Last June, Seyran Ates, a lawyer, was waiting for a U-Bahn train in Berlin's Mockernbrucke subway station with a client for whom she had secured a divorce when the client's husband stormed onto the platform. He began beating up his ex-wife. Then he turned on Ates. Ates recalls seeing a number of men standing around, watching it all happen, as she danced from side to side with her attaché case, trying to fend off his heavy punches and kicks. It was not the first time she had been attacked in the line of duty.
A Turk of partly Kurdish descent, Ates arrived with her parents in the West Berlin neighborhood of Wedding in the late 1960s, when she was 6. Her parents were loving, but it was a traditional kind of love that involved much scolding, grounding and disciplinary slapping. School was Ates's only escape from the house, and she excelled at it. She knew she wanted to be a lawyer. Just before her 18th birthday, as her mother and aunt were beginning to make plans to marry her off, she ran away. This flight was not a simple abandonment of her family, to whom Ates remains close. Nor was it an abandonment of her ancestral culture. True, Ates has built her career in law around a German and to many Turks, idiosyncratic and hostile conception of women's rights. Yet she speaks to her young daughter in Turkish because, she says, "I want her to understand why I cry when I hear my favorite Turkish songs."