by Tazeen Siddique & mh.
The Turkish series Yeni Hayat is more than the typical dizi we are used to. It’s a story about a young woman, Yasemin, looking to flee her apparently perfect but abusive husband, Timur, with the help of Adem, an ex-special forces commander. Adem, who presents a stark contrast in personality to Timur, has been hired to protect Yasmin from Timur’s long list of enemies.
As the audience follows Yasemin’s elaborate plans to escape from her husband, under Adem’s watchful, compassionate and perceptive eyes, we see many dynamics evolve as everyone is forced to dig beneath the seeming truths in their lives. Reminiscent of elements from Julia Roberts’ Sleeping with the Enemy, and among themes of exploring the building blocks of lasting relationships, we are also confronted with the elephant in the room in many societies – domestic violence, a particularly important topic during this month of October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The show provides artistic and thought-provoking plot devices that bring attention to the issue and showcases how men and women can participate in changing the social narrative.
YASEMIN’S PUBLIC STAND
This powerful speech delivered by Yasemin at a Conference on Domestic Abuse and Violence Against Women is a worthy start to this discussion about some of the issues Yeni Hayat addresses.
“We are women, anywhere in the world. We start each day with a decrease in our numbers. Because of violence against women, our sisters whose names we do not know. Perhaps because of the closest man, or maybe even because of a stranger.
Before, they gave all the beauty to this world like Ozgedzhan Aslan, like Emine Bulut, Guleda Jankal, Shule Chet, Jeren Damar and Pinar Gultekin…like hundreds of other women whose names we cannot list.
Victims of male violence for reasons that no conscience recognizes. Been abused for preferring to stand on their own two feet. Moreover, they are brutally killed.
There is no reason that can justify the fact that a woman has been deprived of her right to live. And it shouldn’t be. Neither economic conditions nor personal, can’t excuse the murderer.
Any violence against women is not fate, but a crime. A wound that will continue to bleed as long as we continue to remain silent.
That is why we are here to hear everyone who says,”I don’t want to die.”….to increase their number. We have hope because we know we can do it.
We are determined because we know how strong we are. Let’s stop the violence together.”
Here is an excerpt of her speech:
Yasemin’s eloquent speech delivered to a mixed audience, that includes her abusive husband Timur Karatan, is not only impactful but inspirational. Even though Yasemin’s speech addresses a fictional audience, the inherent message transcends all geographical borders and calls out not only to the victims to rise up, but invites the empaths, the activists and everyone in between, male or female, to come together to recognize this injustice and push for change.
A TIMELY STORY
Yeni Hayat’s March premiere was delayed to September due to the pandemic but a lot of the filming had already been done, with the focus on domestic violence. What’s interesting to note is that in between the making and the airing of this show, real life events accentuated the importance of the topic, leading to intense social media campaigns across the globe and an unprecedented level of call to action in support of victims of domestic violence.
During the summer, Turkey was shaken with news of the discovery of the mutilated body of Pinar Gultekin (mentioned in Yasemin’s speech), a university student who had been reported missing on July 16th, 2020. Pinar Gultekin was the latest in the string of fatal victims of domestic violence. Sadly, her family is yet to receive the desired justice due to her murderer being identified as her lover. As is the case in many societies, the accused is often spared the severity of punishment that is deserved for such a transgression. New York based artist and social media activist Monica Ramos highlighted this particular stigma associated with domestic violence in an Instagram post by saying that “socially, it’s often impolite to question domestic matter.”
Pinar’s untimely and horrific demise served as a tipping point of outrage and social media broke out with the black and white selfie #ChallengeAccepted, with celebrities and other Instagram users widely participating in the campaign. It quickly spread to a global movement, whether all participants fully understood the reasons or not, and was also taken up by famous Hollywood personalities such as Halle Berry, Jennifer Anniston, Reese Witherspoon to name a few. In a world already reeling from the isolation brought forth by the pandemic, the social media activism took on new heights and, much like #MeToo, it snowballed into something bigger than was expected. Regardless of whether there is tangible outcome, the fact that the issue of women’s empowerment, safety and fight for justice became a topic of conversation is an achievement in and of itself. In the words of the artist Vincent Van Gogh, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
The truth of the matter is that domestic violence is a known commonplace occurrence in many societies, and according to statistics, even in many developed nations. Turkey is known to have one of the highest reported rates of domestic violence at around 40% of women; in the United States, it is closer to 25%. These numbers are further exacerbated by the current pandemic, as partners are forced to spend more time indoors, with economic and other pressures looming large. The fact that both countries post domestic violence numbers in the double digits may suggest that the domestic violence is less about culture than it is about themes embedded in our social systems regardless of culture. In the United States, more than 10% of men also report instances of domestic violence.
Where cultural practices set us apart is in the kind of access and freedom victims have in expressing and then receiving help with their predicament. And it is this aspect of being able to explore options in dealing with such difficult situations that give Yeni Hayat a multi-layered acceptance, especially in light of Pinar’s story in Turkey.
AN EXEMPLARY NARRATIVE
Women, be they young or old, with or without head scarves, poor or rich, beautiful or not, married or single, will continue to be innocent victims of domestic abuse and violence until they resolve to understanding the red flags in their relationship and learn how to stand up to their perpetrators, armed with the knowledge that they are not alone. Social media and increased activism have made it possible to have the common voice be heard much louder than the usual mode of complaints to traditional authority figures.
This insightful article provides a framework for profiles of serial abusers that women should be aware of, and in Yeni Hayat we see the narrative capture the classic abuser – victim relationship. At first blush, Yasemin is a beautiful and intelligent young lady of humble means married to a wealthy and suave businessman Timur Karatan, who appears to be a handsome doting husband, and an aspirational dream of every young woman. In reality however, Timur is a controlling, abusive arms dealer displaying all the symptoms of a serial wife abuser and Yasemin has several failed attempts of escape, only to be found and brought home to a severity of punishment that progressively escalates.
In the series, the threats do not stop with her but also extend to members of her family. Out of fear for the safety of her brother, Yasemin stays with her husband and endures the abuse. It is only out of desperation that she resolves to fake her own kidnapping and subsequent death. She does this by naively seeking help from a dangerous underworld criminal in exchange for a large sum of money. Concerns about the safety of his stunning second wife Yasemin compels Timur to hire Adem as a bodyguard to protect his ‘beloved’ and prevent a repetition of a similar incident where his first wife purportedly lost her life.
Adem Sahin turns out to be first Yasemin’s, and later Timur’s, nemesis as his strength of character, astute perception of the situation and self-preservation skills aid him in protecting Yasemin and gaining the Karatan’s trust. Adem is portrayed as a die-hard soldier, a dutiful, conscientious loving husband and a doting father to his young daughter. In direct contradiction to Timur, Adem’s sense of justice does not allow him to be a mere bystander, or even protector, in the face of Yasemin’s predicament. Instead Adem does what any decent man would and should do, he shows Yasemin how to defend herself against assault. It is heart-warming to see the growing bond of respect and friendship develop between Yasemin and Adem, despite the mutual attraction kept at bay.
With Adem’s mentoring and help, we get to see Yasemin slowly but surely transforming into a confident woman brave enough to climb that podium and deliver her punch packed speech on domestic violence to a rapt audience, looking her visibly uncomfortable husband right in the eye. Later on, we bear witness to her bravado in the face of deliberate intimidation by an enraged Timur trying to teach his wife a lesson. And ultimately, we see Yasemin’s courage as she agrees to collaborate with Adem to expose Timur’s underworld activities and put him behind bars, thus ridding herself of her tormentor.
The noteworthy theme, then, is not only the abused victim’s indomitable spirit, but also the fact that she is enabled by an enlightened man, who is the epitome of a war-hardened macho character. This minimizes the excuse of using innate aggressive traits in men to explain violent expressions because Adem, in direct contrast to Timur, illustrates that a conscientious man will not compromise on his fundamental sense of justice and that there are productive avenues for aggression that do not involve victimizing a woman.
A simultaneous but equally important theme is of Yasemin understanding that there are innovative ways for her to express herself that go beyond cowering under an often biased justice system. Finding a public forum at the event and speaking out about such a sensitive issue is non-traditional, but incredibly powerful in creating a sense of solidarity with other women in the room who may be in a similar situation. It displays her courage aided by a man like Adem, and it inspires others to speak out as well.
AN IMPORTANT PRODUCTION
After weeks of ratings issues on top of the delays absorbed by the pandemic, the show has been threatened by cancellation since the beginning of this month. Perhaps as a nod to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the channel extended the show and has recently declared cancellation after Episode 9, to air on October 29. Despite such a premature end, the cast is worthy of all accolades for their stellar performances, especially Serkan Cayoglu as the righteous Adem Sahin, Melisa Pamuk as the abused but unyielding spouse Yasemin Karatan, Tayanc Ayaydin as the menacing Timur Karatan and Nilperi Sahinkaya as the insecure wife of Adem Sahin, who all shine under the able direction of Basak Soysal and Cem Ozuduru.
Yeni Hayat does an exemplary job with its script in blending empowering tools and mechanisms, embedded in a very dramatized version of such snarky social themes. It drives home that for every Timur, there are many more Adems out there and it is only a collaborative effort across all stakeholders in society that will change the narrative. Kudos to the writers Ozan Agac, Ahmet Ruhan Arca and others for gifting us a story that we can root for while it is based upon the sensitive topic of domestic violence and abuse. Heartfelt thanks to the channel KanalD for airing a socially and culturally controversial show, continuing their legacy of supporting such thought-provoking social themes as KanalD also brought us Fatmagul’un Sucu Ne, that follows the story of a young woman who pursues justice against a group of rich young men who violate her while under the influence.
There are some subject matters that the audience needs access to even if the current ratings system does not support high viewership numbers. Yeni Hayat offers such a story and we hope the channel/ production team will provide a worthy conclusion to this rich and empowering narrative, such that women like the fictional Yasemin and the real life Pinar begin to truly understand that they are not alone and that they can transform themselves from a victim into a fighter, who take control of their own lives and fulfill their dreams.
Article copyright (c) North America TEN, Tazeen Siddique & mh.
Tazeen Siddique is an architect with an avid interest in Turkish dizis.
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