Month: November 2013

Kan Çeker (Blood Pulls)

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Kan Çeker

From Turkish, this literally means “blood pulls.” Like most Turkish phrases and sentiments, this is deep and loaded with meaning. In an emotional context, this phrase illustrates the idea that regardless of where you are in the world, you are what is in your blood and you act accordingly. You act, whether you are overtly aware or not, with your biological make up (symbolized in terms of blood) through both mental and physical outlets such as your personality traits or your medical situations. From this, there is a lot of pride that gushes out of this sentiment. People can immigrate, emigrate, change location, et cetera, but are they suddenly no longer tied to their roots, heritage, and traditions? Maybe not to you or maybe not to your immediate awareness, but Turks never forget the history (past, present, and future) of their blood.

The Turkish personality is seeping with preoccupations with honor– largely in the context of family and a “tribe.” This sense of eros focuses specifically on the family domain and it is unfathomably strong. The tenets of the Ottoman identity are fluid, highly nuanced, and occasionally contradictory. It is customary to maintain, what the Italians call, bella figura or “a good impression. This is a huge preoccupation with image– both in the physical as well as managing the perception in which they are seen. To Turks, an individual identity in just a small pattern of the entire cloth to which they are sown. According to this precept that is shared by various Middle Eastern traditional customs, one application of this is the belief that one is obligated to show hospitality to all (specially those who are foreigners or strangers). I experienced this more so when I visited a small village in south-west Turkey. As a guest, I was fed, sheltered, and protected. This is hospitality at its finest, most pure form. They wanted to be seen as good by going above an beyond to make me feel welcomed. For me (one who has not been exposed to anything to this degree before), I looked upon it as a show. Do not misunderstand me, I was incredibly grateful for the kindness and appreciative towards their efforts but, as one who studies human nature, I could see the line between what was genuinely real and what was a superficial act. They did not go out of their way entirely to make me feel welcome, but to maintain their family’s reputation and honor.

As a society strongly based upon the conceptions and applications of eros-based honor combined with strong religious ties, there are often extremes. As one could see the extreme pole of kindness in which honor was conducted as a result of actions like hospitality and friendliness. The other extreme of preserving a family’s honor can be executed when a member acts in a manner that is perceived as being disgraceful and shameful. The rationale for punishing such offenders of “honor” in Muslim societies must be subjected into wiping out such shame and insult by being killed, generally by family members (frequently by the father, husband, brothers and sometimes with the helping hand of the mother and sisters).

The traditions of honor derive from ancient desert tribes with a prioritized focus on value for the strength of a community comes from the multitude of its people. In this context, women’s role and value was to marry and carry children. Procreation is incredibly valuable for a society, marriage bonds are considered sacred (for both men and women) for it is their combined duty to contribute their offspring to the tribe. In a condensed formulation, a fertile female’s body is considered to be a commodity and an investment that a male makes towards his honor and standing in the community. Complimenting this idea of male-derived honor, a woman can be perceived as both valuable and honorable to her community if she is healthy, chaste, attractive, and fertile. A marriage is the “purchasing” (via promise of support as well as a dowry) to a female’s reproductive capabilities and the female then becomes obligated to keep her womb exclusive for his children. This exclusivity and monogamous expectations are reserved only for the female, for the male can procreate with as many women he can take care of.
An adulterous female gives her lover what her husband “paid” for and consequently dishonors him and the agreement.
A woman who engages in premarital sex gives up her “value” to a male without the support from a marriage contract and renders herself worthless for it it perceived that she will have nothing to give her husband and she will unlikely marry or procreate.
In this sense, the deeper implications of understanding one’s honor and social value are solely based upon another’s obedience to cultural expectations, traditions, and norms which consequently creates strong need for dependence. Men, as guardians of female “value,” are held responsible for the conduct of women for a male’s dignity is closely related to it. With this, men have sought to control female behavior to control their own situation by reducing females to their reproductive abilities.

These basic societal assumptions and trends became fused with religious culture. In the Quran and hadiths, the Islamic faith expresses that sins such as adultery, apostasy, fornication, and homosexuality are prohibited. Offenders of such have been punished through the traditions of Muslim societies that date back to the time of Prophet Muhammad. These traditions call for killing the offenders, in perfect harmony with sanctions of the Quran, Sunnah and the Sharia.

Turkey is considered by the western world as being the only “role model” Islamic country for its economic success and seemingly liberal government. In 2o02, the eight decades of strict secularization promoted by Turkey’s figurehead Ataturk, a more conservative AKP-led Islamist party came to power and allowed for the gates of gradual Islamization to open in Turkey. This has had many negative effects in a social context for Turkey has now risen to be the world’s “number one honor killing country” with a killing rate that is five times higher than that of Pakistan (a nation notoriously known for honor killing).

Today, these traditions have evolved into the conception of honor killings. An honor killing is defined as “the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the belief of the perpetrators that the victim has brought dishonor or shame upon the family or community”and it is a traditional practice that occurs in various cultures. The victims of such are murdered for “dishonorable” reasons such as refusing to enter an arranged marriage, seeking a divorce, being in a relationship that is disapproved by their relatives, having sex outside marriage, becoming the victim of rape, having a poor academic standing, dressing in ways which are deemed inappropriate, or engaging in homosexual relations. The is the other extreme of “honor”– its principle behavior that fears the opposite, that is violently executed in the forms of stoning to death, lashing (which frequently leads to death), shooting to death mob-lynching, being buried alive, and being burned and disfigured by acid.

In 2007, a report released by the Council of Europe estimated that there were over 200 women in Turkey that were killed in the name of protecting a family’s “honor” (http://www.voanews.com/content/a-13-2009-05-21-voa39-68815262/363828.html). Less than a year later, another report was released by the Turkish Prime Ministry’s Human Rights Directorate stated that in Istanbul alone there was one honor killing every week. This report went onto address that there were over 1,000 (reported) honor killings executed during the five years previous. It added a sentiment that suggested that metropolitan cities were the location of such violence based upon honor due to growing Kurdish immigration to these cities from the East (http://www.turkishdailynews.com.tr/article.php?enewsid=107834).

2008: A 26 year old physics student was shot after exiting a cafe in Istanbul. Ahmet Yildiz represented Turkey at an international gay conference in the United States that year and became the country’s first gay honor killing victim (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/was-ahmet-yildiz-the-victim-of-turkeys-first-gay-honour-killing-871822.html).

2009: A 2-day-old boy who was born out of wedlock was reported to have been killed for honor. The infant’s maternal grandmother (with the help of six other individuals, one of whom was a doctor who had reportedly accepted a bribe to not report the birth) were arrested for the crime. The baby’s mother was arrested as well for knowing that her family had made the decision to murder the child. The grandmother of the newborn suffocated her grandson in an attempt to protect her family from dishonor, disgrace and shame (http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2010/04/16/un-bebe-de-2-jours-victime-d-un-crime-d-honneur-en-turquie_1335090_3214.html).

2010: A corpse of a 16 year-old girl Kurdish girl was found 40 days after her disappearance. She was buried alive by members of her family because she befriended boys in Southeast Turkey (http://www.montrealgazette.com/Girl+buried+alive+honour+killing+Turkey+Report/2521342/story.html).

2011: Elif was an 18 year old girl who had declined the offer of an arranged marriage with an older man by telling her parents she wanted to continue her education. This was her offense of dishonor to which her father intended on murdering her for, but she was quoted prior to saying”I loved my father so much, I was ready to commit suicide for him even though I hadn’t done anything wrong,but I just couldn’t go through with it. I love life too much.” This helped to reveal the adverse trend of an attempt to decrease “honor killings.” As the government called for harsher penalties such as advocating for life sentences for honor killers, a new trend that promoted “honor suicides” sparked. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/27/honor-killings-have-morph_n_179928.html; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/women-told-you-have-dishonoured-your-family-please-kill-yourself-1655373.html).

2012: An 18 year old woman and her unborn child were stoned to death at the hand of her father and the Imam for having pre-marital sex.This was an unreported incident of honor killing in a remote village in Turkey that was described to reporters from the victim’s sister (http://www.islam-watch.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=984:with-the-islamists-rise-to-power-turkey-became-the-worlds-leading-hotspot-of-honour-killings&catid=65:khan&Itemid=58).

2013: Today, honor killings continue to enjoy public support in parts of Turkey (especially in the Southeast). A recent survey conducted in Diyarbakir found that when locals were asked about the appropriate punishment for a woman who has committed adultery, 37 percent of respondents said she should be killed and 21 percent said her nose or ears should be cut off.

The statistics and reported incidents above all reveal the same basic pattern of behavior. Honor killers resort to self-help tactics by taking personal vendettas that are the result of culturally perceived transgressions and “sins”into their own hands and justify their actions through tradition. This type of behavior is outside any means of formal legal policy and these personal feuds cannot be resolved through normal judicial proceedings. Due to this, families and communities determine the guilt or innocence of the supposed criminals. This is a stacked, informal jury with no just procedure for the accused have no chance to defend themselves nor is there any appropriate legal sanction other than the punishment of death.

Honor killings exist in the traditional realm with religious implications and biases, therefor so few are reported and are properly dealt with. Governmental statistics show that two hundred deaths are reported in the name of honor each year. Not only are these numbers skewed for the negligence of reporting but also are reported as being lower with the corruption in regards to the legal system. The number reported constitutes half of all murders in Turkey A complimentary study reveals that In Istanbul alone, at least one person is reported to have died as a result of honor killing every week. Victims cases are continuing to rise

The AKP-led Islamists growth of power and influence correlated with the increase in violence in the name of honor (especially with sentiments focusing on the family rather than the protection of women). The rate of violence increased dramatically just within a three year span after their induction into power (2002). In 2005, the government was forced to form a parliamentary committee to specifically investigate the underlying reasons for the high rates of honor killing violence (particularly in the deeply religious south-east Anatolian religion of Turkey). Various measures have been undertaken by the government to stem the rising tide of honor killings in Turkey in the past decade. The severe increase in punishment (such as life sentences) to honor killers seemed to have some impact, but this led to alternative approaches and methods to honor killings. As family members began to fear legal punishments if they were to execute offenders that dishonor their name, the encouragement and guilt-tripping of “dishonorable” women to commit suicide commenced and has been uncomfortably popular in recent years.

Through various methods and alternative approaches, the measures in which the Turkish government has attempted to address the issue of killing in the name of honor is not working for the rate of such crimes continue to rise. The reality of Turkey: Where Islamists come, Islam must come too– regardless if it is accepted as being “secular. ” The Islamic influences infused with both cultural and emotional implications result in confused and dated precepts of honor that falsely justify the act of murder.

As Islam promotes the sanctity of human life (Al- Quran 6:151), honor has become an overestimated concept. Honor is an elusive idea that should never take priority over life.

“If any one slew a person, it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” (Al- Quran 5:32)

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United yet Divided

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When I first started to apply to university, the spark of my undergraduate dreams was illuminated with the tints of idealism. I chose my majors according to this higher purpose and wrote my supplements for the application essays with a cursive slant which creatively inscribed my individual objectives that were deemed possible by my strong will accompanied by advanced education. All of my entry essays shared a sentiment: I expressed my frustrating encounters with ignorance on the various levels of human nature –individual, family, local, society, international society– and how my goal was to better the human experience on each of these levels. Seemingly ideal, but I am a person of action as well as a socio-political realist so I expressed further in my writing that my hypothesis to accomplish this was that I wanted to study in a foreign context (different to my native culture) and translate its culture, ideology, political life, traditions, social construction and national identity back to my own cultural context. In regards to journalism (a program I initially applied for at various American universities but decided against), I recognised the framing of media and its consequent biases and spread of ignorance. This annoyance combined with my desire and tendency to be as objective as possible led me to run through the storm of clouded, dense, biased research and data collection.

It began as I prepared to study abroad. I began university in the United Kingdom, but I conducted my research separately by taking advantage of all of the educational, political, historical, and social resources in this context as possible. One could call this a “hobby” but, to me, it became (and still is) a full time job/obsession. I want to learn but, more so, I want to further my comprehension and expand both my growth and knowledge. I liked my coursework, but it was too simple and straightforward. I wanted a challenge. As both an obsessed seeker of knowledge and a perfectionist, I read and wrote so much, especially during my first year at university, that I believe that I could have finished my degree already and passed all my exams (seriously). I became so obsessed; I wanted to learn everything and absorb all the information I could get my hands on. I am a highly energetic individual and, when I get hooked on an idea, I dedicate my entire self to the cause and I want to accomplish my objectives with precision and speed. A lesson that is most precious, and is best learned early, is the value of patience. For I am go, go, go all the time, this is a virtue that I am accepting and learning. Sure, I could recite entire passages of my favourite theorists and philosophers (including Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Marx) but using them in political life is a different story (Reality: I am a 19 year old woman and a nobody- who the hell would listen to my voice or even deem it as meaningful or credible?). In this regard, I am slowly learning to “enjoy the ride” and, this year, I am enjoying (or trying to) social life in Istanbul by seeing various cultural trends as opposed to being lost in theories, abstractions, and books (don’t worry, I am still quite the avid reader with my stress-induced insomnia).
I do recognize that there are some shortcomings to my approaches during my first year abroad that limited my progress of “translating a culture back to my own.” After only being in a context for one year, I believe that I successfully achieved a summarised snapshot of the objective above. I was granted the opportunity to observe the culture and political structure at various levels (which was extremely fascinating and informative), but it wasn’t detailed and I would never consider myself to be an expert on affairs (social or political). I got to see the historical implications up close and see how events shaped the people and national identity seen today (Awesome: one initial dream realised).

Accompanying my intentions, I was presented with more interesting realisations. I was so focused on learning about a new context that I did not so much anticipate what I would learn about my former context. I got to see my own country from afar, from an outside perspective. I saw the news unravel back west from a different context –without the loudness of being so close to ground zero, one could think in the quiet and observe the greater picture. It was really interesting for me to see how the U.S. was truly interpreted abroad (truly or realistically in the sense of relatively to different contexts). Despite many sentiments of hate and disgust, American culture and ideology was everywhere and, too an extent, was greatly envied.

This year, as I have moved farther east, I can now see the U.S. as well as the western world from a different angle. Turkey, especially Istanbul, has been westernised and has evolved greatly, even more so within the past decade, but the deep influences of the past still reveal embedded implications of eastern conservatism in their ideology. This counters the more recent liberal sentiments behind Kemalism of the past ninety years, but they lay hidden beneath the modern mask of “liberalism.”

As I stated prior, I have granted myself the opportunity to partake in social life. This may sound silly or, perhaps, strange but, as one who studies humans, I am an introvert and prefer to observe at a distance. I prefer humans in the abstract and I like to observe but not participate in social life. One thing that I go out of my way to do everyday is to do something that scares me; to live outside of my comfort zone, for here is where I believe that life truly begins. With my new induction to social life, I have observed trends, especially in the youth, the “generation of the future.” I like to be as objective as possible but I will not deny any biases (unintentional) of being an introvert in an emotionally-charged, extroverted society and culture. Here, my introverted behaviours (which I have had to suppress and is actually really draining and difficult for me) would be seen as stigma– it is against the norm and I would be labelled as “strange” and, due to the nature process of judgements and stereotyping, I would be perceived, on a primal level, as a threat because I was different. This doesn’t just apply to social differences, but all differences whether they be physical, psychological, social, cultural, ideological, etc. My objective: to blend. Seemingly strange due to my heritage, I look Turkish so it makes this goal a little more obtainable, but my true self would be immediately rejected.

Let me explain this more, on the primal level in regards to the foundations of human nature where logos is the basic building block. Logos is the power to know or recognise those of the same polis (city, society, state, nation) through the ability of speech and the basic sense of communication with others of our kind that we share. This concept goes beyond for it does not just describe the capacity for language (in terms that a linguist might) but, more importantly, it explains that, as human beings, we share a common moral language and means of communication. With a mutual conception of the just and the unjust, this can make up the political structure of a city (or regime). An added feature, especially in regards to the Aristotelian conception of logos, is the embedded idea of love (in terms of eros). We love those whom we are most intimately related and closest to. Social and political commonality is not the result of calculation (as seen by Hobbes and other social contract theorists), but such things as love, affection, friendship, and sympathy are the grounds of political life and take root in our logos for it is speech that allows us to share these qualities that make us fully human in the contexts of both the social institutions of a family and a polis.

The polis is seen as a natural entity in the sense that it has grown out of smaller, lesser forms of human association: first comes the family, then an association of families in a tribe, then a further association in a village, and then an association of villages that make up a polis. The polis is natural in the sense that it is an outgrowth: the most developed form of human association relating similarly to those of biological charts of human development from these lesser forms of life that evolve all the way up to civilization in some way. There is a second sense for, in some ways, it can be seen as a more important sense in which the polis is by nature; it is natural.

The city is natural in that it allows human beings to achieve and perfect their telos (their purpose). A human is a zôion politikòn (political animal according to Aristotle) for participation in the life of the city is necessary for the achievement of human excellence, for the achievement of well-being.To say that humans are political by nature is not to say that we become human by participating in social life of a polis– it means more than this. The form of association that leads to our perfection (the telos being that of “the good life”) is necessarily something that is particularistic, meaning that the city is always a particular city (this or that particular city).The polis is a small society or, in today’s terms, a closed society. The telos (or purpose) of the individual is to achieve “the good life;” as human beings are social by nature, this must be communally obtained therefore the purpose of the polis is to provide the conditions for the good life of the individual. A society that leads to the perfection and realisation of our telos must be held together by bonds of trust.

Trust is in terms of friendship– of camaraderie. We cannot trust all people. Trust can only be extended to a fairly small circle of friends and fellow citizens. Only a city that is small enough to be governed by relations of trust can be soundly politically secure. The antithesis of the city (the empire) can only be ruled despotically in which there can be no relations of trust in large imperial despotism. In one sense, what follows is the reiterated sentiment that the human being is political in nature and the polis, accepted as existing naturally, cannot be a universal governing state– it can never be something that incorporates all of humankind for it is such a diverse entity. A one state system does not allow for a universal type of self-perfection (perhaps like a multi-state system or cosmopolis) that a small, self-governing polis would have. The city, from an Aristotelian perspective, will always have to coexist with other city states (cities that encompass different beliefs, cultures, ideologies, politics, governments, etc.) based upon different foundational principles and values. This is to say that not even the best city (even a Utopian ideal city comparable to Plato’s Kallipolis) can afford to go about without an adequate foreign policy or system of relations that calls for diplomacy to either defend existing bonds of trust and establish new ones.

Relating to this conception of the city, in terms of trust relationships, is a projected sense of citizenship. A good citizen of a democracy will not be the good citizen of another kind of regime. Partisanship and loyalty to one’s own way of life are required to maintain a healthy city. To put the argument in terms of Polemarchus (from Plato’s Republic), a friend and enemy are natural and ineradicable categories of political life; just as we cannot be friends with all persons (evoking the basic principle of trust), the city cannot be friends with all other cities,and, similarly, the state with all other states. War and the virtues necessary for war are as natural to the city as are the virtues of friendship, trust, and camaraderie. In summary, the opposing vice of trust, such negative sentiments that produce insecurities and fear, is equally natural to the virtues of trust. Trust is the focal point in which connects people on the basis of basic values that are deeply embedded in a anthropological history that transcend into the developed political and social structures of entire societies, cultures, and nations.

With my encounters with social life, political systems, popular culture, et cetera in Turkey, I have made careful observations from both psychological and sociological perspectives. With regards to the image of the mask I presented earlier, I have noticed this especially with the youth. Most (of the individuals that I have encountered) are blatantly, yet obliviously, two-faced and ignorant of their behaviour. Most young Turks are outwardly liberal in appearance, yet they reflect and act in conservative and, often, judgmental ways. This is because they unknowingly stick to what they know– their values. Most young people have not been exposed to anything outside their norm and, when they see something or someone different, they subconsciously perceive it as stigma (and consequently as threatening) and become mildly hostile and aggressive (even for something as seemingly silly as meeting an introvert, or someone that suffers from depression, or seeing a homosexual person). Many students from small towns go to the big city (Istanbul) to study and their entire worlds change– they are shocked by the drastic differences, so they cling to the safety of their small-town conservative lessons and values.

Turkish cultural and family life are very emotional and deep. The primary focus of life here is not of monetary gain or whims of fame and materialistic bases, but of love and relationships. Family life and blood bonds are the most prized trifles in life, according to Turkish culture. In the telos of an individual is to obtain the good life, then in Turkey is to focused on obtaining the flourishing and mutual happiness of a family unit. Turks are proud and are emotionally tied by their heritage as well as blood lines (of the past, present, and future). With this stated, one can imagine how the values indirectly make sheltered lives in isolated Turkish villages with small populations. Values and traditions become life and the senses of protection, security, and shelter become heightened. Affairs are all local and the window of the world is a narrow crack that only sheds enough light to one, small context. In this regard, it is, in general, comparable to small towns anywhere (Cough! Cough! Hebron, ME, U.S.A.– their biased, small-town mindset is a story for a different day). Add the deep cultural and traditional implications, one can only imagine the contrast when they hit the “big city,” also referred to as Istanbul.

Istanbul is huge. It is home to a quarter of Turkey’s population. Twenty million people– that’s twenty million individuals, twenty million backgrounds, and twenty million different walks of life. It is “where east meets west.” It is westernised in the sense of organisation (the black and white outline), it’s shaded (the grey that adds dimensions are depth) by means of communication and media systems, and it is coloured by the amazing elements and complexities of culture. Istanbul is a city of contrast, of culture, of contradictions; it is where ideologies both clash and unite; it is absolutely beautiful.

Now, let’s apply this into context: The small-town ideologies (whether they be of Anatolian traditions, traditions of the Black Sea region, values of the Mediterranean Sea area, of the northeastern contexts, etc.) existing together (also among a noteworthy population of foreigners) in a westernized, European, liberal polis that is Istanbul. With deeply embedded roots in conservative traditions combined with the desired images of modernity of the western world (but seen at a distance) –two opposing ideals– how does one decide? A good citizen can only be seen as “good” to a particular regime, one can only be truly loyal to one theory of thought. The current system in power in Turkey emphasizes conservative values and is threatened by trends of liberalism and responds in aggressive jerks, responsive attacks, to attempt to counter the damage. This became clear with the Gezi Park protests. The liberals were upset about the elimination of the few green spaces left in Istanbul and protested. The AKP tried to contain their actions and sentiment in a, what they thought to be, seemingly harmless counter-action. In reality, the aggressive police action and violence triggered a much larger upset that had lain dormant in many Turks. The New Ottoman identity, I believe, has great intentions and desires of liberalism, but there are many factors that are currently keeping it from realising them. For one, the use of hard power (propaganda, threats, cohesion, force, hysteria) of the current system of control are strong and have a deep influence in the society for it is responsible for the exponential growth and development of Turkey (especially within the last ten years) and sees a common ground with a lot of the views of the older generations regarding deeper values and traditions. Another factor is that the modern conception of liberalism has not been seen by most Turks (unless they have lived, studied, worked, or travelled abroad). Due to this fact, a lot of the subsequent realities and traits associated with liberal ideals are not understood and are actually quite shocking to most and are interpreted as threatening (more on a subconscious level because of its foreignness and peculiarity). For example, correlating with liberal movements in the western world were: civil rights, women’s rights, the sexual revolution, the acceptance of homosexuality, and the acceptance of differences and call for equality. There are a lot of deeply embedded stereotypes and prejudices which make some sentiments of western culture shocking. In terms of women, a young, nineteen year old, female student would be seen in a completely different light if it were known that she was not a virgin. One of the most degrading insults you can tell a young, unmarried girl is that she will “probably give away here virginity before she is married” (I heard my friend’s ex boyfriend yell this to her after she broke up with him and she cried for days). There is not a universal sentiment (I have indeed met some modern, more westernized Turkish students –who lived abroad at one point– but they are harshly judged by small-town, highly conservative ignorants), but it is the most popular. So it is not just the political structure in which the ideology is divided, but the confusion of undecided individuals as well. In this context in which trust is seen as mutual interests and where the state and citizens are divided, which sentiment rings the victory bell and how can a citizen properly develop their telos in a contrasting, nearly oppressive society and political environment?

Liberalism and Westernism are perceived to be cool here. Paradoxically, many young Turkish girls that wear short shorts, put on thick, black eyeliner, and actively preserve and attempt to maintain their outward liberal appearance are conservative and judgemental at heart. When people wear masks, an entire society can be veiled. The basic Turkish values (that which all young Turks have known for eighteen years) encompass tradition yet, when they come to the big city, they are repulsed by the extremes of their beliefs when they see them standing beside modern liberal sentiments (e.g. a woman fully covered in a black burka in a shopping mall). Yet they are also appalled by the idea of casual sex and homosexuality. They are shocked, by both extremes, and are consequently judgmental and confused. Of course they want to express their individuality (liberalism calls for the securing of individual’s freedom) but they do not want to betray their beliefs, values, traditions that are deeply associated within their individual identity. Which theory of thought wins?

This is a very interesting period for Turkish society and politics. As it goes for the context of Istanbul, it is a polis that inhabits two continents; it contains two ideologies: one of the eastern world and one of the west. As Istanbul occupies both Asia and Europe, it is divided by a strong river – a current of roaring tension. There is hope: a common bridge that allows for the worlds to connect. This can be, at times, rather shaky when the forces fight for control rather than for balance. There is see-saw effect in which counter-acting forces (polarised political ideologies) that push against each other, creating profound tension. As time unfolds, will we soon see greater balance or a victor? Tradition versus progress– which set of values will prevail?

The Bridge of Arta

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Forty-five master builders and sixty apprentices
were laying the foundations for a bridge over the river of Arta;
they would toil at it all day, and at night it would collapse again.
The master builders lament and the apprentices weep:
<<Alas for our exertions, woe to our labours,
for us to toil all day while at night it collapses!>>
A bird appeared and sat on the opposite side of the river;
it did not sing like a bird, nor like a swallow,
but it sang and spoke in a human voice:
<<Unless you sacrifice a human, the bridge will never stand.
And don’t sacrifice an orphan, or a stranger, or a passer-by,
but only the chief mason’s beautiful wife,
who comes late in the afternoon and brings his dinner.>>
The chief mason hears this and falls down as dead.
He quickly sends to his wife, with the bird as his messenger:
<<Let her dress slowly, change slowly, and bring the dinner late,
let her come to cross the bridge of Arta!>>
But the bird ignored it and gave her a different message:
<<Hurry, dress quickly, change quickly, and bring the dinner early,
go quickly to cross the river of Arta!>>
So she went and appeared at the end of the white lane.
The chief mason saw her and his heart broke.
From far she greeted them, and when she came near she spoke:
<<Greetings builders, and greetings to you apprentices.
But what’s wrong with the chief mason that his looks are so dark?>>
<<He lost his wedding ring, it fell into the first chamber.
Who’ll go down here and up again to find the ring for him???
<<Master, don’t worry, I’ll go myself to fetch it,
I’ll go down there and come up again and find the ring for you.>>
She had hardly descended, hardly went down into it,
when she called: <<Pull me up, dear, pull the chain,
I’ve looked everywhere but can’t find anything!>>
One comes with the spade and one with the mortar,
and the chief mason himself goes and throws a big stone.
<<Alas for our fate, woe to our destiny!>>
We were three sisters, and all three star-crossed.
One of us worked on the Danube, the other on the Euphrates,
and I, the youngest, on the river Arta.
May the bridge ever shake, as carnations shake,
and may those who cross it ever fall down, as leaves from trees.>>
<<Girl, take that back, make a different curse,
because you have your only dear brother, lest he happen to pass by.>>
And so she took it back and uttered a different curse:
<<When the mountains shake, then may the bridge shake,
and when the wild birds fall from the sky, then may those who cross it fall.
For I have a brother abroad, lest he happen to pass by.>>

Domestic Violence in Turkey

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In a recent survey conducted among men by the Happy Kids Association (Mutlu Çocuklar Derneği) and Kırıkkale University’s Application and Research Center for Women’s Problems in the seven major cities of Turkey, Turkish men were asked the question:
Is violence against women tolerable?

Possible answers:
Yes.
No.
Sometimes.

The results:
34 percent of Turkish men believe that domestic violence is ok sometimes; in fact, they believe that violence against women is “occasionally necessary.”
Another 30 percent of the men polled believe that  violence “with a cause” is acceptable in a survey conducted in the seven major cities in Turkey.
About 28 percent said that violence could be used to discipline women.

The objective of the survey was to identify both the perspectives of men and women on domestic violence in Turkey. It was the first of its kind conducted  solely on men, not women as stated by Dolunay Şenol, who is the department chair for sociology at Kırıkkale University.

Another survey, the  “Nationwide Survey on Violence against Women,” consisted of men and women over the age of 18 in which the participants were interviewed to identify their perceptions about violence against women. The survey was carried out in Adana, Ankara, Istanbul, İzmir, Erzurum, Trabzon and Malatya, and each city was represented by 500 men and women.

The main sentiment that came from this survey was the idea of a “good enough reason” to act violently against women. According to this survey, 34 percent of men said “violence is occasionally necessary,” 18 percent agreed with the statement  that “the man is the ruler of the house and is free to use violence when necessary,” 30.9 percent of men think that violence with a cause is acceptable, 37.6 percent expressed that some principles (such as honor, decency and discipline) render violence necessary, 23.4 percent of men say that violence is acceptable if women “provoke it,” 11.5 percent of men declared that they have the “right to use violence,” and 11.8 percent found it absolutely necessary to punish women when they cross their husbands.

Şenol expressed the need for both men and women to be educated to prepare for a harmonious marriage, not only women. “Individuals must go through training on communication within the household and domestic violence. The family comes for counseling and training only after experiencing a problem; however, it is very difficult to change the relationships after [such a problem].”

The call for education in order to reduce to high rates of domestic violence in Turkey, yet the execution of such has not been adequately addressed. What is the result of the neglect to act?

The New York Times did a story that highlights the effects of the negligence to resolve this problem through the interview of Gokce, a 38 year old domestic violence victim living in a women’s shelter in Istanbul with her two children. Gokce has been on the run from her obsessive and abusive husband for 16 years. Her story includes her husband tracking her down, breaking down her door and shooting her in the leg six times for refusing to return to an unhealthy, hostile home as well as stories of her husband kidnapping her mother and stabbing her brother as a makeshift form of blackmail to reveal his wife’s whereabouts.

“Our state is the #1 enemy of women. I was 14 when my husband started to abuse me, and now I am 38 and I am still living in hear for my life despite all of my cries for help.”

As reliable statistics are difficult to obtain (especially regarding the fact that experts in Turkey suggest a sense of serious under-reporting of domestic violence crimes), many equal rights groups have pointed out major, high-profile attacks to sound the alarm that Turkey is backsliding on women’s rights. This culture war that entails women’s roles in society that mirrors the greater tensions in a predominantly Muslim country in which the state’s official secularism clashes with an ascendant class of far-right, religious conservatives. According to statistics, the rise of such party has caused men to appear to be increasingly acting with impunity against women with an increase of 207,253 reported cases of deliberate injuries to women across Turkey from 189,377 reported the year previously (official data collected by the National Police Headquaters in Ankara).

Other reports, such as a recently published U.N. report, indicate that the incidence of domestic violence against women in Turkey have topped the percentages in the U.S. and in Europe. This report was based on data from a study conducted by the Turkish government that interviewed 12,875 women across 12 regions. Of this study, 39 percent of Turkish women had suffered from physical violence and hostility at some point in their lives (this is compared to 22 percent in the U.S. and between 3-35 percent in 20 European countries).

There has also been a shocking increase in the number of reported murders of women: from 66 in 2002 to 953 in just the first half of 2009. In 2002, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party of the Justice and Development party came into power with the main objective for Turkey to become a member country of the European Union. With this, women’s right were made a priority and all laws that discriminated against women were banned as well as new laws with the objective to protect women (such as criminalizing rape within a marriage, and making harsher sentences for those guilty of “honor killings”) were created. Since Turkey has been accepted into the E.U., women’s rights are now waning and are put on the back burner.

The conservative parties of Turkey, especially the governing party, claim to be advocates for social conservatism in terms of pro-family traditions and values. Debating this, a senior analyst at the European Stability Initiative (Nigar Goksel) conducted a majour study in Turkey and found that the rising domestic violence rates combined with women’s low participation in the work force (28 percent which is less than half the average of the E.U.) reflects that “family integrity” was valued more that “women’s individual rights.” Goksel went onto say in an interview that “the government started off as an unlikely feminist, but it has dropped the ball. Equally, the Arab Spring is pulling Turkey in a more conservative direction.

This is a huge debate. While there has been recent laws passed into legislation that are advocating women’s rights (such as a law that forces husbands that have been deemed “abusive” by authorities are legally obligated to wear electronic monitoring devices) as well as the issuing of proper training of police officers in regards to protecting women, this does not falter the fact that legislation (no matter how well-intentioned) cannot change deep, aggressive mentalities within a patriarchal society nor can it ensure that the new laws will be adequately implemented.
For example:
Every municipality in Turkey with more than 50,000 members is required (by Turkish law) to have at least one shelter for women. The current number of shelters nationwide is only 79- this is incredibly low for a country with a population of 80 million. A local government official in Ankara was reported to have told a conservative women’s group that opening more women’s shelters was “ill advised” because they enabled women to leave.

Finding legitimate protection is proving to be elusive.

Azru Yildirim was murdered. She was shot eight times by her partner in the middle of a busy street in Istanbul. She filed for legal protection against the man more than ten times. A copy of her last letter of complaint was found among her remains.

Where does the façade end and when does the real call to action begin?

STRESS: A love(/hate) story

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STRESS.

I live a highly strenuous and stressful lifestyle.
Paradoxically, I feel both loving and hateful sentiments towards this.
A synopsis of my life:

I am a full-time student with three departments (three majors).

I work two jobs.

I am very passionate about my studies and my work to the point where I spend my “free” time learning, investigating, researching, studying, reading, writing, to gain more and add more to my comprehension and development.
Consequently, it is not work for me; it’s a hobby.

At heart, I will always be an athlete.
I’m a fierce competitor; I’m passionate; I am dedicated; I am aggressive.
I run; I box; I workout; I practice yoga.

I have so much energy but I contain it within (for my true, highly intensive self is a part of me that I keep for me- not as a secret, but for focus, self-control, and motivation).

I am an introvert living abroad in a crazy, fast-paced, extremely social and emotionally charged culture in which I am blatantly foreign to in both mind and speech. My mind works in double-time to process the new information and stimuli while attempting to do so in real time.

I am a full-time sister, daughter, friend.
I take any and all relationships I have very seriously and I do anything and everything (to the best of my ability) for the people I love and care about. If a phone call will make you smile on a bad day, you better fucking believe that I will drop my work or sacrifice sleep to talk to you. I strongly believe that the most important thing in life is to improve the human experience– even something as seemingly minuscule as a moment of happiness (a smile) betters a life; I treasure this and make this my goal.

Even within the paradigm of caring (a seemingly positive attribute), there is stress (and a lot of it). It may seem odd to some, but I feel for others (and so intensely at that). I am very passionate and caring that I actually take on the stress of others and carry their burdens (most of the time without them ever realising it)as if they were mine to bear. I do this, mostly subconsciously, because I invest so much care into people. I feel obligated, as if it were my duty, to take on the pains and stresses of others (whether it is individuals, families, societies –the human race even–) and it is extremely exhausting. As a vividly passionate and methodical human being that has the ability to problem solve abstractly and process information rapidly on multiple levels, this is my design.

So, let me reiterate: It’s a love-hate relationship.

I love being this way for I am passionate;
I am creative and vivid;
I have the ability to see things others cannot.
My mind is a gift and I can use it to help people.

There is a polarised sentiment to this for I also hate being this way.

Having so much energy is very draining.
A highly active mind sometimes feels as if you were your own hostage: you are the one that is tied up and blind-folded, but you are also the one holding the gun against your head.

I am a very complicated person in which I have this extreme sense of duality. My mind races with thoughts that I cannot quiet and this is excrutiatingly exhausting. When I am tired, my focus dims and the unwanted thoughts and pains take over and fog up my head. This results in a very deep, internal depression which spreads through my being like a virus. Once the idea of depression is apparent, it multiplies rapidly and takes ahold and, some strains, distort my thinking so much by clouding my clarity and are extremely to fight.

I use the world internal because I am a strange one for emotion. I am a quiet person, I keep the majority of my thoughts and emotions inside and only share them after I have carefully constructed them into their most concise, precise, condensed form for the higher probability of achieving my ideally intended interpretation and understanding to reduce confusion and unwanted judgements.

I also do not like to show outwardly how I feel, especially when the emotions are very negative.
I do not reveal my problems to people, for I believe that I am Atlas in the sense that if I can handle everyone’s problems, I can sure as hell handle my own.
I get this stubbornness and resilience from my mother;
I get the selflessness and drive from my father.

These past few years, my amount of stress has increased exponentially. The internal method in which I bottle emotion and suppress stress is not healthy (in fact it is one of the extremes that is the worst possible thing to do). Emotion needs to be released and this is why:

Since I was about ten years of age, I experienced weird phenomenons of “fainting.” In stressful situations (early on it was mostly social stimuli combined with hot temperatures), I would black out and collapse. As I grew older, the frequency of these events increased.

Last year, when I attended university in the United Kingdom, they increased dramatically. My plate of stressors mainly included: studying full-time, working full-time, and being involved in an abusive relationship. This became so severe that I was passing out multiple times a week. In turns out that I wasn’t merely “passing out;” I was having seizures.

After frequent hospitalisations, one thousand and a half tests for epilepsy, a bazillion EEG scans, and tests, tests, tests, galore, my bizarre health mystery was solved.

I suffer from PNES, also known as psychogenic non-epileptic seizures. Contrary to epileptic seizures are physiological which are caused by abnormal electrical discharges in the brain, PNES are psychogenic in which they are strictly psychological or emotional in nature. The origins of PNES may be caused by underlying psychological and emotional disturbances, but the symptoms are real. The stress signals are unconsciously converted into a neurological like condition that mirrors epilepsy.

Within this, my body produces too much adrenaline (stress response hormone used in fight-or-flight) and this consequently makes me deal with stress (and relating stimuli) interestingly- usually seizures and occasionally in the form of “panic attacks.”. Stressor stimuli, ranging from daily and seemingly mundane/typical contexts to more complex dilemmas abroad, become amplified for me. If I do not cope with the stress signals appropriately, my body converts the reaction to stress to an electrical charge that mimics the same firings as those in epileptic seizures. It is quite challenging to cope with.

How does one maintain a stressful lifestyle when they have an intense stress-related disorder?

Well, it’s a challenge.

I am determined to maintain my way of life as much as possible. That which pains me the most brings me the most joy. Chaos is my life and maneuvering through it carefully is challenging- this thrills me. Yes, I often get severe depression (especially which the disassociating effects from the frequent seizures) but this comes in waves. I get high-highs and low-lows. I am an organised being and can prioritise my emotional reaction and often postpone them (by pushing them off as much as possible, sometimes to the point where I forget them entirely).

Battling stress has become of full-time job for me.

As an energetic lass and an athlete, exercise and physical activity is my greatest love and escape. When I am stressed, when I need to clear my head, when I want to focus, I put my sneakers on and my headphones in and I take off running. In listening to lectures, news, language studies, and music, I can focus on the one stimulus of the sound as I run the streets of Anatolian Istanbul. Like any student in the 21st century, I am a killer multitasker but I believe that changing the focus from quantity to quality is needed to look at the details and conduct a thorough job. Directing sole attention to one task changes the perspective and allows you to see the detailed and notice things that you would pass over and take for granted if you were not focused or looking carefully. This is the difference between going fast to get many jobs done and doing decent, mediocre work versus slowing things down, putting care and consideration in your work and adding yourself to you work and being creative. In a fast-paced world, it is challenging to slow down but it is necessary for clarity and is worth every sacrifice.

In a similar regard, everyone needs a restful escape too. My dad calls it “healthy mind down time” in which one cleanses the mind. Especially in times of high stress or anxiety, taking a quiet break is healthy. Taking a thirty minute time-out doing a quiet, independent activity is great. I find my escapes in books, I practice and maintain my languages, I release my thoughts through writing, I chill out and watch an episode of M*A*S*H*, I play sudoku (papa Hughes got me hooked), or I close my eyes and listen to music. This also slows down the mind and, by focusing on one task, allows you to re-focus and regain both attention and clarity. With this, one can once again retain the ability to think both logically and rationally. It is not selfish, one needs a break. It is more productive and helpful to take care of yourself in this regard, for when you are healthy and of sound mind, you are bettering yourself and others. It is influential to others and is crucial for sanity purposes. Stress is inevitable in life, but it does not need to control or dictate your outlook on life and consequent demeanor.

Another critical element is sleep. Stress has inflicted me with horrible insomnia, consequently making a perpetual cycle of seemingly never-ending stress that spirals down a deep and dark path only leading downward to negativity and depression. I have been teaching myself how to combat the symptoms of PNES, how to control stress to stop a seizure or get myself out of a panic attack, but the hardest challenge for me has been sleep. I have successfully learned how to focus my attention of a single element, but shutting my mind completely is difficult. I practice meditation and slow down my heart rate and pace of mind, but stress has a tight grip around my brain and I have yet to learn to release myself entirely- I can just loosen the grip now.

Sleep is important, it is the ultimate time of rest where your mind and body can recharge. In today’s mentality (more so in the western world), people are so focused on material life: success (perceived by many to be synonymous with happiness) = money; money = the main focus and goal in life. Due to this, the perception of the twenty-four hours in a day has changed. To some, it seems so short and thus people change their priorities to accommodate their visions for success by sacrificing natural necessities- like sleep. Yes, sleeping schedules, patterns, and rates have changed (dramatically so, especially within the past twenty years), but this damage is not irreversible. Ideally eight hours is prime but, if this is not obtained, never fear: the nap is an amazing thing. There is no shame in napping and the stigma of such is waning for there is truly power within the “power nap.” Taking a timeout to sleep during the day not only boosts energy but it confers both serious cognitive and health advantages as well. Allow me to blow your mind with some awesome benefits to naps: they boost capacity for creative problem solving, verbal memory, perceptual learning, object learning, and statistical learning, naps also help improve upon logical reasoning, increase reaction times, and boost symbol recognition, as well as improve our mood and feelings, and they are even great for our heart health, blood pressure, stress levels, and weight management.

 

Consider this as a public service announcement.

Stress is inevitable in nature. This fact does not dictate its course for stress does not have to define or control our actions. With the appropriate responses and counter actions, we can preserve our ideal lifestyle and promote the same well-being and stability for others.

For just ten simple seconds, pause and surrender—that is, soften all resistance— and let the water of life carry you.

Kadıköy’de Alevi mitingi

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3 November 2013

 (Photograph: Hürriyet Gündem Her türlü hakkı saklıdır.)

Thousands of Turkish citizens gathered in Kadıköy İskelesi for a rally promoting “Eşit Yurttaşlık” (Equal Citizenship) hoisted by Alevi Dernekleri.

Alevism (Alawite) is a Shi’a sect of Islam that uniquely combines traditional Anatolian values of Shi’ism with elements of Sufiism. This religious minority group is predominantly a Turkish faction but has even smaller fellowships in surrounding countries. Alevism is also seen as a group identity which is interpreted as being cultural (e.g. traditions of poetry, music, dance, etc.) and/or political (leftist or Kemalist).

The Alevi group set the tone as well as the purpose of the rally with its slogan “İnkarcılığa, asimilasyona karşı eşit yurttaşlık ve inanç özgürlüğü” (Denialism, equal citizenship, and the freedom of religious belief against assimilation.”

Noon was the time the citizens were called to the pier at Kadıköy, and responded they did– in the thousands. Within appromiximately two hours, the rally reached its peak. The energy has highly charged with frustration and emotion, but calm in terms of peace.

 

Citizens chanted the following:

 

“Devletin Alevisi olmayacağız”

(The state will not be Alevisi)

“Aleviyiz haklıyız, kazanacağız”
(Alevis are in the right, we will win)

“Haksızlık karşısında asla boyun eğmeyeceğiz”
(We will never bow in the face of injustice)

 

The Alevis rally had a cause of its own in promoting equality from the standpoint of a religious minority group. Their dissatisfaction and frustration with the government is a reoccuring theme among various walks of life in Turkey. The president of the Federation of Alevi Associations, Hüsniye Takmaz, preached:

“Türkiye’de yaşayan tüm insanların inançlarını, kültürlerini eşit koşullarda yaşayabilecekleri her türlü ayrımcılıktan uzaklaştırılmış toplumsal uzlaşmanın içinde, laik, demokratik hukuk devletinde eşitce, özgürce yaşamalarının arzusu içindeyiz. Bu özlemi gerçekleştirmek Türkiye’deki bütün insanların boynunun borcudur”

(Beliefs of all people living in Turkey, when when they are removed from any form of discrimination, all cultures can live on equal terms of public consensus in secular, democratic state of law equally and they desire to live freely. To accomplish this aspiration is the duty of the neck of all the people in Turkey “

This sentiment of equality and rights of all Turkish citizens has deeper connotations within recents times. Shortly after these remarks made by Takmaz, the rally commemorated those who lost their lives during the events at Gezi Park. The names of the victims were read out one by one, and the thousands of people present at the rally shouted “Burada!” (Here!).

The co-chairman of the Halkların Demokratik Partisi (Peoples Democratic Party), Sebahat Tuncel was a lively contributor to the rally. She expressed her thoughts behind the idea that Democratization in Turkey is a serious problem. She justifies this but addressing the key issue of the government’s failure to properly secure the freedoms of all its citizens. In the specific context of Alevi citizens, they have struggled with this for a long time. The HDP are promoting the call for equal citizenship through the removal of compulsory religious education for they would like their religious beliefs to be shown respect. From this, the frustration became apparent in her remarks as she changed the tone from thoughts of negotiation to the call for immediate action from the Prime Minister and the AKP.

Last month, there was controversy over a traditional head scarf ban which was resolved. Incidents like this influence the call to action for restructuring the framework for freedom of belief and drive the Alevi’s plea for immediate action. The proposed democratization package seems to be a good alternative solution to the problem, but it has not been taking into realistic consideration from the ruling AKP. The Alevi organizations have been working on negotiations regarding the preparation of a new package that will be less transparent and will benefit all.

If a proper democratization package with a focus on equality is not passed into legislation, it will lead the nation into an even more tense political situation for the developments in Turkey mirror those in the Middle East in terms of the Alevi (Shi’a)-Sunni conflict.

Türkiye Cumhuriyetinin 90 ıncı Yılı

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29 October 2013: Turkey’s Republic Day
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This past Tuesday marked the 90th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey. This holiday celebrates the new era of the Turkish identity from Ottomans to Turks. The keystone of this remarkable transformation that unites Turks still today is the most famous man in Turkey, even 75 years since his death, is Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

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To address the progression as well as the evolving political identity of Turkey, one must address the Kemalism (Kemalizm, Atatürkçülük, Atatürkçü düşünce)- the founding ideology of modern-day Turkey. Also known as the Six Arrows (Altı ok), this selective composition of thought defines progressional political, social, cultural and religious reforms in which all Turkish citizens are declared equal. This was quite a liberal and controversial sentiment back in 1923, for this mantra of equality was seen as a citizen’s right without reference to religion and subsequently established a secular, national, unitary state from the Ottoman Empire (empire of Faith). Kemal’s ideology emerged from within the Turkish traditional context of Comtean scientific positivism which creates the political futures according to human –rather than divine design– so it embodies both secular and modern properties in the fulfillment of many political goals. With a main focus of individualism, freedom, equality, rationality, and accountibilty as well as putting the primary focus on both education and political structures. In the context of the post-WWI world, this brought about European modernity in an Islmaic context, which still applies today both in political make-up and geographic placement. The man responsible for linking the eastern world with the west is Turkey’s founding father and first president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

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In regards to the national hero and icon himself, I refer you to the following article: http://www.badassoftheweek.com/ataturk.html (badass sums him up quite well)

Note: although this article is written in a comical light, it highlights the ironies behind the man as well as seemingly paradoxical values and attributes. 

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