‘A pair of tights will do’
Photograph by Meghan Rutherford
At times, disobedience is not even deliberate—it is something that seems to happen to you, rather than something you choose. The youngest journalist ever prosecuted, Sami Menteş, was doing his job—interviewing leftist activists just after the Taksim resistance—and he ended up in prison, where he waited nearly nine months for his initial trial. Menteş was released after his first hearing and the only evidence against him was provided by a “secret witness.” The “secret witness” has become a quite popular source of information in the last ten years, especially in court cases against journalists, politicians, and activists. Since the secret witness’s testimony is often identical to the prosecutor’s claims, one might question whether these secret witnesses even exist. Turkey has the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world—to say nothing of the thousands of political activists, politicians, etc. But this article is not about them.
Nor is this article about a young judge, Didem Yaylalı, who committed suicide last summer. When I talked to her closest friend and roommate, Evrim Ortakçı, to my surprise she described Didem wearing tights and dancing, going to parties on the weekends, maybe having a bit of booze, and posting photos of her happy moments on Facebook. Those were the “evil” actions that paved the way to her suicide (tights reveal too much, you know). According to Evrim, Didem was blacklisted by the Higher Commission of Judges and Prosecutors; although she was trained and ready for her job, Didem was not allowed to start practicing her profession because of what the Commission deemed her “improper lifestyle.” This tights-wearing-and-dancing-at-parties business was brought up during her intensive interview with the Commission and she was openly told that “her lifestyle is not fit for a female judge.” Right after the interview, she ended her life. Only a very few people attended her funeral. Evrim was furious that Didem’s colleagues were too afraid to be associated with this tights-wearing persona non grata. This is how easy it is to perform civil disobedience in Turkey: one doesn’t need to speak out against police brutality or enforced sexual morality. A pair of tights will do.
Yet, this is not our topic at the moment. Breaking the law or the established common code of (so-called) morality is not the business of this piece; civil disobedience against the general code of behavior is. It is a subtler, more refined form of disobedience—yet punished equally harshly at times, and it was an important part of the Gezi uprising. It might sound like too broad a definition for an act of civil disobedience, or too gray an area, but I call this form of rebellion simply “being nice.” In fact it is quite a courageous form of disobedience if you are aware of the essence of daily life in today’s Turkey.