Most of the news that the Western world receives about Turkey is focused on the more conservative, eastern region of the country, or the violence surrounding border towns that are close to Syria, Iraq, or Iran. The truth is that Turkey is a diverse, secular country that has a wide spectrum of beliefs and cultures. Geographically its cultural landscape makes sense; with the eastern portion of the country that is closer to the Middle East, being more conservative, whereas the western cities that are located near Europe tend to be more liberal.
Here are some common misconceptions. Most of them having to do with women and their rights within an Islamic society.
All Women Wear Burqas
This is the most common question people have asked me before I move to Turkey, and although I’ve seen a small amount of women wearing burqas in Istanbul, the majority does not. I’ve seen plenty of women wearing hijab (head scarfs), but I’ve also seen an equal amount of women without one. The hijab issue is a sensitive topic in modern Turkey, because some people believe that the wearing of a hijab represents regression that could lead to a more traditional Islamic country. Here is an insightfularticle from BBC News about this issue.
Women Do Not Have Rights
Unlike Saudi Arabia, there are no restrictions for women, including the right to drive. I personally get heart palpitations crossing the street, so I don’t think I would have the slightest desire to drive in Turkey, but I’ll save that for another post.
Men Have Multiple Wives
Polygamy was outlawed by Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, over 75 years ago to help elevate the status of Turkish women. Some men in smaller Eastern villages do have multiple wives, but it’s not recognized by the government. Here is an article from The Economist that goes into more detail about polygamy and Turkey.
Turkey Is A Dangerous Country
There are parts in this country in the East where it would be in your best interest to not go to, especially the towns bordering Syria. Saying that, Western and Central Turkey is perfectly safe. Regarding personal safety and petty crime, I’ve never felt threatened, but then again I don’t walk around in dark alleys looking for trouble. Honestly I’ve felt parts of San Francisco were more dangerous than here, but of course common sense goes a long way anywhere in the world.