Geopolitical Research Institute(GRI)/Εταιρεία Γεωπολιτικών Ερευνών(ΕΓΕ)

Παρασκευή, 3 Ιουνίου 2011

Turkey discovers its heterogeneous society

Semih Idiz

The Supreme Electoral Board’s ban on all forms of campaigning and attempts at trying to influence the voter by means of the media or otherwise came into force on Wednesday. This means that we will have a period of relative calm until after the last vote is cast on July 12.
Given the unprecedented free-far-all we witnessed this time around during the campaigning, with all forms of insults and accusations flying back and forth between the parties and politicians, every rational person must have given a sigh of relief as a result of the electoral ban.
Nevertheless, as we argued in our last piece on the topic, it is very unlikely that these elections will bring peace and calm to Turkey. The country is in the throes of such an ideological war that the far-from-resolved quarrels will continue whoever wins next Sunday.
Put another way, all the key factors that generally destabilize societies and have led to serious conflicts in Europe itself in the past, exist in today’s Turkey. Unless reason prevails it is clear that the divisions we are witnessing will get deeper. Given that there is the issue of a new constitution on the agenda; one should in fact expect the acrimony to reach new heights, with ideologically based accusations about “civilian coups” or attempts at “dictatorial social engineering” being hurled back and forth.
Turkey is not known to be a country that is at peace with itself. It is therefore unlikely to be a country where politics can be conducted peacefully and in a civilized manner. Those who are aware of the writings of the social historian Kemal Karpat, formerly of the University of Wisconsin-Madison,  have some understanding of why this is, and how this tradition stretches back to the time of Empire.
Put another way, Turkey’s functioning democracy today operates within the context of an extremely complex sociological environment, a fact that has mostly been denied until the relatively recent past when it was often forcibly stated that we are a unified homogenous country and society.
That we are not of course, and this glaring fact is becoming more and more manifest as the country gets richer and more democratic, and not less as some expect. The reason is that there is no culture of political tolerance which makes it an “all or nothing” situation among opposing poles. In other words if one side says “black” the other side feels duty bound to say “white” whether it believes it to be so or not.
The Kurdish problem, for one, can be expected to come to a head after the elections. The simplistic assumption in this country, also promoted by the former prime minister, the late Bülent Ecevit, was that this problem is economic in nature and based on the deprivation and dispossession of the Southeast.
The basic reasoning behind this argument was the denial that Kurds exist in this country as a separate ethnic entity with their own culture and language, both of which were repressed brutally in the past. The assumption was that if you develop the southeast then the indigenous people there would forget their natural identities and become “Turks.”
Deprivation and dispossession are not the only factors behind the emergence of an awareness of one’s identity. The Basques and Catalonians can hardly be considered deprived and dispossessed today. Quite to the contrary they represent the richest parts of Spain, and yet their sense of identity is growing all the time and not the other way around.
Therefore, while the deprivation and dispossession of the southeast has undoubtedly contributed to a growing desire for autonomy and regional self-administration, spawning separatist terrorism at the same time, it can hardly be said to be the main reason why the Kurds of Turkey have a stronger sense of who they are today.
Much the same can be said of Turkey’s Alevis who have been brutally treated in the past based on religious discrimination, and who continue to struggle for recognition today. The Alevis – similar to the Kurds – have an increasing sense of their identity even if hard-line orthodox Sunnis, whose number is significant in Turkey, do not even consider them to be true believers.
Then there is the division between the religious and secular outlooks which provides another source of potential social conflict in this country that can have undesirable effects in terms of the well-being of the whole, as opposed to the interests of a part of the country. No one expects this dispute to disappear after the elections. If anything it will intensify, cutting as it does, across other divisions that exist.
It seems that the only way out of this morass is if the country can make some sort of a new beginning after June 12, where differences are put aside and reason prevails in a manner that serves the common interests and basic human, civil and cultural rights of the citizenry. To expect that this will happen, given the vitriol in the air today, is naïve of course and as already said, the post election period is bound to continue to be turbulent.
On the other hand, there appears to be no alternative if Turkey is to attain inner peace and stability. As acrimonious as the campaign period has been this time around, there were elements of truth in what all the parties said as they paid lip service to the notion of “advanced democracy.”
Regardless of who wins the elections, it is clear that wise leadership will require that this fact is taken into consideration and that a new beginning is marked for Turkey where bridges are built, rather than destroyed as we saw in the lead-up to the elections.
It is all very well to come up with “crazy projects,” as they are affectionately called by their promoters, such as joining the Black and Marmara seas by means of new canals.
But the real “crazy project” the country needs is the one that brings more unity and tolerance, based on the awareness that we are not a homogenous but a heterogeneous society which can only remain healthy in the long run if a culture of respect for the other is developed.
Source : Hurriyet Daily News

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