Autonomy and Dependence in the Family: Turkey and Sweden in Critical Perspective

By Rita Liljeström; Elisabeth Özdalga | Go to book overview

Change and Continuity in the Turkish Middle Class Family 1

DIANE SUNAR


The Traditional Rural Turkish Family

In a small Turkish village, far away from the city, young Zeki has just returned home after completing his military service and is helping his father with the farm. He can't help noticing that Aysun has developed into an attractive young woman while he has been gone. Although it is a small village, the two young people do not know each other well. Zeki begins to watch for the time that Aysun will go to fetch water or do other chores that take her out of the house. Aysun doesn't miss the fact that a young man is paying her attention, and she begins to arrange her chores so that she has a better chance of “accidentally” running into him. Before long, without much conversation, they are in love with one another-from a distance. Zeki persuades his parents to ask for Ay sun's hand. But unknown to Zeki, Ay sun's family has been negotiating with a family from the next village who are offering a handsome bride price, so they refuse Zeki's offer. The young couple are crushed by the news (separately). In desperation, Zeki asks Aysun to run away with him, and she consents. Her family is scandalized and outraged at the betrayal, and her older brother tracks them down and kills them both. Turning himself in to the police, the brother confesses the murder but says he is not sorry because it was the only way to restore his family's honour.

This drama is the core plot of innumerable Turkish movies, and audiences seem never to tire of this tragedy in all its variations. It is also played out with some frequency in real life: some version of this story can be found in the Turkish newspapers almost every week. Why does this story resonate so strongly with Turkish audiences, the vast majority of whom have never encountered such a drama in their everyday lives? One reason is probably that it embodies such a large number of elements of Turkish culture while at the same time exposing their internal contradictions. A grasp of these elements of Turkish culture will be very useful in trying to understand the significance of parental behaviour in urban middle class families (even though the social norms governing urban life are in many ways quite different from rural norms), so let us examine them here briefly, with a fuller discussion to follow.

Zeki has returned to the village and is helping on his father s farm: In traditional Turkish society, sons are expected to stay with their families and con

1 Some of the research for this paper was partly supported by Meawards Grant ME A 205-WAN A 88.301C. Further support was provided by Boğaziçi University Research Fund, Grants 92B0713 and 93B0701. Special thanks are due to Ayşe Mutaf Tulun for her help in supervising the collection of the data; to Emre Özgen, who assisted with data management and analysis; and to all the members of the interviewing team. The cooperation and assistance of Robert College and Tarhan Koleji, and the cooperation of the participating families, are also gratefully acknowledged.

Diane Sunar

-217-

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