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Turkey Battles a Tide of Foreign Prostitutes

Europe: Government tries to crack down on so-called 'Natashas,' or immigrants in the sex trade. It may get harder to become a citizen.

June 16, 2002|SELCAN HACAOGLU | ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

ANKARA, Turkey -- Olga, a slim 24-year-old Russian blond, never met her Turkish husband. A Russian prostitution ring arranged the marriage through bribery to provide her with instant Turkish citizenship--a shield against deportation if she is ever caught.

Prostitution has become more visible in Turkey since the collapse of the Soviet Union led to an influx of tens of thousands of women working for sex gangs. There are so many Slavic women working as prostitutes that Turks have taken to calling any foreign prostitute "Natasha."

The government, which is trying to crack down, characterizes prostitutes as disease spreaders and spies. Islamic clerics curse them as "evil foreigners."

Prostitution is legal here only at government-controlled brothels housing Turkish women, and foreigners are subject to deportation if caught.

"They can't deport me. I am a Turkish citizen," Olga said at a nightclub full of young women from former Soviet states.

Olga said she married and divorced her Turkish husband without seeing him. She did not know how much he was paid. "I never wondered about who he was," she said.

Some prostitutes have married poor Turks who were paid as much as $3,000, authorities say. Newspapers have reported cases of Turks with mental illness being used as marriage partners without their knowledge.

As part of its crackdown, the government wants to make it harder to become a citizen. Legislation before parliament would require married couples to live together for three years and to undergo a security investigation before citizenship could be granted.

The government's campaign began after an intelligence report, titled "Natasha Activities," warned that some foreign prostitutes might be engaged in acts of espionage.

The report said some foreign prostitutes are hired by government officials and could be spying on military plans and weapons contracts, according to Turkey's Sabah newspaper.

The women are interrogated, sometimes for days, by their country's intelligence service when they return home, the report said.

But there have been no reported cases of espionage involving foreign prostitutes.

Recently, police have intensified raids on seedy hotels around the country, deporting hundreds of women. Police closed three hotels in the eastern city of Kars for 80 days for allowing prostitutes to solicit customers.

A United States human rights report for 2001 said many women come to Turkey expecting to work as models, waitresses or dancers but find themselves forced into prostitution.

"Girls from Romanian orphanages have been kidnapped and trafficked," the report said. "Women who attempt to escape their trafficking often were beaten, raped or killed."

Women are also trafficked through Turkey to other countries in Europe, the report said.

The skin trade is visible in most major Turkish cities, where prostitutes perform their trade in cheap hotels like those in Istanbul's commercial Laleli district or on the outskirts of the Mediterranean resort town of Antalya.

But some "Natashas" are visible poolside at five-star hotels and at expensive sports clubs, where most male customers are businessmen, government officials and diplomats.

Olga, who said she is an economics student in Moscow, sports a quality black blazer and a golden blouse, matching her hair. She wears almost no makeup.

"My family thinks I'm working here as a tourist guide," she said in fluent Turkish. "Occasionally, I fly home to make them happy with gifts."

Olga said she came voluntarily after learning how much she could make as a prostitute. The $150 she earns nightly is more than Turkey's monthly minimum wage of 165 million Turkish lira, or about $120.

She sometimes goes to other Turkish cities "for friends," who she said include Turkish businessmen, some Israelis and American servicemen at Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey.

"Of course, they have to pay my travel expenses too," she said, waving away a cloud of cigarette smoke.

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