There has been a newly emerged concept of “Gezi Parki” the meaning of which resonates in “resistance” against the AKP government and specifically to Recep Tayyib Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey.
BY RAHMAN DAG | JUNE 15, 2013
This concept transcends its literal meaning of standing up against felling of trees in the park to demands for the resignation of the incumbent government. This paper adopts a theoretical approach by firstly looking at the prevailing circumstances from sociological perspective in an attempt to explicate who they are2 and the demands of protestors and finally what they have derived so far in exchange of what they have been doing in Istanbul. While doing that, it will be imperative to offer a separate legal and ideological perspective to the social unrest.
First of all, it is important to note that the protestors are generally young people who appear to be environmentally sensitive, and do not have a political conscience for certain political stream, yet at the same time tend to favour populist western style modernization ethos inherited from Kemalist-dominant ideology. What I mean by youth is that they seem to be unaware of previous severe experience in Turkey, from which the situation in contemporary Turkey endured and prevailed upon in order to produce the current liberal atmosphere the AKP government has provided for the last decade. This explains why they are very much aware of their democratic right to oppose any policies of the governing authorities. Furthermore, they are not so ideologically consolidated since the original project they are opposing is at least, a two-year-old project, which will lead to a pedestrianization of Taksim Square. This project has been used as a means of propaganda during the 2011 national and later local elections. It was also approved with consensus among the CHP, BDP, MHP and AKP’s members by the municipal assembly of Istanbul.
Under the light of these circumstances, it can be said that none of them neither read nor paid attention to the project either because of their non-solid ideological background or neglected it as it would been another success for the incumbent mayor and AKP government in Istanbul. Despite being a technologically oriented generation, one would have expected them to watch the simulation of the project shown on the municipality’s website. These evaluations debunk claims that they are protesting only for being environmentally sensitive. On the other hand, as it can easily be seen from the pictures and videos taken and recorded from the scene, there have been several issues which have been marginalised. This masks the reality about whether politically or ideologically driven groups which have taken part in the square since the first and second day. Under the guise of ulterior motives, several groups encompassed the DHKP-C, MLKP, SDP, BDP, various illegal leftist organizations, anti-capitalist Muslims, some adherents of MHP (Nationalist Action Party), the CHP (Republican People Party) and so-called apolitical and environmentally sensitive youth. Although raging from radical left to rightist ideologies, their common ground is explicitly being anti-AKP. It is also beneficial to mention that apart from the last one, none- of them has ever organized a protest or meeting for the sake of environmental concerns. Eventually, to consolidate this argument, it is better to mention that an artist3, in the first day of the meeting, stated that “it is not about only a tree, don’t you understand yet? So then, what is it for?
It is time to move from their so-called democratic demands they want the government to fulfil. If it is about cutting trees, it has been approved by the municipality and they knew if they had spared any pains to look at the project into detail, fourteen trees would have be taken out from their roots and replanted somewhere else after the project ends and only two or three of them would have been totally cut. Additionally, the new square would have seen more trees than before. This fact was pronounced from the second or third day of the protests. Why then did the demonstrations on the streets fail to end? They argued they do not want to eradicate Topcu Kislasi (Topcu Barrack) replacing Gezi Parki. The significance of Topcu Kislasi is stemming from the shops, which are planning to be opened in the ground level, which has been deceptively imposed as AVM (Alis-Veris Merkezi, shopping mall). Despite the fact that the project has been approved by the local assembly and already started, the local court decided to halt the execution of the project.
The contradiction arguably starts here; it is because of that, after 16 and 17 days of the protests, the prime minister accepted several artists and actress, representatives of Taksim Platforms and of several labour unions. The decision taken at the end of these meetings has been that the project will be halted and all relevant stakeholders and parties will wait for the verdict of a law court on the eradication of Topcu Kislasi. Even if the court decides in favour of a continuation of the project involving the eradication of Topcu Kislasi, there is going to be a plebiscite to determine whether the people of Istanbul want it or not. These decisions were already rejected by the Taksim Platform once it had been brought forward to debates by the initial days and upon his return from his North African tour; Recep Tayyib Erdogan suggested these solutions. Then, the question that ought to be asked is that why then did the ongoing destructive activities failed to stop within the first couple of days since the protests started. Even, on the third day, Bulent Arinc met with the representatives of Taksim Platform and declared that the government would wait for the decision of the court and then a referendum might be conducted. As a response of these alternative solutions, the representatives of the platform demanded the resignation of the head of the provincial police force and the governor of Istanbul for the excessive use of force against protestors and further required the cancelation of other projects such as the establishment of the third bridge in Bosporus, and the establishment of Canal Istanbul together with the cancellation of the third airport. There is an overt fact that the demands are not reflecting what the protestors originally asked for. By doing so, the concept of Gezi Parki extended to policies of the government. That is why the process has continued and Turkey is faced with unimaginable destruction of its environment, excessive use of force by police against illegal provocateurs groups and a total loss of 8 billion dollars.
Nevertheless, the deconstructive queries into the historically constructed and stabilized values, memories, narratives and identifications have been the indispensable consequence of the transformation. Thus, Turkey's nationalists will face the same occasionally painful fate during this deconstruction and transition period.
Turkey's transition from a bounded single-nation state to a plurally defined and multilaterally erected state will require the re-definition of historical events and personalities in the beginning. This will be followed by rewriting the national history. After this, the single-nation's values, taboos and emblems will be brought up for discussion. In the political scene and from an ethno-political perspective, the ethnic representation will be dominant, which will pit Turkish nationalists against the former-silent ethnic representatives. The territory, for the sake of which Turkish nationalists are ready to forge swords and wage war, will be reinterpreted, hence the nationalist meaning attached to it will be renegotiated. Some of these courses have already begun taking place and others will follow soon. All these will consequently, officially, formally and admittedly defame the ancien régime -- the regime that suppressed the ethnic and religious voice in the country and obstructed the development of fruitful inter-ethnic relations by political means.
The fate consisting of slandering the Turkish nationalists and the ancien régime is infuriating for the nationalists, and their responses may jeopardize the peaceful transition. The Kurdish urban vandalism during the ripening of the peace process between the state and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) gives some clue about the menace the nationalism may generate. Turkey also experienced similar ideological violent confrontations during the 1970s. Therefore, despite their belief of the necessity of reaching peace, it is highly likely that the peace process, finally started by the 2013 Nevruz celebrations, will bring about violent reactions because the Turkish nationalists will feel deeply humiliated and become aggressive.
The aggressions already began as soon as ethnic groups other than Kurds started speaking on their ethnic origin through political means. In this sense, for example, they fiercely reacted against the Albanian claim for ethnic representation in Parliament. The Albanian peace delegation's visit to Diyarbakır and Mardin in mid-March was responded to by reminding them of the “Albanian malice” committed by Albanian Kara Hasan Tahsin Paşa, who surrendered Salonika to Greece in 1912. The Turkish nationalist Balkan migrant associations and Albanian migrants are now on the brink of conflict. Indeed, the recent fears in regards to the Kurdish issue and the tension this causes among the Turkish nationalists herald further acceleration of the confrontation.
Yet, the most serious reactions are expected during peace efforts as regards the Kurdish issue. This is because, while the Albanian calls for recognition only pose a threat in nationalist conceptions to the national unity in Turkey, the peace process officially started by Öcalan's eirenicon offer only threatens the political grounds of Turkish nationalism in Turkey. Having left aside the nationalism side-effect of the peace process on Kurds, Turkish nationalism will be further silenced and marginalized. Hence the only way nationalists in Turkey can stay their course is to mobilize the masses to undermine and axe the peace building. The measures they will take may be harsh and even lead to violence. The Bursa meeting of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on March 23 bears the traces of this.
The Turkish nationalists' bearing of the heavy burden of a single-nation ideology currently fading from the political scene is an ordeal. Yet, the disentanglement of the national dogma and belief is an inevitable conclusion engendered by the transition from a modernist national state to a post-national state. By the same token, Öcalan's irretrievable eirenicon offer requires balancing the imbalances and injustice the country has historically been built upon. Since this may drive the nationalists crazy, the transition should be done through an appeasement of Turkish nationalism together with not favoring Kurdish nationalism. In fact, if this would pacify Turkish nationalists, alternatively they might be marginalized in order to not allow their violent backlashes to obstruct the transition. They should not be allowed to occupy the moderate political zone.
As seen, this is a war the Turkish nationalists are doomed to lose and destined to suffer.
* The article first appeared at Today's Zaman.
** Hüsrev Tabak is the Deputy Director-General of CESRAN International.
Despite the fact that there were other initiatives between the state and the PKK, the first of which was conducted by Turgut Özal, the second one by Necmettin Erbakan, and lastly by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2011 with the Habur Case and in 2012 the Oslo Negotiations, the latest effort has gone much further and raised many people’s hopes.
What makes the current peace process distinctive and separates it from the previous ones is that there has been social reconciliation. To give an example: While meeting with the relatives of veterans and martyrs in Kayseri province, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, “Even if it costs me my political life, we will tackle this problem.” On the other hand, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) representative from Muş province, Sırrı Sakık, stated that “if the PKK sabotages the process, we will strangle its neck.” These unofficial statements clearly indicate that both parties have been eager to sort this problem out.
In addition to verbal examples, I think, in practical terms, the reaction of the AKP and the government towards the explosions in front of the Ministry of Justice and the attacks on the AKP headquarters with a light anti-tank weapon can be considered as the government’s commitment to this process. As you might guess, if something like this had happened in previous initiations, the process would have suddenly been halted by the authorities. Yet, it did not this time but instead even consolidated the process.
Regarding social reconciliation, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP), though they have made some negative statements, have to support the process because most of their electorate also want this problem to end. Otherwise, they would have already organized meetings all over Turkey as the CHP did during the presidential election against Abdullah Gül and as the MHP did in the “No Campaign” against constitutional change.
Using government’s mistake for electoral advantage
In Turkish politics, taking advantage of the mistakes of the incumbent government is a normative action. Whatever it costs to Turkey, political parties have always used any mistakes of the government to their electoral advantage. If opposition parties do not use the peace process against the AKP in this way, the only reason can be that they are afraid of reactions from their own electorate. Based on this argument, I believe, social reconciliation will be the fundamental driving force in this process. However, it is obvious that there are minority groups that are definitely against the process and might do anything they can to prevent any further progress.
As most readers are aware, PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s statement calling on his militants to leave the borders of Turkey and announcing that the era of military struggle has ended and that it is now time for a political struggle was read by BDP deputies Pervin Buldan and Sırrı Süreyya Önder in Kurdish and Turkish, respectively, in Diyarbakır during the Nevruz festival. How the MHP and the CHP received this announcement is quite indicative in that they were verbally against and conditionally in favor of the process, respectively. They never thought about organizing a type of “No” campaign as they definitely realized that at least 50 percent of the population -- either from their own electorate or from the rest of the public -- demand a solution, whatever the cost. From this perspective, I think that they are looking, as always, to take advantage of the situation to satisfy their own electorate or even ensure that they don’t lose them.
Provocations that hamper the process cannot be eliminated by either the AKP or the PKK; only social reconciliation can absorb them and prevent them from cutting off the process. For instance, previous initiations by Özal, Erbakan and the AKP were stopped by single events that were adequate to end the process. This occurred because political power in and of itself does not provide sufficient support. It has to be strongly demanded by most members of society, which is what I mean when I refer to “social reconciliation.”
Apart from social reconciliation, the AKP’s and the BDP’s positions in the process are crucial and worth mentioning. The initial actor of the process, the AKP has succeeded in distinguishing the government from the state. What I mean is that the AKP, and especially Prime Minister Erdoğan, always emphasized the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) as an extension of the state and not that of the current government. He also justifies MİT’s right to negotiate with PKK leader Öcalan by giving examples of other countries’ intelligence agencies doing the same.
The AKP government has successfully made a clear separation between the state and the government in the eyes of the people of Turkey, especially in the eyes of its own electorate, almost half of the total population. Relying on this distinction, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay stated that “releasing the captives was not something we negotiated with the PKK. Yet, we are happy to receive it.” In this statement, he makes the process legitimate without direct contact with the PKK.
On the other hand, until the beginning of this process, the BDP always referred to “İmralı” as Öcalan’s and the Kurds’ true will. It was not a wise political position for a legal political party to point to another man’s will. It is not something a political party can do in political science and it can jeopardize the legitimacy of that political party. Yet, as soon as the process was announced and officially began, the BDP saw itself as one of the crucial components of the pro-Kurdish movement and gained confidence as an important actor in the process. That is why Sırrı Sakık, for the first time, made a statement against the PKK.
It should not be forgotten that the BDP is the only actor that can directly talk to the government on this issue. It might seem very offensive right now, but just imagine that Öcalan is released and starts to engage in politics. Which party do you think he would do politics in: the PKK or the BDP? The answer would absolutely be the latter. And there is no need to mention that the messages by Öcalan have been carried and announced by the BDP as it is the only legal way in which the Kurdish nationalist movement could express itself.
I believe if the process goes well, the BDP will gain more significance and make crucial contributions to the process. The PKK’s release of the captives can be considered the first practical indication of strong will towards a solution of the Kurdish issue in Turkey. I think, to the extent that this social reconciliation continues to exist, the current peace process will bear more practical, positive fruits which might end up in a final solution. It is the state’s turn to show its good intention in order to move on to the next phase.
BY HUSREV TABAK | MARCH 03, 2013
Şükür stated: “For the sake of national unity, racial discourse should be left aside. If we perceive our differences as dividing us rather than as diversity, then we lose. For example, I am ethnically Albanian, and from your point of view [taking ethnicity as the primary factor in designating a member of a nation], I am not a Turk. But this does not lead us to the truth. In doing this, everyone will be in search of who is right. On this point, the state should be in search of justice, and it is.”
Apparently what he said is in line with the political rhetoric of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), and the debate that Hakan Şükür's statement meant he was rejecting his Turkishness is therefore complete media foolishness. The AK Party has long tried to leave ethnic identity out of the political scene for the sake of national unity. After the media's misleading reporting, Şükür went on to confirm this stance and placed great emphasis on a “single nation, single homeland, single flag and single language” in an explanatory speech.
The conclusion we draw is not about media bias against the ruling party or its approach to ethnicity and ethnic diversity. The real conclusion this mishap has led us to is that this was a call for an awakening to the Albanian community, whose ethnic identity has remained beneath the surface of society for more than six decades in Turkey.
Roots of multiculturalism in Ottoman period
The ethnic Albanian presence in Turkey is a legacy of the Ottoman Empire. Since the late 19th century, Albanian people in the Balkans have been migrating to the Anatolian heartland due to the wars and political pressures they have faced in their countries. Turkey, particularly during the republican era, allowed the migration of ethnic Albanians to the country.
Ottoman history, particularly that written by nationalists, often curses the involvement of Muslim Albanians in rebellions during the late 19th century that resulted in various lands in the Balkans, including Albania, being lost from Ottoman possession by 1912. On the contrary, Albanian history accuses the Ottomans of exploiting the Albanian nation for more than four centuries. Additionally, since the Albanians fought a war of liberation against the Ottomans, they have historically seen the Ottomans as the “other” and Turkey as the sole successor of this “other.” While both parties constructed myths and national enmities that have remained in the rhetoric of nationalist state politics and circles, ordinary people have continued in a brotherly relationship with each other. The interpersonal and transnational ties built after the mass immigration of Albanians -- particularly from Yugoslavia -- to Turkey played a large role in this.
To this end, Turkey almost never had an issue with the Albanians as a minority or otherwise. Two factors were at play in this. In the first instance, Albanian immigration was accepted by Turkey because these Albanians had declared -- through the visa documents they received at the Turkish diplomatic mission in Yugoslavia -- that they were ethnically Turkish and had assimilated Turkish culture.
This was partly true, because they were able to speak Turkish well; Turkish has been spoken in their cities since Ottoman times. Additionally, their own culture had blended with Turkish culture, and hence it was not easy to distinguish urbanized Albanian culture from that of urbanized Turks; differences were only apparent in village life. In fact, the situation remains almost the same even today in Kosovo: Roughly 200,000 people can speak Turkish though only a quarter of them would declare themselves ethnically Turkish. Apparently, the remaining Turkish-speaking population is Albanian. Ultimately, because the wave of immigrants who came to Turkey declared they were Turks and because they were grateful to Turkey for opening its doors to them and providing them a way to earn their livelihood, they did not insist on recognition of their authentic ethnic identity.
Secondly, Turkey never allowed minorities to speak in the political scene in support of their ethnic rights and was always in the business of assimilating minorities into the Turkish nation. Albanians, cooperative and collaborative in helping the Turkish nation flourish, were happy to be part of a nation whose national anthem was written by an Albanian, Mehmet Akif Ersoy. This is partly the case even today.
Effect of Albanians on foreign affairs
In daily life, we rarely hear about the presence of ethnic Albanians in Turkey. Those who identify solely as Albanian voluntarily behave as a constructive bridge between Albania and Turkey and Kosovo and Turkey. As the international literature on the liberation of Kosovo from Serbian rule suggests, the Albanian Kosovar “diaspora” in Turkey contributed a lot to the Turkish-Kosovar relationship throughout the 1990s, when the Albanians in Kosovo withdrew from state institutions and the national education system and began engaging in rebellious attacks against the Serbian state. Their role in building close ties between Turkey and Kosovo during the NATO bombardment of Serbia -- in which Turkish jets launched many of the attacks -- was again constructive and facilitative. This continued after Kosovo's independence.
The above picture shows that the Albanians have been loyal people of the Turkish state and Turkish nation and that this loyalty has been shaped by the Albanians leaving out of politics their ethnic affiliation and identity. Hakan Şükür's statements also verify this.
However, looking at the other side of the coin would give us a more concrete idea about the place at which the Albanian community sits in the triangle of ethnic affiliation, loyalty and nationality. While the distortion of Hakan Şükür's speech was criticized by the Albanian community en masse, a key figure in the Albanian community in Turkey, Turkish-Albanian inter-parliamentary friendship group president and AK Party İzmir deputy Rıfat Sait, adopting Hakan Şükür's Albanianness, stated: “I am an Albanian as well. Today, there are around 50 Albanian deputies from different parties in Parliament.”
Indeed, this is something that the public in Turkey is not aware of and has never heard before. Turkey has long suffered from the occasionally racist Turkish nationalism of the ruling cadre and militarist Kurdishism of the Kurdish opposition front, yet these two groups occupy the most seats in Parliament. Albanian deputies are the third-most-represented ethnic group in Parliament, yet their political affiliation does not follow ethnic lines.
When we consider that believers in ethno-political identifiers try to define the boundaries of their group, Rıfat Sait's assertions make more sense. As a matter of fact, Turkey is a multiethnic country, and the historically oppressed (or voluntarily silent/cooperative) minority groups here have learned a lot from the Kurdish ethnic fight for legal recognition. They are very careful in not standing out with open ethnic claims, though; on the contrary, they behave in a collaborative manner and strive to be perceived as kin communities -- brothers sharing a common history, culture and religion. More precisely, they use their position as a bridge between their home country and host country to affirm their ethnic affiliation. The Albanians in Turkey, and particularly Rıfat Sait, by maintaining a close relationship with Kosovo and Albania and by molding those countries' relations with Turkey accordingly, have introduced a novel form of ethnic struggle for recognition from which other ethnic groups in Turkey may learn a lot.
The recent statements about the Albanian presence in Turkey are indeed a sign of a political awakening that is backed by Turkey's inter-state relations. Hence, it is a timely move that could possibly be reflected in the draft of the new constitution.
The expression goes “history repeats itself,” but does it really? On Dec. 31, 1991, the USSR President and Soviet Communist Party Secretary-General Mikhail Gorbachev presented his resignation to the Soviet authorities. This historic act was also the declaration of the end of the Cold War era and the international bipolar system.
BY ERMAN AKILLI | February 27th, 2013
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the world's geopolitical map started to change in accordance with the power vacuum in the former Soviet zone. There emerged 27 new republics, some of which fell into sudden, bewildering conflicts with each other. While these events were taking place in the ex-Soviet territory, Turkey's delicate position in the Western/European world started to fall apart.
Throughout the fearful years of the Cold War, while the Soviet shadow lingered, Turkey was the far eastern flank of the Western/European Bloc against communism; however, with the collapse of the USSR, Turkey's Western/European allies started to question its Western identity. Turkey saw the result of that critical examination in the rejection of its membership application to the European Community. Despite its close partnership and support in securing the Western Bloc and its immense patience and long efforts to become a member of the European Community, Turkey was declined entry. Meanwhile, the European Community opened its arms to the ex-Iron Curtain states of Eastern Europe. Inevitably this led to disappointment in Turkey, the successor of a great empire.
Turkey found itself at a juncture where it experienced an identity crisis, one that had never before been this profound with regard to its international relations. As a result and to take advantage of the dawn of a “new world order,” Turkey tried to develop alternative state identities or, in other words, foreign policy paths for the future. Of the 27 states that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union, five were the Turkic states of Central Asia -- namely, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Those states were not only unique for their Turkic features but they also eased Turkey's feeling of isolation, after having been cast aside by its Western allies.
Turkey's response to the West came in the form of an alternative foreign policy route that did not need Europe. A provocative new motto was embraced by President Turgut Özal: “The next century, the 21st century, will be the century of Turks.” This general indication of a change in priorities in international relations became even more grounded with the articulation of a complementary motto taken up by Özal's successor, President Süleyman Demirel: “The Turkic world from the Adriatic to the Great Wall of China.”
As a result of circumstances in the international system and these ideas being put into motion, a new Eurasian identity for the Turkish Republic was formed. That dream, built on the big disappointment of being left outside the European Community in 1993 and the recognition of Turkey's decreasing influence in world politics, generated a great amount of enthusiasm and excitement in Turkey for these Turkic states, known as its Central Asian cousins.
Unfortunately, although the Turkic world dream generated considerable interest in the Turkish public, it could not be realized. Two major facts obstructed that dream: First of all, the Russian Federation's influence was still alive in the region; and second, those states had already tried the big brother model, thanks to the Soviet Union. As newly formed independent states, in de jure terms, they were enjoying their sovereignty at long last. Therefore, the newly formed Eurasian identity, the follow-up foreign policy strategy and the pressure of losing importance in world politics resulted in nothing but depression for Turkey.
In a recent interview with Kanal 24, Turkey's prime minister and the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, mentioned a conversation with Vladimir Putin, the president of the Russian Federation, during his last visit to Russia on July 18, 2012. Erdoğan said he put forward the idea that if Turkey's membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), also known as the Shanghai Five, were to be approved, Turkey is ready to re-evaluate its commitment to the European Union negotiation and membership process.
This statement by the prime minister sparked a new round of criticism. Yet, as I interpret the current move, Erdoğan's statement holds more meaning than a simple argument over a shift in axis. His words represent a new state of mind, a new state character, a new self-understanding and a new outlook three decades in the making. It is true that things have turned upside down in Turkey's understanding and conduct of foreign policy during the AK Party era, yet they are the fruits of a finally grounded approach rather than situational and conjectural moves.
Thanks to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey found the theoretical ground for its current foreign policy steps and a wider strategic framework for future world policy actions. According to Davutoğlu's Strategic Depth doctrine, first of all, Turkey needs to embrace its geo-economic, geo-political and geo-cultural features to stand firm as a central state in the international system.
Furthermore, according to the principles of rhythmic diplomacy, another key concept of Turkey's new foreign policy understanding, Turkey has to be more active in international relations. In other words, as a central player in the international system, Turkey will take initiative in international organizations and global issues as much as possible. Concepts of “active involvement on a global level” and being an “order-building actor” are also facilitating this goal. Turkey has to play a dynamic role in international organizations and in global foreign policy issues.
As a powerful actor on the world stage, Turkey will play a leading role in ensuring stability both in regional conflicts and international organizations. Contrary to the Cold War era's peripheral state position, Turkey is now acting as a central state with a global perspective in the international system.
Thus, Turkey's interest in the Shanghai Five is the result of this new foreign policy understanding that was built on the intellectual foundations laid by Davutoğlu. Instead of the rejection of Europe of the post-Cold War era, Turkey's new approach to the region and to the Shanghai Five organization is now quite different. First of all, Turkey does not seek a protector or big brother role in the region. Second, this approach did not originate in a situational move. On the contrary, it is an act to form a multi-axis foreign policy route for Turkey. As can be seen in many examples in the history of the Turkish Republic (like the Jupiter missile deployments that preceded the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cyprus Peace Operation, etc.), Turkey still cannot afford a single axis foreign policy path. In other words, Turkey does not have the luxury of turning its back on either the West or the East. Even if Turkey becomes part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, this does not mean that Turkey will neglect relations with the European Union.
As I have personally experienced many times, both academic and everyday political conversations with nationalists on minority issues tend to diverge into either talk of deploying the military or the presence of Turkey’s historical enemies. Similarly, raising critiques on the army’s disproportionate use of power or on republican-era policies that facilitated such problems make the commentator a foe, if not an enemy, of “Turkishness” and the “Turkish nation” in the eyes of nationalists. There appears to be a long-internalized and embedded rhetoric in Turkish nationalist discourse that thrives on the presence of “enemies” and on the necessity to use military force in dealing with the issues related to those enemies. The trails of this rhetoric can be traced back to the domestic politics of the late republican era.
The Turkish nationalist intellectual circles of the mid-20th century were actively debating irredentist Turkism as a survival strategy for not only Turkey but also Turkish populations abroad. The Turkish nationalist intellectuals of those days held strictly that Turkism and Turkish nationalism hinge on the legendary heroic warriorship of the Turkish nation. Thus, Turkey’s international pacifism at the time was in contradiction to the “warrior” nature of the Turkish nation and concomitantly paralyzing the willingness and eagerness of the Turkish nation to go to battle. The Turkish nation had to be ready for war and, accordingly, pacifism was a core menace to the nationalist belief. Therefore -- as Fethi Tevet, Nejdet Sançar, Hıfzı Oğuz Bekata, Reha O. Türkkan, Nihal Atsız, Hüseyin N. Orkun and Yusuf Ziya Ortaç wrote extensively on -- to maintain the readiness, keenness and motivation for warriorship within the Turkish nation, the “national animus” that had long been suffocated in those times needed to be rejuvenated. The presence and maintenance of the national animus was subsequently regarded as a remedy to overcome the unwanted pacifism. Perhaps the oppressive and ferocious militarist measures taken by the nationalists in republic governments were due to the national animus at work.
Creating a discourse of militarism
It is my belief that it was this mentality that produced a language and provided various vocabularies for Turkish nationalists to embark on, incentivize and justify lawful or unlawful militarism in Turkey since then.
The consequence was, for instance, the lauding of unlawful efforts of the deep state (derin devlet), police special ops teams (polis özel harekat) and the gendarmerie intelligence organization (JİTEM) in the mid-1990s. Such actors committed public criminal acts, murdering hundreds of Kurds in the Southeast, yet Turkish nationalist circles in response were, if not happy, certainly not questioning the rightfulness of those atrocious acts. By the same token, a world of evidence still could not convince them of the presence of an unlawful organization known as Ergenekon. And it was because of the aforementioned mentality that the murderer of Hrant Dink, an Armenian-Turkish journalist, was also heroized. This Turk of Armenian descent, along with Kurdish citizens, was a “traitor” who had to be destroyed and erased from existence on the altar of the Turkish nation, at all costs. The nationalists were willingly and eagerly upholding this task. And the national animus was active and targeting the traitors.
Another example would be a recent incident: the death of 34 civilians in Uludere, in southeast Turkey, on Dec. 28, 2011. The incident occurred when F-16s fired at Kurdish smugglers erroneously. They were thought to be (or the security forces were informed that they were) militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The result was the death of citizens of Kurdish descent, all of whom were civilians. It was a very sorrowful incident, yet the more upsetting and unpleasant issue was how so-called nationalists conceived and interpreted the incident. For instance, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli remarked that “the state did what has to be done. It was a rightful act, and a 1 percent possibility of facing a terrorist attack is more than enough for the army to eliminate the suspected targets. Therefore, the Turkish army acted rightfully in the incident.” This stance is not merely held by the MHP; social media was full of discussions and comments glorifying the military operation those days. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) interior minister alike defended the act.
Similar concerns arose when the Peace and Democracy Party’s (BDP) deputies joined a hunger strike embarked upon by imprisoned members of the PKK, demanding improvements on the Kurdish issue in early November of this year. For instance, the editor-in-chief of the national-socialist journal Türk Solu called for all involved to “let the strikers die.” To the editor, the strikers were PKK supporters and had long deserved to die, and the hunger strike was a clear and clean-cut way to get rid of them. He sarcastically invited other BDP members and jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan to participate in the strike and publicly declared his support for the protest. What we see here is certainly a form of militarism, one that sees the death of both militaristic and political participants of the Kurdish movement as a remedy for solving the Kurdish issue.
In the reactions by nationalists to all these events, the justifications and legitimizations were not engendered by temporary inspiration, nor spawned by a state of reaction. They were due to the constructed and reconstructed “national animus” suggested by mid-20th century Turkish nationalist intellectuals.
Politically speaking, altogether, the Turkish nationalist wing (spanning the MHP, the Rights and Equality Party [HEPAR] and segments of the AKP) concentrates its anger, resentment and hatred on the PKK and the BDP (and other minorities who ask for their rights). In the same vein, when we listen to retired Turkish generals such as Ramiz İlker and Osman Pamukoğlu (also leaders of HEPAR), we see an antagonism against the PKK and the BDP in exactly the same tone that the MHP, Türk Solu or other nationalists enjoy. They code formal Kurdish (or minority) presence in the country as a threat to the Turkish state or even the existence of the Turkish nation.
Endorsing the concept of national animus
So, how should this problem be handled? Turkish nationalists prominently address the “legendary heroic warriorship of the Turkish nation” in dealing with the enemy. To engender and stimulate this warriorship, it appears that the concept of national animus is underscored. Consequently, militarism or the use of the army in dealing with societal issues is legitimized.
This explains why Turkish nationalists hinge on militarism. The national animus sparks the “legendary heroic warriorship of the Turkish nation” and accordingly militarism. Here, the nationalist stance, discourse, policymaking, etc., rely on a target for anger, hatred, enmity and antagonism and one which will keep those feelings alive. This holds true for contemporary Turkish nationalists, although Alparslan Türkeş, the founding father of the MHP, denounced the concept of national animus and argued that Turkish nationalism is antagonistic towards those defined as the “others.” At this juncture, we see that concepts of the legendary heroic warriorship of the Turkish nation, the maintenance of national animus and the militarism involved in invigorating the national animus mutually constitute and reinforce each other in nationalist discourse.
In conclusion, whether or not the contemporary nationalists deliberately hold onto the legacy of mid-20th century Turkish nationalists, it is obviously beyond doubt that they share in the basic platform expressed above. Subsequently, these basic principles continue to constitute and shape the daily discourse of Turkish nationalists, thus providing justification for “just and rightful” military acts against the “traitors” of the country.
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