Mother of all problems

The results of a recent public opinion poll were published in the daily Yeni Safak on 14-15 November. The worries and qualms that occupy newspaper pages and TV talk shows were dwarfed by the common sense of the electorate. The people did not see the election of the new president as a major matter of concern and rift in the society. Nor did they attribute that much importance to the issue of women’s headgear as sigh of religious fundamentalism. The matter ranked way below among the important problems facing Turkey. People were concerned with their livelihood and how the economy fared more than anything else. So why do the ‘seismic recorders’ of politics constantly feel tremors of danger and friction in the system? Is this a fabrication or a reality we should worry about? Here are some answers:

We Turks are led to believe that we have a lot of enemies within and without. However,  the biggest enemy we face and have not succeeded to overcome is the semi-artificial world we have created for ourselves. Out of this world we derive our national identity, perception of our society and a world order that we feel to be at the fringe of. What kind of a worldview is this?

Its first premise is based on the notion that we are nation that won our independence from Western imperialism following WW1. The second notion is that we are a homogeneous society and differences evinced from this or another group within is perceived as subversion and a threat to national unity. The third notion is that “Turks best friend is another Turk” because the world is full of enemies ready to partition Turkey, so we have to be alert at all times and remain like united like a fist. The military and its ways are the most effective instruments of national defense and sustaining national unity. This view is manifested as, “we are an army nation”.

The world fabricated as such has serious handicaps in providing healthy assessments of self and the realities of the times. First of all, what is described as the “War of Independence”  (1919-1922) was the sequel of WW1, which we entered as an Empire, and lost. Just like Japan, Germany etc. our territory was occupied. Indeed, we later engaged in a very honorable struggle for salvaging a part of the empire on which we built a nation-state. However, Turks were not one of those colonized peoples that suffered under the bondage of imperialist powers for ages and rebelled for their independence, as we tend to believe. We were a pre-industrial imperial power that could not keep up with the demands of modern times and stand before the strength of industrial nations/empires. It seems this how we deal with the psychological trauma and the responsibility of losing an empire. Hence this self-imposed powerlessness against western “imperialist powers” is a more of a political fabrication than historical reality, which we tend to forget. Tsarist Russia, and Austrian-Hungarian Empires  collapsed alongside with the Ottoman.

However, the collapse of the empire was extremely dramatic event in human terms. It has two aspects that shaped the psyche of the Turks: Nearly five million Turks perished in the lost territories that were claimed by their indigenous peoples who built their own national states and another five million left all their possessions and their family or group histories behind and migrated into Anatolia, the present Turkish homeland. This was such ab abrupt and absolute rupture with history and social reality that an alternative -and- more acceptable one- had to be created by the later leaders of Turkey to replace the confidence of the desperate people.

Secondly, this trauma  and being bereft of history was coupled with  a deep and incessant suspicion of non-Turks in the homeland. Turks wanted to have a homogenous society that could be called theirs and only theirs. The victims of such a yearning were both the disciplines of history and sociology as well as politics that were fashioned to Turkify the Anatolian populations. The historical accounts of Turkification never really became serious matters of legal or political scrutiny. After all non-Turks had betrayed the imperial unity and had caused so much misery for the Turks; now they had to accept the conditions of the Turks in their homeland. The fact that this was a shared homeland and while all peoples of the Anatolian soil were sharing a mutual- history, they also had a history and collective identity of their own was totally disregarded. Such a perception ushered in two things: pressure brought to bear on the minorities that were not deemed Turkish and authoritarianism that borders on militarism as the most affective way of national defense.

Exaltation of militarism or stringent measures of security reduced politics to state control and guidance of the society thus creating a tutelary electoral regime; and regulation of the extent and speed of social change by the state elite. This led to retardation of development that was never built on the exigencies of the individual but of the state and maintenance of status quo- that was shaped by the republican (mainly) bureaucratic elite.

Now this system is under the test of increasing popular demands of faster development, modernization and liberalization on the one hand and the requirements of the EU standards. Either the Turkish ruling elite will come to terms with the pluralism in the society/nation or there will be political fragmentation and tensions along cultural (including religious)  and ethnic lines. The increasingly dysfunctional traditional sectors of society that has been so far neglected must rapidly be transformed into more modern and
functional cohorts. Otherwise, these neglected, traditional, poor and powerless masses will acquire self-generated power through religious zest and criminality. Since most of this section of society will crowd the cities as they do, radicalisms of all sorts and violence may destabilize the country sooner than expected. The so-called “Kurdish problem” is a politicized problem of development and being a part of a modern society that has so far not been possible. If barriers remain as they for a considerable part of the society, over politicization of human problems including the Kurdish issue may become a gangrene that may be cut off to save the rest of the body.

Turks need to re-write their history based on facts not on preferred myths. In this adventure they must come to terms with who they are and with whom they have shared their past and sharing their presence both at home and the near abroad. Only then, minorities and non-Turks and non-Sunni Muslims may become citizens with equal status. The next step must be negotiating the terms of citizenship and the conditions of living together in peace and harmony. In this new set-up there ought to be no hierarchy of ethnicity or religion. I
know this is a very naïve expectation of an idealist. But come to think of it: what if Turkey succeeds in such a daring project? Only then Turkey may claim its imperial grandeur with other means: democracy, free thinking and entrepreneurship that needs no coercive expansion.

1090600cookie-checkMother of all problems


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

nineteen − 19 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.