After years abroad, Turks find Turkey isn't home. IDENTITY CRISIS
Istanbul — After living for 16 years in West Germany, the Ozbemars gave up employment at a Texas Instruments factory and returned to their native Turkey. Despite their positive expectations, they couldn't find work; their neighbors scorned and ignored them, and their children balked at the thought of fitting into Turkey's conservative culture.
``We came to Turkey because it's our homeland, but we learned that it's not our homeland,'' says 22-year-old Nuran Ozbemar, who left Munich with her parents three years ago.
``I can't say I'm more a German, but I'm also not a Turk,'' she adds.
West Germany is home to an estimated 1.5 million Turks. Many came in the 1960s, when West Germany had jobs to fill and was accepting ``guest workers'' under a 1961 agreement. It was an opportunity to get ahead for Turkish 'emigr'es, who left behind a country with an annual per capita income of just $248 in 1963. (It's $1,250 today.)
These long-term workers began returning to Turkey in 1984. Their reasons vary. Some, eyeing rising West German unemployment, believed their children would be discriminated against when applying for a seat in a West German university or for a job. Others decided to get back to their roots, resettling in a once-familiar land and teaching their children about their background.
Many took advantage of financial incentives that West Germany began offering in 1984 to departing Turks. A high of 131,000 came back that year, with 25,000 following each year since.
But back in Turkey, they have encountered a host of problems.
Like the Ozbemars, many can't find work. Turkey's official unemployment rate is about 20 percent. Unofficially, it's nearly double that. Jobs are especially scarce for returnees who are not trained for the limited job market.
They get little sympathy from neighbors, who often shun returnees. This behavior comes from Turkey's nationalistic culture, one unreceptive to countrymen whose time abroad accustomed them to a different way of life.
Turks even have a special word, almanci, to describe returning 'emigr'es. It comes from the word alman, meaning German, and connotes someone who has lost his identity and in effect sold himself to another country.
And in fact, after 20 years and two coups which sharply curtailed human and political rights, Turkey is no longer the country the returnees remembered.
Children who were almost wholly raised abroad feel especially detached. That sentiment is reinforced by the difference between Turkey's Muslim mores and Germany's comparatively permissive culture. And when it comes to morality, even parents aren't sympathetic to their children's European ideas.
Social analysts say that some Turkish families time their return to coincide with a daughter's reaching reach high-school age. The parents hope to ``protect'' the daughter's virginity and marry her off to a Turkish man.
``In Turkey, preserving the chastity of the girls still equals protecting the honor of the whole family. This means when they come to Turkey their every move is watched,'' says Nermin Abadan-Unat, a professor of political science at Ankara University who has written extensively on Turkish migration.
Ms. Ozbemar says many of her female Turkish friends in Germany are refusing to return with their parents because once here, they realize, it would be socially acceptable for them to be kept in the house and forced to marry a man their parents choose.
Meanwhile, with their weak grasp of Turkey's history, language, and social behavior, returning children also face problems in school.
``Quite a few of these children did not know anything about their national identity and had very different behavior then Turkish students,'' says Nesrin Hisli, a former psychology professor at Ege University in Izmir.
``For example, we raise our hands in Turkey to get the teacher's attention, while they were snapping their fingers, which teachers thought was some kind of rude gesture,'' Ms. Hisli says.
The Ministry of Education tried an orientation program to assist these children. The program, which focused on the national anthem, the Turkish flag, and student behavior, was widely seen as a failure by all. By l986 the education ministry began sending the 'emigr'e children to separate, German-language schools.
While this allows them to do better academically, it does not prepare them for the highly competitive, Turkish-language university exams in which an average of 600,000 students compete annually for about 150,000 slots.
Nor does it help them integrate socially. If anything, Hisli says, this furthers their isolation and reflects the country's general unwillingness to accept them as real Turks.
``The government's attitudes and actions are having a negative effect because these people are seen as a separate group that no one wants to have anything to do with,'' Hisli says.
That problem from the Turkish government's perspective is minor, compared with a national illiteracy rate over 12 percent and an overcrowded school system that forces students in some cities to be taught in shifts.
For many of these children and their parents, returning to West Germany is not an option. Between economic constraints and visa requirements prohibiting people who accepted financial premiums from going back, most realize they must learn to adapt to life in Turkey, regardless of the difficulties they face.
And although jobs are scarce, their German-language skills make them valuable employees for hotels and other establishments catering to the country's growing German tourist population.
As for the Ozbemars, the parents are already back in West Germany, having held onto their work visas ``by luck.'' Her two brothers and sister plan to follow soon, while Ozbemar intends to finish her university program first.
``After so many years in Germany,'' Ozbemar says, ``we're too different to live here anymore.''