Devlet Baba: Father State’s Children

Turkey  has banned sperm donors and egg donation and has vowed to prosecute women traveling abroad for such a procedure, with a one-to-three year jail term  penalty (click here for my recent post on this issue). Why? To safeguard Turkish racial purity, according to the Health Ministry. There is also an Islamic moral issue — in vitro fertilization is fine according to many Islamic rulings if the egg and sperm are from people married to each other; otherwise it is adultery.

Now prosecutors have opened a case against the Turkish actress, Sevda Demirel, for becoming pregnant via a sperm donor in the United States. (click here, in Turkish. Thanks, Bulent, for pointing me to this.) Apparently she chose a mixed race child to boot. She is 15 days pregnant, having first tried fertility treatment in Cyprus, then the US. She follows other media figures in Turkey who were able to have children using sperm donations from abroad, but before the March 6 ban. Prosecutors are also investigating whether any Turkish doctors or health institutions helped Demirel; they will also be prosecuted.

So much for family values, the worship of motherhood, and women’s rights to become mothers. All denied in the service of racial purity. What on earth does that mean in a place like Turkey where everyone’s Ottoman-era grandparents came from somewhere else: Balkans, Arab world, Circassians, Greece, Central Asia, Hungary, you name it…? Could ‘race’ mean Muslim? If so, perhaps a sperm donation center in Bosnia would work fine. But wait, sperm donation within Turkey is now forbidden as well. Why, if the concern is race (soy)? Is this a way to enforce patrilineality — descent reckoned only through the male line? A state-enforced patriline? The state as tribe, where every genealogical strand is traceable through the male line. In a patrilineal society, property, authority, and responsibility are all inherited through men.

Has anyone given this any thought? I’m particularly interested in this because several friends of mine have been in a similar situation — unable to have children for whatever medical reason, and needing assisted conception through sperm or egg donorship. By what right does the state forbid its citizens to become mothers and fathers? In a country like Turkey that worships motherhood and extols fatherhood, why is there no resistance to this ruling?

13 Responses to “Devlet Baba: Father State’s Children”

  1. Why is there no (or no relevant) resistance to any kind of gov’t action no matter how bizarre, intrusive or repressive? I dunno, I’m curious myself. I’ll give you two links that might help some:

    One is from Umit Kivanc:

    One I just noticed today. There will be a demonstration in Taksim today against Internet censorship and the organizers say the song ‘Minik Kelebek’ from the satirical play ‘Yasaklar’ (mid 80s) will be sung there. This was from post-coup Turkey (probably still partially under martial law) and at that point comedy theater was one avenue for dissent. I found the piece and it is probably as relevant today as it was back then. As a sick demonstration of my perverted humor (helps keep hold on to sanity, or what’s left of it) I should say I am giggling as I link to the film of a play called Yasaklar on the ‘yasakli’ youtube:

  2. Very relevant post indeed, precisely yesterday I was dicussing the state centric politics of Turkey and the reliance of the Turkish people on Father State, accepting rules without questioning them first. The impression that I got in Turkey was that its education system stressed the need to memorize, and a strong nationalist message, instead of promoting reasoning and questioning as well. IMHO, this problem starts at school.

  3. Any time anyone invokes the concept of “racial purity,” they have essentially just branded themselves “stupid beyond belief.”

  4. Bulent: Wouldn’t you expect a visible response to be channeled through activist organizations? You know, the very kind the coup of 1980 was calculated to crush. Civic culture is anemic by consequence. It will take time for it to recover.
    Whenever I read about something that irks me, I inform my friends so at least they can make educated decisions come election time. The next step is to take part in activism to signal (esp. to the government) your position. Few people do that in Turkey, with notable exception of labor unions. There is no effective resistance to the censorship plague, for example. I don’t know what it would take for the government to fix the problem. Surely the number of people opposed to the current censorship practices is significant. Normally the opposition parties would take advantage of this, but they are complacent, ineffectual. In that respect, I would say that are behind the times, and the people they purport to represent.
    As for the actual issue at hand, I can think of several possible motivations. In no particular order:
    * Opposition to women having sole control over procreation.
    * Opposition to non-traditional means of procreation.
    * Obsession with ancestry (this applies to foreign donors). You are Turkish if both your parents are Turkish. I must have said it before, but the Turkish nation is a hotel you can neither voluntarily enter nor leave. There is probably a great Russian reversal joke to be made out of this but I’m too tired right now.
    Perhaps women are reluctant to fight for their rights because infertility is something of a taboo. Some even blame the woman (don’t be infertile!)
    Let me finish with a question of my own: how many Turks are associated with women’s rights organizations? What are their primary motivations for joining, and what deters those who don’t that are nonetheless passionate about the subject? Knowing this might be helpful in gauging what kind of a response we should be expect.

  5. Emre,

    Wouldn’t you expect a visible response to be channeled through activist organizations? You know, the very kind the coup of 1980 was calculated to crush. Civic culture is anemic by consequence. It will take time for it to recover.

    Actually, I don’t know if activism of the kind that’d both be effective and articulate (w/o being violent) existed in the 70s. You are right about the crushing, but then again it isn’t clear what exactly was crushed and what was left (we know which organizations flourished in post-coup Turkey, you see many of their propaganda personnel advertised here).

    This is an interesting question that I’d like to see answered. I am unaware of studies if they are done at all. What I have seen is mainly propaganda (that is I can spot deliberate concealment or misrepresentations of factual stuff I remember). Keep in mind that the social science environment here — as we observed on this very blog — produces and tolerates the kind of people who ask meaningful-looking questions about Ozal’s transition to power w/o mentioning the coup. It’ll take a hell of a lot of convincing for me to trust that community about things I cannot verify.

    There is no effective resistance to the censorship plague, for example. I don’t know what it would take for the government to fix the problem. Surely the number of people opposed to the current censorship practices is significant.

    I am not convinced the opposition is significant or they know what exactly they are opposing. I am sure people dislike the inconvenience introduced by the gov’t interference with the net, but that’s about it. I have asked people on and off the net about freedom of expression and it does seem that they do not want it in the way that’d be conducive to the free kind of Internet. Check out what people here are told about freedom of expression even by those who claim they want what the US has, you’ll find out they are misled or lied to. (A few weeks ago I read something by a ‘liberal’ who claimed banning ‘insults against sacred stuff’ was universal. I am serious, things that can be verified to be utterly false in a few mouse clicks do get passed around as fact by respected pundits here. It is that bad.)

    The ‘net as we know it (or knew it as of the 80′s and 90′s) might very well be a US phenomenon[1], the native European version could well have been something like the heavily regulated, tracked, licenced Minitel running over the ISO stack and the Turkish version might be something like the open access pages of Star, Zaman, Taraf (or Dogan’s stuff) running over something half-assed our academic bureaucrats came up with. The particular kind of ‘free’ environment emerging on top of ‘free’ TCP/IP (or things like UUCP even, for usenet &c.) might be more of a cultural artifact of a comparatively odd place than a universal (as it were) phenomenon.

    Check out the protection of the licensure ‘right’ of governments and the list of possible restrictions in Artice 10 of The European Convention on Human Rights: Compare this to what the First Amendment + the Supreme Court decisions has accomplished over the past few decades. Now consider that when I mention — in actual off the ‘net conversation — that parts of the CDA was struck down by SCOTUS, smarty educated people here are puzzled because:

    – The crowd we have for ‘pious’ columnists have told them what the congress decides ‘goes’ in the US. (That is, SCOTUS is ineffective against the ‘will of the nation’ as expressed through a simple majority in the parliament.)

    – They believe the bureaucratic environment and all kinds of registrations licensure and control is the norm in the ‘civilized’ world unless you choose to operate in ‘merdiven alti’ (‘gray market’, undocumented, illegal).

    Given all this do you see why things that look simple and clear cut from the US are very complicated and next to impossible to articulate and communicate here? Anyway this is what I can see. Perhaps I’m wrong?

    [1] And a transient one at that, but I won’t touch that here.

  6. Emre,
    On the other question.
    Let me finish with a question of my own: how many Turks are associated with women’s rights organizations? What are their primary motivations for joining, and what deters those who don’t that are nonetheless passionate about the subject?
    Some of the women I know are not ‘deterred’ but are simply not interested. They deal with whatever problems they run into in their own ways. If this sperm thing were a problem for them, and they could afford it, they’d find a way to do it w/o provoking any gov’t action. Unlike show biz people they wouldn’t talk to the press about such stuff and force the bureaucrats’ hands.
    In this case and for the kind of people I have in mind, an alternative way to do this would have been to get this thing done in the US and then either stay there (through work that can be lined up if you have the right skills and connections) or just re-visit for birth to get the kid a US birth certificate. Whatever paperwork’s needed here can be done through a lawyer that’s, um, skilled in working the levers of our bureaucracy.
    Reminds me of a scene I witnessed when a somewhat rich Turkish guy consulted an immigration lawyer in the US (I was there as a friend and a translator in case his English failed him). The issue was his securing himself permanent residency through investment in the US. After charging him the consulting fee, and outlining the possible procedures he might want to follow, the lawyer said: “if you do have the $1M to invest here, you really don’t have an immigration problem, you have a tax problem.” I could have told him this for free, but never mind.
    Same kind of thing probably holds in this case. People who can comfortably manage to arrange and pay for this kind of procedure in the US by themselves probably do not have paperwork problems that’d bother them here. Note how the gov’t threatens to go after those who may have helped her here and under their jurisdiction, they probably cannot do anything about an American baby with a Turkish mom and a John Doe as a father if the mom pulled all this off by herself. It seems to me, especially in a globalized world, governments usually cannot truly prevent things for individuals, but they can make them very expensive/inconvenient and exclude the ‘masses.’ (Same deal for ‘net censorship. If you have the right kind of knowledge — for free or a few tens of dollars a month — you can tunnel out to a host in the US and bypass whatever they do. You cannot reach the ‘net public here that way, though, if it were your speech that they were censoring. The masses here is what they care about anyway, so everybody is happy under that scenario and if you don’t advertise your actions nothing horrible will happen to you. You do see how this is a disincentive for people who have the advantage of knowledge to turn it into community action, no?)

  7. Stres Abi weighs in: Soyunuza dedirtmeyin.

  8. So you are saying that there is a culture of working around the law. The solution to that is to have sensible laws, a more efficient judicial system, better enforcement, and awareness of the laws.

  9. Yes there is a culture of working around the law. Of course. What you outline is where we might want to end up but it says nothing about how to get there. People here, by and large, do seem to want censorship-like control of some sort on expression[1] and probably would — if they could — act to prevent the kind of single motherhood through sperm donors that we talk about. It is from the same people we wish to get support for things you and I might deem sensible. (I haven’t even started about the power of the state here.) If you actually know a solution, I am all ears. I think things will evolve eventually — there is no quick fix.
    I don’t see women in their 40′s whose minds are set to go that route attempting to organize demonstrations in hopes of changing those laws. I do, however, see those with the means and the knowledge going abroad and getting it done quietly. The regulators probably know they cannot stop those women, all they seem to be after is making sure the know-how and the connections are unavailable to those who’d need help from Turkish medical personnel. These celebrities (is this woman a celebrity?) are probably making things worse by advertising what they’ve done.
    [1] People are sometimes acting as though control on ‘net came out of nowhere. We had an existing legal framework that regulated speech and the press. The difference was that whatever got censored or not produced at all due to fear of prosecution were simply invisible. Now that people can travel to other jurisdictions through the wires, they have access to ‘speech’ that would never have been accessible in this jurisdiction and when that problem is dealt with locally in a very heavy handed manner, they scream. Do you see people demonstrating against 5816 (Ataturk protection law) or asking for insult laws to be repealed? I don’t. Even the reaction to the Swiss Army Knife version of TCK-301 was feeble.

  10. If my memory doesn’t fail me, when this was first discussed, I was pressed to think this law wouldn’t have entailed woman’s prosecution. Now we see the woman getting nailed first, and the search for medical personnel is on.
    I am becoming increasingly pessimistic in that nothing is gonna evolve for the better, but it’ll all implode under its own weight (read: mass stupidity and hubris). A headline caught my eye the other day that mentioned a cabinet minister referencing a constitutional clause about the state’s duty to protect the youth to justify what I am sure must be another wacko repressive thought/legislation/regulation. Actually I am not sure as I couldn’t be bothered to check. Turkey is becoming an insult to intelligence. That’s how I feel: sad.

  11. Nihat, you might want to go out after work and have a fruit or two and have some fun.

  12. Bulent, memleketi kurtarmaya eslik edecek adam yok ki while having fruit. If your transience is pointing this way, I’d like to know.

  13. According to the recent news, this was one of the lies of Sevda Demirel. But this has nothing to do with the central question of your post.

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