Turkey, divided or identity nationalism

The first demand we heard from our elders with official titles such as teachers, administrators, commanders etc was to be ready to give our lives for our country. Hardly anyone told us to invent or to discover something, to write a novel, to be an artist, to be an explorer or to be scientist of international stature. These qualities were for another kind that we felt alien to. Our childhood memoirs are full of authors arrested, books burnt and hundreds of intellectuals imprisoned for reasons we did not fully understand and were afraid to ask.

Despite these obstacles some of us found our way to these alien territories, but mainly out of our volition and after a bewildered journey like Alice in wonderland. In our professions or occupations that do not require dying but working for our country now we are reluctantly given body guards and police protection after our repeated appeals. Instead, we would have expected public sympathy and ovation for our achievements other than just dying but so far we have been awarded little of it, and officially none. One wonders why?

The simplest answer lies in the work we do other than dying. We produce knowledge and try to understand the human condition in the global reality. Knowledge is an instrument of change, so it is transformative. Hence it is dangerous for any ruling/power group or any regime that is out of tune with the realities of the world and jealous of its unaccountability and opaqueness of its deeds. It is no wonder that social scientists, authors and artists that inquire into and bring out the human potential and their need of freedom to do it are seen as subversive. Their demands are denied in every authoritarian country. For they ask questions, question traditions and ongoing policies that would undermine the very foundation of the legitimacy of power holders. Their efforts end up in new answers to old and new situations that are unacceptable to the power elite.

At the end the intellectual elite is declared as the “enemy” of the regime by the power holders. But then why is the society so callous to the persecution of its intellectuals of their country and remain aloof of their plight or worse, even endorse it? The answer is simple but unfortunate: the critical mass of the society is insufficiently equipped to take part in the modern world that view it as a threat to their traditional existence. These masses seek protection and providence under the wing of the State which they become obedient subjects of. The conflict between the traditional parochialists and modern internationalists is transformed by the authoritarian state into a juxtaposition of the “enemies of the nation and the state” versus the “patriots” that are labelled as “nationalists”. It is no wonder that the courts that were empowered to deal with crimes of ‘treason’ were called ‘State Security Courts’ rather than National Security Courts. This author has also witnessed what state security means when he was prosecuted by these courts more than once.

Those who were so preoccupied with the unity of the nation and the integrity of the country never realized that they were in fact dividing the country mentally and psychologically. The division crated in the minds of the people was based on the concept or creation of an ‘internal enemy’. Indeed we have created our enemy after own image. We became our own enemies. Sunnis are pitted against the Alewis; seculars are pitted against the religious; Muslims against the non-Muslims; Turks against the non-Turks; Kemalists against the non-Kemalists. Every group accused the group as a ‘traitor’ in their own (mutual) country.

The developments after Hrant Dink’s murder is both pathetic and harbour significant lessons to learn for the damage we have inflicted to ourselves. What we have discovered is how deeply divided  is our country or we have divided our countrymen along irreconcilable identities. 17-20 year old youth walking the streets of Trabzon is saying “well done” after the murder (of Hrant Dink just like following the murder of the Catholic priest Andrea Santoro previously in the same city)…Some youth are wandering in the streets in pride rather than feeling shame after each crime…” (writes the columnist Yakup Karbuz, columnist of the daily Taka published in Trabzon on Jan.31.2007).

This division has become most apparent in the soccer game between Elazigspor and Malatyaspor only last weekend. These are provincial teams. The slogans of the fans transcended those of an athletic competition into a very dangerous pseudo-ethnic denigration. Fans of the Elazig team chanted ‘Armenians’ to the fans of the Malatya team for Hrant Dink was originally from Malatya. Those from Malatya called the fans of the Elazig team as PKK.

What nationhood, what nationalism are we talking about? We have succeeded in crating a divided nation that see itself from the eye of the fly as a mosaic of irreconcilable ghettos of identity groups. This is no nationhood. It is political tribalism cooked in racist gravy.

Now we have to come to our senses and put our act together before it is too late. Nationalism of the official kind was an ethnic construct. It excluded every group that was not Turkish in ethnic origin other than those who were ready to abandon their origin or chose not to make a fuss about it. If the nation state had succeeded to provide democracy, welfare, pride of being a member of a modern developed country offering the opportunities of the global system, many more people would be satisfied of relying on their national identity rather than cultural or ethnic. But unfortunately, the national state has failed to deliver these promises to its citizens. Instead it oppressed them whenever they aired their dissent expressed in ethnic or cultural rhetoric. This pitted the Turk against the non-Turkish citizen of the republic as much as the Turk that is the obedient (favoured) subject of the State against that is critical and inquisitive (disfavoured) citizen hat became the prey of the former.

In short the most common official jargon of ‘national unity and solidarity’ is undermined by the very political ideology of the state that is based on exclusive nationalism, ethnicism and refusal to acknowledge the plural character of its people. Now we have a divided nation that the founders of the republic dreaded most.





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