A week ago there was an announcement in big letters on the front page of Hürriyet, the flagship newspaper of the Turkish media: “Ayşe is reporting from the ‘other side.’” In this highly polarized society, the readers of secular Hürriyet instantly knew that “the other side” was the neighborhood where the most religious conservatives and Islamists live. Needless to say, the blonde, tall, funky and very “modern looking” woman was Ayşe Arman, the columnist of Hürriyet and also a symbol of upper-middle class, urban and Western lifestyle in Turkey. The prevailing men’s club in Turkish media establishment including former and current editors like Ercan Arıklı, Hıncal Uluç and Ertuğrul Özkök insistently emphasized that they were the ones who “discovered” her first, and created a female star columnist out of her. Especially, the current editor-in-chief Özkök has once said that she was his very own “project.” I don’t know about that much, but she was a male-creation writing all the juicy details of her sexual affairs and about her countless numbers of lovers in her column for years. She was our national version of Samantha Jones character in the popular TV series, “Sex and the City.” Then she got married, had a child and settled down. Recently she posed half naked for her newspaper perhaps to convince her urban readers that a woman could still be sexy as a mother in her ’/40s. Apparently those pictures had not created a big excitement among male and female readers as anticipated.
Last week she decided to do something controversial and benefit from the anxieties and fears of the rich, secular and urban population. By acting like an undercover journalist, she could learn how “the others” live and see whether there is any social pressure from the secularists’ side. Finally she wore the Islamic attire with the headscarf, covered herself completely and went deep into the heart of the most posh neighborhoods. She tried to get a sense of being an Islamist woman by strolling in her familiar neighborhoods like Nişantaşı and Teşvikiye. She went to the most trendy bars, night clubs, swam in a hasema, a shroud-like swimsuit and so on and so forth. Also she strolled in the most conservative neighborhoods in mini-skirts to get a counter reaction. Nobody spitted on her face or physically harassed her on the streets of Istanbul. She was quite surprised by that result and sounded a little bit disappointed. After all her observations, she came to a deceptive conclusion that there was no social pressure from any side after all and everybody from whatever class or belief could get along seamlessly. Of course, respected sociological research are indicating otherwise.
For a few days, Ayşe Arman kept going around to posh places as a wealthy woman in an Armani Islamic attire. She never changed her socio-economic class to start with. So she was well accepted as a rich woman with a headscarf. After all she was a well-paying customer. Right after its publication, Islamist columnists harshly criticized her for not knowing her own society’s realities and instead of walking on the streets, they said, she should have tried to enter a public university’s gate or apply for a job. Ayşe Arman also wrote that she got disturbed when men verbally abused her in mini-skirts in İsmail Ağa. As you can imagine, the whole experience was as if being reported through the eyes of a 12-year old or by a naive foreigner clueless about the Turkish society.
Now you can ask what came out of this pseudo journalism attempt. Apart from a lot of personal publicity for Ayşe Arman, a rare opportunity to make interesting sociological observations has been missed. The whole issue has been taken lightly as a fun summer read on the beach. This was quite appropriate for Hürriyet’s target audience though. At the end of the day, Ayşe Arman offered her share of contributing to the widening gap between the social strata in this country.