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Using culture to alter deeply rooted stereotypes
1.       tunci
7149 posts
 08 May 2011 Sun 12:24 am

Using culture to alter deeply rooted stereotypes



Sabine Küper Büsch and Thoman Büsch are German independent filmmakers based in Istanbul. Bringing together their respective backgrounds in socio-politics and culture, the pair focuses on producing contemporary documentaries on human rights issues, politics and the arts. They aim to alter some of the Turkish cultural stereotypes present in Europe and strengthen the cultural ties between Germany and Turkey
Turkish soap opera ´What´s Fatmagül´s mistake?´ focuses on rape issue, which is a new phenomenon, says Küper Büsch.
Turkish soap opera ´What´s Fatmagül´s mistake?´ focuses on rape issue, which is a new phenomenon, says Küper Büsch.


Turning back the clock 18 years, Sabine Küper Büsch recalled a conversation she once had with a Turkish exchange student from Istanbul while she was a political science student in Germany, and before her own trip to Turkey.

“I remember I approached this guy with lots of stereotypical questions about headscarves and about the conservative lifestyle in Turkey. He tried to alter my image of the country, but I didn´t believe him.” It was not until she spent four weeks visiting a friend teaching German in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir that Küper Büsch realized the students she met were not so different to her.

Realizing at that moment that she hardly knew anything about the real face of Turkey, Küper Büsch described the trip as a starting point where she began to perceive the differences between urban-rural Turks and understand more about the social status of women. Increasing her visits to Turkey, Küper Büsch opted to research a Turkish topic for her master’s thesis and focused her journalistic career on Turkey for the last 18 years.

Since 2001 she has also been working on documentary projects with her husband, Thomas Büsch who came to Istanbul on a residential art scholarship and spent some time as a creative director in the Turkish advertising sector.

Altering cultural stereotypes

For the programs the pair produces for German television, they asserted the importance of altering the image Turkey has in Europe. As this year marks the 50th year anniversary of Turkish migration to Germany, Küper Büsch described to what extent the image of Turkish culture in Germany had been shaped by the working class people from rural areas in Turkey, who have acted as a replacement for European proletarian culture, not just in Germany, but also in countries such as France and Switzerland.

Turks were seen as low-profile and very patriarchal, but especially in the past 10 years I have seen rapid changes in Turkish politics and culture. I find it very exciting and I see Istanbul as one of the most promising capitals in the world at the moment,” said Küper Büsch.

Commenting on the recent surge of people flocking to Istanbul from all over the world, Küper Büsch described feeling torn as a German between her own positive experiences of Turkish hospitality in the country, while knowing that few Turks would be welcomed in the same way when they went to Germany. With this in mind, the Büschs strive to change negative cultural stereotypes that may exist in Germany through their cultural and political programs on Turkey.

“In the 90s I was writing and doing lots of programs on human rights issues and women´s issues, which I still do now. We are also focusing on literature and topics that represent the so-called ‘high culture’ in Turkey,” said Küper Büsch.

Convinced that the image of Turkey was slowly but steadily changing, Küper Büsch also spoke of a new program from the Turkish Culture Ministry with regards to translations of literature. Referring to the German nation’s love of literature, she said it used to be only Orhan Pamuk who was known to the outside world, but now Germans were able to gain access to younger Turkish writers.

Woman´s Issues

Although Germany is a rich, developed country, which ranks 13th on the Gender Gap Index, Küper Büsch pointed out that there were still many problems faced by German women in comparison to the success experienced by their counterparts in Scandinavia.

There is still a slow working potential for women and there are still discussions about how the public sphere has to cover children´s education. Yet when the average German is talking about Turkish culture, they see headscarves and suppressed Turkish females who are abused and have too many children,” said Küper Büsch.

Attributing the rise of problems for some women to the growing discrepancy between urban and rural culture, Küper Büsch referred to the popular Turkish soap opera ´Fatmagül´ün Suçu ne?´ (What´s Fatmagül´s crime?) to illustrate her point. Describing how she hated the TV series at the beginning due to its rape scene, which was repeatedly screened, Küper Büsch commented on the differing opinion between her and her Turkish friend, Hava. “I have a friend who comes here weekly to work and as she grew up in a village close to Ankara, she watches this series every week and likes it. When I asked her why she likes it, she replied that, ‘It´s because it´s how things are.’”

Küper Büsch said the portrayal of rape or sexual abuse scenes on television was a new phenomenon in Turkey, but that she saw it as a sign of progress that women such as Hava from rural backgrounds were accepting these scenes without any problems with the rest of their family. “She [Hava] is from a rural background and she knows the problems of being married against her will and of underage marriage. So what I usually hear from her is, ‘Well it´s terrible what they are showing on this series, but it´s the reality I know and money wins. You cannot change things.’”

Küper Büsch acknowledged such thinking sprung from a situation whereby some women felt they were unable to influence their lives. Although she said there were very strong women in Turkey, she pointed out the lives of many were still shaped by their material circumstances.

An attraction to Turkey´s cultural heritage

Arriving in Istanbul 10 years ago on a residential art scholarship, Büsch also spent time teaching at a university and working as an online creative director, before focusing on documentary making. “I was always very attracted to Turkish culture because it was very different from European culture, but I don´t want to compare the two. I studied art history, but history of the culture of the Islamic world was not covered in Germany then and I wanted to research paintings, ornaments and carpets in Islamic culture.”

During this time as a creative director for websites and commercial presentations, Büsch spoke of working in the industry when online advertisement was booming and investors earned up to 10 times what they spent in Turkey. When the economic crisis hit in 2001 and the market crashed, Büsch spoke of how agencies would have been better equipped to deal with the aftermath had they also spent more time and investment on developing solutions in the software business beforehand.

At the time of the economic crisis everybody was going bankrupt as a company because there was no movement of money anymore. If some agencies had been able to develop some investments in solutions that were able to sell internationally, they would not have been so badly affected.”

“There are no innovations coming from Turkey with regards to the computer and network business. They don´t have hardware productions or software solutions, the hardware is mostly coming from China and Japan and the software is coming from Europe, India, United States and Taiwan. If you are in this kind of hardware productions industry before you can start you have to develop a lot of things, which cost money, and this is not typical for Turkey yet.”

When reflecting on the changes Turkey underwent in the last eight to 10 years, Büsch spoke of how the politics of the state was more orientated toward poor people migrating to the cities from the countryside.

“It´s more equal than 10 years ago, I mean when I came here 10 years ago, I think that less than 10 percent of the population earned 80 percent of the country´s GDP. This used to be a big problem that ended often in conflict but I think that things are different now. This is why Turkey is different from Syria or Libya. I think in Syria something like this is still happening, only a few people are obtaining the money made by the country and this is why people are going out onto the streets and demonstrating and fighting for better life conditions. In this regard, Turkey has developed much better and there are not these differences between poor and rich people anymore, that changed during the time that I was here,” said Büsch.

An equal partnership

In the duo´s recent film project entitled “Cultural Bridges,” shot within the framework of the European Union, Küper Büsch spoke of their interaction with Turkish students throughout the country and described their self-confidence with regards to Turkey´s possible EU membership.

“In their commentary, they seemed to be saying OK we know we need reforms in Turkey, we appreciate Europe is assisting us but actually we don´t want to be helped, we want to develop ourselves and it´s not so important for us whether we join the EU or not.”

“When we do projects with the Turks we consider ourselves just as equal partners having a conversation on an equal level where we are no longer the European outsider,” said Küper Büsch

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