“. But you can not have feminism in any religion where women are guided to adopt the idea that living dependant and in obedience and under the rules of a man is their freedom of choice. Fanatic rules does not allow woman to be an individual but some man’s daughter, some man’s wife an even a concubine. Under these circumstances the only thing that changes for the woman is her owner.

Now, with this kind of “freedom” women are encouraged to stay at home, not work and even not to go to school, not join men in educational and social life believing that man is responsible for their safety and well-being and going out on their own, with their own intensions would make them vulnerable to every danger out there.  

The traditions that lead to punishing the women who do not agree with these terms are immediately associated with religion and become a tabu. And these tabus are so strongly integrated with the rules of the society, the atrocity towards women who do not obey, becomes part of the teaching so she takes a refuge in the shelter of her home. 

When I was gathering real life dramas while writing my last novel “Eve’s Punishment”  I could not help feeling extremely emotional, heart broken, hopeless for those girls and women but also full of hatred, anger, animosity for those who made their lives hell on this earth. I wanted to become the scream of those who could not dare to talk, afraid of to be punished. I saw that these poor girls and women were also socially being penalized for being a victim. I realized that most of them had no chance to get out of this horrifying life because there was no one who could help them. Mothers had gone through the same terror when they were young and they were still being harrassed and violated.

If these girls are lucky enough, they end up in a institutaion where they are taken care of. But most of these institutions do not have the facilities which should provide these girls the treatment, education, guidance they need. These girls do not know what they will do when they come to the age to leave the safety zone. They are like preys waiting to be send out for another hunting game to be victimized. Women also, who are victims of rape, domestic violance, sexual assault can not feel safe, except a few shelters where they take a refuge.

In areas where sexuality and sexual violance remain taboo subjects, there is a civil society momentum to turn abuse into a religious priority, and the risk to survivors for speaking up is much greater and more dangereous. Because in these cases, survivors end up first being shut out by their families and then the neighborhood. And the young girl or the woman end up excluded from her society, all alone, with no shelter, no help and vulnerable to all the atrocities out there.

It is already one horrible thing when a man’s violation toward woman is accepted as a traditional way of living, but we can also come across with those who held governmental, religious and civil positions making horrific statements encouraging the offenders. So, this attitude creates a less and less availability of a safety zone for the victims.

Also if you look at the insight story of the abuse of kids, youngsters and women in religious institutions you read the stories from the victims that it is very much like the same. 

Those clergymen who want to do something about it is afraid of to rock the boat. In every religion there is a divided line between the liberals and the conservatives.  Same thing is politics. And not to loose of the sides the authorities simply end up covering up abuses. Because  for them holding the religion or the votes unified is more important than the rights of the individual. And there is no way that this mentality could not affect the society’s over all behaviour. It is like a domino affect, created out of fear of exclusion from the society, horror of getting accused and punished for being godless, heathenish.

This behavior towards the sexual abuse can only have one result, and that is to provide the predatators to act more freely without feeling any remorse or moral burden. And it means that another hundreds, thousands will be the victims of such brutality… even at this very moment while we talk… maybe somewhere far away, somewhere very close to us it is happening.

We, women, are the strong ones who can mold the future of our society. We can shape the next generation of mankind. But as long as there are women somewhere out there, beaten, supressed, looked down, tormented, violated, raped, tortured physically and mentally, we are, does not matter how powerful personally, not whole and strong at all. We have to find a way to reach out and lead every other women to grasp a way to become an individual with her born rights intact. 

We should teach our daughters to respect themselves. They should know that they are the sole owners of their bodies, hearts, souls, and dreams. They should not let anybody drive them around. We should tell them they can succeed, they have to be brave and strong. “Yes”  we have to say, ” You may pay for it but it is better to stand strong and pay for it than being suppressed and driven around like a slave.”  We should also teach the same thing to our boys so they become the kind of man who would honor somebody else’s daughter as a friend, as a wife and appraise his daughter as a father one day.

We should support our daughters to be brave. We should not let them become needy, weak girls who wait for a man to come along to keep them safe and prosper. But bravery can achieve only if it is supported with education and self assurance. While we teach our girls to stand strong on their own we have to provide the education for them to equip and adorn themselves with.

Educated mind does not accept suppression, degredation, humilation. Educated mind questions, compares, searches and can never be enslaved. Only then we can teach our daughters to be strong. We will not be around all the time to keep them safe.  And they have to know better than become a slave thinking that this is the safest way to live.  

We need strong, independent and compessionate women to achieve a better world. But we also need men with the same qualities to support these women. We need politicians who are strong, visionary, democratic, secular who urge upon equality, and  believes that the women’s rights also has an equal standing with men in human’s rights.

We can make this world a better place to live, together!

– . –

About Nermin BEZMEN
, Author
She is an accomplished artist, art teacher, yoga instructor, and broadcaster whose meticulous research into family history led to the publication of Kurt Seyt & Shura in 1992.
This fictionalized account of her grandfather’s life became an instant bestseller and is now considered a masterpiece of contemporary Turkish literature; in fact it has reached textbook status in several secondary schools and universities. It is also adopted to television series and reached to millions all over the world, other than being translated to twelve languages.

Exquisite detail distinguishes her writing as she proves that truth in indeed stranger than fiction. Her powerful character analysis and storytelling skills invite readers to explore the hidden realities as well as their own dreams, sorrows, anxieties, and even fleeting fancies.
Bezmen who has published twenty-one, most of them bestseller books, including two biographical, one fantasy, a children’s novel, a collection of short stories, and a book of poems, gives tens of speeches each year on topics such as; women, children, human rights, immigration, love, sacrifice, environment, history. Her last novel “Eve’s Punishment” has been the voice of silent victims of rape, child marriage, pedophiles, ensest, and violence under the pretenses of “tradition -culture- religion”

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Photo Album of the Multi-Participatory Session on:
Peace and Women and Security, and Secularism – 2


Event photo credit: Demet DEMIRKAYA, The Light Millennium

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"The U.S. Turkish Library & Museum For Friendship and Peace" project joined, and has been produced under the umbrealla of The Light Millennium Organization effective on October 15, 2015.