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3% of civilization – bitter-sweet Turkey

Published on March 23, 2012 by: in: Culture

1. At the very moment I’m writing those words, the media report a serious crisis in relations between France – indirectly also the European Union – and Turkey. In response to the bill introducing punishments for negating the genocide of Armenians, which Lower House of French Parliament has put forward, Ankara has canceled all international, political, economic and military meetings with France. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that the decision had racist, discriminating and xenophobic character and that it is “opening old wounds” in relationships between both countries.

This backlash was easy to predict. Turkey has been negotiating joining the European Union since 2005 but its real chances of succeeding are rather small. They have even decreased over a past few years. On the one hand, French and German are strongly opposed to this nearly 78-million, mostly Muslim country, entering the EU. On the other hand, Turkish people, feeling unwanted, slowly start to lose patience and enthusiasm trying to become a member of the European Union.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, particularly explicitly demonstrates his objections. In Turkey, people view him as the main obstacle on their way to the integration with the EU. Candan Azer, former Turkish ambassador in Warsaw, stated: “For centuries we have had good relations with France but since Sarkozy took power it cannot be said to be true anymore. His comments on Turkish candidacy are arrogant and impolite” (“Gazeta Wyborcza” 12/23/2011). Alican Talya, the expert on French-Turkish relations at the Paris Institute for International and Strategic Relations, voiced an opinion that France’s move will only cause “a wave of nationalism and it will only hinder the internal discussion in Turkey”, rather than make its government officially own up to genocide.

photo: Argenberg

photo: Argenberg

The disrespectfulness of “powerful and wealthy” of this world towards “weaker” nations, their inability to establish partner relationships and unwillingness to make effort to understand other than their own way of thinking – or it could be just an ignorance – is one of main reasons of disagreements and conflicts, not only on world diplomacy level but also on socially build world-views. The other is the characteristic and psychologically understandable oversensitivity of the “less important” nations over their own pride and dignity. It concerns mainly those nations, which thought of bygone greatness and, at the same time, trauma caused by its loss are still alive in their subconsciousness – nations like Turkey, Iran or even Poland.

Meanwhile, the number of supporters of Turkish membership in the EU is steadily decreasing. Europe sets high requirements for Turkey, claiming that it does not meet many standards of democratic country. While the EU is struggling with the crisis in Eurozone, Turkey is growing in strength – its economic growth reaches 11%. Moreover, Turkey is recently more interested in strengthening its position in the Muslim world rather than in knocking on the EU doors, which is humiliating and of no effect. In the relations with France, Turkey takes the firm counteroffensive and in retaliation for the act introducing penalties for negating the genocide of Armenians, it accuses France of genocide in Algeria: “French president has started to look for electoral votes by taking the advantage of hatred towards Muslim and Turkish – stated on Friday Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. – Voting in the country where 5mln Muslims live, has clearly shown, how dangerous proportions racism, discrimination and islamophobia have reached in France”. He added: “As it has been estimated, 15% of Algerian population has been slaughtered by French after 1945. It was genocide”. According to Turkish Prime Minister, President Sarkozy may ask about it his father, Pal Sarkozy, who served in French Foreign Legion” ( 12/23/2011).

2. The book “Bitter-sweet home”. Report from the heart of Turkey by Necla Kelek is a critical voice about the integration of Turkey with the EU. Listening to it helps to get more conscientious insight into issues derivatively presented as a subject matter of diplomatic games, in which those issues get manipulated.

The author, born in Istanbul, came to Germany when she was 10 and she presently lives in Berlin. She is a sociologist dealing with the issues concerning religion and migrations. She has rather ambivalent attitude to her first motherland: she feels a strong, emotional bond with it, but on the other hand, she judges many facts, phenomena and states of affairs that constitute present nature of Turkey negatively and emotionally.

The concept for Kelek’s book was born out of the feeling of eradication, the lack of specific place that could be called “home”: “Home? What does it really mean? Maybe she was then in Istanbul, when the sun was rising and people living on Hürriyet street, were we lived, were unshuttering the windows to let refreshing breeze from Bosphorus in” (p. 7). “No one from my family can name one place, where they would like to come back: it’s not our parents house in Central Anatolia, nor Istanbul, Ankara or Bursa, where our relatives live; neither it is Ayvalık nor Lower Saxony, where we grew up – my siblings and I. Home it’s not a place” (p. 8).

If it is not “a place”, then what it is? Most certainly it is a state of mind, feeling, conviction, “a place in one’s heart”: “Maybe it is strength, longing for the lost. I was looking for it while on visit to Turkey. I was making the «sentimental journeys» hoping to find it, but the very first attempt has fizzled out, as it existed no more. ” (p. 10); “Maybe it’s the intimacy that is established when one spends childhood together” (p. 7). However, childhood passes and the feeling of identity – experiencing so far, as data entitled to human to some extent “naturally” – evolves, during the process of socialization, into a task to do. It is even harder to accomplish it, especially when the environment of existence living in it, diametrically changes. “One who leaves, forever loses the place that was their home” (p. 10). They also lose themselves, in a sense of whom they were and whom they will never be again. The reflection always comes too late. “I came to Germany 40 years ago, when I was 10. Leaving Turkey, I left not home, but my cat Kocabaşa, the Big Head. It was it I cried after, not Istanbul. The feeling, that I’ve lost something more, came later” (p. 8). This “something more” is, at the same time, “home” and inextricably coupled with it the feeling of identity, that establishes itself through the relations with “the world” – when “the world” changes, identification procedures are also changed. “My parents have never felt completely at home in Istanbul. They remained guests from Anatolia, who have left it after 20 years. In Anatolia we were Circassians, in Istanbul – Anatolians and in Germany we are Turkish. Whenever we go to Turkey they call us Almancis – those who have become Germans. Together with my siblings we have become helpless; where should we bury our mother when she dies?” (p. 8-9).

The author had a twofold “task to do”: to arrange/establish from scratch relations with “home”, or even two “homes”, and what remains in a close relation, to regain strained identity. “Before I started to square up with the country I was born in, I had to make it clear where I belong to. Am I Turkish with the German passport or German with Turkish origins? Am I writing this book, about my fellow countrymen, as a Turkish? Or as a German? And who gave me the right to judge Turkey? Me, who have left?” (p. 10). It is a legitimate question, considering that Muslim societies function as inseparable communities, leaving which or even distancing from which, establishing ones individual “I” is treated as betrayal: “How can I be myself and not betray my parents, my own country? – a Turkish teenager asked me once” (p. 11). The key to dispelling those doubts can be found within them: it is that distanced, laying between cultures, individualized and “speaking its own voice” (s. 11) “I” that is capable of seeing the world in a more “clear” way. “Immigrants ready for that confrontation have double capital at their disposal: we know the culture we come from, we learn local one, and from the differences between those two, something good may spring into existence. The look sharpens, a person sees some social connections more critically than someone who grew up within them and treat them as obvious” (p. 11).

And with this “sharpened look” – both more attentive and critical – Kelek looks at her “bitter-sweet home”, where she comes from. “Bitter-sweet is the most accurate adjective. There is still so much in Turkey that seems to me incredibly familiar, like Orhan Veli’s poems, novels by Halide Edip and Orhan Pamuk, sociability, dishes tempting with their sweetness, songs full of nostalgia from Istanbul or the shimmering of Bosphorus. What makes me angry and cause frustration are girls and women from Diyarbakır, Malatya, Gaziantep, who do not know their rights and are left alone to themselves by politicians; small Christian societies forced to protect themselves from Muslim hostility behind high walls; readiness to commit «honor killing»; human indifference to everything that is the testimony of history, what comes from the times before Ottoman ruling, tabooing of the past, in which Turkish were persecuting, chasing away and murdering Armenians and Greeks” (p. 11-12).

3. Her journey to Turkey, Kelek made under the banner, which Turkish Chamber of Commerce & Industry used to advertize itself in German newspapers. “It’s time to change the stereotype of Turkey, it’s time to take a fresh look at it”. The author has decided to take the advice but in more perversive way: “I listened and I went to Anatolia. Most of the time I was traveling alone, but in some districts of Turkey, where women were not allowed to travel by themselves, my partner, Peter Mather, had to accompany me. The aforementioned perversity manifests itself not only through the suggestion that Turkey is basically unfriendly or even hostile towards women – unless they remain single, without man’s “protection” – but also in the choice of Anatolia as a place of peregrination, which needs to be taken a fresh look at. Such a look, however, brings up many negative, even scandalous (from the European point of view) aspects of living in a Turkish province, the whole country has been changing into for some time now.

Kelek’s thesis is daring and controversial and for many simply unacceptable: Turkey is as much civilized, in the European way, as the geographical position indicates, which is 3% – the rest is more or less an anachronistic savagery. “Turkey is not this 3% of Europe – if we take into consideration geographical position and citizens’ attitude, these are not those, who partying in Istanbul circles of high society or in Cihangiru or Nişantaşı cafes, call themselves modern, open to world and they do not want to accept that the city by the Bosphorus is inhibited for a long time by «village people», mocked as shepherds and peasants. Such ignorance costs a lot: «It’s our turn now» – I’ve heard from MP’s brother on behalf of Tayyipa Erdoğan’s party. «We» these are the million of people from Anatolia, strongly holding to tradition, forever despised by ruling elites – Ottomans, Kemalists – regarded as backward, remaining in archaic clan structures” (p. 12).

According to German sociologist, Anatolia has always been exploited and harshly treated. It has always been just a province for the “proper” state or civilizational center: “For warrior Ottomans, Anatolia, which covers 97% of the country’s area, was a transitory camp. They pressed to the West, because there they could get more loot. For Atatürk and the founders of the republic it was a Pan-Turkism recruitment base, a region where all Muslims have been chased away and everything that belonged to them was distributed to believers, «who could be trusted», and thus, made them dependent” (p. 11-12). This way, those enormous tracts were becoming relatively – in relation to the “European” part – more backward and anachronistic. The further to the East, the worse. “During my journeys in the last two years, I’ve visited a great number of Anatolian places, talked to locals, experienced reality, which has nothing to do with «colorful reality» praised by Turkish government . It’s rather quite distant from the standards valid in decent European democracies” (p. 13-14).

According to Kelek, the situation all over the country has worsened. The sudden westernization of Turkey, which has started after the WWI – along with Mustafa Kemal Pasha, “the father of Turkish”, Atatürk rising to power and the proclamation of the republic (1923) – has been gradually losing its violence, and in 2002 when Justice and Development Party [AKP] with the current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at lead seized the power, it has undoubtedly weakened. Although the aforementioned party, in the eyes of the West, represents the “moderate wing of Islam” and is sometimes viewed as buffer protecting against fundamentalism expansion. In the author’s opinion, creating such an image is just an element of the strategy, which aims at complete Islamization of the country and restriction of democratic freedom: “The call to prayer is issued five times a day from the minaret, with the earliest one at dawn – it’s all the same, even in the most remote parts of the country. Through screeching speakers resounds the truth that the only God is Allah and Mohammed is his prophet, as somebody could forget about it over the night” (p. 246).

The culture of Islam has an authoritarian character and, in its essence, even antidemocratic, aspiring to gain full control and subjection over human: “the whole society is dominated by the culture of control and distrust – it’s especially effective in small cities. People watch over each other. They feel authorized to do that” (p. 246). The society modeled in this culture has a patriarchal, tribal and clan structure: “People live in groups. The ideals are family and community. From the youngest years children are taught that: the family takes care about you and protects you; the family is what you are. But it is also true that the family is a system of control, in which the word «father» means the law and where brothers are their sisters watchmen” (p. 246). On the next page we read that: “There exist thousands – both written and unwritten – laws, orders and bans regulating social or even everyday life of the non-believers. Freedom of an individual is suspicious in this culture. They do not have any rights” (p. 247). As one can easily guess, it applies particularly to women: “Over the Muslim society, just like curse, there hangs mistrust towards own wife and other people’s wives making it pusillanimous and oppressive” (p. 247).

According to the author, authoritarian and dogmatic in its every form, religion itself is not a factor determining Turkish unadjustedness to the EU norms: “Turkey does not meet the conditions allowing it to join the EU, not because it is a Muslim country, but because it cannot distinguish religion from nation, does not respect women’s rights nor guarantees religious tolerance. Moreover, its political situation is not stable enough, which makes Turkey an unreliable partner”.

The social reality of Turkey as presented in the Necla Kelek’s book has an oppressive character, that degrades an individual “I” to the form of totally subordinated to archaic social norms individual, presenting itself as a part of larger whole, all-embracing “we”, supported, on the one side by effective mechanisms of integration and on the other side by an absolute exclusion. This other side, the “bitter” one, dominates, according to the author.

Translation: Piotr Gmitrowicz

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