She came and sat down next to me in the hotel restaurant (I could never sit there alone for long) and said that she spoke three languages: Kurdish, Turkish … and Danish. She knew the occasional English word, but not really how to pronounce it. Not a typical choice of languages, but she had spent the last 32 years in Copenhagen, had gone to university there, had raised four children — but had still married a fellow Kurd. She thought Denmark was a “paradise”: lots of work, good schools, parks, swimming and so forth. She was a stark contrast with the view of how life is for Turks (using the term in its citizenship and not its ethnic sense) in Germany, from other conversations I’ve had. In fact, she thought that Denmark was very much like the US in the way people live their lives. I’m still not sure why the position of Turks is apparently so different in Denmark than Germany, making the large assumption that she is a typical example. There are three million Turks in Germany — perhaps that large number creates a critical mass that both encourages people to continue to live in their own language, and also arouses more prejudice from the ethnically German society they’re embedded in?
I asked her about women here in Turkey. “Oh, it’s not a good life for women here”, she said. “You can’t work, you stay home, you raise children. Besides, there’s not much work here anyway, except with the government. The situation for women here is like feudalism.” At this comment, the man at the next table apparently took exception, turned around and said that things are much different here now, that there’s been a revolution. Her problem, he said, was that she had become a European. At that, she laughed uproariously, and alternately took off and put back on her head scarf saying: “I’m a European. No, I’m a Kurd. Oh, I’m a European again.” The man at the next table did not seem amused and turned back to finish his breakfast, no doubt muttering imprecations against this modern generation of women.
She was not a young woman. Her younger brother was sitting at another table at the other end of the restaurant, not participating unless she shouted a question at him. He looked to be well into his fifties, so she must have been mid to late fifties. Her brother lived in Istanbul, she said, and no longer even knew how to speak Kurdish. The two of them were here for a week visiting family members in the area.
She worked as a social worker, she said, and provided translation services for Kurds and Turks in Denmark at hospitals, schools, gynecology clinics, and the like.
I asked about university for women in this region. “In small towns like this, no. In the big cities, maybe.” And what about the PKK around here? I had talked to her briefly the day before, and she repeated her statement from the previous day — contradicted by the Turkish teacher we were then sitting with — that there were no PKK guerillas around here. But in Diyarbakir (a much bigger Kurdish city), she said that there were many.
She had introduced herself earlier in the conversation, giving me both her Turkish name, Gűlseren, and her Kurdish name, Rozerin. These did not sound remotely the same. I asked her why she had two names. “Oh, it was very different when I was young here in Turkey. You needed a Turkish name. The idea was one country, one language, and there was no room for us Kurds.” Things have improved.