Do you know this type of person, that everyone likes? Emine Turkoglu is one of these. When I visited her in her home, not only she had prepared lovely refreshments, but she packed a few boxes for my family 🙂 We were drinking Turkish tea and talking about anything. What is to be a Muslim and a feminist? How does she manage her family and her PhD. studies? What the word “refugee” means to her? Some of our discussions were private and some others can be found in this interview. My friend Emine: an inspiring woman who has been overcoming obstacles.
Emine is a member of the Gülen movement in Turkey. Since 2016 this movement has been unjustly perceived as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government and many of its members have been imprisoned. Many others left the country and became refugees. After Emine’s husband had spent some time in the prison, they were getting ready for leaving the country. With two little kids, the family travelled to Greece and from there to Finland. Emine writes regularly about her journey and experiences on the web page The Social Mirror.
When I asked Emine how she would describe in one word her experience in Finland, the answer was: “Quiet.” And then she continued: “We really like guests. We would do everything for our guests. A lot of food, hospitality and conversations. In Finland, people don’t ask me any questions but when you are a guest in Turkey, we ask a lot of questions. We are interested in you. Maybe sometimes it can be a lot for a foreigner, but people open their homes, especially for travellers. If you are in another city and you are hungry, you can just knock on the door and ask for food. It is our tradition to help other people who are in need…” She described to me how important are relationships in Turkey. With family, friends, but also neighbours. Having a huge social network, visiting others and inviting them over… Emine looked incredible happy while speaking about those times. Does she have close people around her also in Finland?
“We have our community here. We came from the same country, we have similar backgrounds and similar reasons to be here. But sometimes it is difficult to make friends in the community … in my community, I can’t tell openly everything. We all have great pain and sometimes it makes us guilty when we talk about our desires or dreams. Also, I feel, that sometimes I have more in common with people from completely different backgrounds and we understand each other better… And I am interested in other cultures, other traditions, so meeting with different people enriched my life a lot and opened my mind.”
Still in Turkey, Emine had graduated in political science and international relations. She had worked as a civil servant in an institution similar to Finnish KELA and continued her PhD. studies at the International Relations Department. She has never finished her education, because of the coup, but now she has been fulfilling her dream at the University of Helsinki.
“ I was always “the other” in the country. I am religious and the rigid secular people in Turkey had always seen my scarf as a threat to them. I couldn’t get an education with my scarf in high school or at the university. I had to take it off. The Ergodan government normalized the situation and we finally start to study with our scarfs.”
Islamophobia is very present in the world. What challenges the life in Europe brings to Muslims and what is the relationship between Arabic-speaking and non-Arabic speaking Muslims?
“I think we have a strong tradition for our daily routine. And of course, it is a big challenge in the Western culture. I should pray 5 times a day, and also in the evening, which conflicts with the organization of the day in Europe. We are a non-Arabic-speaking Muslim country, but we believe we represent Islam the best. (laughing) I had the same prejudice… We always underestimate the other countries that have Islamic traditions. I think it is a kind of state policy because… You know, maybe we are the only country that has conquered many other countries… I think we became a little arrogant because of this. We say the Turkish nation is always independent. In Ottoman Empire, we lived the Golden Age, but nowadays we are not good. We can’t get into European Union because we are not good enough for this. The other Islam countries, all speak Arabic. They have some of the same cultural things or at least the same language to share among themselves. And we don’t belong there either… Not to the west, not to the east. And that’s why we needed something to believe… That we are better than the rest…”
Emine continued her talking about how important it was for her to meet Muslims from other countries than Turkey. To learn about her religion from them, to challenge her prejudices and see the world in more complexity.
The coup in Turkey divided society tremendously. Because Emine was taking part in the Gülen movement, some of their friends stop talking to her, some others tried to help. They knew her and believed, she had become a victim of a criminal organization. Emine and her husband must have been careful. Not to express themselves directly. They were planning to leave the country after her husband came back from prison.
“I didn’t argue with my friends or my neighbours, because they believed I was the victim. So I was perceived as harmless. If I had said anything wrong, they would have called the police… One of our neighbours was a policeman and he interrogated my husband. Another husband of my neighbour was a judge. And he sent my husband to prison… We couldn’t trust anyone, including our family. Unfortunately… It was like a cold, awful feeling… I was listening to every step… When somebody knocked on the door, I wasn’t sure if they were the police or not. It was really difficult for us and very stressful. We could have been imprisoned at any time, before our secret departure from the country…”
“When we came to Greece, I was in depression. I saw the people who were kidnapped, raped or tortured in Turkey. I had, and sometimes still have the guilt of Survivor. That I am here, I have a happy life with my children, in my home. And sometimes this happiness makes me really guilty… Meanwhile, in Turkey, there are people in prison, who have no place to escape. Young people with a life sentence or those who have been staying in prison for a long time… The Turkish prison is the most educated prison in the world now: people with university degrees, and well educated are making their time… I don’t know if I had stayed in prison… I don’t know how could I survive? I read a lot from Victor Frankl. And I listened to him a lot. And he said if a person has a purpose to live, he or she can survive. And now I have a purpose… I want to be a voice of “the other” people in Turkey and also the other refugees.”
For Emine, it was not easy to accept her new identity. Being a refugee was a label for her; that she is less than the others:
“I have started sharing my story in the events. Thanks to Neighborhood Mothers Project and Dana, they gave me the platform I could share my story I started saying it out loud. And of course, I still don’t like to be a refugee for a lot of reasons. But now it is one of my identities. And sometimes I am proud of it because I defended something good. Rights, democracy. I am a refugee because I escaped from a dictator and I want to express myself freely. So I believe it is an important thing for me and now I am proud of it.”
Emine has lots of plans now. She confessed, that the last year she felt like she has started to live a normal life. She started her studies, found her place in the community, and has a connection with many other people from different backgrounds.
“I am interested in Islamic feminism because I want to empower other women… that they can feel they belong somewhere… I also try to do something in our cultural centres. According to Fukuyama, Muslim young people in Europe, have more identity crises than other people… I want to make some place for my children because I know they should integrate into Finnish society and we try to do our best to make it happen…”
Who is Emine Turkoglu?
Emine is currently a PhD researcher at the University of Helsinki. She is a mother of 3 and completed her fourth year in Finland with her family. She is interested in integration, refugees, contemporary Islam and Islamic feminism.