A very touching thing happened lately that defies racism and carries a lot of lessons for the importance of emphasizing our common qualities as human beings. A young Greek citizen of Turkey, Yorgo Kurtuli, died in a traffic accident two weeks ago. His father did not hesitate to donate his internal organs to four patients desperately waiting for kidneys, a lung and a heart. All of the recipients were Muslims and ethnic Turks unlike their savior who was an Orthodox Christian and of Hellenic origin. Now what shall we call these people who will carry on their lives with “alien” parts in their body? Can they be thoroughbred Turks any more? God and reality approach us in strange ways? Who can answer the above questions with reason?
I have always been amazed with the much-repeated dictum in Turkey that we can “find the strength to do anything in our noble blood.” As I grew up I found that there are certain blood types and they are common for all humans wherever they live and under whichever political/national identity they hold. Yet, we keep repeating this false pretence for decades to come.
Why do I share such stale truths with you? Well, because some serious looking people (only in appearance, because they are only caricatures of reality) recently formed an association called the Nationalist Forces (or Kuvayi Milliye) named after the irregular forces before the formation of the national army of the Ankara government that defied both the royal Istanbul government and the occupying Allied forces in Anatolia during the 1919-1921 national campaign. The head of the organization, a retired colonel, defended the oath that they were video-taped taking with the excuse that this was the oath that Atatürk and his friends took for the defense of the country during the Erzurum Congress in 1919. Not only is this a myth but the timing and context of the oath pledging the members’ lives for the defense of the country is perverse. Turkey is neither under occupation nor is there an imminent danger of being so. But these people constantly fabricate and harp on the fear that we are under siege and on the brink of dissolution. Let us for one moment surmise that we are faced with such a danger. They don’t even ask themselves why? Why is the existing system so frail that it can crumble any moment? The answer is easy; there is no rationality in their behavior. They don’t thrive on reason but just fear.
It is racism, not ‘nationalism’:
If there was a modicum of reason in their behavior, could they stretch their perversion to produce an oath that reads approximately like this: I, who is born from a Turkish mother and a Turkish father and never had any (racial) convert in my family, pledge my life for the defense of my country and to slay its enemies…” Scary isn’t it? How would you feel if you were an organ recipient from your Greek citizen or a blood transfusion that is important from abroad? Or worse, how safe would you feel in your homeland if you were a Christian minority or a Kurd? Or anyone who thinks differently and is declared an “enemy” by these fanatics? It seems they have made a list of the “internal enemies” of the country and the number runs up to 15,000. The word is that this number could go up to 40,000. Do you know what this means? You may not find any worthwhile writer to read soon or to carry on an intelligible conversation of an intellectual caliber.
This is a suicidal course that must be stopped at all costs and immediately. Such perversion cannot be labeled nationalism and condoned as a positive quality. Nationalism based on ethnic or cultural exclusiveness is detrimental to national unity in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society. How come the ruling class of Turkey does not understand this? Even a crude survival instinct would inspire any person with some sense that this kind of ethnic nationalism that blend into racism will never allow social peace and full fledged democracy to grow on home soil. If not, that nation may never achieve justice, affluence and progress.
Yet there is a constant and conscious effort to stifle the transition from nationalism to constitutional patriotism that embraces all ethnic, religious and cultural elements of the country. This effort is coordinated by the bureaucracy, judiciary and parts of the academic and political cohorts in concert.
The last example of such practice was carried out by the Ankara 3rd Penal Court only a few days ago by sentencing 13 administrators of the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAKPAR) to prison terms (ranging from 6-12 months) and financial penalties for speaking and sending invitations to the state protocol in Kurdish during their first general assembly meeting held in January 2004. Such a penalty emanates from existing laws and those laws are born out of a policy that does not distinguish between the official language of the country (or the state) and indigenous languages of ethnic-cultural groups (that are called mother tongues by them). Why? Because, it is officially declared that Turkey is ethnically and culturally homogeneous. Any historical or sociological reality that refutes this official assertion is an accident that is liable to be punished!
The members of HAKPAR were judged and punished according to the terms of the existing Political Party Law that does not allow any other language spoken at political rallies and party meetings other than Turkish. Furthermore; one cannot speak about mother tongues other than Turkish in this country due to provisions in the 1982 Constitution that is the child of the 1981 military coup and ensuing military regime. According to Article 3 and 42 of the Constitution, together with the Law on Education in Foreign Languages and Education of Turkish citizens in Different Languages and Vernaculars, supported by the repeated rulings of the Court of Appeals (Yargitay), no one can demand or defend education in their mother tongue. The citizens of Turkey do not have that right except Turks. But then, according to the Constitution, every citizen is a Turk. The debate is whether Turkishness is interpreted in ethnic or political terms. However, looking at the practices of the officialdom, the judiciary and the “nationalists” that come in different colors and shapes, this debate is trivial because the second option is not their concern.
Another law to this effect is the 1934 Family Name Code: “Family names are taken from the Turkish language” (Article 5). “Names of foreign nations and races cannot be used” (Article 7).
The 1949 Law of Provincial Administration stipulates that, “non-Turkish village names … are changed … by the Ministry of Interior” (Article 2/D). Most of the Kurdish, Greek, Armenian, Assyrian and Georgian village names are changed in the name of making Turkey look more homogenous. However, what has not been realized is that homogeneity could not be based on either rejection/denial or oppression but rather creating harmony among various groups of citizens.
One can argue that the 1930s and 1940s were rife with nationalistic and racist ideologies and practices and Turkey had its share no more than other European countries. Fair enough! But what about today? Why are we still insisting on these archaic laws and practices that block our way to be a full-fledged democracy and live in harmony. The energy and resources squandered in internal squabbles deny us the affluence and progress, which we are so envious of.
Is there a defensible or moral side in the rulings of the Court of Appeals that calls Turkey’s Christian minorities as “alien” or “foreign” citizens while they have equal rights to these lands and their existence in Anatolia precedes ours? However, if they are “alien” or “foreign” citizens, the perception of the common person on the street is that they are not “one of us.” If so why do they stay in “our” country and own all those properties? And the judges and politicians of this country have not shown enough civic courage to avert this detrimental chasm between citizens created by executive decree or practice. The end result has ranged from the arbitrary confiscation of minority properties to the murder of true patriot and opinion leader Hrant Dink or to scare off the brains and conscience of this country like Orhan Pamuk among many scientists and artists.
Now, let us come to our senses and halt this psychological aggression that we are building in our souls, minds and laws that turn into physical assaults on our national unity, which we want more than anything else