Page 23 - MIGRATION

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MIGRATION, MEMORY, HERITAGE: SOCIO-CULTURAL
APPROACHES TO THE BULGARIAN-TURKISH BORDER
the gypsy women in this sphere because the locals valued themmore and started to prefer them.
The shortage in this niche of the labour market, which can be explained with the reluctance of
local Turkish women from lower social strata to occupy it due to religious and other reasons (Parla
2009b), is that which accounted for the swift labour realization of the re-settler women and led to
them becoming the economic corner stone for their families in the first years of living in Edirne.
Its low-qualification position notwithstanding, this occupation has ambivalent significance. It is
not prestigious from the point of view of a successful career, but has high emotional and moral
value – the employers allow the employees into their most intimate spaces, into their home, and
make themwitness to their family life, entrust themwith their children. In this line of work earning
trust is a key moment and the preference on behalf of the locals for the newcomers from Bulgaria
expresses a significant degree of acceptance and connection. The participation of gypsy women in
such an activity is revealing of a qualitative difference between their positioning in the Bulgarian
and Turkish societies. Even if my informant from Izmir was rather bitter about being placed at the
same level as the “gypsies” (i.e. the lowest social position in his view), the example from Edirne
shows that gypsies are not so dramatically excluded from the rest of society the way they are in
Bulgaria since people entrust them with their children and households.
What the above examples also illustrate is that at the local level the re-settlers occupy
an ambiguous and contradictory position in Turkish society. This acceptance/non-acceptance
on behalf of the locals, intensified by the imported from their birth place burden of prejudice
and by their own sense of having lost “their place” as a result from the dramatic circumstances
surrounding their out-migration, foster among them strategies for self assertion and ambition to
win social prestige which at the individual level acquires a host of expressions but on the whole
becomes a factor for group consolidation and shapes the group’s public image.
The example from Istanbul confirms this. In that city my informants were mostly people
with a relatively higher level of education and better careers, especially as compared to their
counterparts in Izmir. Among them there were tourist agents, translators, engineers, municipal
officials, owners of coffee shops, of grocer’s, and of sausage production lines, qualified builders,
medical nurses, teachers and university lecturers. The circles in which they moved as well as their
financial status sharply separated them from the social bottom. That which was evident there
too however was their ambiguous position of acceptance/non-acceptance. Here, just like in
Edirne, they had long left the dorms and residences in which they were housed initially. Their
new homes were spacious and well-furnished and, on the whole, exceeded that which people
of the same profession would be able to afford in some large city in Bulgaria. The residential
areas however, even if well-maintained, merited contradictory assessments. While some of my
informants emphasized the advantages of their residential districts – Esenler, Avcılar, Bayrampaşa
– the reactions of the local Turks I talked to were unequivocal – these were not preferable places
to live. A. and his wife, 35, residents of Avcılar, expressed their satisfaction with the achieved level
of material success and praised their district by saying that the richest people in Istanbul had villas
there. In another conversation, B., aged 70, who was a local intellectual, explained that this used to
be the case in the past. After the last devastating earthquake in the region everybody abandoned