Dogdugun Ev Kaderindir (“DEK”) essays a heart-touching story of the various shades of love and family. It portrays an intermingling of modern, nucleic family values to traditional joint family ones, single mothers to self-chosen orphans, spinsters to young brides, love marriages to arranged ones, middle-class values to elite ones, and more. Through the many vignettes, DEK provides a glimpse into different slices of Turkish society and its associated family dynamics.
Mehdi & Zeynep
The primary story centers around Zeynep (Demet Ozdemir) and Mehdi (Ibrahim Celikkol), who enter into an arranged marriage brokered by their extended families. Zeynep, whose biological parents hail from the lower rungs of the same small neighborhood Mehdi lives in, has been raised by a privileged couple who takes her in to help her with her education. Never formally adopted by the Kayas, Zeynep’s identity has remained in limbo such that she feels a sense of responsibility to both sets of parents, always looking to ingratiate herself to them in a hunger for their love. She remains uncertain about the meaning of true love and is afraid to open her heart to love.
Caught between two worlds
Zeynep feels abandoned and unwanted by her birth family and like a prized possession for her adoptive mother, while her adoptive father remains ambivalent towards her. Her sense of duty and the burden of guilt from these complex relationships guide her decisions, which tend to err on the side of sacrificing her own needs for those of others.
Faced with the prospect of losing her daughter to the Kayas’ economic power, Zeynep’s mother Sakine insists that Zeynep consider marrying Mehdi from their neighborhood. Mehdi is a well-respected man in their mahalle and is Zeynep’s deceased brother’s childhood best friend. He is adamant about not getting married as a rebellion against his mother’s interference in his life. However, when she suffers a sudden heart attack, he acquiesces to her desires and agrees to meet with Remzi’s younger sister.
The hasty wedding
Even though Mehdi and Zeynep hardly has a courtship, the narrative shows a deep and respectful love that blossoms for each other within this hastily arranged and executed marriage. What are some nuances of this arrangement that give their love a deeper meaning than the whirlwind romances we typically see in the Turkish dizis? Drawing upon personal experience with an ‘arranged love’ and story details from DEK, the rest of the post explores some interesting parallels in the arranged marriage dynamic that seem true across cultures where such marriages are still in practice.
In traditional societies, the institution of marriage is treated as sacred by middle class families. The Islamic faith, as well as the Turkish civil code, provide for certain mutual rights within the marriage that include economic entitlements and the freedom of choice to decouple. When Mehdi discovers the truth about his former girlfriend’s pregnancy, he tells Zeynep that it is within her marital rights to leave if she so chooses. Unlike a love marriage, where expectations off each other can make such communications personal and ugly, in the arranged marriage there is a proclivity to turn to the rights within the institution of marriage to establish and execute mutual expectations.
A husband’s commitment
Another such example is one of my favorite scenes in DEK. Soon after their marriage, Mehdi tells Zeynep that her home is now next to him and that she should never feel unprotected. In another, he tells Nuh that as Zeynep’s husband, he will give his life for her. These basic principles define the gender roles in traditional marriages, and in an arranged marriage a couple’s love begins to grow within the backdrop of this framework.
Another dimension in this type of relationship is the passion in their love. Modern romances are predicated by a mutual physical attraction followed by discovery of personalities which eventually lead to the commitment of marriage. This contrast is shown through the torrid affair Emine is pursuing with Farouk. Arranged marriages are the opposite. The couple commits to the marriage, and then must find ways to find love and physical fulfillment with each other. As we discover the small gestures that draw Mehdi and Zeynep together, there is an innocence in their love that is endearing and seem to lay the foundation for a more enduring kind of love.
Innocence and growth in love
Lack of Compulsion
In an average scenario, even if a matchmaker is involved, their role ends once they have made an introduction. In modern times, arranged marriages are no longer imposed by the elders but facilitated. The boy and girl are allowed to communicate with each other and then make a mutual decision to marry, much like Mehdi and Zeynep are allowed to do.
Mehdi’s kindness in giving Zeynep the space to make her decision is symbolic of what has been prescribed by the Islamic faith – that marriage is a union to be celebrated and a girl cannot be forced into such a union. These constructs were introduced in an Arab, deeply patriarchal culture during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammed (571-632 AD) who lived at the peak of practices otherwise. The fact that digressions still continue seems a remnant of patriarchal bias that can misinterpret the tenets of Islam.
Understanding her rights
Mehdi is shown as a pious, practicing, respectful Muslim, and his conduct with the women in his life is exemplary. Even with Benal, with whom he had a short-lived but consensual relationship, his conduct is depicted as fair. In all his dealings with women, his choices are not designed to force women into decisions that work against their self-interest. This level of male understanding and respect for the feminine journey is a refreshing aspect of DEK, and also the reality in many middle-class homes in conservative cultures, where men are raised to be mindful about their responsibilities towards the women in their homes.
A broader family network and the web of inter-connected relationships can be a source of support for young families to thrive. The dizi world often depicts dramatized versions of the worst of the in-laws dynamics and violence, but the implied patriarchy in the family/ social order is an age-old issue that can be traced to common roots across civilizations, with nuances born from practices specific to the cultural history of a region. Having grown up in a joint family in South Asia, I feel DEK is closer to the reality of the joint family dynamic.
The Karaca/ Kaya extended families
The Karaca family members love each other deeply and want to protect each other but it is their human characteristics that create differences in opinions and actions. As much as Mehdi’s protection and love give Zeynep courage, so does the support of her mother-in-law Zeliha. Many traditional cultures still continue with the joint family living, in some cases modified to have separate living quarters but still within close proximity. Often, the mutual expectations off family members create the structure within which a couple is willing to try harder to nurture their marriage. As an example, in addition to their personal desires, both Mehdi and Zeynep will deeply care about the revered mother figure in Zeliha and how her health and dreams could be affected when making decisions about the future of their relationship.
Without a commentary on the righteousness of this, having a patriarchal hierarchy is also common within these joint family orders. Even though Mehdi is the youngest in the family, it is insinuated time and again that his word holds the most weight in the family. His sisters start by asking Zeynep to bow to his authority and request his permission before going anywhere. It is Mehdi who refuses to exercise his given power, and indirectly portrays an enlightened character who respects the inner abilities of Zeynep and helps her to shine.
The male figures in Zeynep’s life
Similarly, across cultures, men can and do play a role in how the women in the family are treated, and how the women learn to socialize themselves in broader society. Zeynep has been brought up with book smarts, with her sense of justice driven by Nermin’s wise counsel and a logical frame of mind nurtured by her intellectual pursuits. However, the important male figures in her life have been some of the worst examples of the male stereotype, where both Bayram and Ekram have enforced their rights in the home by the virtue of the fact that they are men. It does not matter that in both cases they are financially supported by their wives. Even Farouk is an entitled man who struts on the strength of his father’s money. This leaves Zeynep sensitive and over-reactive to any transgression from Mehdi, which we witness on the night of the wedding.
In reality and in contrast, Mehdi represents the values and morals of a young man raised in a respectable family where sense of justice, duty and responsibility guide the character. The average arranged marriage presumes this level of familial hierarchy and decency when a match is brokered.
“The destiny of man is in his own soul.” – Herodotus
The concepts of ‘kadir’ (destiny) and ‘kismet’ (fate) are widespread in the Turkish culture and many others that follow the Islamic tenets for spiritual guidance. Rooted in the concept of surrender to the divine, there is an acceptance that the universe works in concert to bring needy souls together who can fulfill each other.
The chance meetings Mehdi and Zeynep had prior to their brokered one are a source of memorable intrigue for both. Zeynep seems a breath of fresh air for Mehdi. She is intellectually brilliant but emotionally humble. She can blend in with the elite with her accomplishments but has not forgotten her roots from her lower middle-class origins. For Mehdi, who is obviously smart but chose to give up his seat at the university to focus on building a legacy within the mahalle instead, finds a kindred spirit in Zeynep. He feels that their sudden meetings independent of the simultaneous but disconnected efforts by the extended families to bring them together is a sign of ‘kadir’. For Zeynep, she runs into Mehdi at times when she feels the world is closing in on her and being with him gives her a sense of safety and belonging she does not find elsewhere. Despite misunderstandings, they realize that they both picked a partner they can love and respect.
Thus, arranged marriages can often blend in the concept of fate into who we marry, and we see this depicted intricately in DEK. I also grew up with the wisdom that fate decides birth, marriage and death. The signs that lead to our marriage are assumed to be heavenly intervention, and like Mehdi, we give ourselves to the divine design with complete abandon, committed to making our relationship work.
Anecdotally, I married a man after his mother happened upon an article I wrote in the newspaper. She judged that I could be an intellectual peer to her loner, inventor son who lived half a world away in America. His family approached my family with a ‘proposal’, we communicated digitally for a few weeks, felt a sense of oneness in how our souls spoke to each other, met for the first time a week before we were married, and five days later moved into our home together on the other side of the world from my homeland. What else would you call it, if not kadir?
A gorgeous fan video of the arranged marriage story
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