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Living as a Turkish Muslim in Australia

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Istanbul Turkiye
A beautiful moment I captured when visiting Turkiye 2015

Living in a different country to where you or your family originates from can significantly challenge a person with their identity throughout different stages of life. I specifically felt

compelled to write about this topic as we are currently going through a new election in Turkiye and National Sorry Day. Having a dual citizenship is a privilege yet laborious, it is not only challenging but demanding, sometimes confronting and at other times subjective. It can even be confusing sometimes whereby I would like to say that I am more "Aussie" than Turkish but never Aussie enough and perhaps more "Turkish".

My parents came here at a very young age, my mother when she was four and my father when he was 16. They grew up in Sydney and although they moved here with their families with the intention to work for a short period of time they never ended up returning back to Turkiye for 30 years since their arrival. My siblings and I were all born in Australia and English was the main spoken language at home. We went to public schools and lived quite a mixed Australian yet Turkish cultural way of life.

Before, continuing with this post I would like to make a small disclaimer that I am indeed very greatful to be living in a country like Australia. I am proud to be an Australian Turkish woman. I want to extend this statement further with that I acknowledge the Aboriginals as the first people of this land. As much as I teach my children about our Turkish heritage I take equally as great effort to teach them about the people of the land and the motherland as the Aboriginals know it. I will always teach my children that whilst our heritage is Turkish, Australia is home and we respect, recognise and accept the Aboriginals as the First Nations people.

Now, I have never lived anywhere else apart from in Australia and although Australia is home for me - it surely comes with its cons. In my time of being born and growing up in Australia I have unfortunately never really been entirely considered Aussie or never made to feel that way. All because I look different, speak somewhat different and live my life differently. I have been told on many occassions to "go back to my country", have experienced dozens of security checks at airports and more often than not people assume I cannot even speak English. The most controversial part of this entire saga is that I'm not really living as your standard Australian nor am I living as a complete Turkish cultural person. You could probably say I am a part of the "inbetween" community, if such a thing even exists.

My Turkish identity and visiting Turkiye

Culture is an essential part of my life, not as much as my faith but significant enough to influence much of my life choices. It is a valuable part of my identity and I am constantly working to preserve it not only for myself but the generations who will come after me. You could consider it nationalism but with the rich history that Turkiye has and the efforts our ancestors went through to develop such a nation deserves to be restored and preserved for as long as possible. I have a unique love for our heritage, one that I'm proud of and one that I embed into my children.

Within my 35 years of existence so far, I have only been to Turkiye three times 1996, 2006 and 2015. Despite attending Turkish school on Saturdays for a good portion of my younger years and growing up mostly within the Turkish community, having sound knowledge of our history and speaking fluently I still managed to have a culture shock every time I went to Turkiye. On each visit, I was always seen as a foreigner, "luckier" to be living outside of Turkiye and in summary just not Turkish enough. Yet, regardless of the opinion of others I still admittedly and automatically had a sense of belonging. It was different to what I felt in Australia. Being able to relate to a bunch of strangers that spoke the same language, ate the same food and shared the same culture ignited a feeling of affinity. However, after a short while you begin to miss home in Australia and all of a sudden cannot wait to go back. Thus, I would then fall into this emotional cycle, when I would eventually arrive back home to Australia, somewhere deep down I wished I could also live in Turkiye. This wasn't because I didn't love home but because I was constantly seeking fulfilment of my identity in a place that I can relate to the most.

Experiencing a culture shock in Australia

The biggest culture shock I ever endured in my life, bigger than what I did whenever I visited Turkiye was when my family made the sudden move from Sydney to Brisbane in the early 2000's.

Growing up in Sydney, I had a community I fit in with because I had people around me that were almost the same ratio of Turkish, Australian and Muslim as me. We shared similar life experiences, understood the same jokes, had the same restrictions from our parents and of course spoke the same language, ate the same food etc. We always lived in streets with neighbours who were mostly from different ethnicities and we all shared one thing in common, that was the fact none of us were native to Australia. When suddenly moving to Brisbane, a city that was underdeveloped and had a much smaller population than Sydney and not very multicultural I sincerely had a very difficult time in accepting my new place of home. I did not belong at all. I lost all my friends, my community and everything I ever identified with or knew. I went from a private all girls, Turkish and Islamic school to a Public high school in the suburbs of Brisbane where there wasn't a single Turkish or Muslim person. I developed severe anxiety and a new set of insecurities that I would never be able to overcome until I reached a much later age. When living a certain way for so long seems normal to what would then be perceived as weird and strange, was indeed a hard pill to swallow.

Growing up in Brisbane

My high school years here in Brisbane were very difficult and most likely one of the reasons I can confidently say I'll never miss school. At school, my native name was ridiculed, the kids weren't ashamed to let me know that I looked different and my "accent" was laughed at. I was always seen as strange because I was never allowed to the parties and I was never able to explain the reason my parents were "strict".

As time went on, I took every opportunity to visit Sydney as it was a form of therapy and the only time I felt like "me" - there wasn't a school holiday that I ever spent in Brisbane. Sydney was my comfort zone, it was where I belonged, it was the place I considered home.

Moving back to Sydney then Brisbane again

I eventually married my husband who was from Sydney and you bet, I moved back in a heartbeat. I was ecstatic to be moving back to my "home" and I sincerely believed I'd never see the daylight of Brisbane again. I never wanted to go back. The fulfilment that I'd been searching for, for so long was about to be fulfilled and I sincerely believed that was my key to forever happiness. I gained a sense of freedom, I was in love, I was independent and working in my career all in the city that I dreamt of moving back to for so long. Yet ironically after four wonderful years and then having my first child - the definition of what home meant to me changed drastically and Sydney was no longer home to me.

Before I knew it, I found myself back in Brisbane - this time willingly. The plan was to trial living here for 2 years then move back to Sydney if we weren't happy but this year will mark 9 years since my return and I can now confidently say I love Brisbane and if I had the opportunity to live in Sydney - I most likely wouldn't. When I stand outside of the parameter, I can see that I didn't grow to love Brisbane but I did grow with Brisbane and thankfully it became a place I could finally love. I can now see that, although I lived in Sydney longer than I lived in Brisbane - I mostly "grew up" in Brisbane which gives me a new appreciation for the city. To elaborate, through my challenges I learnt to accept and appreciate people that are not a apart of the same community as me. It helped me to evolve into an open minded person without compromising on my own identity, morals and values. Importantly, it even helped me to learn more about the Aboriginal and Australian culture.

When home was once a place of where I identified as "me" the most, it is now a place where my family is safe, where we earn our bread money, a place of serenity and warmth. For me, that is now Brisbane. I now love Sydney in small doses and enjoy reminiscing and showing my children the places I grew up in. I have many beautiful memories there and no matter what, Sydney will still always hold a special place in my heart.

What being Australian means to me + how I feel with three identities

The definition of what it means to be Australian is indeed much different to what it was almost 50 years ago now and it surely means something different to everyone. To me being Australian is having the privilege to live simply and laid back, to meet interesting people from all around the world and discover different places with different cultures all in one country.

As I am now almost middle aged, I would like to say that through my experiences of living in Australia I have a new found love and appreciation for being Australian, Turkish and Muslim at the same time. Australia has given me the opportunity to confidently live as a Muslim woman in my hijab. I have proudly grown to see the increase in acceptance of our culture and faith. I can now visit most places in Australia where I'll be able to find Turkish food and a place for prayer. The multiculturalism of Australia allows me to share a plate of baklava with my Australian friends, invite my Asian associate over for a Turkish coffee and borrow a lemon from my Greek neighbour.

In 2023 I now share my name in Turkish confidently and if you can't pronounce it I won't be offended, you can simply call me Rose. It's ok if some don't understand who I am and it's also ok if you don't consider me Australian enough or Turkish enough because I too now know that yes sometimes I'm more Turkish, sometimes I'm more Australian and at other times I'm none of those and more so just Muslim. It really just depends where I am, what I'm doing, who I'm with, what I'm experiencing but the key note here is - they are ALL of me. It is impossible to be impeccable at all 3 at once but if I give gratitude and recognition to each then I am happy. I have learnt that the key to being happy for me personally isn't entirely dependent on where I live but rather accepting all parts of who I am in my whole form no matter what others judgement of me may be because when you hold that acceptance so strongly home can be anywhere you want it to be. With that, I am unapologetically happy being Australian, Turkish and Muslim living in Brisbane, Australia.


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