Turkey Tats_03 “This is a war on identities,” says Cenk, a tattoo artist based in Istanbul. “I would never draw a PKK flag,” he adds, referring to Turkey’s outlawed Kurdish militants, “but Ataturk’s signature is something I enjoy doing.”
Cenk asks not to share his full name because his art has become a politically charged issue under the rule of Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s Islamist-rooted leader. The act of tattooing the signature of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk—who founded modern Turkey as a secular republic in 1923—has become a sign of resistance in recent years. The trend started as a protest against Erdogan and the policies of his ruling party (known by its Turkish initials, AKP) and has steadily gotten bigger. Turkey Tats_04 Turkey is sharply polarized about Erdogan, who was prime minister for a decade and took office as president on Thursday. Conservatives—who generally dress modestly and are not the sort of people you bump into in a tattoo parlor—see Erdogan’s rule as a democratization process that has enfranchised the pious masses who were largely shut out of the country’s secular old order. By contrast, secular Turks seek refuge in the signs and symbols of Ataturk; in fact, thousands of them formed a giant human portrait of his face this week to honor his memory. And some of the people who fear that Turkish society is getting steadily more Islamized end up getting Ataturk’s emblem tattooed on their bodies.
Baris Yesilbas, a 28-year-old tattoo artist, says people mostly do it on visible body parts such as their arms, wrists or necks. The tattoo of choice is Ataturk’s signature, but some people opt to get tattoos of his portrait or his words. “People do this because they want to show their political side,” says Yesilbas. “It’s a reaction.”
You could say there is a lot to react to. Erdogan is well-known for his forthright advice on how citizens should lead their lives. He has laid out the law on how many kids […]