Although their numbers have dwindled in recent years, Turkey’s Armenian, Jewish, Assyrian and Greek Orthodox communities date back to the Byzantine era. One way these non-Muslim minorities keep their histories and traditions alive is through newspapers – but women are a startling absence from the staff and contributors of many leading outlets.
For instance, Agos, a newspaper founded by the Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, who was murdered in 2007, employs no women in its newsroom. The same is true for two other Armenian newspapers, Nor Marmara and Jamanak, as well as the Greek Orthodox newspaper Apoyevmatini.
At least one publication is trying to redress the balance, however. In 2010, three Armenian and Greek Orthodox friends founded Paros, a multicultural lifestyle magazine. Mayda Saris, one of the magazine’s co-founders and editor-in-chief, told Inside Turkey that the social and cultural lives of non-Muslims were poorly represented by Turkish media.
“Although Turkey is a multicultural society with different religious and ethnic groups, there is not much news about the social and cultural life of its non-Muslim population in the media”, Saris said, adding that minority newspapers and magazines play a very important role in that regard.
“Minority publications are important because they promote the richness of different cultures in this country. That was the main reason why we established Paros magazine,” Saris said.
Unlike other minority newspapers, Paros boasts an above-average number of women on its staff – perhaps because all three of its co-founders are women. Paros also bucks the trend by publishing in Turkish, which allows the magazine to reach across community boundaries.
Danai Palakoğlu, finance director of RUMVADER, the Turkey Greek Orthodox Foundations Association, has been an avid reader of Paros since its first issue. Palakoğlu, who is married to a Turkish Armenian, told Inside Turkey that the magazine played an important role in representing minority women.
“I saw one of our neighbours on the cover of one of the earliest issues, with a photo and everything,” Palakoğlu said. “I was so happy to read about their work.”
Palakoğlu said she also appreciated Paros’s coverage of social issues, such as a recent feature on the rise in violence against women in Turkey.
Saris told Inside Turkey that in addition to building awareness of Turkey’s non-Muslim minorities, Paros shows how journalism was improved when women play a prominent role.
“Unfortunately, society is unable to rid itself of patriarchy,” she said. “Minorities have been exposed to the same rhetoric, so they are the same. [But] we flipped that system upside down. I’m so often the only woman in the room in a professional setting.”
Insufficient female representation in minority publications causes serious issues and “leads to negative perceptions of women,” Saris continued.
“Turkey is still a conservative country and a lot of men don’t want their wives to work. Women can’t find the courage to emancipate themselves when they’re dependent on a man’s income. That’s why we try to focus on female entrepreneurs and female administrators, to make them into examples for society.”
For Bercuhi Berberyan, a veteran journalist of Armenian heritage, this marks a welcome change.
“Women are often bolder, and more willing to defy attempts to muzzle the country’s press,” she said. “This makes them a liability to employers.”
According to Berberyan, minority newspapers help prevent Turkey’s historic communities being forgotten or ignored. She described how a friend’s daughter, on telling a college acquaintance that she was Armenian, was asked if it was difficult for her to travel back and forth from the modern republic of Armenia – a country that borders Turkey to the east.
“Imagine, a person who’s 18 doesn’t know that Armenians have lived in Turkey for thousands of years,” Berberyan said.
For Saris, Paros provides a cultural meeting point, featuring contributions from Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Jewish and Assyrian writers.
“We try to organise cultural walks to re-introduce our audience to historical artifacts and their cultural heritage,” she said. “We make an effort to hold cultural events and art exhibitions to bring our readers together.”
More women should consider a career in journalism, Saris said, adding that it was a profession that “allows you to experience sadness, joy, excitement and all other emotions at once”.