Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 January 2010
POINT OF DEPARTURE
The Modernization Project of Turkey and the Identity of Women as Political Agents
Turkey, a bridge connecting Asia and Europe, occupies the geographic border zone between two vastly different regions of the world: the East and the West. This gives Turkey a unique position, as it has cultural, social, and legal characteristics of both regions and tries to achieve the values of both in its current search for identity. This makes it difficult and puzzling to evaluate the status of women in Turkey.
Although 98 percent of its population is Muslim, Turkey has had no state religion since 1924, when the Constitution defined the country as “secular.” Indeed, Turkey's commitment to Western values was so widely accepted that, after September 11, many mainstream Western media reports did not even include Turkey on their lists of Muslim countries. Many journalistic articles in the United States and elsewhere advance the view that Turkey is the only modern, democratic Muslim society, a model for the rest of the Islamic world. This interpretation is quite understandable, considering that in the early 1920s, among other reforms, Turkey changed its entire legal system from the Islamic Shari-a to the Continental European system, in effect adopting a Western secular order.
This abrupt transition had a strong impact on the status of Turkish women. Since the creation of the modern Turkish Republic in 1923, the ultimate aim of the founders has been to gain acceptance among the European states.