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Starting from 2002 and until March 2016 396 commentaries of mine were published in Zaman newspaper in Turkish. Fifty seven of these articles were published in Today’s Zaman in English, too. These articles were translated into English by the newspaper itself and later were slightly “fine-tuned” by me to include them here. Most of these commentaries (37) were on current Turkish affairs. Five were related to theoretical issues of history, ten to Greece and five to minority problems. The last three groups are marked below as (HISTORY), (GREECE) and (MINORITIES).


            These articles if read taking into consideration the time they were written may give a picture of the stages Turkey passed through the last years. Personally for me, they remind me of the stages I have passed and of my own development experiencing Turkey, Greece and the world around me. (January 2017)



Terrorism and Nation Building, 2 December 2003

EU (or Ithaca) Articles, 27 October 2004  

Two Years with Zaman, 3 November 2004

Are We Confronting The Past?, 28 September 2005 (HISTORY)

A Painful Summer Monologue, 16 August 2006

Debates over Headscarf and Genocide, 19 October 2006

The So-Called Cyprus Problem, 15 November 2006 (GREECE)

Celebrities abroad, 6 June 2008 (MINORITIES)

Republic and coups, 5 August 2008

Boğaziçi University and Our Reflexes, 26 September 2008

A crisis of values in Greece, 14 December 2008 (GREECE)

Authoritarian, Totalitarian, Populist, 19 March 2009

The road to the EU & ‘Heritage’, 30 April 2009

Insults, mockery, satire, criticism and a different point of view, 14 June 2009

Are the people mature?, 20 August 2009

How to be a well-behaved Rum, 8 January 2010 (MINORITIES)

The lesson of the Greek crisis, 18 February 2010 (GREECE)

Who’s who in Turkey?, 5 March 2010

Stalemate, 1 April 2010

Conflict between identities in Turkey, 24 April 2010

A Greek tragedy?, 8 May 2010 (GREECE)

Turkey Greece and Aporia, 28 May 2010 (GREECE)

A Stable Axis in Turkey?, 23 June 2010

The 3CHP, 0.5AKP, 1MHP, 0.2BDP…formula, 30 June 2010

The Abant Atmosphere, 21July 2010

Teaching Religion, 18 August 2010

AKP’s Historic Role, 15 September 2010

Native Language and Demagoguery, 15 October 2010

Views on the headscarf, from America, France and Greece, 11 November 2010

From Myths to National Legends, 5 January 2011 (HISTORY)

Revolutions and Models, 3 March 2011

A ‘Blank Check’ and Guardianship, 1 May 2011

Socialism and other words that make no sense, 7 July 2011

‘Atatürk’ by M. Şükrü Hanioğlu, 18 July 2011

Praise for the Zaman daily, 11 October 2011

Elections in Greece: repercussions of rage, 10 May 2012 (GREECE)

Leadership syndrome, 5 July 2012

Until that day…, 29 August 2012 (MINORITIES)

Underdevelopment, 16 September 2012 (HISTORY)

Why could the West develop but not the East?, 22 November 2012 (HISTORY)

What’s changed in Greece, 9 December 2012 (GREECE)

The EU and the lesson, 3 January 2013

Racist attacks in Greece, 25 April 2013 (GREECE)

Violence, 25 September 2013

Scandal in Greece: Millas's letter, 17 December 2013 (MINORITIES)

Conspiracy theories, 5 January 2014

The delicacies of demagogy, 7 May 2014

Minorities in Turkey: a vicious cycle, 15 May 2014 (MINORITIES)

To my friends at the other pole, 14 June 2014

Keeping silent about the 'parallel' thesis, 13 August 2014

Nationalized consciences, 28 August 2014

A brave New World in Turkey, 3 September 2014

Human conditions are the same, but the reactions are different, 10 October 2014

Who discovered America? Well, who didn’t?, 30 November 2014 (HISTORY)

The feeling of déjà vu, 2 December 2014

What do we see in Greece?, 5 February 2015 (GREECE)

Greece: revolution or romanticism?, 17 February 2015 (GREECE)



Terrorism and Nation Building



Today’s Zaman, 2 December 2003


Why do societies cling together overcoming past grievances and even skirmishes forming a united front when confronted with a threat? The first explanation that comes to one's mind is the feeling of 'otherwise we will all be on the loss'. In similar situations the existence of the Other is the precondition for 'our unity'; and to live thereon next to an enemy is the heavy price.


Some academics believe that the sense of 'we' is possible only when the Other exists too. This is a rather pessimistic view. We are trapped: either we face internal strife or we fight against a real or constructed Other. There may be, however, another explanation of communal unity: when a great danger appears the justifications of internal strife may be reconsidered and reevaluated. Vendettas and unnecessary bitter feuds are left behind.



National building


The complex process of national building has such a dimension too. Communities that faced economic problems, that were exploited or were threatened by extinction losing their traditional cultures, came together raising a flag of a new identity and forming a national state. In the Balkans nation building started at the end of 18th century. The Muslims of Ottoman Empire, about a hundred years later were the last to join the process. The signs of this delayed national building are still noticed in the modern Turkish society: the precondition of a nation state, i.e., the minimum consensus on main issues, is not fully established. A shortage of tolerance in political issues, extended discussions on national identity, a lack of trust between the state and the citizens and the widespread concept of internal and external 'enemies' are some of these signs.


Strives expressed with an ethnic or religious discourse, authoritarian attitudes, perceiving the different views as a threatening challenge may be interpreted as signs of a delayed nation state building. In this perspective, the terrorist acts in Istanbul apart from their terrible effects may have a beneficiary aspect too. Society may think anew what really sets people apart and what brings its members together. Fights on symbols and stubborn insistence of parties to impose their views may be overcome. In other words ethnogenesis may be speeded up. This may be partly a consolation for the recent great loss.



Naming the Terror


There is a widespread discussion in Turkey nowadays if the recent terrorist phenomenon should be characterized as 'Islamic' or not. I personally believe that this characterization should not cause a new split within the Turkish society and retard its development towards a more harmonious society. If there are citizens that feel insulted for the adding of an adjective associated to their religious belief to these abhorring acts of terrorism, this sensitivity is enough to justify the avoidance of the adjective 'Islamic' altogether.


The use of the affix 'Islamic' is wrong too. We do not talk about a 'Catholic' terror in North Ireland, nor of a 'left' or of a 'Marxist' terror in Europe even though there are acts of violence that are carried out in the name of a religious group and/or of an ideology. Ku Klux Klan is not a 'Christian' racist movement even though the cross is its symbol. The avoidance of generalized adjectives is correct because these acts do not include all adherents to these said beliefs. We do not call capitalism and imperialism (and racism) 'Christian attitudes' either, because, even though they appeared in Christian societies, these social phenomena are not the direct outcomes of a religion but of special historical circumstances - as it is with the case of terrorism that is widespread in the Eastern/Muslim countries in our days. (This does not mean that the Muslim countries should not exert special efforts against terrorism.)


The name of terrorist organizations can be used instead of the affix 'Islamic' to avoid unnecessary social strife: as Al Qaeda or Hizbullah, for example. In case of doubt, there is no problem anyhow; it is an anonymous act of an unknown terror organization. The tendency to call 'Islamic' any unspecified act of terror is, apart from an insult to many believers, a suspicious act of prejudice, too.


In Turkey of the sixties a joke of black humor circulated among the leftists: the police had arrested and 'interrogated' a suspect communist. The poor man was screaming that he was not a communist but an anti-communist. The police were adamant. They made it clear that they did not care what kind of a communist he was! In Turkey of the two thousand it seems that some people do not care to distinguish what kind of Muslims some believers are.





EU (or Ithaca) Articles




Today’s Zaman, 27 October 2004


The European Union (EU) is naturally on the agenda and will remain on the agenda for the next decades. Can you guess the number of articles that will be written in Turkey during this period? Considering the first ten best-selling newspapers and at least two articles daily, this makes about 100,000 articles in 15 years. Assuming 5-10 expressed opinions on the EU daily in the entire media, including magazines, radio and television, too, this number reaches to millions. 

However, the different basic theses are actually limited; they may be reduced to a few opinions, (hence we may save time and ink, limit the "indefinite problems" within humane dimensions and also calm down our nerves!). We may deal roughly with two major groups: a) Those who trust the EU and b) those who do not trust the EU.


Articles against the European Union

Those who do not trust the West inevitably are also against the EU; even though the degree of trust and opposition may differ. Some may not even know why they oppose the EU, as we generally do not know the reasons of our emotions. Trust is a complicated issue. It is related to our past and especially to our identity. We cannot be impartial, as a computer can, vis-à-vis the "enemy" if our identity has been molded by hundreds of years’ assaults and wars, exiles, occupations, bloodshed and suffering, and it is indirectly related to these concerns, phobias, feelings of shame and “historical” pride.

What some call “hypocrisy, double standards, prejudices of the EU” are related to this inner world of ours. However, as it takes two to tango or for wrestling and fighting, two sides are needed to have stereotypes. There were always (at least) two parties in the past, whether they were Crusaders or fighters for the Islamic faith, or at times defenders or attackers. And one always finds the Other in one’s identity, the Other who does not belong to "us." And thus, those who define their identities through this method see an "enemy" in the face of the EU. This may be a mirror image of the stereotype that some Europeans develop vis-à-vis Turkey. The insecure “self” does think that he is himself a source of insecurity for the Other.   If he could, he would have controlled his own prejudices to a large extent and would not always place the responsibility on the Other.

Some do not want the EU in any case, some others have "conditions." The reasons of their objections are the reflections of their inner lives on the outside world: they are excuses and pretexts. They claim that “They don't like us; they hate us”.  (They do not see that this means "why should we like them, we dislike them, too!"). “They have prejudices, they will not admit us into the EU, anyhow; if they ever admitted us, they would do so in order to harm us (to split, to weaken, to assimilate and to exploit us etc…).”   When the Annan Plan does not bring destruction, Verheugen does not prove to be “our enemy” and their predictions are proved wrong they build new defense lines. They either "forget" what they said in the past or they find new arguments: "The negotiations with the EU will not be concluded, anyhow." Naturally the falsification of this last argument can be feasible only after many years. 

Some seem to support accession without believing in the EU and by considering only their short-term interests (feeling secure being close to a powerful economic group or by expecting that political pressures will decrease): "Yes to EU, but…", and their so-called conditions are expressions of the same lack of confidence. The discourse of "we-have-our- unique-characteristics" is the expression of such feelings of mistrust. It is obvious that every single state has its own peculiarities, as every regional, language, religion, and "minority" group may present its own special features. But these peculiarities are protected by the EU, are not endangered. By some the EU is not liked whatever EU does: when the EU supports individual liberties, they say, "they interfere in our internal affairs, our unity and our regime are threatened"; when measures are proposed to protect minorities, they oppose by claiming that "our liberties are threatened." As a consequence they are always against.

Problems are not handled rationally because the emotions are sovereign. To try to understand why one is insecure on issues of identity may prove more meaningful than trying to discuss these negative views on the EU. What kind of relations do we want to build with our environment? Can we have mutual interests? Is history always repeated?  Debating on whether the EU is good or bad avoiding the above questions may prove unproductive.


As for the EU supporters…

I see myself within this group. When I visit the "West", I always sigh, "why aren’t we like them?" Streets, universities, houses, dresses, daily lives, entertainments, average age, infant mortality rates, traffic accident rates, unemployed people, personal consumption are all better than ours. The people jailed because of their ideas are  fewer than the ones in our country. People from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Turkey try to take shelter there by obtaining visas or as stowaways. Nobody from the “West” ever attempts to come to "our part." To summarize, it is better over there. When I look at them, I say, "I wish we had been like them"!

These differences between the East and the West may have created feelings of inferiority. But the remedy is not the overall rejection of the EU having converted these feelings into an ideology of insecurity. The problem will be solved by achieving what they have achieved.

I trust the EU as much as I trust any humane institution. The EU project seems meaningful and beneficial to me. Any step towards the EU is a "benefit," not a "concession". The EU supporters express a different identity. Their emotional world is different. They have self-confidence.  As a matter of fact, they do not suffer any difficulty in accepting that Turkey's accession and harmonization efforts with the EU are not reasons for "shame", irrespective if Turkey will be ultimately admitted into the EU or not.

The road to the EU is very constructive, beneficial and full of adventures. It reminds me of the poem by Cavafis called "Ithaca," which is full of symbols. The arrival of Odysseus to Ithaca (you read to the EU) is a long and undetermined way. The island of Ithaca is the means, not the end; read the poem. During this journey ….

The fierce Poseidon you’ll not encounter

unless you carry him along within your soul,

unless your soul raises them before you...

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.

To arrive there is your final destination…

And once you're old, cast anchor on the isle,

rich with all you've gained along the way,

expecting not that Ithaca will give you wealth…

If then you find her poor, Ithaca won't have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

you'll have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.





Two Years with Zaman





Today’s Zaman, 3 November 2004




I have completed two years of writing in Zaman. This is my 53rd article. My first contact with the paper was through a young Zaman correspondent in Athens ten years ago. This meeting was developed into friendship and was followed by our visit to Athos Monasteries. An interview followed. Later, as I stopped over in Istanbul, I met with the staff of the newspaper and made new friends. Finally, the offer for me to write was made.


This is not an ordinary cooperation. I believe that for both parties it carries a meaning of essence and symbols. The paper is associated with a circle and stance we could describe as conservative or Islamic. On the other hand I am a person who grew up and worked in a Turkish leftist environment. Moreover, I had and still have a “shortcoming” that is impossible to change: I am a member of the “non-Muslim” minority group that inherited the Lausanne legacy - which is one of the hot topics of debate nowadays. For me, the rendezvous in Zaman is interesting and meaningful because it symbolizes the road Turkey has gone through.


In the 1960s and 70s, neither could I have been offered to write in such a paper nor could I have written in a newspaper I regarded as a "rival." In those years, an undeclared “cultural civil war” was going on in the country. That conflict was not political. It was the result of not being able to agree on common grounds necessary for the existence of any nation-state. With the terminology of social sciences, it was a sign of the uncompleted process of nation building. Then, the purpose was not only to criticize the opposite side or beat it at the parliamentary level; it was to eliminate the other party, wipe it off in the public domain. It was not a race; it was a kind of war.



Zaman's contribution to social peace…


We, as leftists, believed that we had started a revolution. This was a justification to push democratic methods to a secondary position. Not only did the "revolution" thesis made respect, tolerance and reconciliation unnecessary, it also paved the way for these "Western" concepts to be interpreted as weaknesses or even as betrayal. Those who still consider themselves Jacobins are remnants of those bygone days.


The other party was not very different from the "left." When innocent youths (because everyone was not innocent) and others were subjected to unjust or arbitrary treatment by either the state or other organized forces, the "rightists" and "Islamists" were completely unmoved. Human rights and democratic concepts were popular in these groups. For instance, when I and my close relatives were persecuted as members of an ethnic minority, they exhibited apathy and even incited this suffocating course of events. In short, those were bad times and most of us in those days were not innocent.


The rule of thumb for existing as a society is to achieve social peace and harmony. In practice it is not possible to ensure this by ignoring the existence of differences within the society.  The only way out is to try methods accepted as the essence of modern societies. Portraying traditional societies of the past as examples has limited use because most of the societies at that time were traditional and closed ones. They “solved” the problems by subjugating the people; whereas in our time, human needs, relations and expectations are many and different.


In my opinion, Zaman by a conscious choice has followed a different path against this negative past of the last few decades: Beyond suggesting "peace," it began to actually practice coexistence with diversity. The commentary pages in particular are examples of these efforts. With a pioneering initiative, diversity has been given the right to speak.


Zaman is a reflection of Turkish society


Diversity means being “open” to all. It means being open to "knowledge" and "learning," and moreover, to criticism. Those who “know everything” inevitably remain closed to new ideas. It is natural for them to approach different views with reservations. Diversity can only be practiced in an environment of tolerance.

I think there are old friends who consider my writing for Zaman very odd. It is very difficult to speak persuasively to them because most of them do not read Zaman. They read their "own" newspapers where they read views close to their own! On my part, I am much perturbed if I happen to be closed and comfy. Being in contact with different views keeps me alive. And that might be my romantic side.





Are We Confronting The Past?


Today’s Zaman,  28 September 2005

Recently we have been experiencing two events in Turkey, expressed as, "confronting the past" or "reconciliation with our history." Exhibitions, panels, and several articles were prepared for the 50th anniversary of the 6/7 September 1955 riots. This week we will be witnessing a conference titled "Ottoman Armenians during the Decline of the Empire: Issues of Scientific Responsibility and Democracy" at Boğaziçi University. In my opinion, such events are indexed more towards today than the past and reactions occur because they are based on current evaluations.

Facing the past or reconciliation with our history (or any other word to describe "confronting the past") is not associated with the past; it has to do with our present day. The goal is to confront people alive today and to create a kind of common ground with them. Past events were either kept alive for decades within a framework called "national history" or were left to oblivion. However, such interpretations were not validated outside the national framework. The plan at the domestic level did not match the plan of the outside world. As a result, Turkey has undergone an alienation process vis-à-vis her wider environment. For certain citizens the historical interpretations that do not match with Turkey's outer environment have turned into a daily problem.

However, this problem did not become everyone’s problem. Those who did not feel the contradiction did not move their pens, did not organize any panel or exhibition, nor watched any such event. In fact, some even did not remain indifferent; they positioned themselves at the other side and expressed their reaction in proportion to their distance to the problem. Some conveyed that these "confronting" events were untimely while others made harsher protests.  When the spectrum of all these reactions is analyzed it becomes clearer that the situation is more related to an anxiety in adjusting oneself to a larger milieu.

The conflicting sides of this “history war” form two groups on other issues, too: those perceiving the European Union (EU) with confidence and those with mistrust. This is weird. Those who are enthusiastic about "reconciling with our history" and those who are confident with and for EU are the same people. The people who are against the “reconciliation with the past” and who react against the conferences, panels or other activities on this issue, are either pessimistic about the EU process or close to the groups that absolutely reject the EU. 

I do not argue that these discussions on history are political. Rather, I argue that there is an identity problem and that this is directly related to political preferences. Our confidence and mistrust, as well as our desire to be in “harmony” with some agents on issues of history are directly associated with the identity of the “self”: Some search for their identity and for “those who are close to us”  in a wider area  and others do the same in a rather limited national framework. Thus, while some try to reconcile different perspectives, to "adjust" to the world and attain a more general recognition,  others do not highlight what the "other" says, they give credit only to his/her own interpretation of history and do not allow any criticism against a supposed "perfect and superior past of ours”. They never want their history (or we might say ‘their perfect story”) upon which they have built their identity to be questioned, shaken and above all to be denied.

I think there will be some who would claim that those in the first group, who seek a common ground with the world, are insecure, have low self-esteem and are ashamed of their identity; and that therefore they make concessions to the "foreigners". Perhaps, such people also exist in this camp. But, one can look at these two groups from a different perspective as well. The behavior of those who do not seek to be in harmony with the broader environment and do not believe that this is required might stem from their lack of confidence in their neighbor or the "other". I do not give the final word on this but I myself favor harmony with the wider environment. The narrow, limited and local consensus appears to me as a sign of a xenophobic introvert society: Something like a belief, which is easily shared with “our” villagers but has no validity outside the village.


Relationship between consensus and nationalism 

I will also touch upon the importance of consensus. Disputes during nation-building were encountered in every society. But "consensus" is not a choice or a preference; it is the formation of a nation itself. It is one of the basic aspects and processes of every nation. Nations were formations which in practice expressed their willingness to co-exist. Those, who do not or cannot apply this in practice, are the societies that are still in search of a national identity. That is to say, the irony is that those who create a fuss about the “nation”, act aggressively and attack every dissident are the ones who show that the nation has not been formed yet. Those who see enemies and traitors everywhere are the ones who retard nation-building. From this point of view, I believe that those favoring "harmony" and dialog in issues of history are in fact closer to a modern model of a national society. The search for harmony within a broader framework is an additional expression of modernity.

Similar identity issues are not special to Turkey and occur in all countries across the world. Also a general consensus outside a narrow environment is an old and  universal aspiration. But people tend to accuse those who do not think like themselves with disloyalty and ignorance. I suppose, however, that the majority of those who bring these issues to the agenda, in other words, those who are willing and those who are unwilling to confront history and perceive conspiracies in these matters, are both sincere in their intentions. They are not malevolent in their demands. Both sides pursue an attitude favoring the side called "us". Only, while one side tries to pursue its course not allowing any criticisms against “our past”, the other side tries to achieve its ends by “self-criticism”, in harmony "with the world" and by achieving through these means a social fulfillment. 

Maybe in the future we will understand that this conflict over "history" was an unnecessary one just like so many other fights among human beings.  Perhaps in the future we will also understand that when dialog is not hampered all sides benefit in terms of their national projects.




A Painful Summer Monologue


Today’s Zaman,  16 August 2006


Instead of writing articles about social problems, bottlenecks and international conflicts, I frequently wish to express the nice sides of life, in fact, the unimportant but joyful daily and personal details. But, for whatever reason, a “seriousness” that makes me uncomfortable dominates my agenda. This discomfort has two dimensions. At first, the value I give myself appears as a problem: I wonder if I perceive myself as someone who will resolve the huge problems that haven’t been solved over the years and the one to make recommendations. Such self-image isn’t at all pleasant; it is in direct contradiction to the humble self-image I prefer. The agenda reflected in my writings denies the modesty I appropriated to myself, doesn’t it?

I don’t like writers who talk about themselves, constantly shouting “me, me.” Sometimes I think that although they appear to be spokesmen of egocentrism, in the final analysis they may not carry any more narcissism than those writers who seriously look down upon them and see themselves as the source of inspiration for problem-solving. Of course, we’re in a dilemma. Each approach, in its own right, requires us to look at ourselves in a huge mirror. Perhaps real humility only proves itself in silence and isolation.

While innocent babies are being killed...

These “serious” and mainly political articles of mine imply a question of value. The writer’s agenda is a sign of the writer’s values and priorities. Sometimes our field of expertise and social status determines the contents of our writing. But what we put in writing are the things we consider more important. And when I confront myself, I frequently see that the agenda pictured in my head is very different from my writing. For example, my family problems, that is, some tense expectations created by our sons, the inflammation on my hand that kept me away for three weeks from the computer, the problems of someone close or personal depression and exuberance, my feelings and anxieties are not usually appropriate for a writing topic. Why? There’s a different order of priority dominant in writing. I guess because the subjects of writing are coded in the value system imposed by society. In such cases insincerity becomes problematical and discomforting: Not what we want, but what is “wanted” is written. Isn’t the connection between the writer and reader a little too official and artificial?

Recently what I don’t want to write about is the political side of a political war; it’s the other facets of this event I contemplate on. What really bothers me is the social pressure to write about the political side of this war instead of the human and animal blood flowing in Lebanon and Israel. Yes, I have to admit that animals have a place in my nightmares prompted by this war. The black and brown dog I saw under the rubble, for example, seemed to be a dog I loved. Cats that will die days later from thirst under the ruins come to mind. Of course, it’s impossible to drive the babies from my mind. Fathers and mothers are holding their children in their hands before they bury them and showing them as evidence of criminal acts to the world. To the world which nowadays, from Bush to my neighboring grocer, think of the approaching holidays. In my nightmares I cannot detect the color of their skin nor their religion; they’re covered with dust and blood and are not heard. This summer in that region all creatures are dying untimely and collectively. I wanted to write about this discomfort without judging at this moment who is right.

The leaders have risked dying for the values that they hold sacred and, consequently, they risk killing, too. Those who believe in the leaders are also following this path. But most of the dead were souls not knowing about the “sacred.” They are the involuntary victims of the sacred. Offerings at altars. In the past people were sacrificed. The basic principle of all wars in the modern era is this. Sacrifice of the innocent became the contemporary face of war. Haven’t all wars, especially beginning with World War II, shown this in the clearest possible way? The romantic times when armies fought hand-to-hand on green plateaus have passed. Those who chose force over reconciliation and maximalist policies over concession, in short the “kill or be killed” paradigm and war as their form of struggle are now complaining about the results of today; is this hypocrisy, ignorance or stupidity resulting from hopelessness?

Just as it is in the whole world, the question of “who is right?” is being debated in the Greek press where I found the opportunity to follow events more closely. In one article the writer, pushing his opponent, asked, “What would you do if an uncontrollable military force settled in Bulgaria and occasionally fired deadly rockets on Salonika?” In other words, killings on the northern front become kind of legitimate. The response is immediate: “But the Greeks didn’t usurp that country’s  land!” So, we tacitly understand that when conditions are ripe, the killings in the south can be legitimate. Of course, in addition, some people from neighboring populations can always come and say, “You first took our land.” Thus, when “sacredness” appears under these conditions wars take the place of life. Opposition to war is also generally mentioned with conditions: while unjust wars are opposed, just wars are considered sacred. And everyone sees his own struggle as just. In recent days I feel like I’m not on the side of those fighting, but on the side of those who don’t fight and don’t want to fight (but are dead) – regardless of religion and lineage.





Debates over Headscarf and Genocide



Today’s Zaman, 19 October 2006

This week I had actually wanted to write an article on the damage inflicted upon the “scientific thinking” by Article 301 of Turkish law which restricts the freedom of speech. However, I thought it more appropriate to tackle that topic some other time and decided to write about France when the law passed recently became a more urgent issue.


The prohibitory law of France is more important because it involves more than one country (France, Turkey and Armenia) and carries the potential danger of engulfing the whole EU. The Article 301, in the last resort, is not an “expansionist” one.

I have not been able to digest France’s action; and still worse, I have a hard time understanding it. Not understanding puzzles me. Opposing the other party after having understood its aim is a consistent and safe action. Reacting after having a full grasp of the issue means ones’ judgment is not a result of a moment of rashness triggered only by sentiments. So not understanding becomes my problem.


By “understanding” I mean knowing what sort of a thought system and belief an attitude stems from. The influence of the Armenian lobby, the strategy of getting more votes from a small segment of the society and the desire to prevent Turkey from getting closer to the EU could all be explanations to a certain degree; but they are far from being adequate. How can mighty France be so blind not to see that it has struck a sharp blow at the most basic principle of human rights? This is France where “The Declaration of the Human Rights” was issued in 1789. Article 10 talks of a right that “No one may be disturbed on account of his opinions, even religious ones, as long as the manifestation of such opinions does not interfere with the established Law and Order.” Can this principle be interpreted as “any opinion can be prohibited passing a suitable law”? Liberty and independence have long been the national symbols of this country. How can those who claim to be proud of Voltaire criminalize a different view?


When we look at France’s past actions and compare them with those of other European countries, for example England, we seem to find some clues that will deepen our understanding. The French nation-state came to existence as a result of an extremely bloody revolution, not of a compromise, and the killing of innumerous people was legitimized on the bases of a “sublime” ideal and a series of “truths.” This understanding and limitless self-confidence became the dominant elements in the model of the French nation-state. The truths welcomed by the nation acquired claims to a sort of universality. On the other hand, the truths accepted by the Parliament were recognized as the truths of the “abstract” nation. The diversity, the marginal sections and the minorities got lost in this vicious circle. “Citizenship” was perceived as the general entity that should be followed by everyone, and opposing these “truths” was perceived as opposition to the “nation.”


Recently, it has been frequently said that the headscarf ban at schools and public domain became more widespread in France because of this understanding. (We have not forgotten those who in Turkey hailed France’s prohibitive practices at that time!) Some proudly said that Turkey emulates France and its state model within the context of secularism. Now, we have seen and experienced the outcomes of this model. We are watching similar practices both in France and Turkey and at the same time in a particularly interesting conjuncture. The headscarf issue is a problem in both countries, freedom of expression too. In both cases prohibitions are based on the “state legitimacy” discourse. The contradiction between the two countries is not in the understanding but in the aims. There is a consensus on the headscarf issue at the states’ level now. However, there is seemingly a difference of opinion over the genocide issue: One side says there was no genocide while the other says the opposite. Both opinions are the same when evaluated from the point of view of social life: They consider different views as an offense and specify punishments.


Punishing those who deny genocides was first regarded as a sign of respect for the victims. Respect, without any doubt, is a good thing and no one is against it. But, when should a different view be considered a crime and when should it not? The important thing is not whether or not an event is considered genocide, but being able to express our views explicitly and fearlessly on any issue and not being jailed or threatened. Because, if the list of events that we should “respect” increases tomorrow, new laws may be enacted. And we may end up living in a fascist environment with a list in our pocket of the things we can say.


 I did not understand the essence of the clash between the two countries, either. Does the objection refer to the limiting of liberties, or does the problem lie in the fact that the parties evaluate the past differently?


What I have at least begun to see is this: In both countries, a group of people, who know what is “true” and “real” and constitute the majority, either ignore or try to suppress diversity, pluralism, small groups and the weak. The results of the debates over the headscarf and “genocide” issues are evidence of this. Those who oppose this approach are a small but struggling minority in both countries. From this viewpoint, the conflict is not between France and Turkey but between these two different approaches. Those who silence individuals in Turkey by means of a panel code and Article 301 and those who put a gag order on people in France with a threat of sentencing them to jail are not in conflict in terms of human principles but, on the contrary, are in agreement. They are not against compulsion but are only trying to impose their own truths on a similar mentality.


If those who criticize in Turkey the new bill in France, they dislike it not because it bans diversity but because “it supports a wrong interpretation of history,” they are acting as their counterparts in France. This is the same for those who oppose the ban on headscarves. Those who oppose this ban not because this practice is against human rights but because it is a “correct” choice are also acting in the same way, since they try to implement their own “truths” at any given opportunity. In other words, defending our own truths may be an altogether different behavior from defending principles for all.


If we look at the issue and at the parts in conflict from this perspective, we can determine who the friend is and who the foe correctly. The implementers of Article 301 and those restricting the freedom of expression in France are the same, and are harbingers of a dangerous future. European Commission President José-Manuel Barroso, European Union Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Commission Co-chair Joost Lagendijk and Turkey rapporteur Camile Eurlings, and thousands of European individuals, are closest to those who oppose the bans in Turkey and in France. This is a human rights struggle; it is not a struggle among nations.





The So-Called Cyprus Problem



Today’s  Zaman, 15 November 2006


Whenever I went to Cyprus something always bothered me there. The first was seeing four different national flags waving at the same time in central Nicosia. I always thought that the Turkish, Greek, and Northern and Southern Cyprus flags were too many.

Crossing a street through customs is another problem. In the past, even this used to be impossible. There were two ghettos, and fighters determined to keep their ghettos intact. To discuss this situation was also odd. There was no common language. On one hand, there were those who believed they had become a legitimate political entity by virtue of a self-proclaimed identity; on the other hand, there was a mindset prone to refuse the facts by prefixing a bunch of words with “so-called...” Hence, a “dialogue of the deaf” seemed to be the best expression to describe what was going on.

However, what I experienced and sensed through Nov. 8-11 (2006) was quite different; not because Cyprus has changed, but because of the uniqueness of the environment I visited. The Peace Journalism Conference organized by the Faculty of Communication at the Eastern Mediterranean University was attended by scholars and intellectuals from Turkey, Greece, both sides of Cyprus, Israel and Palestine, and presented an alternative and different framework. The attendees knew that the nationalist clashes – be it in Cyprus or in the Middle East - resembled each other strongly. The speakers created an environment based on “conflict resolution” paradigm, where understanding and dialogue were given a chance to blossom. This was a peaceful experience.

Suffice it to say that the organizers (S. Alankus, B. Azgin, S. Irvan and many others) should be congratulated, but I will return to these issues when the minutes of the conference are published. To me, the main message and approach of the conference were its openness to utopian thoughts. I am aware of the negative connotation of utopia. However, I am referring instead to its positive meaning: I draw on the vision to achieve utopia as an understanding that refuses to accept the given in the name of “reality,” and as the shift toward a currently-non-existent better and happier future that could be built via the beliefs and endeavors of the people. It is such a dream that moves the people to improve their lives.


A two-community chorus for peace in Cyprus

Some were upset by this conference, including those from the Greek side. An administration eager to perpetuate the ghetto spirit raised its voice asserting that the participation of Greek scholars in the conference held in the “so-called university” legitimized it. This administration  saw the citizens as its tool and made its existence heard. And so did an indirect fascist threat. However, the Greek participants were of a different opinion and understanding: Above all, the administration is accountable to the citizens, not vice versa.

I had the opportunity to meet with Mehmet Ali Talat. We have known each other for a long time. How could I not be delighted to see him unchanged, with all his qualities intact? He eloquently explained the necessity to lift the long-imposed isolations on the Turkish side. From this and a number of conversations I have had with other politicians, I concluded that unlike the Turkish side, the Greeks had no plan, no proposal and no initiative on resolving the Cyprus issue.

But what was actually amazing was the “Two-Community Chorus for Peace in Cyprus” which joined us at the dinner. The chorus was founded by Salih Öztoprak’s initiative in 1997. For years, in order to meet, both Turks and Greeks had to sidestep the bans. They could only meet in the buffer zone. Today, because passage through “borders” is permissible, they can meet on either side and sing their songs. Their performance was an unforgettable and emotional moment for me. Above all, they were the most cheerful persons I have ever met. They greeted each other by hugging and kissing, they sung their songs hand-in-hand. The amateur gathering was composed of people from virtually all ages. They sang in both Turkish and Greek.

I asked psychologist Kostas Kiranidis if he dreamed of a world that did not exist. He replied, “Yes!” and he further added, “We do not represent the majority. But we want to. We seek to live together with differences without experiencing discrimination, and we are not bothered by this; on the contrary, we are happy about such differences. We do not sing alone, but we are enjoying the taste of a different life.” The concert was followed by a surprise performance by Salih Öztoprak. He, along with his young partner, Yesim, staged a vibrant mambo show. I then discovered that Salih was a dance teacher, not just a locksmith.

While watching the different chorus members, I could not help comparing them with the conference participants. We made such modest speeches, perhaps laced with many insights. However, what often came to mind was that the career concerns of the academics, the ambition of journalists, the short-term interest of politicians and the pursuit of fame by the activists, were behind this “peace” discussion. We have offered a world of peace. However, they have already built and live in it.

While listening to them, I thought how different not only Cyprus but also the whole world could be. I asked myself why we couldn’t create a borderless world, where we could live without rifts, mutual concerns and express our love and respect. When talking to these people, I realized that they did not have such expectations. They were aware that Cyprus was not yet ready for such a future. However, they have the opportunity and ability to live the way they wanted in their narrow and limited environment, and I think they make the most of it.

If only they would not be spoiled by external interference, I thought as I drifted off to sleep. I had nice dreams in Nicosia.




Celebrities abroad




Today’s Zaman, 6 June 2008























It is both joyful and ironic: Two influential foreign magazines have picked four Turks as “important” persons. According to the Foreign Policy magazine, two Turks, Fethullah Gülen and Orhan Pamuk, are among the top 100 influential persons in the world. The list compiled by the magazine includes Jurgen Habermas, Umberto Eco and Richard Dawkins. The two other Turks - Mehmet Öz and Patriarch Bartholomew - made it onto the list prepared by the Time magazine. This is a joyful report, because four out of 200 of the most influential people in the world picked by these two magazines represent a remarkable average in a world of 200 states. This is also the case in terms of population size: Turkey, which constitutes 1 percent of the entire world population, occupied the 2 percent of the lists. Without ignoring the joyful part, let us also consider the ironic side of the case.

Three of the four currently live in the US. Öz is a very successful doctor. The other two prefer to live as expats because of imperative reasons - should I say because of health reasons or in consideration of the "be wise" warnings? The patriarch is still among us, but if we managed to make him go away then those strongly opposed to the patriarchate would be relieved. He would probably have been gone by now if he had not represented an institution. What I would like to ask is why these successful people are abroad and not among us. This is a paradox!

I just recalled the Young Turks era (at the beginning of the 20th century). Back then, those who became famous used to flee to Western cities like Paris. In the later stages, the list of escapees due to domestic pressure included Halide Edip, Nazım Hikmet and Sabahattin Ali, who never made it to a foreign country. I am not including a huge number of members of the non-Muslim minority and hundreds of political refugees simply because I am now talking about the celebrities who felt they had to leave this country. The celebrities opted to leave whereas the murderers, traitors and other criminals were supposed to do so. Is all this a coincidence?

The ironic part of this case is that two religious clerics have become two of the most influential Turks in the world while Turkey has been putting special emphasis on laicism. The country that has been run under secular precepts for 70 years has promoted two religious clerics. How can we explain this? Is it a conspiracy staged by external actors, the shortcoming of the secular model or a reactionary thesis-antithesis mechanism? The Dalai Lama is also included on the list; but his case is about his exclusion in his country by foreigners and violation of his rights by the same actors. It would not be accurate to seek similarities between these separate cases. But why did two religious clerics stand out in Turkey? What was the reason that made them famous? This case is sad as well.

One of these clerics is the patriarch; I should note in Turkey many do not regard him as a Turk. In addition, some are prone to cite his every action as part of anti-Turkish propaganda. Should we call this contradiction, an inconsistency, a conspiracy or an enemy plot? Does this Turkish citizen represent “us”? A similar problem occurred in regards to the case of Leyla Gencer, who died recently; she was living abroad (maybe we would have bothered her earlier if she was not). Some even failed to stand as they consigned her ashes of her body to the waters of the Bosphorus. We remained reluctant and timid even in her last journey. These are our people that the country has difficulty in embracing, but why? I heard Zeynep Oral on the TV when defending Gencer saying in good faith that she was a better Muslim than many fellow believers. We frequently hear another statement indicating that the patriarchate is a good thing for Turkey. We often read the success stories of the schools opened in the world upon recommendation by Gülen. We have always said how Nazım Hikmet promoted Turkish poetry and the country in the world. These favorable references imply that a person should do something heroic in order to be safe from persecution. But, shouldn't an ordinary person - regardless of his or her achievements or failures - deserve equal treatment as long as he or she remains a citizen of this country?

Why should a person have to be a good Muslim, do something good for his country, become a promoter of his country free of charge and prove his loyalty in order to be accepted by the society? Isn't being an ordinary citizen enough to live in this country like a real human being? Some are forced to prove themselves – some say they are admirers of Atatürk, others express their fondness of the military or make it clear that they are religious or assert that they were not born rich. There is an ongoing campaign of self-defense in this country. However, saying "I am an ordinary citizen" should be sufficient.

But the grave question is something different. Who is answering to whom? Against who are we defending ourselves? Against who are we forced to prove our loyalty – to an unjust order, to a state not entitled to ask such a question, to talkative figures speaking on behalf of these, to actors of societal pressure? Being a celebrity or a successful person should not create additional entitlements for us, just like being an ordinary person should not make us less privileged. The athlete who wins a race, in all other issues should be considered equal to the one who finished last. This will be the case if awareness of citizenship becomes prevalent in the society. In short, the fact that people feel they have to prove themselves is a violation of human rights. We should all have the right to be the way we are. I would like to close by congratulating Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who was picked as best director at the Cannes Film Festival. He is living abroad as well. We will see whether some will find something wrong with him.















Common denominators and diversity




Today’s Zaman, 18 June 2008





















It is not fulfilling to write about Turkey in present times when words are no longer influential. So let’s take a look at our world which is struggling with problems. I reviewed the turmoil-related concepts on Wikipedia: revolts, military coups and civil wars. I am writing what I learned from that portal, according to which there have been about 30 coups for governmental posts since 2000 in the world. Almost all of them were in Africa, Latin America and the Far East. But if you run a search for Turkey, you will come up with the “successful” coups staged in 1960, 1963 (failed), 1971, 1980 and 1997.

The number of revolts and insurgencies in the last decade was about 40. The ones I am most familiar with are the revolts by Algerians (1991-2002), Chechens (1999 and in the aftermath), Abkhazians (1988 and subsequent years), Kurds, Northern Irish and Kosovars. Civil wars have been fairly frequent in history; in fact, 26 civil wars were fought in the 20th century alone. The number of civil wars that lasted for more than a year is 19. Most of these wars took place in Latin America, Africa and the Far East (Nigeria, Mozambique, Congo, China, Vietnam, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Peru). The following were fought relatively close to Turkey and Europe: Russia 1917-1921, Ireland 1936-1939, Yugoslavia 1941-1945, Afghanistan 1991, Bosnia and Herzegovina 1992-1995, Greece 1946-1949.

Civil war is defined on Wikipedia as follows: armed conflicts based on cultural, social, religious, political or economic clashes and irreconcilable views. Of course, the type of arms is not specified. But it is noted that the target is the leadership and the government. The parties involved in such a conflict are in general from the same cultural, social and national groups. The war is fought for political power and influence in the making of politics. It appears that it is easier to define terrorist events. There is no agreement between the experts on the required number of deaths in order to define a given incident as a civil war. For instance, some argue that there should be at least 1,000 deaths in such an event or 100 from each party to call the incident a civil war.

We can find interesting details on the civil wars with religious motives on the same web site. The conflicts between the members of monotheistic religions were more severe and deadly than the conflicts between the members of pagan religions. The primary reason for this is that members of pagan religions were in general undereducated; and they did not have the will to sustain a clash because of a lack of strong affiliation with a single god and a sense of uncertainty about their multiple gods. Those with flexible beliefs open to interpretation do not feel the pressure from the opposite side and in the past, syncretism -- attempting to reconcile aspects of different religions -- was fairly commonplace. As religions became more defined through explanations and interpretations, it also became difficult to reconcile these beliefs with a measure of uncertainty. The site also makes mention of religion-based wars between the Shiites and the Sunnis, the Catholics and the Protestants and many others. This is a very disturbing explanation and view. In other words, do societies develop violent tendencies as they become more educated? What is relieving is that the major religious wars were fought centuries ago.


Common denominators

From a certain point, reading does not suffice, you will want to contemplate and determine your own perspective, as well. It's obvious that the reason for all these civil wars is the lack of agreement on a minimum consensus. But saying this is a tautology. It is all the same to argue that we cannot agree and to say that we do not have common denominators. Nothing is achieved by repeating this fact. The question is actually something different. Which are the societies that developed a minimum consensus and which are the ones that go through a painful process? On what foundation is reconciliation based? When taking a look at the issue in this way, the conclusion would be as follows: societies are more reconcilable in Western Europe, where the nation states emerged first. They maintained stability after horrible clashes and conflicts. There are ongoing wars in the countries in transition to modernity. For instance, Latin America, Africa and the Far East are experiencing this process of transition.

Achievement of a minimum consensus is not the formation of homogenous citizens within the nation-state. Such entities could only be found in communities of the past, not in modern societies. Today, a society free of diversity is not possible or desirable. What is observed in modern nation-states is the determination to coexist, despite differences and diversities. Peaceful coexistence can only be achieved by respecting differences. The most natural outcome in a society where differences are frequently and repeatedly emphasized is division based on these differences. The behavior that unites a society is avoiding polemic over differences because such a polemic will create the opposite of the targeted goal: revolts, coups and civil wars.

The societies with obvious differences base their national unity on this diversity. Respect for diversity ensures unity. In nation-states, this is called a national minimum consensus. They start with notions like citizenship and of course a constitution. People are not treated differently based on their wealth, rank, education, background, culture or language. Equality is not a utopian goal. It is the fundamental fabric of a modern society. Those who disrespect equality are not in favor of the nation; they actually favor a group that they will be able to control. When citizens feel that they are not equal before the law, the desired modern society cannot be achieved. Exclusion (because some are seen as uneducated, very religious or from a different belief, very cosmopolitan, insulting, etc) simply retards the formation of the nation-state. 

The nation-building process also includes a paradox. As the social engineers proceed with exclusions, bans and prohibitions, society is divided. In such an environment, coups, revolts, conflicts and civil wars are expected to emerge. Didn't we witness that those who took action in good faith caused partition of their countries? Common denominators are achieved within nation-states when everyone is equal and no particular attention is given to differences. For instance, in some countries, no attention is paid to who is wearing what or who loves who. This creates an environment of mutual respect and a minimum consensus. In this type of environment, we begin to love one another because of mutual respect and understanding. There is no consensus though in the concentration camps. Submission is something else.  






Republic and coups




Today’s Zaman, 5 August 2008

















The Sept. 12, 1980 coup was the third open intervention by the Turkish Armed Forces




The actual problem isn't that military coups have occasionally taken place. It's not that there exists a risk of a coup again either. The worst part is that these coups are considered legitimate and justifying the coups makes their recurrence possible, even natural.


Their legitimacy is considered a call for new interventions. Political forces provide this legitimacy on their own. After each coup politicians act as if nothing has happened. In other words, the coup-makers are not prosecuted; they are even respected and some of them have been honored.

Academics, journalists, politicians and business persons say every coup created a legal order of its own, iterating it as if they had expressed a most natural statement. It is such statements that make the coup legitimate. This is an understanding implying that "you are comfortable after the coup, provided that it is a successful one." It is true that revolutions (not coups) generate their own legal orders. But every revolution creates a new regime as well. It is a historical reality that the new regime destroys the older one and builds its own world. And the new regime generates its own legal order to protect and sustain what it builds. So what regime or legal order did the coups bring so that they would be considered legitimate?

If consecutive coups are staged to sustain the same regime - the Turkish Republic - this would mean that coups have become unalienable part of a “protected” regime. If coup staging creates its own legitimacy and justification, why does it do this? The republican regime does not function through coups: Quite to the contrary, because it relies on popular sovereignty the chain of coups in this regime should be regarded as illegitimate. But if one coup makes the next one legitimate, this protected regime is a coup regime (There is probably no need to clarify that this is not a democratic regime.)

In fact, this is not a paradox. It is an expression of the situation. The paradox is in another sphere. What can be said about those "parliamentarians" who fail to oppose coups, and regard the popular will as being of secondary importance? Those who act strangely and contradictorily are playing a phony parliamentarian role by denying their inherent roles. They try to represent the people after getting a seal of approval from the coup-makers; in other words, they are those who base their legitimacy on the illegitimate.

In the end, we have come to a point where we try to understand the essence of the regime and tell it to the enemies and friends. İzmir Airport is given the name of the prime minister who was elected by people’s vote and executed for treason after the 1960 coup. The accusation was a phony one but those who executed the prime minister are still respectable personalities! A bunch of politicians are jailed, parties are closed down; then the same people praise the coups staged against themselves. And they do not feel the need to quit politics. This is an environment where both the ones who keep the Parliament open and those who close it down are legitimate.

However, in democracies - and, of course, in republics - coup-makers can never be exonerated. They are prosecuted when they lose the power and when they leave the office. The coup-makers should not necessarily be jailed; they may even be granted amnesty; but after being prosecuted and convicted. The justification of coups is an incorrect political decision related to the core of the regime.

The message of Ergenekon case

Currently, it is not possible for us to know what the outcome of the Ergenekon case will be. But undoubtedly, a message will be heard independently of the outcome: Staging a coup and plotting against politicians and popular sovereignty are crimes. Those who adopt a logic of implementing a coup are not of an alternative political wing; they are simply outlaws. Even though they may have good intentions and consider themselves patriots and protectors of the republic, their actions are not legitimate: A coup is not a normal political method.

There are some who wish a coup would be staged so they are “relieved." We all know that those who call on the army to perform its “duty” do not utter anything about the cross-border operations. But it appears that even the prosecutors got used to such slogans. Recently (July 26), Mehmet Barlas wrote that we had gotten used to almost everything unusual: We got used to complicate the interplay between law and politics, considering party closure a natural extension of politics, and speeches were made as if no political assassinations have ever been committed and no illegal actions had been staged in Turkey. In fact, we got used to this because we considered everything to be legitimate.

Ordinary citizens are different; the stance of politicians is far different because politicians and parliamentarians are high-level representatives of the regime. They lose their legitimacy when they implicitly or explicitly approve the coup actions. In fact it is not the coup-makers who destroy the republican regime; the destroyers are those who respect the coup-makers and consider them legitimate. When the representatives of the nation become part of the anti-democratic practice the republic comes to an end.

Unfortunately, political circles are unable to convey this message strongly and in a unified manner. At a time when a consensus was required for the republican understanding to become stronger among the people, we did not see such a stance. There are even supporters of a protectorate regime; some would be remembered in the future like this. Perhaps they were not ill-intentioned but for sure they held wrong principles. The accused in the Ergenekon case may as well not be convicted of any crime; it is my wish that none of them prove guilty and we wake up saying, "Well, that was a nightmare." But today, each citizen has to be supportive of the determination to oppose the coups, murders, defamations that we got so much used to. We have to do this at least to declare that we favor the legitimacy of the republic. 





Boğaziçi University and Our Reflexes





Today’s Zaman, 26 September 2008





















When asked  “Where are you from?” these days I want to say “I am from Boğaziçi University,” or more correctly, “I am from Robert College,” as this was the name of my school in Istanbul. It is not easy to find many like myself who come from this college. While there, I attended a preparatory class for one year, then junior and senior high school for six years and, finally, university for four years. During those 11 years, I matured from childhood to a married man. I am the product of this campus.

People tend to assume self-induced personality or originality in themselves, yet they are also products of their environments. Recently, whenever I ask myself, “Why am I the way I am?” I remember my school years. Those were the most critical years, the years that shaped me. When I was young I believed I had developed a character “against” that “capitalist” or “imperialist” American school. In the 1960s, the leftist movement which I was a member of tended to have such views of the world - don’t be mistaken, at that time, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) was not regarded as a leftist party; rather, it was seen as a bureaucratic right-wing one. Now, I know that this school environment, which I opposed then, has shaped me, recreating “me.” The first to notice this was a close Greek friend of mine. “You”, he said, “have Protestant ethic.” This came as a shocking realization to me. Indeed, the American teachers  - they were in the majority - who had influenced me had certain patterns of behavior - in the Weberian sense. They would love their job, perform it candidly; they were consistent, fair, hard working, punctual and outspoken. What’s more, there was a democratic atmosphere in the school. They would respect us all and our beliefs. This was I think the most important quality of that school.

In the Cold War years I was an active member of the Turkish Workers’ Party (TİP) but no one ever bothered about it. We would invite prominent leftist figures to conferences held at the university and no one ever uttered a critical remark. Whenever I recall the things I said to teachers in class, I feel ashamed of my aggressive behavior and ill temper - yet taking some pride for my courage in those years. In high school, with my revolutionist rage, I “humiliated” the great poet Keats, saying he was too romantic. During my university years, I made it a habit to raise objections to professors Suna Kili and Kemal Karpat in almost every lecture. I did not consider them sufficiently leftist! I frequently gave lectures to American teachers about US imperialism. “Your ideas are very interesting”, they would say. And I would conclude that I have beaten them. 

Eventually, to express my views, wrong or right, without restraint has become a spontaneous habit for me. I have come to see freedom of expression as my most natural right, without authoritarian restrictions taking any root in me. Actually, without being fully aware, I transformed from being a subject to being a citizen.  More importantly, I came to value diverse ideas. I learned in practice that everyone is entitled to express his/her opinions and act freely provided that s/he respects other people, too. But, they have not taught me this by forcing me to memorize mottos like “the sovereignty unconditionally belongs to the nation” – “egemenlik kayιtsız şartsız milletindir” in Turkish. I internalized democracy in practice. I am talking of “automatic reflexes” and I am indebted to this school for them. Democracy cannot be taught in class. What you can teach in class may be what one has to say while delivering a speech on democracy. Whereas democracy is a style of living, a behavior and an impulse. If you feel anger when you listen to your opponents and eventually ban them or try to impose restrictions on their behavior, then it does not mean much if you know to whom sovereignty belongs or that freedom is a virtue. At the critical moment, your reflexes will be despotic.

Later, years after I had graduated, what touched me most was when I was invited to this school as a speaker. Among the audience were my classmates who had become professors. Aware of the fact that this would mean much to me my friends allowed me to stay on the campus, stay at the school for several days, inhaling the odors of the refectory, of the library and of the classrooms. There was still the atmosphere of the good old days. I gave a lecture as if speaking in Hyde Park. Then I thought that I never found the atmosphere of this university in my later years. If you take what I have just said into consideration, you can get a better picture of what Sabancı University Rector Tosun Terzioğlu, one of my closest classmates, is trying to achieve in office.

Bans in abundance?

I don’t know much about him but I heard that Kadri Özçaldıran is the first non-Robert College graduate in the past few decades to become rector of this university. He was elected and we must respect this. But I feel I am entitled to talk about my school. This school has not only produced engineers, mathematicians, economists, linguists and other academics and successful professionals. It has also presented in an “eastern” setting, starting from the 19th century the atmosphere that Turkey has been longing for. This is the most important ingredient of what we frequently refer to as “contemporary civilization”: respect for what is different, tolerance, or in short, democracy. It is not what is written in books, but the one that throbs in our reflexes.

A democratic attitude means to quiver when you hear a call for help or to empathize with a crying person or to feel a difficulty to eat when you see a starving hungry person – rally, can you? When a school’s administration meddles with the apparel of students, the quality of education will not degrade, but the quality of your graduates will. A different generation of students will come.

When I heard that there are interventions nowadays in my old school, I thought about these things and felt sorry for my school and its students. Perhaps this attitude is really being enforced by law, but if I were in the rector’s shoes I would have tried to find the courage to resign from office if I could not find the courage to stand against the law. Resignation is the easiest and safest move. For me, it would be a reflexive act, I think and I hope. I would not destroy the most entrenched and special legacy of this school with an administrative decision for the sake of “law.” Perhaps this is what the ethical values indoctrinated into me in school urge me to do. I have never felt any regret for being a bit different. Perhaps I have remained marginal within my wider society, but I have never felt myself “outdated” in the world.




A crisis of values in Greece




Today’s Zaman, 14 December 2008


















Violence has overtaken Greece since Dec. 7. Police killing of a teenager,

threatening the stability of Greece's government.




Greece has been in a state of turmoil since December 7 (2008). People took to the streets for demonstrations and vandalism when the police killed an adolescent during a protest. The opposition held the government responsible for the ongoing situation, recalling that the administration and the security forces failed to take adequate measures.


It is really difficult to explain these developments to Turkish readers because Greek society is pretty different. Even the Greeks are appalled, and they can't explain what has been going on. The government calls for calm; the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) makes reference to the impotence of the government to repress the riots; the Communist Party alleges that the incidents are due to the plots by illegal circles of interests, and the Leftist Union (Siriza) views the violence as a social explosion caused by growing economic problems. These are inadequate and superficial explanations with no significant reference to the actual reasons.


Greece experienced the repressive military dictatorship between 1967 and 1974. I observe that some balances have been shaken in the subsequent era of democratization. A populist political style has been pursed with reference to a cultural revolution by PASOK, which aligned itself with a leftist ideology, starting from the 1980s. Some successful practices were observed in this era. For instance, the army was left out of politics. The police organization, which had poor relations with the people, was democratized. Civil society has become more influential. Measures were taken to make sure that the people are not fearful of the state. Retired people and disadvantaged groups were provided with extensive support. Young people, who were repressed during the dictatorial rule, were granted additional rights.

However, these positive developments have gradually amounted to extreme practices endorsed by all governments. Every collective action was turned into a fetish. No boundary remained on this matter. Opposing popular movements were considered an antidemocratic and pro-junta stance. A few examples will be illustrative. Today, anybody can hold a meeting or demonstration at any time and in any place in Athens. The laws are not enforced to deal with such protests and demonstrations. Demonstrators can block the traffic and cause serious problems on the streets. In such cases, the police are expected to protect the demonstrators against probable counterassaults. The society itself finds this pretty natural. A demonstration held by a small group on a road with traffic - not on the walkways - is regarded as a right. No government dares to open up the traffic in reliance on coercion in these events.

These collective rights were also granted to young people. For instance, the practice of immunity at the universities is exclusive. For the last two decades, the police have never set foot on the campus of any university. Meanwhile, a number of anarchists and other sorts of groups have looted or vandalized university campuses in downtown Athens. Even non-matriculated people joined the looting and took away hardware parts from the labs. The police only watched what had happened from a distance and only rarely relied on tear gas against the protesters. The offenders were never prosecuted. The administrators of the universities have never invited the police to the campus; because opposition to collective action would be considered a pro-junta stance, they failed to take effective action; it should also be noted that the students play an extensive role in the promotion of university professors.

These rights were subsequently given to high school students. Their violent actions are not opposed and prevented effectively and the students hold that they have these de facto rights. For instance, a small group of students may resort to violent actions alleging that the doughnuts sold at their high school are not fresh and shut down the building. Nobody could oppose this. Sometimes violence spreads and influences the entire country. Such incidents take place almost everywhere. The authorities do nothing other than waiting patiently for the end of the turmoil. In the end, violence stops; but the demonstrations and protests leave dilapidated school buildings behind. Offices, equipment and educational materials are destroyed in these events. These are considered regular incidents in Greece and a substantial part of the society sees these as part of democracy.

The number of such tragicomic events is pretty large whereas those who attempt to deal with this state of turmoil face great challenges because a number of groups and circles actually benefit from it. The young people enjoy their rebellious nature, teachers work less and parents are comfortable because nobody fails at schools and politicians avoid being accused of being pro-junta. But in the meantime, a young generation is being equipped with wrong and misleading messages. This generation has learned no boundaries; they have come to believe that they are entitled to doing anything provided they act collectively. In the end, they now consider those who try to stop them as an enemy of the people.

A small anarchist group of 1,000 members which has resorted to violent actions for years now exploits the murder of a child and attracts extensive support from the people. It is impossible to explain what has been going on if we fail to consider the accrued experience of many years in the past. Of course, economic problems, unemployment and feelings of insecurity for the future are sources of discomfort. And we could say that shortcomings and inconsistencies of the politicians were additional factors. However, expression of the distress and discomfort through violent actions rather than peaceful demonstrations is a product of longstanding practice and training. It is really difficult to end these incidents. The values crafted for many years may not be eliminated by recommendations or repressive measures.

Those who are not familiar with Greece think these developments are part of a protest against a murder. Some even see these incidents as proof of the presence of democracy. This is only one dimension of the issue. The prolonged violent protest is related to a crisis of values and there is nothing to be praised in this case. It is not healthy to see a connection between democratic and peaceful demonstrations and looting properties of innocent people. The surprising part of these demonstrations is that the protesters took to the streets without voicing solid demands. It seems that their goal is to be discharged. What happened is the pathetic state of a young generation suffering from deep wounds. This is a pendulum swinging between junta and anarchy. Societies embracing and internalizing democracy do not make a choice between authoritarian regimes and arbitrary actions. Even if Greece calms down, it will take time to maintain a new balance of values. Unfortunately, political and social forces are not currently available to draw a new course of actions.







Authoritarian, Totalitarian, Populist

H. Millas



Today’s Zaman, 19 March 2009























We think using concepts. We describe a man as, say, good, honest or witty. We may depict a situation as dangerous, good or complicated. We may define politics or politicians as left, right, democratic or traitorous and decide to follow them or not according to these titles.

These concepts (qualifications, attributes, labels) are both useful and restrictive. Without them we cannot make generalizations or put our thoughts in order. Yet, labels may, at the same time, cause us to ignore details and infinite nuances. For instance, when saying "left," some people may refer to the Republican People's Party (CHP) or the Workers' Party (İP) while some refer to Murat Belge. In other words, concepts may cause chaos or meaninglessness, too. We observe that secularism, republic, judiciary, justice, human rights and other similar concepts are already becoming quite "elastic". Perhaps, one cure is to increase the number of concepts and enrich our understanding. If we compare a man whose range of concepts is restricted to “bad or good” with a man who has a very rich arsenal of concepts, we may see the second man as having a very rich set of tools. We may say that such a man is less likely to shift toward stereotypes and prejudiced assessments.

It may be useful to keep these in mind at a time when politics are high on the agenda. We may need to add details to our assessments. Let us start with concepts such as authoritarian and authoritarianism. Wikipedia says: "Authoritarianism describes a form of government characterized by an emphasis on the authority of the state in a republic or union. It is a political system controlled by nonelected rulers who usually permit some degree of individual freedom. ... [In this system] ... political power is generated and maintained by a 'repressive system that excludes potential challengers' and uses political parties and mass organizations to 'mobilize people around the goals of the government' ... all important political decisions [are] made by unelected officials behind closed doors; ... [it has] a bureaucracy operated quite independently of rules [and] the supervision of elected officials ... Leadership ... is 'self-appointed and even if elected cannot be displaced by citizens' ... [there is] no guarantee of ... liberties ... Political stability [is] maintained by control over and support of the military ... Because the legitimacy of the state is dependent on performance, authoritarian states that fail to adapt may collapse. ... The transition from an authoritarian system to a democratic one is referred to as democratization."

When people are regarded as clients

Totalitarian regimes have additional characteristics. The first is related to the type of government (be it a junta or single party or group rule). The second also attempts to assert its control over society: it tries to regulate private life and shape ethics and people's ideologies (beliefs). It attempts to destroy civil society and communities working independently of the state.

Populism - here is another concept - is generally not noticed if it is seen by the masses as democracy. Populism is a form of political discourse that assumes that a group of elites in society tend to repress the people's interests and argues that state organs must be freed from the control of these elites and used for the benefit of the society. For this reason, a populist person designs his speeches according to the economic and social needs of the people on the street. Recently, populist leaders have emerged both from the left and right. Leaders of populist movements generally state that they will oppose big corporations and cleanse the "corrupt" elites. Populism frequently may comprise anti-regime politics and may merge with nationalism, racism or fundamentalism in right-wing tendencies.

When we base our thinking on the above-mentioned concepts, we start to view the political parties not according to the labels, names or attributes they select for themselves, but according to their intentions, programs and mentalities. Then, we can get a better picture about who is who and their similarities and differences (if any). This is what I mean when I say increasing our concepts. Labels are insufficient. For instance, “republicans” may prove authoritarian or totalitarian. Or they may support true democracy. Those who are very talkative about people and democracy may just be exploiting the love for democracy.

Also, it may be misleading to regard political struggle as being between authoritarian or totalitarian forces on one side and pro-people (populist) forces on the other side. For a simple reason: All these forces may have common characteristics. For instance, these common characteristics may be an insincere discourse, reference to democracy with many possible meanings or intentions for social engineering. Authoritarian and populist forces represent two sides of a medallion. Indeed, another characteristic of populism is its demagogy that seeks to seize power pampering the weak, praising the defects of the people, stressing useless initiatives and inoculating sweet feelings that have harmful side effects. Populism is a systemic social lie. People are treated as "clients" and pleasing these clients is regarded a duty, and at the same time, several lies are uttered. This is why these relations are called clientele relations.

Like authoritarianism, populism is against democracy. At any time, we may encounter it while it is wearing a lovely mask. Not only politics, but also literature and art are areas it frequents. When you sense that you are being flattered, you must be on the alert. Populism is not specific to a certain class, it may catch everyone irrespective of education level or economic status. Populism is widespread in our time, and I intend to deal with this issue later. It will certainly be useful to slowly abandon typical political labels and employ more contemporary and sociological concepts in our thinking. Such an approach may also create some uneasiness as it will force us to leave our familiar surroundings.



The road to the EU & ‘Heritage’

H. Millas


Today’s Zaman, 30 April 2009





















Some words, phrases and concepts create positive associations in our minds. "Our traditions," "the heritage of our ancestors" and "the memory of our parents" are examples of such wordings.


But what comes from the past may also be bad and harmful. The nostalgic "good past" is the characteristic of romanticism. These were my primary thoughts while I was giving a speech at the 2nd International Balkan Congress held in Tekirdağ  (Turkey) in April on the theme of "Socioeconomic Cooperation and Development in the Balkans."

I recalled that with the collapse of the socialist experiment in the Balkans and the fall of the Iron Curtain, the relations between countries began to accelerate. A rate of mobility that could not have been imagined some 20 years ago is now taken for granted: Borders are more open and tourist, sporting, academic, cultural and economic visits have become easier. Socialism once tried to be "international" based on class. Today universality is provided by the capitalist system with a different mentality, i.e., based on the search for interests.

Closeness in the Balkans had been observed prior to the emergence of the nation-states. This was made possible by the empires. The Byzantine and the Ottoman empires ensured that peoples with diverse cultures could live together for many centuries - though, of course, with coercion and without paying much heed to the demands of their subjects. The basis of their unity was the strength of religious faith - ecumenism (universality) or the idea of holy war. With the nation-states, this mentality was left and forgotten in the dustbin of history. Nationalism created distinct units, advocated the ideology of "being national and original" and disseminated this mentality among its citizens.

In other words, the Balkans and the Balkan peoples have become objects of different social projects over time: Empires offered them "universality"; "nationality and originality" were given by the nation-states; "internationalism" was advocated under socialism; and today the convergence is on the "free market economy." The European Union is the result of the last project.

One still can see traces of these four projects coexisting. However, these "heritages" do not have the same weight in every country and peoples do not tend to perceive the past in the same manner. I say "perceive" because today academics define the identity of nations and their perspective on history as "perceptions." Some call the concept of "nation" an "imaginary community" while depicting national identity as a “construction”. Actually, this seems to be the best way to explain why different nations interpret their common pasts in different ways. The "science" of history changes from one country to another.

This differing perception of history reached its peak during the era of nation-states. Behind the wars in the Balkans and the recent political and cultural conflicts is the process leading to the establishment of nation-states, as well as national ideologies. The important thing is that there are deficiencies, contradictions and dangers in this "national heritage." Its deficiency is that a national heritage is regarded as a single and uniform entity. However, as previously noted, there are other cultural habits and traditions that were created out of coexistence in the Balkans. These common traditions are many, but they generally do not come to the surface on a conscious level. Centralized education in nation-states has tended to reinforce a past that is deemed "national" while turning a blind eye to other cultural influences. The contradiction is that while importance is attached to traditions and heritage, some heritage that really exists is denied in order to protect a supposedly national one. Some nation-states opt to pay no heed to the alive and existing heritage, aiming to create an imaginary heritage and fend off influences they deem foreign. This is the reason the process of creating a national "tradition" is called "invention" and not "discovery."

The confrontation of "us versus others" that makes up the essence of national identity is conveyed as an element of “national heritage” from one generation to another through centralized national education. The forces defined as "others" are sometimes regarded as historical enemies and viewed as national threats or foreign influences that are dangerous to the nation's identity. Studies on textbooks used in schools in the Balkans have provided us with valuable information on reproduced biases.

The purpose of the EU project, which is regarded as one of the most ambitious and influential social initiatives of our time, is to eliminate differences between countries within a framework of political and cultural partnership and to contribute to peace through joint progress. However, the "imaginary national heritages" of nation-states stand as an obstacle to the EU project. The effects of the 19th-century nationalism are still alive and operative. However, the neighbors who were cast as "others" are not historical realities but ideological constructs reinforced through education. Yet the real problem is that such national biases and interpretations have been internalized by societies. The outcome of this internalization is a failure to see incidents and their effects. The dynamic called "national identity" persuades us that our imaginary past is "natural." Since our imaginary environment is perceived as an indisputable fact that every reasonable person must accept readily, it is impossible to talk about, criticize, change or transcend it.

When the distinction between real and imaginary heritages is recognized the EU project and process will be understood better, too. These two different heritages serve in practice two different ends. The first places emphasis on "partnership" for further convergence, while the second stresses "difference" for increased exclusion. What should be done is to decipher "imagined heritage" and reveal our real heritage. The potential for socioeconomic cooperation will further be boosted if these obstacles can be overcome.




Insults, mockery, satire, criticism

and a different point of view




Today’s Zaman, 14 June 2009





















There are certain modes that we use to express ourselves, words and stances that can even stretch all the way to what is sometimes perceived as insult or mockery.


Of course, perspectives change from person to person. Of course, the concept of what these stances mean is chaotic and jumbled, and if it weren't for this jumbling up, then our world would live in greater harmony and we would be more comfortable. Not always but generally it is due to misunderstandings that we hurt each other, even destroy each other. Just recently, Taliban leaders in Afghanistan declared that former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who is set to head the NATO starting in August is a leading enemy of Islam. The reason given was Rasmussen's stance on the "caricature crisis." Taliban forces and anti-Rasmussen factions maintain that Rasmussen supported the insulting caricatures.

And thus came evidence of just how right Turkey was in expressing its own opposition to Rasmussen to head the NATO. But in the meantime, we need to look at just what exactly was proven here. It was true that bringing this person - Rasmussen - in to head up the NATO would inevitably elicit reactions. This prediction was in itself proven to be right. But when we look at the Taliban's stance, do we arrive at the conclusion that Rasmussen's own stance was wrong? The answer to this question depends on how we define the word, or rather the concept "wrong". Because after all, what is "wrong" changes from person to person and situation to situation. For example, telling lies is shameful, immoral and wrong. But if a prisoner of war tells the "truth" during an interrogation session, this could be seen as committing treason. So within this framework, "telling the truth" is wrong, while "telling lies" could be the right way to go. There are lots more examples like this. And so, we conclude that right and wrong depends on what one wants to achieve. If Rasmussen's life goal was in fact to become the NATO secretary-general, then his failure to oppose the controversial caricatures was of course wrong. By failing to oppose them he took an unnecessary risk.

But why did Rasmussen behave as such?

His stance could be linked to the following reasons: a) He might actually be a deep-seated, judgmental enemy of Islam, and so these caricatures may well have been an expression of his inner world; b) he might have believed that this stance would win over the sympathy of Danish voters, in other words it may have been an issue of personal interest; c) he may have believed that deciding what should and should not be banned did not fall to him as prime minister; and d) he may have simply wanted, more than anything, to ensure that everyone in his nation had freedom of expression, even if this expression strayed into the arena of insult, mockery and satire and was perceived by many as being personally insulting. I do not know which of the above choices have had a more influential role in affecting Rasmussen's stance. Do you?

 There may be some people who would wish to offer up an easy and dependable answer to the above questions/problematic: a smart and well-mannered person does not insult others in the name of certain interests and principles. But it is just at this point that my own problem with all this starts. When someone's stance derives from personal interest and lack of manners, then opposing it is easy and fair. But what if a different stance, criticism, satire or mockery is counted as basically freedom of expression, and thus there is no move made to ban? What if someone - despite the fact that he does not agree with an expression of mockery and satire - decides to ignore or accept it because of certain basic principles of his? On the stairway from what could be characterized as simply being a difference in views heading all the way to clear insult, who is to decide exactly which step we are actually on? Which step on this ambiguous stairway will be the one to finally tip the balance of our patience? And when our patience is sorely tested, what will be our response?

 Much discomfort can be created through the expression of different life views, especially when they stretch all the way to mockery. People and societies have often reacted in varying manners and levels of sensitivity. Dictators forbid satire, authoritarian powers ban criticism, while those who don't "get" jokes have often been boggled by caricatures. In some societies, there is absolutely no tolerance shown for jokes made about that which is sacred, leaders who have been deified; meanwhile, in other societies, that which is sacred can even be the focus of very simple satirical criticism, even blame. Actually, the borderline that divides satire and mockery is completely dependent upon our own perception. Because of certain practical needs, and of the basic need to coexist, societies use bans to define the limits of what they will tolerate in all this. There is always a line drawn between the layers of critical satire and insulting mockery. And as we see, this particular line is the constant topic of debate in our courtrooms.

Similarly, as you might appreciate, the drawing of these lines in two nations with cultures as completely different as Denmark and Afghanistan is very difficult to do.  It is difficult to find a point that would satisfy both societies and cultures and seen as fair by both. And if Rasmussen made his decisions in full knowledge of these difficulties, and the inherent dangers, then in the end, we must accept that he did not choose the easy path and that he knowingly chose to create deadly enemies. Before ending though, there is one other possibility that we need to consider in all this: if Rasmussen decided to act purely in the name of freedom of expression, despite all the dangers this presented, this stance does have aspects that could be appreciated. What I mean to say by this is that there is a bravery that we can appreciate in the decision to back freedom of expression before the much safer "let's be well-mannered" principle. What is not appreciated in this particular stance is the double-standard we often see when the subject turns to freedom of expression: When satire is aimed at us, respect is demanded from us; but when we criticize others (and this criticism is then perceived by those others as insult), freedom of expression is our reference point.

The shocking difference brought about by globalization

In the Western world, it is quite usual to see that which is sacred used in theatrical plays or films to show human weakness, and in doing so, to use jokes and even satire. In fact, things which are quite revered can be completely opposed in these arenas. Here is where the real question then lies. In our times when globalization has begun to knock down the protective and dividing walls between very different cultures, how is it that people from these very different cultures who suddenly find themselves living “all in one place” will be able to handle and deal with these shocking differences? How will our borders of tolerance be widened? Respect is basic, and of course, respect is also necessary. But respect must be reciprocal, and respect is everyone's right. Freedom of expression should also be respected.

What we must also recognize is that respect cannot be forced on people, that instead, respect emerges - or in some instances fails to emerge - naturally as a result of acknowledged value of the “respected”. All that pressure and force bring about is fear and fealty. What I have in mind right now is all those with different views and beliefs, all those "lacking in respect"- the "disrespectful" - who have, over hundreds of years, been excluded, lambasted, deported, had their tongues cut out and their eyes poked out, been killed by being forced to drink poison, been crucified, had their necks strung up or been set on fire. In thinking about all those who have experienced the perception of being insulted, we sometimes forget these factions, too. And so, we can conclude that clearly respect must also be shown to people like the above who are labeled as "disrespectful."






Are the people mature?




Today’s Zaman, 20 August 2009





















I heard and I read it so many times the last years in Turkey; but I was sure that this issue was beyond discussion nowadays. The French Revolution questioned the discourse of “illiterate people” that was built up by the aristocracy and this problem is resolved for good in our days, at least in Europe.


The thesis of “people without consciousness” was occasionally promoted by fascist and communist regimes, but the idea that the people hold the final word became widespread especially when these two regimes proved inadequate. The people have become sovereign in Turkey, too, and this has been accepted by the major political actors. However, I heard recently the same discourse during an informal meeting among “well educated” Turks. According to them “the Turkish people were unfortunately immature” So, I thought, I knew so little the people in my environment! The conversation started with some cliché remarks on the government's alleged policy and covered the voters, too: few kilos of coal were distributed to poor families; the parties come to power by relying on such methods in Turkey; some (Muslim) women do not shake hands with men, etc. And so the argument concludes that “the affairs of the state cannot be left to those illiterate and immature actors”.

Actually, this thesis referring to the immaturity of the people is being served as though it favors the people, the country and the nation: All their worries are for the benefit of the people! But in fact, it opposes the people, the republic, the national sovereignty and the state; because the Turkish Republic was based on the premise of popular sovereignty. Once the popular will is negated a number of problems emerge:

Who decides whether the people are mature or not? With a Parliament ignored and taken out of the political sphere and considering that there is no more a sultan to rule anymore who will assume this role? Some may defer to the National Security Council (MGK) or to the chief of general staff, to the Constitutional Court or to some other bureaucratic institutions. However, none of these can take an action without violating the Constitution; how will these dictators get the necessary authorization? Who and how will decide whether the dictators are really good? Besides, are dictators opposed because they are bad or is it because they rule without getting the consent of the people? Violation of fundamental principles and laws is illegal for all. For instance, a coup could not be legitimized by the argument that Adnan Menderes was a bad politician. These principles are all about the core of a regime that has been tried out the last decades.

 Assuming for the sake of argument that the world is saved from immature people via a “civil” or military coup, doesn’t the establishment in such a case contradict what it has been promoting for decades via official discourse and education? What will happen to the official and popular mottos “The Turkish state is a republic,” “Sovereignty rests with the nation” and “Turkey is a democracy”? They will be void of meaning. Some may claim that these are trivial concerns transcending the ethical dimension. But it will mean that those who have promoted these principles have not actually meant them, that they were lying to the entire nation, that the whole educational system promoted a lie for generations. All past governing cadres will prove hypocrites who were hiding their actual goals. Some, of course, may argue anew that the end justifies the means and the mission is superior to all other consents. But wouldn’t such an argument cause a breach of confidence and trust?

The thesis voicing the immaturity of the people is like a bomb at the foundations of the state. The people will never trust rulers who do not trust them. The greatest crisis that Turkey suffers is already the crisis of confidence and trust. The people do not trust those who do not trust them; they do not vote for them. On the other hand, some politicians – and “mature” individuals – lose hope for and faith in the people. This is a vicious circle.

Actually whether the people are mature or not is not an issue. It should be noted that there is not an absolute maturity; relativity reigns in this case.   Probably less mature are those who do not regard the people mature. They have a mindset reminiscent of Louis XVI; they hold fascist ideas. Worst, they are unaware of what they are promoting. They harm the unity of the people and of the nation via this discourse. Sadly, they believe they serve the people, too.

Sometimes I ponder to advise those who are skeptical with the people: Try to distribute a few pounds of coal for free, I would say; then we will all see who will win the next elections. I suspect the electoral body takes into consideration, apart from the material gain, respect and trust, too, because these are also gains. The allegations on coal actually humiliates the listeners. I remember, it was a decade ago, a so-called secular and “progressive” organization that printed and distributed fliers to encourage literacy: the flier text stated that “people read”, but the depiction included a chimpanzee and a man underneath. I was shocked by this flier which equated a dislike of reading with chimpanzees. I thought to myself that these people do not get it; they insult people on every occasion! Who will the people vote for after seeing such a flier?





How to be a well-behaved Rum



Today’s Zaman, 8 January 2010



When recently during a visit abroad, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew voiced  some of his complaints in reference to life in Turkey, many people - from the state dignitaries to civilian patriotic persons - displayed reactions that ranged from “Turks do not crucify” to “Whatever you want to say, don’t say it in foreign lands, say it here instead.” On my part I recalled my grandmother who loved cats very much and who used to warn us when we were being naughty pulling their tails: “Min ta stavronete ta gatia” (“Don’t crucify the cats!”). “Well”, I thought, “I guess we the Rums start up with this crucifixion business pretty early in life!” In any case, the real point of this piece of writing is quite different. I extracted the necessary lesson from this incident – the Patriarch complaining of his folk being crucified in Istanbul -  and now I want to give you readers  as well as the few Rum specimens left in Istanbul some points on how to be good Rums. “Rum” is a term used to describe Turkish citizens of Greek ethnic origin. Here is my list:

- A wise Rum never speaks about Turkey when abroad. And of course, the wisest stance of all is to simply never mention anything that could sound to anyone like a complaint. Actually, the less you speak, the more profitable it will be for you! The ideal is complete silence. This is also sometimes referred as “knowing your place.”

- If a Rum feels he absolutely must voice complaints related to minorities or human rights, then he could speak about the unfairness of the policies applied by Greece to the minorities in Western Thrace. 

- The fact that it is a TURKISH minority residing in Western Thrace must be particularly highlighted. There is some advantage to repeat over and over, with a dose of irony, that the Greek state ignores the national identity of this Western Thrace minority and instead of referring to them as Turks, it calls them “Muslims.” Of course, it helps a lot to stay away from mentioning that İstanbul Rums cannot call themselves “Greeks” and that there is not even a question of being allowed to have foundations that carry the word “Greek” in them.

- The double standard at hand must be used in a creative and beneficial (for us) way: The other side must be asked to stick to basic principles, and must also be asked to show understanding for “our” decisions and actions. 

- The advice “Be wise!” is valid for issues of history, too. Emphasize that ever since the Turks arrived in these parts, they always treated us (the Rums) well, did not try to assimilate us all, allowed us to live out our lives and generally showed us great tolerance. And there is also always some gain to repeat how we, the ungrateful Rums betrayed the Turks. 

- The more the Greeks and the Rums are condemned and criticized and the more the Turks are praised, the more harmony between the Rums and the Turks can be achieved.  The insistence that “Were it not for the Turks, there wouldn’t be a Rum left in the West” is quite satisfying, beneficial, mollifying and, of course, constructive for some to hear. The true secret to serenity lies in this sort of pleasing statements.

-  Rums must not take up with the subject of their own history from a one-sided and egocentric or ethnocentric perspective. The recalling of a few singular events such as the forced migrations, the forced population exchanges, the Wealth Tax of 1942, the riots of  6/7 September 1955, the exportations of 1964, the “Citizens, speak Turkish!” campaigns and the looting of various foundations can cause some discomfort. These things should not be spoken of - or even really referred to - when in public.

 - As we’ve all witnessed, there have been some Turkish intellectuals who have, in recent years, brought up the subject of these unpleasant memories from the past. Therefore, it is beneficial for all wise Rums to stay far away from these “so-called Turks,” who are suspected anyway of being in alliance with certain foreign powers (like the European Union or George Soros).

- The Rums should grab every opportunity they get to talk of the deep sense of gratitude they feel toward the Turkish state. And of course, this should be accompanied by constant repetition of just how bad the Greek society really is and how badly and with prejudice they treated the Rums who moved there from Turkey. Stories should be told over and over again of just how regretful the Rums who moved from Turkey to Athens are. Say that all yearn to go back to Turkey and live again everything from the start. 

- The Rums also need to give up on their stance of denial and simply admit that their real aim has always been to form the Byzantine Empire once again in İstanbul, in accordance with the Megali Idea. Once they have made this sincere show of regret, they need to ask to be pardoned for these thoughts they were harboring. For as long as the Rums, who are of course responsible for every action taken by Greece, refuse to do this, none of them will really ever be comfortable here.

- There is no real benefit for the Rums bringing up over and over again that they have lived in İstanbul for hundreds of years. Eras have changed, and everyone needs to head home now. As for the guests, they need to be satisfied not by what they had hoped to find, but what they actually found. Along the lines of these truths the Rums need to start being more modest, not so belligerent, quit making unreasonable demands -from going on about human rights to repeating EU-rooted demagoguery about multiculturalism - stop staring at the clouds and instead start being realistic.

- And of course, the Rums must not provoke the Turkish society by leaning their backs on foreign powers such as the European Court of Human Rights.

- The Rums also need to understand how meaningless it is for them to bring up their complaints about present-day life in Turkey. First and foremost, every problem will eventually be solved. There is an endless amount of time stretching out before us. Patience is the key to every problem. Nothing causes more discomfort than a constantly complaining minority. There are such laws, such a Constitution, such a Constitutional Court in this country that nothing stands in their way. In the end of the day, history in practice showed that the Rums have never achieved anything by complaining.

- What the Rums really need to understand now is that the more they complain about their status in Turkey, the more the nation’s esteem abroad and the image that citizens have of themselves get damaged. The majority wants a different sort of minority these days: one which is sweet, joyful and happy - or at least one that says it is happy. Yes, the Turkish majority wants a minority whose children will win patriotic poetry contests, whose members speak Turkish as their native language, mention constantly how “grateful they are to the nation”, set up two rakı drinking tables a day, play “rebetiko” music all day long for those around them and try to give Pera that cosmopolitan, festive atmosphere that everyone wants.

 - The Rums, should take the sensitivities of some of our more racist citizens into consideration and stop repeating things like “We are also citizens of the Turkish Republic!”  Even if they are, they don’t have to keep saying this! Those oaths at school that go “I am Turkish, I am in the right...” were just formalities.

- The Rums also need to remember to earn only a measured amount of money in Turkey. A rich member of this ethnic minority does nothing but confirm the view that all Rums are trying to exploit Turkey. The Rums need to keep in their sights the long-standing “leftist” tradition in Turkey that supports the impounding of “foreign” wealth, while believing it is far from being racist.

- The Rums should feel absolute love for the majority, which tells them, “We love you.” Otherwise, they deserve whatever fate is in store for them.

- The most emotional and sensitive words on this subject this far were spoken by a politician who is also a retired diplomat (I won’t give his name, since the Rums should try and stay away from personal conflicts!). It was during a television program that this aforementioned politician made an emotional stab at this subject, saying, “The Rums are our citizens; their problems are our problems, and when they have a conflict, I hurt deep in my heart.” Later though, this same politician added a “but” to his words, and in the light of the “principle of reciprocity,” started to list one by one the complaints of the Turks living in Western Thrace. And so, in the end, if the Rums could only understand the reason guiding this sort of mentality, if they would only drop their unrealistic demands and manage to better perceive their real status as hostages, whose presence in Turkey ensures balance, then they too would lead easier lives. And so that, in short, is what makes a good Rum.




The lesson of the Greek crisis




Today’s Zaman, 18 February 2010






















Other countries such as Portugal, Spain and Ireland are experiencing economic problems similar to those of Greece, yet Athens is receiving the harshest warnings from the EU. There are two reasons for this.


The first is Greece’s reluctance, indecisiveness and delay in taking precautionary measures. It took the new government a crucial three months to identify the precautionary measures in “principle” (such as minimizing the state, limiting expenditures and increasing taxes). But it did not take any concrete steps. This attitude shook confidence in the economy, and now there is doubt about whether the measures will actually be implemented or come to fruition once they are applied. There are different reasons as to why politicians are indecisive. The main one is naturally their concern about losing votes. It is predictable that the party in power will be held responsible, at least partially, for an unpleasant fiscal austerity policy. The governing party has been enjoying cheap money in recent decades, and it does not want to lose voters who are used to that kind of lifestyle. It wants to come out of the crisis with the least damage, and it is seeking help from old methods such as taking foreign loans and shifting the burden of the debt to future generations and governments. However, in the midst of insecurity it has become difficult to find an optimist who will extend a loan.

Failed to conform to EU philosophy

Another reason for the indecisiveness is the fear of social resistance. The Greek nation is fixed on the method of making financial demands, applying pressure for these demands to be met and consequently accomplishing “something.” This has been the method for years. At a time when high-interest foreign loans are being used to pay public workers’ salaries and pension benefits, the agricultural workers are setting up blockades on roads and making certain parts of the country inaccessible (they want subsidies from the new government), and the public sector workers (especially tax collectors) are going on strike to protest the austerity plan, the old methods are not easy to implement.

According to the EU policies, the public sector and the agricultural sector are among the two areas that need to be reduced. However, Greek governments have implemented a completely opposite policy within the scope of vote hunting and populism. Even though the necessity of “reducing the state” has been constantly mentioned over the decades, the number of workers in public sector has multiplied. The number of public employees was occasionally (and with “good intentions”) increased, sometimes to please voters (clientele relationship) and at other times as part of the rhetoric on solving unemployment.

This practice placed a major burden on the state, and inevitably this burden was shifted to the markets, inciting taxation and borrowing. This in return impaired the productive private sector and caused productivity and the nation’s competitiveness to drop. Privatizations in line with the EU program were also carried out with a “statist” mentality. Those who were dismissed from work either received almost scandalously large sums of compensation or were reinstated as public sector workers. In other words, instead of relieving the state’s (and taxpayers’) burden and supporting the economy, privatization created more debt for the government and put pressure on the market. Ultimately, investments were delayed, and a solution to unemployment was sought in public employment once again. This created a cumbersome and bulky public sector and a society with a weak ability to undertake new ventures. In other words, a complete vicious circle. The crisis was like a predictable accident.

According to the EU policy, the agricultural sector would be limited and workers would be shifted to other sectors. Efforts, incentives and educational programs to this end were not implemented and the EU’s cheap money was distributed to the individuals concerned to use in consumption. The EU resources were inappropriately used, the necessary structural changes were not made, consumption increased without consideration of the future and an opportunity was lost.

The last major problem is with banking. The era of low-interest borrowing from the EU has ended. In brief, Greece failed to comply with the EU philosophy. In fact, economic circles still have doubts about whether some politicians fully understand the causes of the crisis.

Scope of lies unclear

There is a second reason for the EU’s concern and distrust. There has been speculation about the reliability of Greek statistics, but the deviations in recent months have riddled statistics with “lies.” The term “Greek statistics” has become a joke among European circles. The EU is disturbed by these lies, but more importantly the scope of these lies is not exactly clear. Any investor or creditor in a sector where the figures do not reflect the truth is not secure. Actually, an economic crisis and a crisis of confidence are intertwined. (It’s necessary to mention that the lies were not merely directed to the outside world but that society deluded itself, refusing to see the facts and not wanting to understand the mechanisms. They realized that they were “benefiting” from the lies and took part in them.)

Even though it’s not officially or widely mentioned, the people in Greece want to believe that a miracle will happen. A superpower, in other words the EU, will come and solve all their problems with a magic wand. In old Greek tragedies, “deus ex machina” (literally meaning “God from the machine”) would appear at the last moment and solve all problems. But we are living in modern times, and a state of affairs known as “moral hazard” is greater than “deus.” Helping out those who are in trouble because of wrong policies means giving undue credit to wrong policies in the long run. In fact, it means an injustice to those who observe correct policies. It also means that those who know they will be saved will constantly take unnecessary risks. If the EU attempts to follow a “savior” policy, it might not signal a type of confidence to the markets, but a lack of confidence. Other countries may want to follow in Greece’s steps. In other words, making it seem like a go-ahead for politicians who want to extend the cost of populist policies to EU countries could put pressure on the euro. The benefits are at three levels: personal, national and at the EU level, in other words general. Providing external support to the Greek economic crisis could make matters worse (for the EU). It is for this reason that the EU is constantly sending the message that “Greece needs to solve its own problem” and that it has the “ability to do it.”

The economic crisis in Greece is obviously going to have a negative impact on the people. But this does not mean that their quality of life is going to be at the level of poor countries. It will be a relative and limited problem. One way or another, in the short or middle term the financial crisis will be solved. The main issue is restructuring this society so that it is compatible with the EU. This will be accomplished – or not accomplished – depending on whether the society changes or not its mentality. This is the challenging aspect of the task. The course of the crisis in Greece is a lesson for other countries. It will be beneficial to follow this adventure in terms of the consequences of economic instabilities. Lessons are always beneficial. But sometimes the cost of learning late can be very high.




Who’s who in Turkey?




Today’s Zaman, 05 March 2010






















If you live in Turkey it is easy to explain the political situation in the country: you decide which side you belong to and you judge the situation with self-assurance.


However, if one is a foreigner and asks questions to understand the surroundings one faces a paradox. That each person considers his side to be the right one and the others all wrong is not what is strange – actually this is the rule in all democratic countries. What is surprising in Turkey is that the parties are involved in a fight voicing similar and even identical principles and aims.


One of the main aims of the government is the full accession to the European Union. The same is declared by the opposition, too. There is no disagreement with respect to the legacy of the modern republic or the constitutionally declared basic principles of the state that was founded in 1923. Common worries and interests are voiced when freedom of speech, human rights and the guarantee of these are mentioned. (For example, “modernism” is the common motto of those who are for or against

a) the headscarf; b) the court trials against the military; c) integration with the West.)

Law is treated as if it is sacred but courts are condemned as sources of ills. It is rare to find a country like Turkey where justice is referred to so much when human rights and freedom come into the agenda. All claim that they are trying not to harm the army, some trying to absolve the legal action taken, others by leaving the army intact.

Then the foreigner will think the country enjoys full harmony: same principles, same targets, same sensitivities! The paradox is faced when one starts asking about the “other”, the political rival and the practical ways of accomplishing the said aims. Then the answers will give the impression that the country is experiencing a civil war. Each attributes to the other the opposite beliefs and targets of his own. Each will insist that what the “other” says is insignificant and that only the secret agendas count. Politics are run on this axis: the “intentions” are explored. Theses are advanced by a selective approach, exaggerating some facts and silencing others.

The political strife in Turkey is not of the left versus the right or about the nature of the regime. The arguments form mirror images: one alleges “gerici” (unprogressive) and the other party answers back with “dinozor” (dinosaur). Apparently the self-image of each is one associated with modernism. There is an uncertainty due to an unclear and  unidentified political course. This may mean absence of real politics; and in this absence the fight becomes personal and abstract.

Another explanation of this political race, whose dialogue aspect is weak and fighting aspect is strong, may be related to a phase of nation-building. The last decades have been characterized by a determined policy of forming common national values; but this policy instead of strengthening a consensus created controversies. The project to build a nation-state but in a non-democratic environment, not allowing the free development of identities and enforcing predetermined objectives sparked reactions. The implemented practices (for the sake of “national ideals”) in fields of ethnicity and religion created new social groups which were skeptical and phobic. From then on, every step taken by the "opposite group” was perceived as a threat, respectively. The situation turned into a self-perpetuating spiral and the present-day situation was reached: instead of a political confrontation a confrontation of groups is experienced.

Three reminders seem necessary. First, a crisis of confidence appears to be the main problem. Trust crisis has reached such dimensions that many defy laws, justice, even of traditional values and ethics in order to cope with the threat that they believe they are facing. Some face the political opponent as an enemy in a lethal war. Second, this strife can be seen as an identity issue, too. The identity dimension can be noticed in the symbols used in this controversy: The headscarf which may be liked or disliked; the sacredness of military uniforms; the national flags which increase in number in the country; the issue of religious schools; the demonizing of the West or being presented as a panacea; the visits to the Ataturk mausoleum to “accuse” the opponents… These symbolic actions bear a value much higher than politics themselves.

The third point is that this article is written by a writer who feels he is a part of this debate. The readers have the right to know that. The writer feels close to the side that has less worries and fears (actually phobias) vis-à-vis the “other.” As for modernity, he thinks that this is a long historic process that started with the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. Its  internalization takes time. Democracy is of decisive importance in this. However, it should not escape our attention that the pursuit of democratic rights is different from the pursuit of one’s own rights. Parties and individuals since antiquity have tried to secure their rights. The idea of democratic rights is a new, more abstract and internalized concept. It means showing an interest, not only in our rights but in rights in general and in the rights of the “other” as well. This dimension is not very prominent in the parties.









Today’s Zaman, 1 April 2010




















Chess players know the situation. Stalemate is a position in which a player is unable to move but the king is not being attacked, which means that neither of the two players wins.


Metaphorically, it means a situation in which neither group involved in an argument can win and no action can be taken. The initiated constitutional change in Turkey seems to have reached a stalemate. It is a case where politics is in a deadlock.

Until recently, it was clear how the Constitution of Turkey could be amended: either through a parliamentary decision or by referendum, but in both cases following some predetermined rules. In fact, many such “normal” amendments were made in this field during Turkey’s republican era. Some less orthodox changes were imposed by the military through coups. But in all cases, formally, it was the Parliament or a referendum that legitimized the amendment. Over the last months, it has become understood that the approval of a high court is also required.

This became apparent with what followed the constitutional amendments of Feb. 9, 2008, allowing women to wear the headscarf at universities. On June 5 of the same year, the Constitutional Court annulled the change. The justification was that decision of the Parliament, which was passed by 411 votes to 103, was contrary to the decree and spirit of the three “unchangeable” articles of the Constitution. In other words, the articles that are not to be amended do not number three, but many more. A consensus on the actual content of the three permanent articles has never been reached. These articles contain vague notions such as “social state,” “the nationalism of Atatürk” and “secularism,” which are interpreted differently by the social actors of the country.

The legal power of the Constitutional Court is stated in the Constitution: “The Constitutional Court shall examine the constitutionality, in respect of both form and substance, of laws, decrees having the force of law, and the Rules of Procedure of the Turkish Parliament. Constitutional amendments shall be examined and verified only with regard to their form.” However, in the abovementioned headscarf constitutional amendment case, the court extended the examination beyond “form.” The important point is that this court decision was accepted and recognized by the political world. In a sense, the examination of constitutional amendments beyond their “form” now has a precedent. It should be expected that the Constitutional Court from here on will feel freer to examine amendments based on their “substance” and on the interpretation of notions such as “social state,” “the nationalism of Atatürk” and “secularism.”

An approval by referendum

Analysts predict that the proposed constitutional amendments will not receive the required support in the Parliament but will probably be approved by a subsequent referendum. It will not be an easy decision on the part of the Constitutional Court to annul the verdict of the majority of voters and the public will. However, such a decision cannot be ruled out. On the contrary, such a step is highly probable, taking into consideration the big step which was taken initially, examining the amendments beyond their “form” and in accordance to their “substance.” Considering the prevailing compartmentalization, the crisis of confidence in the political milieu of the country and the perception of the political opponent as an “enemy,” it should not come as a surprise to witness that the amendments will be judged as ill-intentioned measures contrary to, say, “nationalism” or “secularism.”

If this analysis is correct, it means that articles of the Constitution, even laws, cannot be amended unless the high courts consent. One may recall how the law that enabled military personnel to be tried in civilian courts was annulled by the Constitutional Court on Jan. 21, 2010. The signal that laws cannot be changed was given when the Council of State annulled the laws related to the Higher Educational Board (YÖK). Actually, the functioning of the legislative and the executive bodies depend on the consent of the high courts. Thus the simile of stalemate. The Parliament cannot pass laws nor can it amend the Constitution. In the short run, freezing most activities may operate as a (forced) consensus. However, such a system in the running of state affairs will cause a deadlock in the long run.

In a game of chess when a stalemate occurs the solution is easy: one can start a new game. But it is not possible to start the republic anew! In theory one may suggest solutions; one should go back to the source of the difficulty and correct it. The basic mistake seems to be the perception that the Justice and Development Party (AKP), i.e., the ruling party, which was elected by popular vote, is an “enemy.” The AKP is perceived by some as the basic force that intends to destroy whatever was gained during the decades of the Republic, as a threat to the future of the country. This image unavoidably creates the psychology of a “total war.” It is natural that a perception of an enemy “other” will result in strong opposition toward the enemy.

The change of this image is more important than a probable amendment to the Constitution. A shift in perception may be seen as a prerequisite of any amendment of the Constitution, too. However, as easy as it is to say it, it is quite difficult to reach a consensus on the basis of perceptions. This consensus is even harder to attain between political actors because some of them are investing precisely in this conflict. A rapprochement, however, between nongovernmental organizations, between groups of different religious beliefs and with citizens that really seek a consensus and social harmony is more likely. All steps needed in this direction have not been taken yet, nor all possible alliances built. Steps of this kind will facilitate to transcend mutual mistrust and phobias. When a stalemate occurs in an informal chess game between friends, the pieces can be taken back with mutual consent and the game may continue from the previous positions anew. But this may happen only in a friendly milieu. Such an environment may make a great difference.



Conflict between identities in Turkey




Today’s Zaman, 24 April 2010























Why is there such a widespread and persistent conflict of identities within the Turkish society? The Kurds ask for the right to use and teach their language and to be recognized as a collective group, the devout Muslims – the “Islamists” - express their will to dress according to their liking, the Alevis ask for the privilege to exercise their liberty in matters of culture and belief, the minorities complain about oppressive discrimination, even the Kemalists complain about a potential “cultural coup d’état” that will deprive them of their way of life and modern identity.


There must be a reason why these different segments of society come forward with such similar demands and discourses simultaneously. Actually, what they are highlighting are restrictions related to human rights, to freedom of education, to their lifestyle choices, to religious choices, etc. However, instead of speaking of “freedom” their “identities” are on the agenda.

That is so because the basic ideological emphasis, as understood by the founders of the modern Turkish state, has been one of “identity.” During the nation-building period, the goal was to create a common national identity that would be all-embracing and free from differentiations.








During the nation-building period, the goal was to create a common national identity that would be all-embracing and free from differentiations. All ethnic, religious and ideological groups were perceived as forces counter to this ideal, as a potential danger and even as enemies. Thus their rights and freedoms were restricted

All (real or imagined) ethnic, religious and ideological groups were perceived as forces counter to this ideal, as a potential danger and even as enemies. Thus their rights and freedoms were restricted. However, the restraints were legitimized due to an “alien identity” discourse. The restrictions of basic human rights were defined as measures against anti-state identities and forces. The discriminated citizens were first characterized as foes on an identity basis - extreme Islamists (mürteci), heretical (Alevis), separatists (Kurds), nationally foreign (the minorities), etc. - and then they experienced the restrictions.

The aggression against the “dissidents,” actually against the citizens that could not be readily assimilated in the project of ideological engineering, created an opposing force. This reaction was expressed on the basis of identity, too, simply because the oppression was initiated and carried out on an identity basis to start with. The identity issue grew and spread because the citizens were perceived and treated as agents of supposed alien identities. The phobia against (imagined or exaggerated) dangerous anti-national groups gave rise, on the part of the state apparatus, to discriminatory policies and to violations of basic human rights. This led to a vicious circle of perception-action-reaction-confirmation of initial phobias; in other words, to a self-fulfilling prophesy.



Eventually, all human rights issues were expressed as identity issues. In the Kurdish case, for example, it has been claimed that the identity of the Kurds has not been “recognized,” whereas it could be argued that it was the “acknowledged” feared Kurdish identity that caused the problem. The fear turned into phobia and that into oppression and denial of basic rights. It was the perverted identity perception which caused the Kurdish reaction as well as the present-day identity issue, not the identity itself. It was the exaggerated importance of identities which caused the prohibitions, the limitations, the violation of liberties and the various oppressions.

Actually, the conflict of identities is a fight for human rights. There are efforts to create an environment where freedoms are fully enjoyed and are acknowledged by each section of the society and this is done  under the banner of an “identity” instead of as a demand for human rights. This endeavor, however, has been unproductive because it disperses (splits) the forces that face similar problems on a basis of various identities, whereas all are in need of a more democratic society. It should be added that human rights incorporate the right to associate with others and form groups, i.e., to act collectively if required. A fight for individual rights cannot get in the way of the collective rights. When all kinds of “identities” are approached with this understanding, then the problem seems to be an issue of democratization. In other words, focusing on “identity” may not be the shortest route to securing the aspirations of so many. A banner of “human rights” may prove a more effective way to protect all groups that want to perceive themselves with an “identity,” too. Once liberties are secured, then issues such as who speaks what language or who wears this or that will seem redundant.


A Greek tragedy?




Today’s  Zaman, 8 May 2010


















The leitmotif of ancient Greek tragedy is the approaching, imminent, but unpreventable disaster. For example, in Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King,” it is foretold that a baby would be born, grow up and eventually kill his father and marry his own mother. In horror, the parents give the baby to a servant with orders to kill him. But the servant is unable to kill the baby, so he instead sends him away. Years later, this baby grows into a young man and unknowingly kills his own father in a fight and marries his own mother. When the truth comes out, the tragedy shocks everyone. How would the audience perceive such a development 2,500 years ago? Perhaps, they would conclude that Man is weak in the fact of the formidable power of the universe and the environment, and acknowledge the inevitability of fate. Or watching it, they would feel other things we cannot understand or feel today, such as the futility of a persistent effort or a masochistic satisfaction.

What is happening in Greece is actually not a complete tragedy, but a half tragedy. Although it was foretold by a small number of economists, politicians and intellectuals that the country’s economic management was not rational and disaster was imminent, no precautions were taken for many years. Parents in ancient times would sacrifice even their child. In contrast, contemporary Greek politicians wouldn’t abandon their populist policies - with the votes in mind - while voters didn’t want to lose their governors who would offer them presents at the expense of debts. I personally remember that during the 1980s, we were discussing that the social insurance system and the Olympic Airlines were suffering from grave economic difficulties. One does not have to be an oracle to say that an increasingly aging population will not be able to retire at an increasingly younger age. But, no measure was taken in this regard.

The welfare brought about by easy and cheap money is very pleasant but it does not support entrepreneurship, competitiveness and balance spending and will never warrant saving by the society. The fact that this is understood too late, if at all, is the difference of our time’s tragedy from that of the ancient one. Our ancestors would punish themselves at the end of the tragedy and the ancient audience would feel catharsis, the sense of cleansing – something we today cannot understand. The people of our time only get angry. And it is not easy to understand what they are angry at: is it the politicians that they have successively elected, or the politicians that they have not elected because they spoke the truth, or themselves who have made wrong decisions and never wanted to poke into the secret of the goose that laid the golden eggs, or the market where the rules of work are defined in advance, or the businessmen who seek profit in a capitalist system, or bad luck. Really, what makes them so angry?

They just go out to find a scapegoat when things go wrong and they end up bankrupt. Yet the whole flock is to be blamed. This is the end of the progress the society has been making. The debate over the economic problem is actually over. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has drawn up a roadmap. And others do not come up with an alternative. If the cries of “we don’t want it” have any practical meaning, it is about how the price will be shared among social groups. The noisy objectors are saying, “I do not want to pay it, others should pay it.” This is an understandable request, and perhaps, it is possible to make some adjustments in this regard. To overcome such a severe crisis, however, everyone must make contributions. Also, businesses should be protected so that development is not obstructed and the investors are encouraged. The fanciful proposals voiced by “socialists” who are supposed to know quite well what capitalism and market economies do, do not sound constructive at this time.

In fact, Greece’s main problem at this stage is not economic, but political and social. The economic roadmap - drawn by the EU and the IMF - is likely to be successful, but its implementation is problematic. Having learned in recent years that they can obtain their economic demands through resistance, political parties and unions, workers, street activists and many other people seem to be determined to maintain their protests, which are also backed by the Greek Communist Party, the Leftist Union and the opposition. They do not want to sacrifice their gains. The groups that are in the opposition always make maximalist demands.

No one is innocent in this regard and no group is better than the other. As he announced early elections last fall - thereby evading the responsibility of being the ruling party – the then New Democracy Party leader Kostas Karamanlis portrayed the disastrous economic situation of the country. The new leader of the New Democracy Party did not support the new government (May 6) and did not back the deal made with the IMF in the Parliament. If PASOK (the governing party) had been in opposition, it would have done the same thing. Leftist parties oppose the government as they demand another new policy. Meanwhile, they do not have any idea as to how the pensions will be paid this month. However, everyone knows that Greece does not have any chance of printing money, as it has joined the Eurozone. Fewer and fewer creditors are inclined to lend money to the country.

I argue that the basic problem is not economic, but social. The country is overwhelmed by mentalities and practices that prevent it from dealing with the serious economic problems. It is currently impossible to foresee the future. Social trends cannot be measured in figures, as is the case with the economy. The future may bring unexpected surprises. It is not easy to be optimistic. I would like to finish my article with the most refreshing news in recent months. As the deal with the IMF was being voted on in the Greek parliament, a single deputy from the main opposition party, Dora Bakoyanis - who ran for the party’s leadership but lost it to Samaras - voted in favor of the deal. Samaras expelled this former minister from the party after the vote. Bakoyanis said: “The populist mentality and small political calculations have ruined our government, brought us to these days and are now urging us to make such decisions. I am sorry, but I no longer want to watch this downhill progress.”





Turkey, Greece and Aporia




Today’s Zaman, 28 May 2010



















After nine months in Istanbul, where I taught courses on nationalism with references to Greece and Turkey in two universities, this week I moved back to Athens.


It was pleasant to travel around the country and to experience Turkey daily and from within, but it was also a good luck not to have encountered the first wave of Greece’s economic crisis. Now I instinctively make comparisons. Comparisons are useful because they help noticing what is of importance. Sometimes events that look amazing prove to be commonplace and a routine around the world, or vice versa, what is taken for granted may emerge as a very unique situation. In my case, the end result related to these two countries is a feeling of an aporia.

An “aporia” in this sense is a word used in postmodern philosophy to denote a puzzle in thinking, a surprise in inquiry, a perplexed situation due to inconsistent assumptions. For some scholars, for example for Derrida aporia is the best starting point in thinking, in investigating and in reaching new conclusions. Aporia wipes away all preconceived notions and triggers fresh curiosity. Here are some of my latest cases of aporia.

In Greece, especially the leftist political parties and groups oppose the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial institutions through demonstrations and strikes. On the other hand, the Greek state is unable to pay wages and pensions unless it receives the required cash from the said financial centers. Thus the aporia: What do the protesters want? Can it be that they do not want to get their salaries? On my part, I do not want to die but I do not demonstrate with ineffective slogans such as “Angel of Death, go home!” But the government, too, especially the prime minister, seems so extraordinarily calm! The prime minister talks in international fora on global climatic changes and suggests new economic models for our planet. At the same time the expected economic changes - privatizations, the reorganization of the state, etc. - wait.

Coup d’état and conspiracies against the civilians

In Turkey aporia is related to the discussions of coup d’états and conspiracies against civilians. All are against these criminal acts but so many accept them in submission. The excuses are various. The investigation which is presently being carried out on the coup d’état conspiracy known as “Ergenekon,” for instance, is opposed by some because “innocent people are kept in custody before the trial.” But how else could that take place? Before a trial and a verdict, all are innocent by definition. Do the protesters mean that nobody should be imprisoned before trials, irrespective of signs of guilt? These objections are raised and the sensitivities exist, however, only for “our people,” for the suspects of this particular trial. Do they want the verdict to precede the arrest? Or courts to expedite the cases? To this I agree fully. Why aren’t we realists? In the last resort they are in custody in a country of aporia where there is an airport that carries the name of the prime minister who was hanged only yesterday and there is a prime minister who was imprisoned because he read a poem publicly. 

Especially aporetic is the controversy related to the sex scandal that caused the resignation of Deniz Baykal, the former head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). True, the video that was circulated was a product of a violation of privacy, of an intrigue and of an illegal act. Adultery is not penalized in Turkey, so legally there was not a crime and the ethical aspect is relative: some condemn it, some feel indifferent and some may see it even as macho superiority. However, and to my surprise, the main issue is overlooked. A political leader may be under severe pressure and blackmail if he/she keeps secrets about his/her personal life. The problem is not the personal life per se but its secrecy and the related “shame” that one may (or may not) feel. This shame makes one extremely vulnerable and receptive to blackmail. Who cares about the sex life of a politician to whom one endows his hopes, his present and his future, provided the politician does not prove exposed and helpless due to his choices and his sense of guilt? Civil servants are free to have private lives of their liking but they are not supposed to have secrets that can be exploited as Achilles’ heel. Thus transparency, i.e., the basis of real independence and freedom, is required from all who look after the interests of the public.

Aporia was felt in Greek-Turkish relations too, especially after the visit of the Turkish prime minister to Athens. Following the friendly declarations of the two prime ministers and various approving articles in the papers, some insinuated that complaints against the “other” generated questions. The Greek side does not seem to have gone beyond the old and persisting fears vis-à-vis the other. As for the Turkish publications of the kind “why don’t you control your prejudices and mature [like us]?” are open to evaluation: Are the two parties closer to a new balanced relationship or closer to the notorious past?

My sense of aporia may be due to my character. I have been all along in a bit of a loss, facing my environment with surprise and trying to understand it. Each answer gave birth to new questions. I am constantly in aporia with so many around me at ease and having accomplished a harmonious conformity. They look to be in such comfort! But still, I do not want to change.





A Stable Axis in Turkey?




Today’s Zaman, 23 June 2010





















These days in Turkey the term “shift of axis” refers to foreign policy. Minor contingent shifts of axis should be seen as unavoidable and harmless. If needed, subsequent readjustments are always possible. Foreign policy often contains such swings. No doubt in a sense there is a shift, but this is vis-à-vis Turkey and how Turkey is seen by some: in alliance with Hamas against Israel, not being against the faults of the president of Sudan or of the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There are, however, some relevant questions, too. Is this policy a permanent new direction or a temporary one? Is there really a shift or only the perception of it? Is it also possible that some may have purposely started a discussion on an alleged shift of axis to exert pressure on Turkey? Whatever the case, time will tell; as for the government, apart from its policy it is of importance to take care of its image, too.

The real worry, however, should be directed towards an unshaken axis: to the domestic policy, to the main issue of modern Turkey, i.e., to the process of democratization. This “problem” has sometimes come to the fore in conjunction to a one-party regime or to a coup d'état backed by civilians or to a conflict between the bureaucracy and the Parliament. The European Union connection gave new impetus in this field. The recent judicial decisions, however, show dangerous developments and cause serious concerns. This time it is the high courts that are in opposition to the Parliament via the government. The annulment of decisions and laws passed in the Parliament by the high courts has turned into a recurring practice. It is widely proclaimed that the judicial system (at least a section of it) is highly politicized. There are courts whose decisions can be foreseen and which are taken in accordance with their ideological inclinations. And worse, these decisions are publicly praised. This situation is seen as a duality in power or, in other words and as a consequence, as an absence of power. It is of less importance who is right. Two captains who are in bad terms steering simultaneously are worse than an authoritarian captain.

In the case of Turkey both sides perceive an adversary and they annul decisions taken by the “other”. New general elections will not render the solution, either. The results will be evaluated in the usual way and the cycle will repeat itself: the electoral board will be judged "deceived” and the elected party will be considered “traitorous”. Naturally court interventions will follow. The convictions of all sides will remain intact since they will feel confident with their own opinions by merely demonstrating some shortcomings of the other side. How can one ever argue in this milieu that a fault of one side does not prove the correctness of the other? Also, both may be wrong!

A tradition of uprisings always existed in Turkey (e.g., the Jelali revolts of the 16th and 17th centuries), but these actions were limited to relatively small and marginal segments of the society. The present-day tendency is disobedience vis-à-vis the legal authority by a great part of the society. To name and condemn this tendency as “wrong” does not suffice to fight the phenomenon. This is the end result of decades-long strife for democratization. The unorthodox “twin rule” does not meet present-day social requirements. The two captains fighting over the helm may lead to a shipwreck.

I am not neutral in this strife. I only try to look impartial because I am aware of the ills of condemning any of the parties. Criticism somehow is perceived as an attack. Each side expects all concessions and needed steps to be taken by the “other”, whereas all need to contribute to the process of overcoming the crisis.  And the citizens worrying about their future, the working men and the investors, the young generation that needs to plan its life and the foreigners who want to deal with Turkey need to know who governs the country; and on what basis. A pre-civil war atmosphere is a source of doubt, nervousness and fear for all. Until now the “state” was fully respected by almost all – even after each military coup d'état and during the one-party regime. Nowadays, the people being familiar with the benefits of democracy want to have a say in electing the “captain”. There is no return, say, to the 1940s. And in this evaluation I am not a neutral observer.

All these issues, perceptions, doubts and struggles of personal interest feed each other. Where does one find the solution? I think the main “mistake” is to perceive the opponent who thinks and feels “differently” as an enemy. This mindset alone creates an environment where a total war appears unavoidable. Justice and laws are seen as redundant. Popular will is considered superfluous, too. All these thoughts and perceptions can be seen politically as a problem of democratization. Looking at the same process historically one can pinpoint nation-building and a search for a minimum social consensus, still to be achieved. That is why strife is the most stable axis in this community. Naturally one wishes it shifts somehow!



The 3CHP, 0.5AKP, 1MHP, 0.2BDP…formula




Today’s Zaman, 30 June 2010



















I participated in a meeting of Abant Platform held on June 25-27 titled “Tutelage and Democracy.” The meeting was informative, the participation high and it was nice to see how consensus can be attained. This column is inspired by this meeting.



The general characteristics of the political system in Turkey called “tutelage” can be described as follows: Some segments of the state (say, the military or the high judiciary) have a limited respect for the Constitution and law and occasionally feel free to oppose popular suffrage by various excuses. This opposition may reach a coup d’état, oppression and even eliminating persons perceived as opposition or enemies. In short, they resort to anti-democratic behavior.

This system of tutelage was periodically desired and supported by some political parties (traditionally by the Republican People’s Party [CHP], for example) and by a considerable segment of the society. This liking of “tutelage” is paradoxical; it is not tutelage over the entire public but rather over one segment of the public, operating somehow like an oligarchy. Therefore one has to cope with an understanding that is widely espoused by the general public.

As it was reiterated at the meeting, some benefit from this system and others experience the harm done. However, sometimes some of those who voice complaints about tutelage may be expecting that their term will come, that there will be them who will have the control and will take advantage of this system. We see signs of this. Those who once complained about the appointment of rectors in universities in spite of the opposition of the academic community, do the same when they get the power and have the chance. Or, those who criticized the practice of “taking control of the Parliament with the 10 percent election threshold method” do not change this method when they turn to be the beneficiaries. 

Coefficient of obsession

The problem has to do with the citizen-state relationship, the equality between citizens, in short, with the regime and with democracy. For some all votes do not (or, should not) count equal. Say, a vote for CHP is worth more than a vote for the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Much less should be worth a vote for the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The legitimacy of this understanding is “secured” by a scale of values: as it is voiced in the press there are those who “scratch their bellies,” the ignorant, the non-secular, those who are not considered ethnically “normal”, etc.  There are probably coefficients lurking in the subconscious of some. 

I fancy that if votes were multiplied by proper coefficients the tutelage system may work “democratically”, too. Think of this formula: 3CHP, 0.5AKP, 1MHP, 0.2BDP. Allowing the votes of the last general elections of each party (say 20, 40, 15 and 8 percent), then the Parliament you get looks like this: 60 percent CHP, 20 percent AKP, 15 percent Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), 1.6 percent BDP and 3.4 percent filled by representatives of other political parties. There you have it, the ideal Parliament! The regime has been saved!

But the current electoral system is “traditional”; so what is left are party closures, political bans and the 10 percent election threshold! In practice the (internalized) coefficients of the formula operate indirectly. In some countries only marginal (fascist) parties may be banned. In Turkey the majority is the target group.

It seems that the issue that is still not settled is who will be kept inside and who outside of the system. In modern democratic countries a minimum societal consensus on these matters has been attained. This consensus was reached after centuries-long struggles and conflicts and a series of bourgeoisie revolutions and efforts. The Turkish society is more traditional. Think about this hierarchy: Ahmet [a common Turkish name], Ahmet Abi [Abi, used of “big brother”, a very common address], Ahmet Amca [uncle, a use to express respect], Ahmet Usta [master, used for superiors in a trade], Ahmet Bey [sir], Ahmet Efendi [a more respected sir], Ahmet Beyefendi [an even more respected sir], Ahmet Paşa [a respected official] - and all these, despite the prohibition by a special law of such titles, are widely used. Each Ahmet is at a different level. This is a mutually accepted inequality.

The process of democratization was also a process of becoming a nation or of nation-building. The consensus obtained during this process formed the nations. In Turkey equality amongst citizens lagged behind. Differences in religion or sect, in language and in lifestyle are put at the forefront and equality is questioned or outright ignored. If this situation is called and perceived as a “tutelary system”, without its real character is being understood, the cure will be delayed. 

During this delay some institutions and individuals may be opposed. And when these are toppled the tutelage system will still survive with its new proprietors. A self-image of “we’re-not-like-them,” does not suffice. The problem is not one of “rights”, or of “our rights” as it is so often declared but of “equal rights for all”. The target is not to replace “them” and appoint someone who suits our own fancy.

The tutelage system survives thanks to the conviction that some have exceptional qualities to judge what is best for everybody. These are the positivist Kemalists, the Marxists who believe in “scientific” socialism, the followers of “Eastern positivism” who are sure of their right path based on their religious beliefs and holy texts (see for example Iran) and those who believe they are loved by the public because they are simply elected. These individuals think, irrespective of the voters’ views,  that they possess the privilege of “correctness.” These administrators exhibit a tendency to disrespect democratic and human rights.

The problem is not “tutelage” itself as it is defined but the shortage of democracy; and it’s not limited to political parties and institutions. It is a wider, deeper societal state of affairs. I think this kind of a model is more functional, both in defining the phenomenon and coping with it. In addition, it is also more beneficial in our understanding of our own behavior as people and as individuals.





The Abant Atmosphere




Today’s Zaman, 21 July 2010

















The Abant Platform is a free intellectual foundation that works for the expansion of social consensus and the coexistence of society’s rich cultural resources within a peaceful environment.




I participated twice (March and June 2010) in the Abant Meetings and in each case I was astonished: It was as if the meetings were taking place in another country.


There were no groups in controversy, no mutual mistrust, no feeling of insecurity and no aggressive political discourse. The participants were relaxed, gentle, occasionally excited but unbiased, ready to listen and with no signs of nervousness, they did not raise their voice or their eyebrows as they spoke. The personal relations were in tune with this political atmosphere. One could feel a consensus that was achieved: Tolerance, or if you prefer, the spirit of democracy, was dominant in the meeting room and in the corridors, too.

Trying to find an explanation of what I perceived as utopia, the first thing that came to mind was that the participants belonged to the same ideological group. However, there were all kinds of people present. It was not so much the same way of thinking but the same intention that secured harmony. Belief-wise, Sunni Muslims, Alevis, atheists, Jews and Christians of various sects were present. Ethnically the same richness prevailed: Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, Greeks… Politically there were conservatives, liberals, leftists, rightists and advocators of Turkishness and Kurdishness, too. All of Turkey appeared to be represented in the meeting room - except its common denominator, the tension. How was this attained? Or why is this secured here but not in the wider society? Finding the answer to this riddle may help one understand the source of the stress and the shortage of tolerance that exists in the county.

A second plausible explanation is that a common rival or enemy keeps this group in cohesion. The first meeting was about “consensus and democratization” and the second on “ending antidemocratic tutelage upon society.” In both meetings the need for a new constitution and more democracy was voiced. Those familiar with the internal political issues of Turkey can easily foresee the reactions of some: “Aha! It is them!” And they will go on repeating stereotypes. But why do demands for more democracy and a new constitution cause such a controversy? Why are some so suspicious of bad intentions in every move? Why this lack of trust and excess of fear? Sound answers to these kinds of questions will shed light not only on the success of the Abant Meetings but also to the shortcomings of the parties that are in constant strain.

Even if some are against certain proposals advanced in Turkey, why should this lead to clashes and fights? It is also of interest to note that the very same participants of the Abant Meetings are metamorphosed to aggressive personalities in other environments, such as on television appearances. There they are nervous, tense and even provocative. They are very different from what they are at the Abant Meetings. I mean that the hypothesis “a common enemy unites this group” is not fully satisfactory.

Whoever joins an Abant Meeting knows in advance that he/she will not be discriminated on grounds of beliefs, political views or ethnicity. I believe that this is the secret of the achievement of these meetings. In such an environment one becomes automatically and unconsciously more self-assured, more polite and more democratic. Inversely, in a place where one expects to be humiliated or attacked, one adjusts himself to this expectation. That is so because aggressiveness is contagious. In other words, one behaves according to what one expects. One cannot be friendly if enmity is anticipated.

If this is correct then we should consider anew our own behavior and role, too, every time we encounter hostility. Do we really give the appropriate message: “We are your allies and I am ready to listen to you”? Intolerance, mistrust and phobias are met in certain environments, but - this is often not noticed - we and our role are part of this “environment” too.

The participants of the Abant Meetings know in advance that they will be welcomed with an agreeable mode. The expectation in itself secures what has been expected. What I am curious to find out - also hoping to see if my hypothesis proves valid - is to see what will happen if the most arrogant opponents of these meetings take part in them, too. I foresee that they will adapt themselves to the Abant spirit and show their best human and civilized side. If they do so then we will have a sound guide for a more democratic approach: We will know that the more we behave the more the environment will be democratic and tolerant.

Actually what we call a negative milieu or a hostile environment is a vicious circle: You don’t trust them, then they don’t trust you back, then you feel you have all the right not to be in tune with them. And so on ad infinitum! Someone has to intercept this cycle by changing the atmosphere. I think this is the importance and the contribution of each Abant Meeting. It reflects the tranquility of the peaceful Lake Abant. One cannot but be influenced by the milieu that one chooses to be part of.







Teaching Religion




Today’s Zaman, 18 August 2010





















Generally five different approaches are proposed when the teaching of religion in public schools is being discussed worldwide:


1) The dominant religion of the country should be taught to all students; 2) This lesson should not be obligatory but elective; 3) Not a specific religion, but information about religions in general should be taught in conjunction with ethics; 4) Each religious group should learn its own dogma separately and with its own instructors; 5) Religion should not be taught in public schools and whoever wants may engage in private study. There are many variations on these views. For example, some put conditions on cases in which students will be exempt from these lessons and sometimes the language to be used in these lessons also comes forward as a controversial issue.

I noticed an interesting similarity when I studied Turkish and Greek textbooks on religion. Actually, the likeness goes beyond the textbooks and has to do with a social practice. On one hand, modern positive principles are voiced, such as being objective and taking equal distance vis-à-vis all religions and beliefs, avoiding propaganda, etc., while on the other hand there is a systematic effort to teach the dominant belief of the majority, which in practice is an approach of proselytism. But this contradiction is not surprising. In another article I had written that “a paradox is intrinsic in the (personal) notion of equality between beliefs, since belief is related to what one believes as being the ultimate truth and it is not possible to view what is true and what is wrong (or less true) on equal terms; one esteems his/her belief irrespective of intentions.”  It is natural for the writers of religious textbooks to produce texts that they sincerely believe correspond to what is true and useful for their students.

The end result is that the social groups that follow “a different belief” are annoyed. Limiting my views to my experience in Turkey and with what I gathered in related academic meetings I have attended, I conclude that the “others” who comprise the groups beyond the majority believe that their children are facing unwanted religious propaganda. Conversely, the advocates of this education have set their consciences at ease: They believe that they propagate what they see as true and useful. In short, we experience an absolute lack of empathy. Some are content to spread what they think is proper and the others complain. A second negative phenomenon is the authoritarian power relations: The majority ignores the minority. Technically, this situation is known as violation of human rights.

The textbooks presently used contain information about the other/different religions, but in each case through “our” perspective. It is understandable that the authors who believe in the validity of their views are unable to pinpoint the shortcomings of their textbooks. They do not comprehend the criticism that they receive either. They feel they are misunderstood. But even when they appreciated the complaints, they would still perceive their work as useful. A critical presentation of these textbooks would require another article. Here I will limit myself to noting that even the notion of “different” (in Turkish “farklı,” as opposed to “Muslim”) religions is problematic. Why are the beliefs of Alevis, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, atheists seen as “different” (diverse, special) and not also the belief of the majority? All beliefs are different with respect to each other. If all beliefs except the belief of the majority (which is taught in public schools) are perceived as “different,” then a “normal” and “standard” religion is being indirectly recognized. Isn’t this approach technically a discriminatory approach?

So often the secular character of the state and its need to be at equal distance from all beliefs is recalled. It is, however, not possible and maybe even unnecessary to be at an equal distance from all beliefs on a personal level. We are not “distanced” from our own religion. What can be secured is the objectivity of the state itself, not of the individuals. Respect for all religions is constantly voiced, but this does not mean that each will not recognize its own beliefs as “the best”. Actually, real respect for the beliefs of the “other” starts with the recognition of the relativity of our belief. But maybe this is asking too much from the believers. Absolute respect cannot be secured on a personal basis. Individuals cannot accept, for example the possibility of being in the wrong equally with the “other” believers. Such a philosophical expectation is not fair, either. Everyone should be left in peace with what he/she believes. An expectation of a relativist approach in such matters is both unrealistic and an unsafe approach for social peace.

On the other hand, the “equal distance” that cannot be totally secured on the individual basis, i.e., the missing objectivity, can be accomplished at the level of the state and state schools. What is difficult for the individual, e.g., empathy, may not be so hard to attain in schools, since principles, rules and laws can operate independently of our personal feelings; provided of course society and its politicians see the need for such an approach. This specific step may also be the topic of a future article.






AKP’s Historic Role




Today’s Zaman, 15 September 2010 




















The September 12 referendum further cemented polarization within the Turkish society along “yes” voters and those who opposed the “yes” or boycotted the referendum. 


Prior to voting the political views, the ideologies, the programs, the virtues and shortcomings, the apparent and hidden intentions of the sides involved were much discussed and contested. But the debate is insufficient to show the historic role and importance of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the locomotive driving the referendum. And that is because the long-term developments are not determined according to the desires, the intentions and the declarations of the actors involved; there are lasting situations that can develop in the life of a society irrespective of the conscious acts of the politicians and of their will.

The discourse of those who opposed “yes” votes was the following: The constitutional amendment package recommended by the AKP is both insufficient and devoid of sincerity. Had the AKP truly wished, they said, it would have made many legislative changes. It could have, in practice, rejected the legacy of the military junta and pushed reforms through (for example, changing the 10 percent election threshold and some anti-democratic laws and practices). It could have made more courageous and consistent decisions with regard to the Kurdish problem; it would not have sent out mixed messages with regard to democracy and human rights. It, likewise, would not make statements that could create doubts about laicism/secularism and would not use religion as a political tool. And finally, it would not have opposed the (independent) judiciary and (unbiased) military in order to take full control of the state. These items - according to the naysayers - can be counted as a proof that the AKP is after a civilian dictatorship and, even has intentions of founding an Islamic state. The AKP, they claimed, has not internalized modernity and democracy and is taking Turkey backward away from the progress Turkey has made over the past ten years.

Not all of the naysayers defend all of these views; the discourse opposing the AKP has not been so deeply hostile all the time, either. But most of the views against the AKP were similar to those above. Examples were provided to prove the alleged ill doings. Naturally, AKP members, their supporters and sympathizers, or those who, like myself, were on the “yes” side on the referendum, developed a discourse to counter these arguments. The examples were counted as isolated incidents, evaluated differently and counted as exaggerated and ill intentioned; successful initiatives that were embraced and supported by the public were recalled. The referendum results show which side has been more convincing.

But I am among those who do not believe that this sort of “for or against” argumentation is convincing. To discuss sympathies, fears, hopes, expectations and personal interests goes beyond mere arguments. Who can convince anybody with these sorts of accusations? The debate over the AKP’s role needs to be moved into another arena and to look at Turkey from a different angle. It is difficult to document the anti-AKP criticism and therefore appear unconvincing. But it is also virtually impossible to refute the allegations because they are mostly based on “the intentions” and “the secret agenda” of AKP.  And these seem to be imputations related to phobias and to feelings.

The AKP’s intentions, subconscious, mental state etc., must be taken off the agenda. It is more rewarding to discuss its historic role. Even if the anti-AKP criticism were partially or even completely true, the AKP’s political and historic role is independent of its plans and its “intention.” The course that Turkey has taken lately may even be contrary to the intentions of the present-day administration.  For example, the AKP’s wish to join the European Union could stem not from its adoption of the secular and positivist views of Europe (that is the  result of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment), but because it believes religious freedom (some may say, “Shariah state”) would be more easily attained within the EU environment. We may also assume that its (relatively) positive approach with regard to “human rights” (Kurds, minorities, etc.) may not stem from sincere beliefs in such principles, but instead arise from a conservative reflex that perceives the Ottoman Empire’s system of “millets” as panacea. Its desire to put an end to military tutelage may not come from a desire for public sovereignty but merely because the military is, in the name of secularism, opposed to the AKP. Its confidence to the Parliament and to the popular support may not be the result of basic democratic ideals but because the votes of the majority are already secured. AKP’s opposition to the Denktaş group that represents the status quo in Cyprus, to the military that is against any concession in this issue and to nationalists who voice the “national sentiments” could also be viewed as a search for an ally in the West. Their attempts to establish better relationships with the neighbors of Turkey  (Armenia, Greece, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Russia) can, if one so wishes, be seen as an effort to shut off other fronts of opposition in order to feel more powerful vis-à-vis their opponents within the country. And the AKP’s attempts to break the strength of the judiciary’s established power (remember the “367 decision”) could be not because it wants an independent judiciary, but rather to serve its own interests. In short, one may assume that AKP’s intentions could be far from innocent.

But all the same, the historic role of AKP is beyond these intentions, even in practice it is the opposite of similar intentions. Military and bureaucratic tutelage is waning, the popular will prevails over establishment and the country is successively becoming integrated with the Western world. And in a paradoxical way, it is not the (purported) social democrat Republican People’s Party (CHP) that paved this path, but it is the conservatives who are doing it. Along with AKP are some democrats and modernists. When you look at the matter from this angle, it becomes even less meaningful to debate intentions. In fact such a discussion is meaningless. The AKP’s intentions are of secondary importance. Right now the hopes of those who want a modern country are not pinned on the opposition. This may look a paradoxical situation. But still it is real!

What I want to say is that the opponents of the AKP have cut off their criticism from the real world and slipped into an imagined “long term” horrible future. Perhaps one may still ask, “At the end of all this, what’s going to happen in the long run?” Well, when it comes to this, I think like Keynes: “In the long run, anyhow, we are all dead!”




Native Language and Demagoguery




Today’s Zaman, 15 October 2010,




















When is demagoguery necessary? When we are wrong or when we cannot defend our point. In short, when we feel stuck. Instead of saying “Sorry” or “I was wrong,” we prefer to beat around the bush.



It is said that there are two forms of demagoguery: conscious demagoguery and unconscious demagoguery. I had always difficulty differentiating between the two. The two behaviors known as “conscious” and “unconscious” is an invention of our minds. A person cannot be divided into two. There are emotions hidden behind our most conscious decisions and logic does not completely disappear even during our most emotional moments. There is a concept called a “defense mechanism” in psychology - our mind and then our tongue develop lines of defense to justify ourselves. This is demagoguery. Demagoguery has a twin brother, too: double standard.

I thought about these while reading and listening to the debates on education in one’s native language. If demagoguery is not overcome, forget education, it won’t be possible even to sit together around the same table and talk. Demagoguery irritates the listeners, increases the tension and causes anger because it is seen as a sign of bad intention, of taking one for a fool or deliberately lying. Actually, bad intentions are not involved in every case of demagoguery. Sometimes demagoguery is just a desperate attempt of defense in an assumed strife. And being a method of a strife it is perceived as an attack by the other side.

If the above are read as my intention to present myself as coolheaded and empathetic towards demagoguery, I gave the wrong impression. I wish I was that mature! I hate demagoguery because I have to come up with a rebuttal for everything the person engaging in demagoguery says. It is like the Turkish saying “a madman throws a stone into a well and forty smart men cannot remove it.” Here are a few examples of demagoguery concerning education in one’s native language:

-- “If students are taught in their native languages in schools, we won’t be able to communicate and understand each other because of these different languages.” How is this relevant? Will a student who learns another language, such as Kurdish or Armenian, not learn Turkish, the official language of this country? Take me as an example. I learned how to speak my mother language but also Turkish at a Greek elementary school in Istanbul. What is wrong with that?

The issue of ‘minority rights’

-- “But the Kurds, the Circassians, the Laz and others are not minorities. The treaty of Lausanne defined minority rights. The only minorities are the non-Muslims.” Where shall I begin with this demagoguery? This is like saying, “You are not a minority, so forget your native language.” But Lausanne actually defended native language right to ensure equal rights with the majority. The treaty meant that everyone shall be free to use their native language and that non-Muslim minorities will not be exempt from this right, they will have the same rights as the Muslims in issues of education in their native language. The treaty sought to protect rights and equality in this area. Trying to restrict education in the native language by referencing Lausanne is just wordplay. To say that different groups are not a minority and, therefore, cannot enjoy minority rights is like saying, “You are worth less than everyone else.”

-- “The education in Kurdish is not a pedagogical issue but a political one; it cannot be taught as a native language.” This statement leads to the following conclusions: 1) We see the Kurdish language as a political problem and therefore prevent it from being taught. 2) Here, “we” are the ones who are turning a language problem into a political problem (and then using it as a pretext). 3) The language issue is going to become even more politicized and will be the cause of a political fight. It is a vicious circle. Besides, even if the issue has a political aspect this does not mean that it does not have a pedagogical or a human rights-related aspect to it as well.

-- “What if everyone (the Laz, the Circassians, e.t.c.) demands the right to education in their native language? What will happen then?” Really, what will happen? I think this is where the rubber meets the road. Why don’t they just say it bluntly: “According to our nation-state mentality, everyone must speak Turkish! When under pressure (in other words, when we face Lausanne Treaty), we can allow some people to learn their native language; when we are helpless we will lift restrictions on languages (of the Kurds, for example). Apart from that, we will continue to maintain restrictions on native languages. This is “our” state’s understanding”. (As of who are “we” and “you”, that is something I have always wondered!)

--“So, is education in one’s native language going to be in Kurdish (Kirmantsi) or in Zaza?” What this question indirectly implies is: 1) There is no such language as Kurdish. 2) As a result, there is no Kurdish unity. 3) This type of education is impossible in practice. 4) We know your problems. We are prohibiting your language for your own good and practical interests. (“You” need to thank “us” for this!)

‘Constitutional and legal barriers’

-- “There are constitutional and legal barriers.” According to Article 42 of the Constitution, “no language other than Turkish shall be taught as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institutions of training or education.” How does one explain the education of minorities in their mother language? How can practice and article 42 be reconciled? Do all these mean that Kurdish cannot be taught as “mother tongue” but it can as a “second language”? Why isn’t this formula used? Turkish could be the mother language and Kurdish the second language. The problem would then be solved. There is an irony in this article 42 of “yours”. 

-- “If a person doesn’t learn Turkish well, he cannot advance in society.” Actually this is what this sentence means: “If a person is not assimilated he is hopeless”. But a person who learns Kurdish (or any other language) can of course learn to speak Turkish - the official language of this country – as well. Also, it is better if we foster a sense of affection towards languages instead of imposing them on people because, otherwise, people who speak Turkish very well might still choose to “head to the mountains.”

-- “Some court decisions in the EU stipulate that the state is not obligated to teach every native language.” Correct. Every small group cannot impose their language and learn it in public schools. This would be impractical. But in Turkey’s case we are talking about communities and ethnic groups comprising millions of members. Moreover, those court decisions do not impose a ban on native languages; they only give states the right to make a decision.

-- “We have suffered a lot as well. We are victims as well.” What people mean by this is: “Don’t complain too much”. But the issue is the type of the pain that is being experienced. Some people suffer from hunger, others from a disease or from unemployment, or a military service, while others suffer from racist bans. The pain caused by racist bans is a special one and only those who suffer from it know what it is like.

There are also examples of double standards: When “our people” (such as the Turks in Germany and in Western Thrace) are in question, the arguments on native language change completely: Native language then becomes “sacred”; it is considered a natural right. Prohibitions then mean oppression: “Deprive children of their native language and you have wounds in innocent souls.”

 Prohibitions are pedagogically wrong, too. A person who does not know how to speak his native language will not be able to learn other languages well.  Integration into the wider society follows recognition of basic rights. Coercion is perceived as an effort of assimilation. Unnecessary phobias are the result of bias and racism. Demagogy is their conscious and unconscious defense.





Views on the headscarf

from America, France and Greece




Today’s Zaman, 11 November 2010



















John Bowen’s book Can Islam Be French? Pluralism and Pragmatism in a Secularist State was reviewed in Greece by Dr. Panagiotis Vogiatzis for Greek language journal The Books’ Journal, published in Athens in October. Vogiatzis, who teaches law in Paris and is connected to the European Court of Human Rights, presented the book in detail, but he also associated the French case with the practices of his country, Greece. He proposed, for example, new approaches that a secular state can follow vis-à-vis the headscarf. The related discussions currently being carried out worldwide may be useful to shed light to similar issues in Turkey and in other countries.

The main argument by Bowen is that Islamic organizations such as mosques, societies, schools, etc., are centers where Muslims who come to France from abroad find refuge, protect their identity, feel safe and get educated. More importantly, these organizations are the means with which Muslims are integrated into the reality that is France. Bowen has studied these organizations and reached the conclusion that they can be seen as a good example of how through them believers can live in a secular state without abandoning their beliefs and their way of life. Naturally Bowen does not consider Islamic organizations as a threat to the state, but on the contrary, he sees their existence as a human right and as a necessity that secures survival in a modern state.

Bowen explains the segment of society that thinks differently from himself with reference to “the Islamophobic atmosphere that is spreading in Europe,” in other words, with xenophobia. This is interesting because the same attitudes in Turkey are understood by some as an effort to “protect the secular state.” According to Bowen there is a need to reach a balance between the secular state and the expectations and needs of religious people. According to his studies imams play a positive role in this direction. They are both in contact with the “state” and they preserve their legitimacies at the same time, being trusted by the believers.

The prerequisite in accomplishing an open Muslim community, according to Bowen, is that the state takes some specific steps. The state should provide the means so that the Muslim community secures its collective identity. Muslims should be able to come together and establish their schools where they will learn Islam. It should be understood that these measures are in harmony with a democratic state.

Bowen has a clear view about the headscarf. The state has no right to decide what is proper and useful on behalf of citizens. Such an understanding is contrary to human rights and basic democratic principles. There is no difference between the initiatives of a state that dictates by law or by prohibition what citizens should wear and the state that dictates what they should not wear. Both of these stand for authoritative states.

Greece should follow this route

Vogiatzis, however, extends this article to the case of Greece. He proposes significant methods for the Muslim minority in Western Thrace. He poses rhetorical questions: “Shouldn’t we too, follow Bowen’s understanding and see in what way the minority tries to mix with society, opening communication lines? Isn’t it necessary to strengthen multiculturalism and ease the integration of minorities?”

Vogiatzis notes the following: “These issues should not be understood as special to the French state. They may be applied to Greece and especially to the Muslim minority of Thrace. We should see how useful it will be for the Greek state to back up initiatives that will strengthen the collective identity of Muslims, especially by facilitating the establishing of societies. A policy to the contrary will only be harmful. The real integration of the Muslim community and the turning of its members into active civilians can be achieved with these new approaches.

Vogiatzis evaluates the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights against Greece with respect to the minority in Western Thrace (Tourkiki Enosi Xanthis et autres c. Grèce, no 26698/05, 27.3.2008. Bekir-Ousta et autres c. Grèce, no 35151/05, 11.10.2007, Emin et autres c. Grèce, no 34144/05, 27.3.2008), and he concludes that there is an apparent gap in the understanding of Greece and the European Union on issues of respect to human rights and collective rights.

What I personally gather from the publications that range from the US to France and Greece and from Bowen to Vogiatzis is that the issue of the headscarf and burqa is a human rights issue that goes beyond Turkey’s borders. Europe and other countries are involved in this discussion. The parties engaged in the controversy are not those who are for a secular state and those who oppose it. Such a simplistic understanding cannot explain why ardent supporters of secularism (like me) are in favor of the freedom of wearing the headscarf. There are other categorizations involved in this controversy: Those who interfere in one’s living habits and those who do not; authoritarian characters against those receptive to multiculturalism; social engineers versus liberals; Jacobins versus democrats. All these personalities exist, from Iran to Turkey and from France to the US, in every society. Therefore, allies should be sought out not locally but internationally.




From Myths to National Legends




Today’s Zaman, 5 January 2011




















When children get older they stop believing in fairy tales and start believing in legends. Adults used to believe in mythologies and nowadays they believe in national myths.


Just like as children we used to take fairytales seriously and thought they were real, nowadays as grown-ups we take national myths seriously and organize our lives accordingly. Even worse, we regulate other people’s lives according to myths as well. National myths have led to wars and the wars have claimed the lives of millions. This is why I am against myths. 

Recently, particularly in the “West” Ottomanism or its “new” version is being discussed. Clearly, the “Ottoman” phenomenon has not been resolved in Turkey, in the Balkans, in the Middle East, in Europe nor in the world in general. All sides have a weak spot regarding this subject. Empires that had lasted longer, such as Byzantium, are not mentioned as frequently as the Ottoman Empire. One reason could be that fewer claim the heritage of Byzantium; the other possibility could be that it’s just much older. Actually, nation states, which are modern structures, generally have a tendency to base their national histories on the past. The Italians on Rome, the Greeks on Antiquity and Byzantines, Austria and Hungary on the glorious history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, England and France on an expansionist imperial past, the Chinese on ancient states and so on.

But all modern states do not base their current policies on national myths.  Some have a more realistic and distant view of legends, other use legends more often. Greeks, for example, have a unique way of keeping their Ottoman legends alive. According to the official view, the Ottoman period was a period of captivity and pain. These were the years in which sovereignty was lost and people lived under restrictions and pressure. The facts and myths are intertwined in the description of that period. The 600-year period, the phases and changes the Ottoman empire underwent, the different political practices, the differences between regions, the exceptions and details are removed and the discourse is simplified into a fairy tale that can be understood by children as well. Schoolbooks, museums, novels, movies, speeches delivered by politicians and official historians consolidate this national myth. Events that confirm this story remove all doubts because suitable examples are selectively chosen to prove the desired claim; examples that counter the myths are carefully and discretely ignored.

Contradictions, inconsistencies and omissions

But this discourse (of myths) is laden with contradictions, inconsistencies and omissions. On the one hand, it is said the Greeks were banned from speaking their language, but on the other hand there is a talk of “privileges.” While there were “secret schools” that children attended, there were a large number of officially recognized Greek schools, too. On the one hand it is said the Ottoman administration never granted any rights to the Christian/Greeks, while on the other hand there is a talk of the autonomy of the Church, as well as of Greek dragomans and voivodes that were in the administration. (If you search for “Millas Tourkokratia” on the Internet you will be able to find a detailed article on this subject.) When Greek academics try to look at history from a different and more objective perspective, certain circles in Greece show the same reflex each time: “You are insulting our history and our identity; you are doing an injustice to our ancestors.” From what I know, these myths are not much different in other nation-states founded by struggling against the Ottoman Empire. In the Balkans (Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia), in Hungary and in the Middle East (in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states) the people have similar perceptions of the past.


But while the Ottoman experience is perceived as “hell” in these countries, in Turkey is described as “heaven”. During debates over identity, this topic is actually quite complex in Turkey. Kemalist intellectuals are more distant when it comes to the Ottoman Empire, some have recognized Central Asia as their homeland, and some have forgotten about the Ottoman period and are chasing an imaginary Anatolian identity, sometimes even Ionian. But when the issue is taken up in the context of “us versus others”, criticizing Ottomans isn’t considered very appropriate. In Turkey, Ottoman period is usually understood as Pax Ottomana, i.e., a period of peace and harmony, a time when different people lived together peacefully, a period of freedom in which all religions and languages were free and a time of tolerance when no one looked at anyone with an evil eye. This idealized past is supported through a series of carefully selected examples and shared across society. Schoolbooks, museums, novels, movies, speeches delivered by politicians and official historians consolidate the national myths in the same direction.

Examining the whole picture

However, all empires have both good and bad aspects. All of them expand by taking into consideration their economic interests, carry wealth to the center through plunder and taxes and build large capitals with incredibly beautiful structures, which are proudly displayed today. These achievements are made after expeditions and wars. But wars cause death, enslavement and pain. Since empires are not nation-states, they don’t interfere with ethnic groups. Everyone is free to practice their own religion and speak their language. It was that way in the Roman Empire as well. But as in all cases, in the Ottoman Empire were two groups of people: the dominant and the subordinate. The people from the “lower” group were not considered equal witnesses by the kadi (the judge in court); they were subject to extra taxes; the children of some were taken by force and converted to Islam through the devşirme system (an Ottoman recruiting system whereby boys of non-Muslim origin were placed into the army and the government); some were not even allowed to ride a horse because they believed in another religion; some were banned from certain professions; the restoration of churches was subject to approval which was very difficult to obtain, etc. Due to this heritage some of these practices continue even today. 

These deficiencies are not mentioned in the national myths. However, starting with Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the period when new ideas rattled Europe, people started to elect their own leaders, to regard old imperial practices unnatural and even unbearable. In other words, the reaction was against all empires. The myths against the Ottoman Empire were not solely a result of prejudice. The issue is about being fair vis-à-vis the hell/paradise discourse.

We should also learn how to experience empathy: this practice includes trying to understand the national sensitivities and different understandings of the other side. Not being aware of the different perceptions of the “other”, correctly criticizing the “other” as biased but mistakenly missing the prejudices of the “self”, never backing down when it comes to your own view, are all major obstacles in coping with ethnic and national myths. Those who are surprised and infuriated by the myths of the “others” miss to see that their own “history” is read as myths across the borders. Producing political strategies according to these types of national myths, coupled with explicit self-confidence about “our” past will pave the way to “history wars”. The question is if a world without myths, legends, fairytales, mythologies and national histories will be more pleasant or not. It is worthwhile trying though.






Revolutions and Models





Today’s Zaman, 3 March 2011























The chain reaction of revolutions is not a first in human history. The years between 1789 and 1848 were just like today. The French Revolution was taken as a model for a number of national or class uprisings.


 In particular, the social uprisings that started in France in 1848 spread to Western and Central Europe and even to America, causing that year to be given various names: the Spring of Nations, the Spring of Peoples, the Wave of Revolutions and the Year of Revolutions. A number of lands that we today call France, Germany, Austria, Romania, Hungary, Italy, Denmark, Poland and even Brazil were caught by the revolutionary fever of 1848. Eventually, in many countries the rebels were defeated. The long-term social and cultural effects of these uprisings could only be understood over time.

In Europe, there were few regions left unaffected by the 1848 wave: Britain, the Netherlands, the Russian and Ottoman empires were some of them. But even in these countries, either similar revolts had occurred few years earlier - like the Serbian and Greek uprisings - or several reforms had been introduced to calm the public - as was the case in Britain and the Netherlands. The reforms that the Ottoman administration introduced in 1839 and in 1856 could be seen from this perspective. Thus, we can say that the social developments we are witnessing today are not surprising. As societies evolve and conditions ripen, a spark may suffice to set everywhere ablaze. We don’t know what will emerge after the fires are extinguished, but we are sure that the fires are important.

The major rift in the period from 1789-1848 was between the dynasties and the parliaments. This dichotomy can be recast as between monarchists and republicans or between tutelage and a democratic regime. The public had high expectations regarding the parliaments. The demands raised by the middle classes and the lower classes of workers and peasants were very radical compared to the standards of the time. The clash between the classes led to massacres and there were many victims at the hands of aristocrats. It was obvious that the old regime would go away, but it was not clear when it would go. Today, it is apparent that a dictator - alone or with his supporters - can no longer continue to rule over a whole population. But it is not clear how long these authoritarian rulers and dictators will resist. Also we don’t know how they will go. The “kings” of today may be dethroned or executed or they may flee or - if they have some sense - introduce reforms. The last option is the most reasonable way, but it is rare. 

The movements of 1848 had been triggered by economic problems and by new ideas, as is the case today. Actually, the fear of new ideas is not unjustified. Speaking or writing about new ideas may give masses a dynamism that is hard to halt or control. That is why those who detest changes and the regimes that are collapsing have always opted for implementing censorship. Yet, unlike the past, today new ideas can spread very fast all over the world using new means of communication. In the past, it would take weeks or even months for news or ideas to reach from one place to another. Now, they are broadcasted live. In our time we sense and experience the rapid changes of our world directly and personally. 

As in 1848, the rebels of our time may be defeated and the old system may introduce some cosmetic changes to keep up appearances for some time. But it is obvious that change has reached North Africa, the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula. I don’t want to say change has reached Muslim countries because I don’t think that these “waves” are unique to specific religions. It is not religions nor ethnicity that explains these developments; geography may be a more sound explanation. If the overseas discoveries and the Industrial Revolution had occurred in the East, today we would have the academics explaining why the Christian world and Europe are not open to positivism, democracy, industrialization, entrepreneurship, secularism, etc.

Turkey should not be a model

I hope Turkey will not be a model or example to follow for the Muslim countries after their revolutions. The idea of serving as a model for some countries may sound pleasant to our ears. But it is harmful in the long run. Indeed, to be a model for some countries with underdeveloped democratic and modernization practices, for Turkey would mean lowering the bar. Assuming ourselves to be at the forefront, instead of chasing better counties, will make Turkey lethargic. The frequently voiced Turkey-as-the-model-for-the-Muslim-world discourse has also been used as an excuse for Turkey’s  shortcomings. “Despite everything, we are still the best,” is a political stance which is used by officials in an effort to trivialize local problems. Moreover, it is unwarranted for Turkey to be a model for the Muslim world because it has a tense democracy and controversial practices regarding secularism.

Turkey should look for its own model. Using an analogy from sports one can conclude that in order to win a race it is more profitable to look at those in front and increase pace than to look at those behind and relax and slow down. Also, by a simile from football one should not miss that it is better to be in the lower ranks of the first league than to be the leader of the second league.








A ‘Blank Check’ and Guardianship





Today’s Zaman, 1 May 2011





















The elections are approaching and as voters and writers decide whom to support I am stuck on the idea that I am not going to give a “blank check”, a “carte blanche” to anyone.


You know how it is; you write out a check but leave the money section blank for someone to complete it whenever he wants and for any amount he sees proper. It means handing the authority over to an individual or to an institution as a whole. I am afraid, this is the way I usually view voting.

While I don’t want to give anyone a blank check I also know with certainty for who I will be voting. I am only concerned regarding the meaning I will be ascribing to my vote. I am not selecting a guardian or a warden, nor any sort of a religious mentor. I am instead electing an individual and a group of people who I do not entirely trust; and particularly I do not want to give the message that I trust them wholeheartedly. I am electing government clerks or “memur” (in Turkish); note that this word, memur, is originally derived from “emir”,  order. I don’t wish to reduce the voting procedure to “trust” because as I mentioned earlier, I am opposed to the “blank check” approach. I am not able to accept the idea of embracing someone who can act in my name with full authority because in that approach I see the traces of guardianship, of warden states and of regimes which should remain firmly in our past. This kind of a traditional “trust” was felt heavily in old times. Nowadays though, we need to rely not to certain individuals but rather to the system, to the laws and our shared decisions. An example of such a shared decision or consensus is a constitution – provided the constitution comes about as the result of popular consensus.

When the above listed factors are not present and all that is left is trust to people and parties then guardianship pops up. Turkey is still exerting efforts trying to rid itself of the guardianship of the military. This (antidemocratic) guardianship system is not just a case of rights that have been taken away; it is also a case of certain rights being directly and indirectly turned over to certain people. Certain circles have been given blank checks. Guardianship operates because  people accept this situation. The society itself legitimizes this system of guardianship. The dictatorships exist due to societies which make these sorts of situations legitimate through their tolerance and passive acceptance. How else can we explain that some societies are frequently led by authoritarian powers and others almost never?

I don’t wish my vote to act as a blank check nor to elect those who act like spiritual leaders or as charismatic “fathers” or as if they know all. It is true that it is difficult to find politicians who don’t embody these characteristics. This region of the world seems to give birth to leaders who are “saviors”, “shepherds” and “spiritual vanguards.” That is why the party leaders and not the parties themselves are in the agenda. And they interpret the votes they have received as a complete trust in them: as if they have received a blank check. In conjunction with the high opinion that they may start having for themselves the guardianship starts appearing.


Criticism should not come only from the ‘others’

Those we elect must get the message that we see them not as our “elders” but as our government clerks, as people who will be taking directives from us. This is secured through our criticisms of them. Any candidate, deputy, minister, prime minister, etc., who is not criticized may start seeing himself as our “leader”. Worse, he may begin to believe that criticism comes only from his enemies, from his adversaries, from the “others” and he may start perceiving any criticism as a hostile action or insult.

The “disciple” approach leads to guardian relationship. The elected official soon starts to impose his/her views and defend what he sees as right no matter what. In such a situation before blaming our “leaders” it is better to take a good look at ourselves. We need to ask ourselves, “when was the last time I issued criticisms against those I voted for in the elections?” When we call those who receive our votes “they are one of us” and never criticize them, we play a large role in opening up of the way towards guardianship; we give the wrong message.

Some may claim that the timing is critical and that now it is elections and a favorable propaganda period. I think, however, that any instant is the right time to give the right message. Actually, the most influential propaganda is when one speaks positively about a candidate or a party having first honestly criticized their shortcomings. One sounds more convincing. On the other hand a “leader” may count every period as a “critical” one. 

The above are some thoughts that came to my mind during this election period. Some cast votes in ballot boxes, others blank checks. And those on the receiving end of these messages become either our clerks or our guardians.






Socialism and other words that make no sense




Today’s Zaman, 7 July 2011




Athens hosted a meeting of the Socialist International (SI) between July 1 and 2. The representatives of two political parties from Turkey attended this meeting: Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Professor Büşra Ersanlı, representing the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

In Turkey, political parties cannot come together under the same roof nowadays; therefore, their coming together at this meeting is a positive development. The host of the meeting was, of course, Georgios Papandreou, Greece’s socialist prime minister who has recently been fighting tooth and nail to save his country from the brink of total bankruptcy. But what I find hard to understand is why is a socialist government trying to save its country using the most “capitalist” methods also receiving support from the SI.

How many times have we witnessed such a contradictory situation? When the Soviet Union entered an economic impasse in the early years of its establishment, it “backpedaled” within the framework of the New Economic Policy (NEP), providing relief for its economy. What it did at that time was to make a partial return to a market economy. The Soviets became better off financially when they made the full transition to capitalism. Socialist China is growing rapidly by embracing capitalism. Even Castro’s Cuba is said to be embracing a market economy. Who knows? It may even become like Albania or the former East Germany, which are communist socialists. There are also capitalist socialists, who are in full harmony with such organizations as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. It is not easy to distinguish the socialists in Europe, say, those in the UK, from those who are not socialists, or to understand the socialist aspects of their approach to the economy. At least, I find it hard to do.

The meaninglessness of words

My quest to find the common characteristics shared by those who band together under the SI’s banner takes me only to “socialism.” But what does this word mean? People communicate not only by talking to each other, but also by using signs, body language or even grunting. Words are our most advanced tools for communication, but when words start to have multiple meanings, it becomes harder for us to understand one another. In recent years I have been trying to not to use the word “socialism” - which is the subject matter of this article - and its related terms, such as left, communism, progressive, etc.,  because I no longer can understand what this word refers to.

In my youth, if I am not deceiving myself, things were much clearer. Marxist literature was used as a reference. Of course, there were different approaches: Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Castro, Tito and Euro-communism were being discussed. Social democracy and CHP-like leftism also existed, but they were scorned, at least in my circle, and they were considered forms of capitalism. There was a consensus on the basic tenets of socialism. For instance, nationalization was considered as a basis, while privatizations were seen as temporary deviations. Interest, rent and profit were demonized. The workers belonged to “us”, while the rich were seen as unreliable. Foreign investments were regarded as the main causes of disaster. But most importantly, discussions were conducted with references to different models that were already being applied. Thus, many of us could point to one direction and say, “I want this.” This would save us from the obsession of words. Whereas now?

Another sign of the current uncertainty surrounding socialism and the left is that aging former leftists like myself are convening to discuss “How should we define a leftist policy?” However, groups should not go looking in search for policies; but rather, those who have a similar political line – who have found a policy – should form a group. When this is not the case, what we do is to “invent some occupation for ourselves.” If we do not have a policy or we don’t have any idea of what we should do, then we should just enjoy our retirement. Otherwise we may find ourselves in a grave misconception: If we do not have a clear-cut plan, we may put ourselves into the situation of Miguel de Cervantes’s romantic chivalry, through ascribing to ourselves greater values than we deserve.

If the words “left” and “socialism” can be used to refer to an endless range of people, from Kılıçdaroğlu and Workers’ Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek to outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan or from Marxist politician, author and sociologist Behice Boran to Fidel Castro and the regime in China, then it is no longer possible to use these words to communicate with each other. It is equally useless to talk about “true socialism” because every socialist believes his/her own brand of socialism is true and calls his/her personal vision “left.”

But let us go back to the question we asked at the beginning. Why do socialists resort to capitalist methods when they are faced with an economic crisis? The answer to this question is perhaps that, as we observed in the socialist and even social democratic practices of the recent decades, the left is unsuccessful in production and extremely generous in distribution. In a sense, they are very much like Robin Hood. The case of Bülent Ecevit in Turkey and the experiences of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and the New Democracy in Greece can be given as examples. There are numerous benefits to having a close look at Greece’s latest socialist experience and at the consequences of this policy. If we are to extract a leftist definition from these practices, we can say the following: Socialism is to offer bounteously to people whatever is earned though capitalist methods.

It was actually very painful to write this article because I placed high hopes on socialism for a good deal of my life. But I do not want to be part of the deception, hypocrisy and, especially, the meaninglessness of the recent decades. An indication of thinking with old patterns in a changing environment is having contradictions. I am not against private romanticism, but I think it is dangerous and harmful to make the masses adopt a utopian ideology. Unattainable goals lead to disappointment, which in turn result in not only demoralization but also in the inability to achieve realistic and attainable goals. Those who do not have anything new to say are making a pathetic sight by trying in vain to be at the forefront of everything. I, too, want to live in a better society but I am not inclined to define this dream with meaningless words or an uncertain route.






‘Atatürk’ by M. Şükrü Hanioğlu




Today’s Zaman, 18 July 2011




















M. Şükrü Hanioğlu’s latest book, “Atatürk, An Intellectual Biography” (Princeton University Press, 2011), is probably the best book on Atatürk’s legacy and his historic role.


As the writer states in the introductory pages, the more scholarly and authoritative biographies of Atatürk have been authored by non-Turkish scholars, and that is because in his home country the founder of modern Turkey is almost worshiped like a mythical hero or a savor saint. Hanioğlu managed to combine both impartiality and immediate access to Turkish sources to produce a classic. His approach is a clear sign that the time has come for Turkey to assess its recent past.

In this biography Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is not only presented but also “explained,” in the sense that the reader comprehends the historical circumstances, the social dynamics and the personal conditions that made the Atatürk phenomenon possible. By looking at the course of Atatürk’s life one understands both the man and the country. He was not a “miracle” nor a born hero but a product of his time and his environment. For example, one presumes that his propensity for secularism originated in the city in which he was brought up, the most cosmopolitan city of the Balkans, Thessalonica, which was characterized by both the coexistence and the fierce national sentiments of Muslims, Bulgarians, Serbs, Jews, Dönme (crypto-Jews), Greeks, Albanians, Bosnians, Kutzo-Vlachs and many others. We note also that he attended not a traditional Muslim school but an alla Franca one where a “Western” curriculum prevailed.

In the military academy his teacher was the German theorist Colmar von der Goltz, who had written “Das Volk in Waffen” (The Nation in Arms). Accordingly, a social Darwinist understanding that wars were not only unavoidable but should be fought by the militarized nation as a whole and that the officer class should lead the society were ideas run into early in life. As a “Young Turk” and a member of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) he cherished the ideas of Gustave le Bon that parliaments are not to be entrusted with a say in politics and wield political power just like that.

 The Young Turks were influenced by the German physiologist Ludwig Büchner and “Vulgarmaterialismus,” too. Science was regarded as a panacea for all ills. Early in life Mustafa Kemal believed that an epic struggle between science and religion defined history.

Hanioğlu reminds the reader that John William Draper’s “Conflict Between Religion and Science” became a bestseller in the Ottoman Empire upon its translation into Turkish at the end of the 19th century.

Atatürk’s upbringing and accomplishments

The book is composed of eight chapters, an introduction and a conclusion. It has a total of 273 pages and consists of three parts: The first three chapters are on the upbringing of Atatürk and the sources that have influenced him intellectually. The next two chapters are on his accomplishments as a soldier and his becoming the undisputable leader. The last three chapters are on his role as the founder of modern Turkey, on his efforts to build and shape a nation and on how his legacy presently affects Turkey.

Modern Turkey as a nation-state officially started in 1923, but the Young Turks’ experiment (1908-1918) and the years of the War of Independence (1919-1922) are important phases that led to that end. These periods are perceived to be associated with Atatürk. Until his death (1938) and even up until the present day his legacy is strongly felt in Turkey. Hanioğlu demonstrates that Kemalism, or Ataturkism, as his “teaching” is called, do not constitute a coherent and systematic ideology. Atatürk was selective vis-à-vis ideas and ideals and a pragmatist. During the War of Independence he behaved as a “Muslim communist” flirting with both Islam and the Soviet regime. When he felt himself to be in power and strong, he put into practice “secularism” and “scientism,” turning his back to both Islam and the Soviet Union. He did not hesitate to disregard popular feelings and advanced changes that refuted all Ottoman (and religious) heritage. He imposed reforms that symbolized “Westernization” and “modernism”: Western attire, the Latin alphabet, the Christian weekend, language reform with which Arabic words were discarded from Turkish, European civil law, etc.

However, it was as if the phantoms of Goltz, le Bon, Bühner, Draper and some others, for example Eugene Pittard, whose work was perceived and practiced as a racist account of humanity, were always present. Even today the supposed fight between “science and religion,” the role of Atatürk as the “leading soldier,” the importance of the parliament, the militarization of the society/nation and the negation of the heritage of the Ottoman period are contested issues, even though fewer believe in ghosts. Turkey will not be fully understood unless the ideas that shaped its history are fully understood.

It is of interest to notice which of the visions of Atatürk have fully prevailed and which of them were rejected. His social engineering has many followers in Turkey and abroad, but many of his initiatives are contested, too. In the last pages of the book the “Westernization and the future of the country are discussed: Atatürk had persuaded the Turks that they are part of Europe, but failed to convince Europeans “to embrace Turkey as a society sharing their culture and values.”





Praise for the Zaman daily





Today’s Zaman, 11 October 2011





















I want to praise the Zaman daily because it has not been acting as “partisan”. Partisanship (“yandaş” in Turkish) carries a negative connotation nowadays: “flatterer,” “sycophant,” “suck up,” “toady” and “bigot.” The conclusion I draw from my experience as a writer for the Zaman daily for the past nine years is that even though the paper has its view and stance with regard to situations it has never been a “partisan” in a sense this word is used by some in Turkey.


Many of my columns were critical: to the government, to some social groups and circles and sometimes to the views held and promoted by Zaman. I send the drafts of my columns to my friends as well when I send them to the paper. Interestingly, on numerous occasions some of my friends came back to me saying that Zaman will not publish the specific article. In a particular case my friend was certain: “If they ever publish this, I will show them respect by going and kissing their hands.” More than 200 columns of mine have been published verbatim. And my friend said he will keep his word and will go and kiss Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı’s hand.


I would like to turn the attention to the existing prejudice against Zaman. This biased discourse is similar to the attacks that face nowadays all the groups that support the ruling party. Some think everybody is a blindfolded partisan like themselves. I felt the need to express my views on Zaman as I did for so many issues until today. I have penned enough columns to feel confident to dare to praise the paper without worrying of being accused of being a flatterer. My readers know me already


Traditional foreign policy is the least criticized domain in Turkey; it is considered a “national issue”. Especially when a common national “enemy” is in the agenda a common united line is expected. Foreign policy is closely connected to the top of the political administration and even mild criticism is risky. Criticisms in this critical sphere and at critical times are fairly limited.  But it is at such circumstances - when leaders are left all alone but with those who butter them up - that criticism proves valuable

In recent weeks Turkey forgot to fortify its defense while scoring points in foreign policy. It is common in Turkey to make analogies by using football terms. On my part I wrote about the risks of excess self confidence.


But I also realized that some other columnists at Zaman have adopted a similar critical approach. One of them wrote: “It is necessary to realize the negative atmosphere in foreign relations and to take proper measures to address it. It seems that a headwind has taken oath to undermine this bright picture in foreign policy of the last two years. Some actors which until recently were for Turkey either moved away or are about to side with those who are on the opposite camp: Greek Cypriots, Israel, Armenia, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Syria, Greece and Iran… Turkey which until yesterday took initiatives to make friends, now is facing a front of enemies” Another columnist made this analogy: “There is a type of driver who feels he has to use the left lane on the highway, forcing the cars in front of them to clear the way. The foreign policy that the government has been pursuing since the elections reminded me of these left lane lovers.” Some others wrote: “The discourse of foreign threats makes the polity and the society more authoritative since threat will require uniformity. …Well, OK, we are heroes, brave and Ottomans, but are we ready to take our democracy ten years back?” and “By acting in line with the US we were a soft power, then by the not wanted Turkey-Syria-Iran line we have shifted to the hawkish power mode.”


Zaman’s “partisanship” is actually based on the faith and the foresight of those who make this paper possible. These columns prove that what is liked is supported and what is not liked is criticized. Partisanship with its negative meaning is when pluralism (not cacophony) is the real objective. When all columnists do not hold the same view, the accusation of partisanship becomes redundant.


On the other hand, most of the columnists of the other papers who do not consider themselves as “partisans” did not make such critical statements despite their inherent opposition to the government. Well, if they had done so, this would not have had a meaning or use anyway because they have opposed the government and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) for years in every occasion. Their criticism has turned to routine at the end. They never noticed anything positive in AKP.


The most constructive criticism and warning regarding the foreign policy was raised in Zaman and some other supposedly “partisan” papers. The result is very interesting and promising: the foreign minister invited those columnists who raised criticisms and listened to their complaints.


I am aware that there are some ready and eager to make inferences out of what I wrote. Let me underline what I do not mean. I have never said Zaman is perfect and that it has nothing to be criticized about. However, the accusation of “partisanship” has become meaningless.  This unfair inference is actually spreading abroad as well. There are many who upon hearing “government sympathizer” understand “government mouthpiece.” I hope these recent developments would help all to understand better the function of the Zama daily.





Elections in Greece:

repercussions of rage





Today’s Zaman, 10 May 2012




A protester shouts slogans during a May Day protest in Athens on May 1, 2012.



Some people are pretty pleased with the most recent election results in Greece (May 6, 2012). For the first time, the far-right Hrisi Avgi Party (Golden Dawn) has won seats in Parliament, receiving a surprising 7 percent of the votes in last week’s Greek elections.

The Golden Dawn’s supporters are enjoying this winning moment. Nikolaos Michaloliakos, chair of the party, which places particular emphasis upon nationalism, in his first press statement, said: “Beware! We are coming,” and further questioned the patriotism of the media and of other parties.

The Independent Greeks Party led by Panos Kamenos is also pleased with the results, with 10.5 percent of the votes. This party was set up a few months ago by those who left the center-right New Democracy Party. The new party was created in opposition to the austerity plan, which was devised by the troika of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank. The party’s discourse is also based on extremism. They perceive the West and the neighboring countries - particularly Macedonia and Turkey - as sources of major problems. Kamenos frequently draws attention to the danger posed by aliens, the West which allegedly undermines the national interests of Greece, and particularly the Germans.

The far-right People’s Orthodox Rally (LAOS) led by Georgios Karatzaferis, which was represented in the Parliament until the 2012 elections, however, is not satisfied with the results. It failed to pass the 3 percent election threshold. This is seen as the price for their support of the austerity plan offered for Greece’s economic recovery.

Parties that are pleased with the results include those in the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), which displayed a surprising performance by receiving 17 percent of the votes, and in turn being ranked second in the overall standing of the parties. Its main policy is to remain within the EU but to reject the memorandum issued by the troika. The young leader of the coalition, Alexis Tsipras did not make it clear how to achieve this. What he implied was that the coalition would stand against the EU plan so that the troika would not insist on the implementation of the plan. The political standing held by the Independent Greeks Party is similar to this position: Yes to the EU, no to the memorandum. For this, the troika needs to say, “Let us forget about the memorandum and make resource transfers to Greece.” But this does not seem likely.

The Democratic Left, which received 6 percent of the votes in these elections, could be included in the list of political groups that prefer remaining within the EU without paying the bill. This party, founded two years ago, is also pleased with the election results. The Communist Party, which preserved its popular support with 8.5 percent of the votes, declared its satisfaction with the outcome. The view of this party is clear: It promotes separation from the EU and dismisses the idea of any sort of alliance with the other parties. In other words, the left, which represents 31 percent of the popular vote, is opposed to the memorandum. (It should be noted that 35 percent of the registered voters did not go to the ballots, which means the votes the parties received should be reduced by one-third to calculate actual popular support.)

As for the disappointed...

And of course some parties are disappointed with the election results. The two center parties which have ruled the country for decades experienced a grave defeat in the election. Both took part in the implementation of the memorandum. Even if they form a coalition government, they will not be able to secure a majority in the 300-seat parliament. Their deputies number 108 and 41, respectively. (The New Democracy Party won 50 extra seats because of its first-place finish). The three liberal parties should also be included in the list of parties displeased with the election outcome. Dora Bakoyannis’ Democratic Alliance, Stefanos Manos’ Action-Liberal Alliance and Thanos Tzimeros’ ReCreate Greece party failed to pass the 3 percent election threshold (2.6 percent, 1.7 percent and 2 percent, respectively).

These three parties promoted the same argument: that the memorandum should be observed in order to remain within the EU and the euro currency; in other words, harsh measures and structural transformation are inevitable. Despite strong efforts, the three parties failed to make a pact, most probably out of personal ambitions and in the end the liberal political line was left out of parliament.

This overall outlook is not promising for Greece. There are two major problems going on in the country. Above all, it is now hard to form a majority government. Theoretically, it is possible that the New Democracy, PASOK and maybe the Democratic Left parties could form a coalition. However, even if this is achieved, they will need to make tough decisions on economic measures in the days to come; it is doubtful that the Democratic Left will extend support to the implementation of the memorandum. But the actual problem is different. The total popular support for those who opposed the memorandum is above 50 percent. In particular, leftist forces control the unions. These forces, which have prevented the structural transformations envisaged in the memorandum through street demonstrations and strikes, have become more popular. Following the elections, the legitimacy of the supporters of the memorandum has come into question. This suggests that force may be used as an instrument outside parliament. In other words, it is doubtful as to whether a government will be able to rule the country effectively.

In addition, it also seems that there are problems with the relations between Greece and the EU. There will be problems within the EU if Greece decides not to implement the austerity plan. It is not easy for European politicians to convince their voters to finance Greece through further taxes. Leniency in the implementation of the plan will attract the attention of countries experiencing similar problems, including Ireland, Portugal and Spain, which would likely make similar requests. It does not seem possible for the EU to change its policy at the moment.

The EU and the IMF are already signaling that they are determined to insist on the implementation of the plan. There is almost no room for changes to the set of measures. There is a big difference and disagreement between the opponents of the memorandum and the troika. While the Greek political actors and society believe that the memorandum is the main cause of the ongoing problems, the EU considers it the outcome of the crisis. Holding early elections is not seen as a plausible solution. An early election will most probably make the opponents of the memorandum stronger. It is also possible that the crisis will get out of control because if an agreement is not made with the troika, the financial aid needed to address the budget deficit may be blocked or suspended. And if this happens, the state may not be able to pay salaries.

Since respect for the Greek people’s preference is a requirement of democracy, the possibility of such an option should not be viewed as unlikely. In such a scenario, it is also possible that Greece will leave the euro and issue its own national currency in order to pay state salaries. But, of course, Greece will not be able to pay its debts and receive loans from external sources. And this will exacerbate the overall economic crisis. In other words, the final word will come from outside the country and the EU will have to make a decision on how to proceed with respect to Greece.




Leadership syndrome




Today’s Zaman, 5 July 2012








As I was sorting through books on the early years of the Turkish Republic to outline a subject, I took another look at the textbooks of the 1930s. I became intrigued with the issue of leadership. I thought that when the books aim to describe a historical period, they actually tell more about the internal world of the writers. These writers might not have even understood the period they lived in or their own prejudices. However, what they wrote reflects their perceptions.

In the 1931 textbook “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti” (Turkish Republic), Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic) was naturally and fairly praised, as at that time a painful social adventure had finished thanks to his leadership. But why was the praise so extreme? Atatürk was not only depicted as a model ruler who rose to the top of the heap but also as a person who acts on behalf of the entire nation and bears mysterious powers. The writers of the textbook view Atatürk in this light and assume it is correct to pass their views on to the students. I felt ready to admit the exaggerations of the 1930s but I suspected that there are today people who still share similar views. I started to read through the book more carefully.

The Hat Law of 1925, one of the most important of the reforms, is described in the book as follows: On Aug. 24, 1925, Mustafa Kemal sets off from Ankara towards Kastamonu. “As was known nationwide, before taking a decision he used to go out on a trip; so what his journey was going to lead to was a matter of curiosity.” He appears in Kastamonu “with a Panama hat in his hand while the cheering ‘long live the great leader!’ goes on.” So far no one had thought that the “fez could be removed at a stroke.” The public (according to the book) “felt relieved that they were getting rid of the fez.” That night “the public relentlessly cheered him by taking off the fez, the sarık (turban) and the ağbani (a type of turban).” Mustafa Kemal delivers his renowned speech about headwear. According to the book, “public confederations applauded him saying, ‘Long live our opinion guide!’” After the speech, the tailors of Kastamonu started sewing hats night and day. Then M. Kemal travels to İnebolu and there the public shouted, “We are ready for whatever you want.”  During this journey, the tekkes (Islamic monasteries) are “asked to close themselves down immediately, voluntarily.” The book says that while all of this was taking place “the public responded in accordance with the pledge that every signal by the Leader was to be considered an order.” On September 2 the Representative Assembly (Vekiller Heyeti) gathered and the relevant decrees were released (pp. 231-238). In other words, after the leader stated his decision, everyone was mobilized and the decision was put into practice within a week.

The leader(ship) in schoolbooks

What interests me is how these actions were perceived. The importance attributed to the leadership of Atatürk is surprising. The abolishment of the caliphate was announced on March 1, 1924, via a sermon and the required laws were enacted on March 3 “after a hot debate that endured for five hours.” The legitimacy of the leader taking such initiatives and his ability to enact change immediately is explained in the book as follows: The leading party had a special characteristic: “not a group of people but the entire nation was a part of the leading party” (p.168). We can understand Atatürk’s characteristic nature from a young doctor’s address to him: “You are not only an individual but an entire nation. Your personality and party are the personality and party of the whole nation. M. Kemal, long live!” Mustafa Kemal listens to these and adds only a couple of sentences: “The staff of the Republican People’s Party consists of members of the entire nation. Those who can’t grasp this fact are the unfortunate few who can’t accustom themselves to this understanding.” (p.174)

These thoughts were developed in 1925 and were expressed in the textbooks of the 1930s. For years, such statements about Atatürk have been repeated at schools. However, such an image of a leader should not be only the product of Turkish Republic.  There should be a background. Maybe it was the result of a “sultan” and “padişah” culture; maybe the “sheikh” and “baba” (celebrated leaders in Sufism) tradition; the habits concerning “murşid-murid” (murşids are spiritual guides in Sufism and murids are those who commit to them); the traditional family’s strict hierarchy and its legacy; the lack of individualism – the creation of the Enlightenment; maybe it is the combined effect of all these factors. The republican regime couldn’t brush aside these understandings but sustained them.

This is the way I can explain why and how leaders interfere in individuals’ private lives, in personal choices and in the family lives of others; why the leaders feel they have the legitimacy to behave like this: these are due to a legacy of authoritarianism from which the people cannot free themselves.  In the aforementioned book we read the following sentence: “The core of social life is the family life. I will not say many things about our women, about our men. I will utter only a few words and you will immediately understand what I mean” (p. 227). From now on what was uttered about this issue is of a secondary significance. What is of importance is the didactic and authoritarian way of speaking of the leaders who are meant to fulfill the public’s wishes and defend the weak and the minorities against possible oppression by the strong.

The padişah, the murşid, the intellectual tyrants, the authoritarian politicians and each link of the military-like tutelary chain have always been “pedagogical” and “moral” in a self-proclaimed way and interfering with the citizens’ privacy. The reason and legitimacy of this drive do not need to be very persuasive.

Convenient excuses can satisfactorily relieve the leaders’ consciences. But the individual who feels oppressed has nowhere to hide. He is alone and defenseless. Referring to such situations as “a necessity of democracy” or “the will of the majority” is a rationalization, just like the “a necessity of science” was once used as a rationalization. The situations mirror each other. The actual reason for interference in private lives is the “leadership syndrome.” It is the fact that interfering is considered normal and acceptable by the leader, by the people around the leader and by the society as well. The syndrome is internalized by those around the leader and it is difficult to be recognized. The syndrome then turns into a tradition.

Has it ever happened that such leaders, big or small, realized their position and changed themselves? What does “respect for traditions” mean? Can’t a person be allowed to reject tradition? What do those who oppose the person that opposes tradition represent? Don’t we remain unchanged if we don’t leave our traditions behind? While leafing through the textbook, I thought about these questions. However, the book didn’t even have these questions, let alone the answers.



Until that day…







Today’s Zaman, 29 August 2012




Debates over Islam and Islamicism tend to center around the topic of “rights,” as various factions see them. What will befall the “others”? How will the lifestyles of people with different beliefs be affected? Will that which is seen as the “true/legitimate/normal” way by some be followed by all?

Will implementation of new ways be “forced” - and, if so, who will supervise this implementation, and how will they actually be made legitimate? Might there not be more than one right way at a time? In the end, questions like these turn into a problem of the actual exercise of rights. I suppose most people sharing their views on these topics have similar concerns, but there are also those who view this topic differently. Some bring them to the agenda as a result of their religious beliefs and duties. One  can immediately sense the existence of these different perspectives in debates and arguments: Some refer to religious texts to support their arguments, while others use principles - generally secular - from the modern world around them.

It is generally impossible to come to an agreement as to “what is right” on this topic. After all, it is due to basic differences in principles that this dialogue and all its disagreements exist. The arguments are almost always rooted in personally accepted philosophies. In other words, we are talking about beliefs. People have the right to their beliefs; this is something with which most people agree. And as part of this right to perceive the world as they like, people also have the right to envision the world, the future and the society around them as they wish. In fact, this right also means that a person has the right to “wish that everyone else would accept the way he or she sees things.” Note, however, that I said the right to “wish,” not to “force.”

In the end, the problem comes to rest on this simple question: “How can we exist together?” Because whether or not people like or accept it, differences do exist between us all, and we can all see these differences, and have come to the point of accepting their existence. The real question lies not in which principles one bases right or wrong; after all, everyone perceives their own “right way” as the “most and only right way.” As it is, the question of which principles are right or wrong could lead us towards a sort of tyrannical positivism; even though those participating in this debate do not look warmly upon positivism, whether it is the positivism of the East or the West.

The debate should thus be carried out on a different arena altogether. How do we all live together without damaging our own views, our convictions, our beliefs, our dreams for the future, our private lives? How do we do this without rejecting our authentic identities? I actually found a stance that is similar to my own on these matters in a column by Ali Bulaç published on Sept. 3, 2011. As Bulaç expressed it, the real reason for the problems experienced by members of the society who are in some way different from the majority - for example, by non-Muslims in Turkey - lies in “Turkey’s using the West as a reference point, and thus removing non-Muslim members of the society from the ‘millet’ system, and instead sticking them into a status as minority members.” In his column, Bulaç says quite plainly that he rejects the reference points taken from the West. He writes: “Those who regularly follow this column know that I have written over and over about how the ‘Western idea of absolutely equal citizenship’ is in fact not a solution to the various clashes we experience between ethnicities, sects and identities. A constitutional citizenship which takes absolute equal citizenship as its basis only places the current problems into new molds, where they can multiply and continue on. What ought really to be taken as a reference is a new view of citizenship or nationality which places people as equals in the face of the law, but which also takes socio-cultural differences as its basis.”


Equal citizenship even when beliefs are different

As for me, I am not on the side of “a stance that takes socio-cultural differences as its basis.” Instead I favor “citizenship that takes absolute equality as its basis.” I agree with the Western perspective on this front. But in his column, Bulaç manages to solve the deadlock created by these differing references of ours.

Bulaç writes: “However, until this [ideal situation] is brought about, it is the natural right of all those non-Muslims who live within national borders in peace to be treated as ‘equal citizens’ like all others.” I believe the key words in this sentence are “until this is brought about.” Each one of us may carry around our own ideals in our minds. There are the Kemalists, nationalists, social democrats, socialists, Islamicists, liberals, conservatives and people of all different religions, and all of these different factions may have different expectations for the future, different dreams and hopes. And, of course, these are all factions which may view the past differently, and will have different points of reference to one another. But until “these ideals are brought about,” it is certainly possible to do what is necessary to ensure that people can coexist. Whether or not the reference points are the same, the practical implementation of the principle of “equal citizenship” will satisfy all. After coming to an agreement on this equality, and even bringing about this equality in practice, pursuing the “why’s” and exploring the points of reference is really secondary work.

Rather than placing constant focus on our own ideals - on the leaders we favor, the principles we favor - it would be more beneficial to talk about ways of living together and trying to relocate those ways when we become lost. In doing this, the real question moves away from the contest to decide who is right and who is wrong and moves into a totally new arena. If only we would each work on our own relations with others - with neighbors, with friends, even with those we don’t know well - we would make such great strides. For example, what do we do when our daughters do or do not wish to wear headscarves, or when they fall in love with young men from other sects of our belief? How do we approach our neighbors when they do not join us in celebrating the same holidays? What do we say to families who do not wish to see their children take the same religion lessons as the other children at school, as they may be from a different religion? Will we arrange for Quran lessons for some, even when there are those who do not wish to see them taught? Do we invite neighbors who drink alcohol on their balconies into our Muslim homes? These sorts of questions bring the practical aspects of this problem to our attention and force us to think about how we should act and behave until our ideal worlds “are brought about.” And so the real problem moves away from the question of who is right and instead focuses on how we can make our surroundings harmonious. In choosing this path and this approach, we may encounter some surprises. We may see that even those with the most extreme beliefs and ideologies are able to bring about harmonious relations.

There are some who refer to this as “tolerance.” But what we call it is not important; what is important is what we are searching for, and the real goals and objectives of our dialogue. It will only become clear after a long while - perhaps after 100 years, perhaps thousands of years later - who was right. And there is no way that we can ever prove this to one another at this present time. Thus our real job now is to learn to coexist, at least until our ideal worlds are “brought about.”








Today’s Zaman, 16 September 2012






The underdeveloped nature of the Ottoman state has been so over-discussed that it is not easy to add original arguments to this discussion. Still, I am going to try, concentrating on the argument that religious fanaticism was the main setback.


While I do not know much about what the Ottoman Empire was, I do have some ideas on what it was not. According to some philosophers of science proving what is not true is quite easy, but proving that something is true is much more difficult. For example, you cannot prove the thesis that “swans are always white” simply by showing how many white swans there are around; doubts will linger in people’s minds. Someone might say: “Who knows? Tomorrow we might encounter a black swan.” On the other hand, a single black swan can disprove the “white swans” thesis.


When it comes to the possible reasons of the underdeveloped condition of the Ottoman state, it can be easily shown that the reason for this status was not “religion” as is often claimed. If Islam had been the fault then in the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries Muslim societies would not have been so advanced while the Christian ones lagged behind. If religions were behind the good, the advanced and the successful - as well as to the contrary, the bad, the backward and the failures – faiths would have displayed their characteristics from the time they emerged until today. Associating religion directly to “underdevelopment” or “development” seems fairly meaningless. Religions do not guarantee neither success nor failure.


However, there will always be some Christians or Muslims who will refer to their religion and argue that “our religion was (or is) wrongly implemented and that is why we had been in the past (or we are presently) so underdeveloped.”  The same, but mirror-image mentality will be used by both sides in reference to their own societies and beliefs. This mentality is worth noting carefully.


Out of the 2,000-year history of the Christian religion, for example, certain periods and sections that seem appropriate may be chosen to highlight and claim to be representative to Christianity: “This is Christianity!”. If one wants to portray Christianity as successful, periods such as the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution or the Enlightenment may be chosen. If failure is needed to be “proved” one will focus on the courts of the Inquisition or the ignorance of the Middle Ages. This is the eclectic aspect to perceiving history: Choosing and pointing to that which works while ignoring and silencing that which does not work. As for the question “Why our religion did not have the power and the will to prevent wrong doings?” is not asked.



Defining “underdeveloped” status


This is the wrong way of thinking. It is much more difficult, however, to talk about what is the right way. This is because we are faced with the reality of an Ottoman state that was really “underdeveloped” and the West which is now very “advanced.” There is the constant need for a model that can explain these things. But from the very start, it is necessary to define the terms “advanced” and “underdeveloped.”

There is a sort of tension between technological developments and an overarching ethical state. Attempts to follow,to explain or to copy that which has “developed” can create doubts and lack of trust when it comes to identities. Favored lifestyles can change from person to person, and thus the idea of what makes for a “model society” may not be open to consensus. Despite everything, the most important priority for some people may be to believe in their own world views and thus “concrete realities” may not interest them. In other words, this topic in a sense may not be even open to debate because in the end it may be too tangled up in our personal identities and preferences.


These questions nagged my mind. In particular, the very widespread view I encountered while living in the western reaches of Turkey that “it is because of Islam that the East and particularly Turkey has not developed” seemed to contain some fallacies. What do “underdevelopment” or “backwardness” actually mean? These terms seem to imply that societies “normally” should develop, almost as a necessity.  In cases that progress does not occur for any reason this is seeing as a surprising abnormality.  In other words, if looked at with this mentality, Europe’s development is the “norm” and those who do not move in harmony with it are questioned. The question asked is: Why were some underdeveloped, why didn’t they develop?



The European exception


The truth, though, is that (Western) Europe is an exception. Almost the rest of the world is “backward”! All of Africa, all of Asia, and all of South America, are left out of Europe’s development. “Development” occurred in Western Europe and in the places and the societies that were directly connected to Europe, like North America and Australia. The right question to ask is not in fact “Why some are underdeveloped?” but rather “How did a small number of countries make a leap?”  The development we have seen over the last century is not in fact “normal” but rather exceptional.


This same situation unfolded in ancient Greece. A very cultural atmosphere occurred “all of a sudden,” especially in the areas of philosophy and literature. While in other places in the world “normal” lives and ways carried on, ancient Greece experienced an “advanced” atmosphere - though one which disappeared in a manner that could also be considered sudden. As it is with the case of ancient Greece, the question should not be “Why did the world not follow Athens?” but rather “What happened in Athens that led to the birth of this atmosphere?”


Incorrect questions impede the right answers. The question “Why are we underdeveloped?” infers the oblique message that “we are behind and abnormal”, too.  And this is not something easy for people to swallow.  The acceptance being underdeveloped is neither easy nor beneficial for a society. Societies which lose their self-confidence enter into a mindset that “the essence of ours causes us to be behind” and this leads to other problems.


Those struck by being accused of being “backward” may turn defensive and even aggressive, which can in turn produce a completely opposite thesis: No, it is not us but rather you who are backward! The “reasons” of the “West-East” differences and being developed or not will be dealt with in my next column!


Why could the West develop

but not the East?




Today’s Zaman, 22 November 2012






We all pretty much know how the “West” developed: the Renaissance and the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the accompanying discoveries, inventions, colonialism and imperialism.Why have these things happened in the geographical region we refer to as the West but escaped the other regions of the world?


It is utterly flawed to link development to the so-called superiority of races or religions. If it were this simple, less advanced nations would not move forward over time and advanced nations would not be subject to regression after a while. In one of my previous articles, I tried to clarify that due to our national identity we are unable to adopt a neutral perspective on advancement or underdevelopment. For instance, we like to see ourselves as superior to others or perceive others as less successful. As a matter of fact, all national education systems in all nation states are built upon this premise. Consequently, we attempt to outfox others with regard to the criteria of success and advancement. Thus, we either adopt a selective approach to history choosing those elements we like and consider the rest as secondary or we fabricate criteria for “advancement” as we wish. In the end, we see prejudiced interpretations dominate both the West and the East.


It is easy to define developments but difficult to explain their reasons. The whole matter is complicated and there are virtually no completely convincing theses on it. The theses that are in wide circulation are racist, nationalist and religion-oriented explanations to which the “we are superior” mentality is pivotal. When this “we are superior” mindset is swept aside, we are left with historical and social reasons. The ones that I find the most convincing are as follows:

The literacy of societies is a major factor. When we look at the visible difference between the north and the south of Europe from this angle, we see the ensuing picture emerge. In the 1850s, it was possible to group the peoples of the European countries into three main categories: those with a rate of literacy above 70 percent (Denmark, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, etc.), those where this rate was between 70 and 50 percent, and those where this rate was below 50 percent (Italy, Spain, Romania, the Balkan countries). In 1913, the situation had improved somewhat and those countries in the middle group were promoted to the first group (England, Austria and France, for example). However, those which were “backward” in the 1850s are still Europe’s problematic countries after 160 years. (Hobsbawm, “The Age Of Empire: 1875-1914” Abacus, p. 345). The argument that the main problem revolves around education has some merit, but we still cannot explain why education could not be improved.


An interpretation of history at variance with ‘national’ history

A historian sees Europe (and Japan) being special in terms of “development.” According to this view, the feudal social structure and the lack of a powerful center created a “free” environment. In this setting, the families and dynasties that were capable of accumulating wealth formed the first capital cores. The emergence of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution in the West prevented the rest of the world from developing in the same manner. (Braudel, “Civilization and Capitalism,” Fontana, p. 2, 592, 533)

Such explanations do not seek to associate social dynamics with races or religions of people. The contradictions and inconsistencies of this thesis are fewer. Nations’ “heritages” - i.e., their cultural pasts - are certainly important and this past must be kept in mind in attempting to explain fast developments. However, it is rather flawed to explain the developments that last for thousands of years with reference to “culture.” Over the long haul, culture cannot explain developments; instead, social developments that lasted over long periods explain culture. Of course, such sociological explanations tend to be at variance with the national stories people love to hear. As is the case with all identity-oriented explanations, national interpretations provide people with a sense of pride. Yet, when our “past” is retold as economic, historical and, most importantly, social developments that go beyond basic human character (and human “essence”), the “allure” of our past is undermined! In such cases, people no longer search for the truth but for mental peace. A good example is “A Global History: From Prehistory to the Present,” a book written by Greek-Canadian historian Leften Stavros Stavrianos (1913-2004).

The distinguished scholar’s book created much reaction and controversy. He did not place Greece at the center of the world; rather, he discussed the country as any other country. As he was talking about human species, he referred to Charles Darwin. However, I think his most striking thesis was the one explaining the developments in the West. For him, the empires in the East had established powerful states with effective central administrations, such as the Byzantine and Ottoman states, which survived for more than 1,000 and 600 years, respectively. However, in the West, after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, small cities created a different environment. Every city established its own administration and started to compete with one another. Different ideas clashed. City councils emerged as the preliminary cores of democratic governments. In this environment and over a long time, a dynamism that could not be found in the East was seen; the discoveries and inventions that were the driving forces of development were the result of this dynamism. Empires were powerful, but they were simultaneously clumsy structures that were not open to development and different views in the long term.

The straw that finally broke the camel’s back was Stavrianos’ interpretation of history that did not correspond well with the “national” history: “If the Byzantine Empire had not defended itself and had not survived in the face of Arab attacks in the eighth century, the positive developments of the West could have emerged in these lands as well.” Yet, according to the contemporary Greek state that unquestioningly adopts Byzantine history and heritage, the successful wars against the Arabs comprise “the glorious pages of national Greek history.” He faced harsh criticisms and his book was not read at schools but rejected instead. Now, do I have the leeway to suggest that if the Ottomans had not united the Anatolian princedoms, they might not have conquered lands up to Vienna, but Anatolia itself would have experienced a sort of Renaissance or industrial revolution?



What’s changed in Greece





Today’s Zaman, 9 December 2012




Employees of the Technological Education Institute display a banner reading

 ‘‘Enough. No to firings, I’ve had enough’’ in Athens on Nov. 30. 


For three years Greece has been on the world’s agenda. She is famous, in fact it might be more correct to say notorious. The country is on the brink of bankruptcy; according to many she is already bankrupt. Watching this unfold is both interesting and saddening. Unemployment, the uneasiness about the future, the rage, lack of confidence and the resulting widespread pessimism prevail.

Habits are changing, but slowly. To begin with, expenses that can be counted as luxuries are being cut, some purchases are being postponed, workplaces that can barely hold on are closing, children’s allowances are being debated; old pensioners are struggling to live as they did 10 years ago, the unemployed are relying more on their families, young people are asking their elders about how to get a job abroad, vacations are spent at old family homes in villages instead of on islands.

These are interesting changes taking place in daily life and are a sign of what’s to come. Who are these changes working to the advantage of, and who are they working against? I see these changes break down into five basic categories: 1. an increased awareness of finance and numbers; 2. acquired rights; 3. the heavy wounds of the Greek political sphere; 4. the increasing amount of racism; and 5. the discussion of violence. Let us take a closer look at these issues.

To learn the existence of figures and accounting is an important breakthrough, one on par with the discovery of fire. For decades, economic figures such as income, expenditures, budget explanations and debt figures were never written about in Greek newspapers. Political races focused on the topic of which party was closer to the people. Who would increase wages, who would employ people, who would extend which businesses’ lines of credit, what type of support the government would give to different segments of society were oft-discussed, but what was never mentioned was the money that would be used. Above all, how the money would be provided was never mentioned, or vague statements like “taxes will prevent smuggling” were made. The intent was basic and aimed at one segment of the society, but insinuated that if the one segment did well everyone would benefit.

Recently, newspapers have been filled with numeric news bulletins. Information on the budget deficit, unemployment rates, how civil servants must be removed from their jobs so as not to increase taxes, interest rates, cuts being pushed by the Troika, foreign debt, the scope of the government’s privatization scheme, and the amount of civil servants’ pay are all being discussed. Watching the news is both difficult and grueling. However this must be counted as a very positive development, to have learned about finance and the importance of numbers.

The second big change is the recognition of situations in which those who had “acquired rights” which were actually not earned. Those that worked for the government - those working in the private sector already knew a bit about this - considered their salaries to be their most reliable, unalterable possession. For decades they understood that incomes would increase faster than inflation, that there was no way they would be decreased, even as they watched the rise and fall of the market in the capitalist system they were a part of. But they finally saw that the market economy could cause enough insecurity that it could even touch civil servants. This is a huge awakening and the end of an enjoyable dream.

The defeat of Greek politics

The great injury conceded by the Greek political realm, racism gaining ground and the discourse surrounding violence have all become intertwined and are developments that are feeding one another. Politicians have lost their prestige as a result of bad administration. Actually, it is more accurate to say that they have made fools of themselves. Public surveys have demonstrated that voters do not trust politicians. Even the most successful of politicians has the trust of only 20 percent of the population. As a result of this negative outcome, the far right, which is considered “outside” the system, suddenly made itself felt in the political arena. Chrisi Avgi  (Golden Dawn) along with his aides - let’s call them “military brigades” - suddenly started attacking foreign workers with aides by their side. But the sad part of this is that they are occupying the arena of public order, which has been abandoned by the state. They, in essence, took over for the state, which for years has not done very much regarding foreign workers. In a few weeks they “purged” city centers of foreign workers by beating, knifing and even killing them. And we frequently witnessed support by the public of this muscle flexing. According to public surveys and research in the last few months, the only force that increased its support base is this “political” movement, which has a Nazi-like body.

The far right was not an unknown entity in Greece. However, these “military brigades,” which took on state leadership and exerted physical force, shocked many people. And the government has now rolled up its sleeves on illegal workers. It has rolled up its sleeves in an effort to have them gathered in camps. However, Golden Dawn continues to provide its “services,” for free at that. According to what I have learned from papers in Greece, a patient who complained to the hospital manager about a doctor who asked for a bribe was encouraged by the manager of the facility to “go ahead, file a lawsuit if you like.” The patient then resorted to Golden Dawn, who injured the doctor, ironically, placing him in hospital.

Violence is being increasingly discussed as of late. Everyone is against it. However, discourse on the topic differs. While some are opposed to the violence coming from the Nazi-like formations, some are saying that the “shade” of violence really shouldn’t matter. This claim argues that those in the last few years who have pushed aside the law, blocked off roads, set things on fire, passed free through roads requiring payment, rushed “right wing” theaters not allowing plays to take to the stage, chased and beaten employees that wanted to actually work in workplaces, harassed and taken hostage faculty members at universities, occupied ministries and other state buildings have all in their own ways legitimized violence. And this view I agree with. Those who have resorted to type of acts I just listed state that their “motives are different,” but this argument is refuted by those who say that despite the reason they are still utilizing the same violent tactics of those who oppose them. Both sides, in a way, see themselves as having good intentions: On the one hand there is the work being done for a more “egalitarian order,” while on the other it’s for the “benefit of the nation.” This curse of a crisis is better than advice. These changes and new lessons will be beneficial in the long run. They can even function as useful lessons for other countries and peoples as well.




The EU and the lesson





Today’s Zaman, 3 January 2013


There are lessons to be learned from neighboring Greece's experience with the European Union. The EU has transformed the country a lot, for some in a positive way, for others in a very negative direction. In this article, I will try not to jump to a conclusion by making a black or white choice between the two. However, I first have to evaluate this black or white approach. Decisions people make are based on right/wrong, yes/no, or black/white. For example, you either hire a job applicant or not, marry a person or not, like and invite a person to your house or not, buy an apartment or not. Decisions are black or white in nature. A decision is either 100 percent yes or 100 percent no, and there is no third choice.

However, situations are not like decisions at all. A job applicant could be 70 percent appropriate, the candidate for being the groom might have a few flaws along with many virtues, you could regret not buying an apartment or inviting a person to your place during your whole life and ask yourself whether you did the right thing or not. However, tons of decisions we make every day are based on that 100 percent principle. The answers we look for and the conclusions we reach in the EU case are either “yes, the EU is good” or “no, the EU is bad.” However, even though our decisions will be based on a black or white dichotomy, our method of thinking and analysis should not be so. We could call the black or white approach an instance of biased thinking as well.

One of the leading negative impacts of the EU is that it changed the country at a very fast pace. In addition, the Greeks found themselves with excessively easy loans and cheap money. The standard of living rose rapidly as the salaries and pensions increased above the rate of inflation. Certain jobs were outsourced to foreign workers. The expectations for a better life went hand-in-hand with an expectation that it could be achieved with less effort. Business life could not adapt to the rapid change. Governments chose incurring massive debt to meet expectations. As a result, a situation that recalls circumstances from "Hannibal in Capua” arose. Hannibal defeats the Roman forces and spends the winter comfortably in the town of Capua in southern Italy. However, after that, his army was not victorious. It is said that “comfort” ruined the army's fighting spirit.

When the financial crisis began in Greece, the society - which was resistant to difficulties in the country's recent history - had a hard time adapting to the new conditions. In other words, either the EU signaled wrong messages or Greece opted to hear the wrong ones. For instance, billions of Euros were given to the country so that investments could be made or structural changes could take place, but the money was used for consumption. It is still debated whether this erroneous policy is a fault of the EU or of the Greek politicians.

Looking at EU membership privileges

On the contrary, Greece has enjoyed many privileges that came along with its EU membership. In terms of politics, in this country that saw many military takeovers in the past century, the era of coups d'état ended. It is largely thanks to the domestic laws but also within the EU family that no one even contemplates military coups as an option. In fact, the Greek membership in the EU (formerly known as the European Economic Community [EEC]) was primarily desired with political motives by both Europe and Greece: The country needed to have close ties with the West in the face of a communist threat.

Greece is now faithful to democracy. However, democracy is still troubled and not complete. The problems in this regard stem from the society that failed to adapt to the abovementioned rapid changes. (Frequent violent incidents and racist behavior are examples of this.) Against all odds, however, which direction to go is obvious. The Greek society is looking towards the West and aspires to adopt the positive features of the West. There is no other alternative. Those with a different outlook are marginal groups. Even those who oppose the EU's policies abstain from proposing another route.

The positive developments enabled by the EU membership are in countless, small yet important areas that cannot be seen at first glance but are life-changing. The amendments that allowed all state institutions to function could not have been established by Greece alone and they have been realized thanks to EU standards. State-citizen relations have changed in a much better way. From TV to tenders, from banking to the municipal system, all kinds of economic activities have become more transparent. Free movement of people within the EU borders made every Greek citizen more European. In other words, the Greeks transformed from being members of a closed society into being citizens who are able to establish close ties with others. Arguably the most important of all is that the country now has an example to follow.

These all mean that the Greek public finally said “yes” to the EU; but this answer was not given because the EU brought only 100 percent positive outcomes. The EU was both useful and harmful in various areas. I have tried to say that it would not really make sense to reach a conclusion on whether the EU is completely good or bad. Such a monochromatic conclusion will be open to demagogy. It is easy for one to pick examples that suit his or her argument best. We should both see the overall picture and analyze the percentage of positive and negative aspects.

If Greece is ever to rid itself of the crisis, it will be thanks to the EU's help. A future outside the EU holds much uncertainty and risk. Similar comments can be made for Turkey as well. The EU is neither solely a good thing nor a bad thing in itself: This depends on how opportunities are used. An answer of “yes” to the EU can be uttered as long as opportunities are used relatively well. Even if the EU does not promise welfare 100 percent, one should be able to say “100 percent yes” when he or she says “yes.” Analysis of the EU can be made with percentages and details, but the final decision can be nothing except a “yes” or a “no.” Any other answer would be invalid, as is the case with any marriage ceremony.


Racist attacks in Greece





Today’s  Zaman, 25 April 2013



Bangladeshi and Greek workers demonstrate outside the Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection  to protest the shooting of 28 migrant workers, most of whom were from Bangladesh.



I know what will follow: There will be official declarations, the police and the prosecutor will be mobilized and some will be arrested. The situation, however, will not change. Racism will not subside. Not only because its roots are deep, but because still it is not noticed; its existence is not recognized; the notion that “racism does not exist in this country” is widespread.

In the western part of the Peloponnesus, laborers from Bangladesh who work in the fields were shot last week because, reportedly, they asked to be paid. Many were wounded, some seriously. They had not received their earnings for six months. When they asked for payment for working overtime, they were threatened with claims that the authorities would be contacted and they would be deported from the country. When migrant workers protested collectively, they were shot by people wielding shotguns. There are thousands who work under these conditions in Greece. According to official declarations, this kind of situation is against the law. I gather the understanding is that once the laws are good, the state has no other responsibilities. As for the local people living in the area, they say that they get along well with the foreign workers and that this incident is an “isolated” one.

There are hundreds and thousands of illegal foreign workers in Greece - thousands in the cities, hundreds in the towns and tens in each village. They work in jobs that the Greeks do not like to do - in spite of the economic crisis. Most of them do not have work permits. They have no documents of any kind and, as a consequence no voice, either. Their employers take advantage of this situation. They pay them a low wage and refrain from paying the total due, if they so please. I have noticed that curtailing the total amount is a widespread practice. The understanding that “You work illegally, so you have to pay for this,” is somehow stoically accepted by the laborers, too. The illegal workers do not risk facing the authorities so that they may receive a relatively small amount. But even if they did want to complain, to whom could they apply?

This situation is accepted and tolerated by the wider society. These shy foreigners serve the local people perfectly, they cost little and they are totally obedient. When a disagreement occurs they are reminded that they are illegal. This illegality is not taken into consideration when they are being employed. Hypocrisy prevails in this deal. I think racism characterizes the whole situation.

This last racist incident was heard worldwide. It was “condemned” in Greece. Naturally, it shocked the Greek public and it has been widely protested - with officials especially declaring their opposition to such acts and condemning racism. These reflexes are surely sincere, but their beneficial outcome is disputable. The most popular motto has been, “The country is discredited; our image was harmed!” This shows how the problem is still not understood. The issue is one of human rights, not one of image. Unless this becomes clear, the solution will be examined from irrelevant angles: Who said what? Who wrote what?

How to protect the country?

I often remember what a Greek diplomat said: “We diplomats have been trained and assigned to act like lawyers: Right or wrong, we defend our country.” Many people behave like that, too, trying to protect their country. So they present each racist incident as an “isolated” one, trying to downplay it. They think that this way they are helping their home country. They also ask others not to bring forward these kinds of events to save “us” from harm. I am not a diplomat, and if I ever were to act as a lawyer, I would prefer to defend human beings over national flags.

The reputation of a country cannot be preserved by sweeping problems under the carpet. In our world, which has been turned into a huge village, no one can fool everybody for long. Such an effort is harmful for the country in the long run, because the citizens start believing that they are altogether free from vices. That is why the escalating racism in Greece should be brought to our attention often. These “isolated” incidents recently have been occurring quite often. It is why the voices that shout “Racism is on the rise in our country!” are the ones that protect the honor and image of the country. Such voices are the signs of consciousness in this area.

Germany is exemplary in this. It has clearly settled its accounts with the racist aspect of its history, and now it can proudly face the world. An attitude of, “Our society is not racist; these were isolated incidents,” would have created a negative image and a negative reputation for Germany. Racism in our world today is widespread. It is more dangerous when this is not recognized and is denied.

















Today’s Zaman, 25 September 2013




    Violence is a rule in life. Living beings eat each other, particularly in the animal world. Coexistence is an exception in this world. But people have always acted in a conscientious manner to change this trend. Philosophers, clerics, political thinkers and ordinary people have tried to formulate rules and establish a system to prevent this. And they have been successful to a certain extent. 

     But there is still violence. When some people linked to the far-right, or the neo-Nazi Greek party Golden Dawn, recently knifed a young person to death in broad daylight in Athens, Greece started to debate how to oppose violence. Although everyone stood against violence, it soon became clear that there was no agreement on the definition of violence. I found this debate interesting, instructive and beneficial, so I am writing this article.

         It appears that some people have a violence scale in their minds. Thus, certain acts are regarded as violent if they pass above a certain level. Knifing or beating someone to death is considered violence, but slander or making a rude remark or hurling threats are considered normal behavior.

       Another source of disagreement is on “legitimate” violence. Police are authorized to resort to violence and the army can even bomb a country. Of course, the resisting groups reject this mentality. They sometimes call it “revolutionary violence,” and the throwing of Molotov cocktails or stones is not considered a problem.

      The sphere in which violence occurs is another point of disagreement. Thus, a specific act that is considered an offense in the public sphere can be regarded as part of “house discipline” in the family sphere. Thus, it is an offense for a citizen to beat another citizen, but if a mother beats her child or if a husband beats his wife,  this may not be considered violence (at least by some people).

       We can also look at violence from the perspective of the law. This area is characterized by total disagreement. Any government can change the law in accordance with its ideology, thereby defining any act as “violent” or “terror” or “a measure taken in the public interest.”

          Although in Greece everyone seems to agree that what the Golden Dawn member did was violent, still differing opinions on violence are expressed openly or indirectly. At the same time, political considerations are also involved. Rallying with sticks in hand, which is popular among leftist parties, is not considered violence by some people, but others clearly see it as “violence” as it is a threat based on power. Why do police use tear gas? This question is interpreted differently not only depending on the amount of the gas used and the reason why it was used, but also based on the ideological position of those who answer the question. Accordingly, those who order the police to use tear gas - who are the rulers - and those who are exposed to the gas interpret it differently.

       Can different commentators and interest groups come to an agreement and oppose violence? The real question is whether everyone can really and frankly oppose violence. Aren't there groups that seek to benefit or profit from violence? But what concerns me are those who vilify violence. Do they do so in the name of certain principles, or because they have an interest in doing so? In other words, will they promote other instances of violence in a double standard?

I ask these questions because those who criticize violence tend to be selective. They defame acts of violence perpetrated by their opponents (generally after exaggerating these cases), but define violent acts by their supporters as legitimate, legal, beneficial and inevitable or, if these justifications do not hold, as exceptional, secondary, mild or singular. In a sense, “yours is bad and mine is good.” Those who oppose violence in this manner fail to take note of their shortcomings.

My view is as follows. Violence is not a matter of good or bad or mild or serious. Violence is a form and method of establishing relations with the environment and with human beings. It is even a worldview (Weltanschauung). It is a mood attributable to human beings. Sometimes people just laugh away certain things, in some cases they react unnecessarily with violence. They chew the other side out when just a kind reproach would be enough. Instead of patiently waiting for the tension to ease, they attack immediately. Such cases of violence may come in different doses, but their source is the same: an authoritarian personality, and of course, a lack of democratic understanding. They act with the urge to make other people accept their views as true at all costs. Thus, we can see a commonality between parents who beat their daughters when they come home at a late hour and rulers who bomb neighboring countries: a lack of tolerance.

Several justifications or excuses may be offered for this intolerance: to protect the interests of the country or of the public, to protect honor, to implement laws or not to let threats go unanswered. Yet there are authoritarian people or mentalities at the very heart of violence. To oppose violently the violence from the other side is a method commonly employed by pro-violence people or groups. There are other ways to oppose violence. “Violence breeds violence” can be rephrased as “pro-violence people pave the way for pro-violence people.”

The scale of violence starts at the lowest steps and climbs up to the Golden Dawn. If a mother slaps her child, then that kid will kick the cat in the garden. Do preschool teachers box kids' ears? Are children made to memorize heroic poems at school? Is bullying appreciated in the neighborhood? Are army privates subjected to violence by sergeants? Do politicians make a premium by stressing the country's power? Is “manhood” associated with quarrels? Is criticism perceived as insults, leading to disputes? If you answered “yes” to these questions, then it means violence is making headway deep into the social fabric. Then incidents that could have been laughed away or dodged with patience will lead to violence.

What the Golden Dawn did was translate a widely accepted mentality into an act.  Violence as a political method aims to convert a mood or a theoretical atmosphere into a tangible policy or action plan. All systematic acts of violence originate from or use such an environment. To oppose violence, one should be wary of all levels of it, starting from the lowest step - for instance, by watching what you say at home. When we criticize, we should criticize the cause, not the effect.

Let us remember the past with an emphasis on the Golden Dawn. First, small groups of children occupied schools, and this was perceived as normal. Then, throwing things at the heads of people who were not tolerated was considered an ordinary act. Next, deputies were beaten, and this was seen as the result of the justified rage of the people. Neighborhood residents attacked the police, and this was justified with reference to the economic crisis. Then, an “agitated” Golden Dawn member knifed someone. We are now looking at the final link in the chain.



















Scandal in Greece: Millas's letter


17 December 2013


My last article on the scandal in Komotini - where journalist Evren Dede, a public figure of the Turkish minority in the region, was prevented from speaking in his mother tongue despite simultaneous translation available at a conference which was partly about minority rights - drew attention and many positive reactions from Greek colleagues and friends.



I also received a letter from Professor Hercules Millas, a dear old friend who was also present at the conference. His note includes some news, as well as a point of dissent and correction. Millas is a hugely respected scholar, equally distant and critical of both Greece's and Turkey's politics. Here below, I devote my space to his voice:

“I agree with almost everything you wrote about the incident in Western Thrace [Greece], where on Nov. 22-23 in a conference a minority member was not allowed to speak Turkish after an initiative by the secretary-general of the Ministry of Education of Greece who also participated in the conference. You characterized the event as a 'scandal' and I agree.

“Unfortunately the representative of the ministry harmed the conference almost irrevocably. The Turkish speaking minority was hurt, felt insulted, was mistrusted even more by the state and the conference which was meant to promote dialogue between the minority and the wider society was seriously questioned. One wonders what the intended gain was!

“Worse, a few days prior to this event the administration of a hospital in the area prohibited patients and doctors from communicating in Turkish. Also tragic was that a football match among small boys was interrupted when the referee did not allow the kids to speak Turkish among themselves. As a minority member myself during my youth in İstanbul I know how one feels when his basic human rights are violated.

“I do not agree, however, that ‘no Greek participant, many of them intellectuals, raised an objection,' that ‘Greeks continued to attend ‘as if nothing had happened.' Among others you mentioned my name, too. I understand the rumors in Thrace misled you. [Nikiforos] Diamantouros talked of 'apartheid' and [Christos] Rozakis fervently criticized the event. As for myself, I said that this event took us back many years, that the minority has only one problem and that is the state, that Greece is incompetent in issues related to the minority as it is with its economy and that nothing can be accomplished unless the minority is respected. The second day [Professor] Samim Akgönül spoke in Turkish, joining the conference via Skype from France. There were other protests in the meeting area and later in the media, too.

“True, one wishes there was wider support for minorities. My intention, however, is not to support a few individuals. I am afraid that your generalization that 'no Greek objected' creates negative stereotypes of Greeks. In combination with your ‘mother tongue is now normalized in Turkey,' the message that the Turkish reader gets is that ‘they need to be criticized, we are OK!'

“Contrary to what it is usually said in Turkey, in Greece there are a number of people who do raise their voices in support of human rights. I am not in favor of comparisons between nations because this approach almost always ends up showing 'our' country better, decreasing the pressure needed for further improvements.

“There appeared two lines after the tragic event. One was to boycott the conference and walk out. The decision to continue and to voice our protests, I believed, proved more useful. I believe you and I are in harmony in these matters, too.”

This is the message from Millas.

My column was based on talks with and readings of the minority press in Rodopi. Thanks to him, there is now a clarification.

Yet, this is a big national scandal, no doubt. I meant to refer to Greek intellectuals and not Greeks for what I see as the insufficient civilian courage, be it about an individual's case or not. Remember Rosa Parks? Individual acts matter.

Second, there is a difference between “Kurdish is now normalized” and “is being normalized,” the latter being my phrase, underlining a pattern, not a result: The trends in Greece and Turkey on this issue now look reversed, I meant.

Millas and I have always stood for minority rights. The rest is up to those responsible who should draw lessons.




Conspiracy theories



Today’s Zaman, 5 January 2014




I confess that I both get angry with conspiracy theories and secretly admire them. When I hear a conspiracy theory I think I would write tantalizing novels had I such an imagination. I even feel jealous. I wonder also if those who conceive those intricate scenarios really believe in them. I think there are two answers to this question.

Those who treat their fictional scenarios as if they are real must be living in a state of paranoia. On the other hand, there are others who know that their scenarios are not real. They are the normal people. By “normal”, I mean they don't have mental disorders and their stories of conspiracies are imaginative elements in art (in novels, scripts, etc.). 

When conspiracy theories are restricted to art I like them. Detective stories are of this sort. I envy their writers. Some readers of fiction and spectator of films, however, sometimes they take them as historiography and meddle with them: "That incident did not occur as told in that book” they say. Conspiracy stories should be accepted as pieces of arts and they should be respected. Provided they are clearly presented as fiction.

Conspiracy-based claims have been frequently debated in philosophy. As imaginary theses are impossible to prove, they cannot be refuted either. For instance, if one says  "There are two invisible elephants behind this building," he cannot be proved wrong. (The elephants cannot be proved either.) One cannot show to a paranoid person that he is not being "secretly" pursued. In the Middle Ages, the inquisition tribunals would demand that people prove they are not magicians and that the devil was not inside them. How could they show it? "Grab that hot iron. God will protect you if you are innocent," they would say. Then they burned the suspects at the stake.

Not being able to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt

Because of this ruthless past, no one today is asked to prove that s/he is innocent; rather, those who accuse someone are asked to prove their claims. If it is impossible to prove that someone is guilty beyond doubt, the accusations are considered invalid or slanderous. In such cases, courts declare such people innocent or acquit them because of "doubts."

The rationale behind this is that to prevent a single innocent person from receiving punishment, hundreds of criminals can go unpunished. Due to its experience of the Inquisition, the Western world is extremely sensitive in this regard and has improved its law accordingly. I am afraid that, in the East, every possible scenario is considered probable and even convincing. Yet culpability must be substantiated beyond  any doubt, even if it is possible or probable. But this is not enough either, as evidence must be collected through legitimate means, too. This requirement is intended to protect the rights of people. 

Conspiracy theories may be multiplied ad infinitum and it is impossible to refute them. One can pick up certain facts, devise a suitable story using them and make the claims look "convincing." One can justify the potential contradictions of the theory by formulating additional stories. For instance, think about the recent corruption crisis (17,25 December crisis). Some people claim that foreign forces are collaborating with internal conspirators in order to weaken and overthrow the government and block Turkey's progress. Is it possible to refute this thesis? No. You cannot show that it does not exist. Is such a thing possible? Yes, it is possible. But everything is possible in life. Is it probable? It is not, but we cannot rule it out altogether. In such a case, if you believe in theories that cannot be proven, this will drag us into a chaos, paralyze society and undermine the country. This is already what is happening. Conspiracy theories may spread slowly to engulf the entire society.

Let me present my own "irrefutable" conspiracy theory: Those who are accused of corruption deliberately committed crimes, and exposed their own crimes. Their purpose is to create chaos in the country. The real collaborators are those who are accused of corruption and they are the ringleaders of an international conspiracy. As part of their insidious plans, Zionists collaborated with people close to the government and used them as their cat's paw. "Why would they do this?" one might ask. They want to sow seeds of dissension in order to prevent Turkey's tremendous achievements. They don't want Turkey to become stronger. I can add the usual suspects to the mixture: Armenians, Greeks, Russians, Kurds, communists, Shariah supporters, the pope, various lobbies, etc.

Conspiracies are like this; they pull people into an eternal abyss of paranoia. They start to see everyone as potential enemy. They grow suspicious. As the suspicious administrations start to take measures against these "probable" dangers, reactions increase. In response to the reaction that is building up, the administrations become more suspicious. This breeds a cycle of insecurity, measures, increased insecurity and so on. Eventually, those fake threat scenarios become real dangers. In political science, this is called a "self-fulfilling prophecy": The perceived threat leads to measures which in turn result in dangerous and real reactions. For this reason, conspiracy theories are dangerous. I wish you a New Year without conspiracy theories.



The delicacies of demagogy




Today’s Zaman, May 7, 2014


It is really strange that we sometimes admire the evil rather than the good. 
For instance, a guy can rob a bank, con many people and even beat family members very badly, and interestingly, he somehow becomes admirable. I have been amazed by the incredible talents of some recent demagogues to accomplish something similar. I often think that I could not be so masterful. Looking for an answer to the question of how they do this, I identified the following principles. I am not a master
of demagogy, but I am hoping that I have produced something useful, I offer the following list. Maybe someday you'll need it.
Do you have
an enemy? The most common method you would employ to target your enemy is to associate him with something inappropriate. Then you make frequent references to this inappropriate quality to present your enemy as evil. You then further argue that he has done something terrible that he actually has not. A great number of people will believe your allegations if you repeat them frequently enough. The rest is easy; your enemy and opponent is finished.
Occasionally you find the most suitable part of a sentence or a statement from among thousands to prove your point. It does not matter whether or not the excerpt you take from the text corresponds to the overall idea and argument of the whole document; who is going to read the whole text anyway? Just use that excerpt over and over again. It will eventually influence people.
If you are in a defensive position, change the subject. Are you being called a liar? Just talk about how good you are at backgammon. Are you being called chatty or gossipy? Say something about how well you could swim when you were a child. Of course, you should be careful to choose different subjects that allow you to praise yourself and your abilities. Tell lies suggesting that you help poor people, that you are very honest, that you are humble and that you help people in need. The audience usually does not notice that there is no link between the accusation and your defense. They only remember the nice things you tell them,  your abilities and your talents. They will eventually conclude that you are a nice guy who is doing great things. The gist of this method is enshrined in a commonly held conviction: If a man is good, he is always good and if he is one of “us,” he will never make any mistakes.

Proving the witness is not reliable

 If somebody objects to your actions, do not respond to their allegations. You just attack him without addressing his questions. This is a classic technique and often used by lawyers in courtrooms. Proving that the witness is not reliable is a shortcut to success. If you beat a man and he is bruised and has a medical report verifying his victimization, obviously you committed an offense. But do not pay any attention to this. For instance, just talk about how this young man was a reckless driver in the past. You might ask whether or not his recklessness proves that he was not beaten. Well, maybe not; but if he is unreliable, then he is a liar and his statement is also a lie. A liar could do anything, right?
Let's say you are in big trouble. You were caught holding a knife in your hand standing over a stabbed dead body. You should rely on strong demagogy so that your argument cannot be discredited. Philosophy, particularly that of Karl Popper, may be helpful in this instance. This thinker proposed something on infallibility, noting that there are some arguments that cannot be verified. Popper holds that if you make such statements, you are not acting scientifically. Just ignore him because only a few people know of Popper. Go ahead and do what he urges you not to do and say something that cannot possibly be verified or proven wrong. Conspiracy theories may work here. You may, for instance, argue that aliens brought this man here or that you are holding the knife because the man who sharpens knives for you just left. Or argue that there is blood on your knife because your enemies are framing you. Well, that's all there is to it. No one could possibly prove that this is a fabrication. The aliens have already returned to their planets, the knife grinder is already gone and the dead person cannot talk. No one can prove you are responsible. And if you have a lot of supporters, it is over and done with. Those who make accusations should consider what comes next, because you are now able to accuse them of lying or damaging your image.
Wordplay is also another tool of demagogy. Let's say that you are being referred to as a terrible boss. Propose new definitions of words and terms. Translate your cruelty into calmness, authoritarian tendencies into determination, recklessness into risk-taking and ignorance into intuition. If you are accused of not being appreciative, just argue that your appreciation is ordinary; they won't understand or be able to refute this. If you are blamed for managing the factory without consulting anyone, claim that there is nobody to consult with. The writer George Orwell invented this method. He shows his mastery in his book “Animal Farm.” But some people have even improved on this method; they are able to successfully call a coup a popular uprising, legal action becomes a coup, criticism is an insult, etc.

Mind reading is another influential method of demagogy. Refer only to people who never criticize you and who praise your actions and statements all the time; misinterpret every constructive criticism made by others. If a police officer is going to fine you for speeding, claim that he wants to undermine your image. You might also argue that he is a relative of a person who does not like you. When you make the point that the police officer has bad intentions, your innocence is proven, regardless of whether or not you were speeding.

Offering an analogy without shame

 Analogy is also another approach. For instance, tell people that just as some other person was subjected to mistreatment and accusations when he attempted to do certain things, now you are being subjected to similar accusations. It does not matter whether or not your analogy makes any sense at all. What matters is to offer your analogy without shame.
I should also note that those who want to make use of the suggestions on this list might also use the power of insolence. You should be so confident in this respect that those who hear you will be asking themselves if you have lost your mind or if you are a great actor. But in any case, they will admire your talent. Do not ever attempt to maintain a dialogue in such debates, always prefer a monologue. The outcome of a dialogue cannot be predicted, but you always win in a monologue.




Minorities in Turkey: a vicious circle




Today’s Zaman, May 15, 2014




This file picture of the "Sept. 6-7 Pogrom" of 1955 shows Turks looting stores belonging to minorities.



There are whole categories of topics on which the chance of being misunderstood is quite high; it's always best to stay away from these topics.  At the same time though, these are invariably the most interesting. In any case, I've gathered my own courage, and decided to address a subject that has always made me uncomfortable; let's see whether I'm able to explain my stance clearly, and get away from it all without too many bruises and scrapes.
In recent years, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has taken some highly visible, concrete steps on the topic of minorities in Turkey. Three examples of this include the restoring - if only partially - of some possessions belonging to minority foundations, permission being granted to reopen places of worship that were closed to services and the “acceptance” of some of the terrible pain that occurred in the past in connection with minorities. One more symbolic but extremely important change that has occurred is the sort of recognition that has been granted to minorities. It is clear that some of the country's more prominent political leaders no longer see it as a risk to either visit or be seen with certain minority religious leaders.
A large percentage of minorities in Turkey applaud these positive changes, and are pleased with the changes that they are witnessing in regards to how they are approached. At the same time, minorities still have many unmet demands, as well as things they would like to see take place. Still though, this does not detract from the importance of some of the steps that have been taken in relation to the ones in recent years. It would be quite unjust to ignore the actual steps that have been taken while recalling only that which remains deficient.

The positive steps taken

This takes me through the easier part of this column. The difficult part has to do with my own discontent, as a member of a minority. There is no question that the steps, which were taken to positively affect the day-to-day life of minorities, are good; everyone is satisfied on this front. But personally speaking, I have experienced the whole minority problem in a different way. The topic of foundation possessions never really bothered me, nor did I much follow the topic of the re-opening of certain historical places of worship or political visitations to religious leaders. I was also never in pursuit of an apology from anyone. No, my personal problem was always in connection to the principle of modernity. I have always been concerned with equal citizenship, and perhaps more importantly, being an equal citizen in an atmosphere of democracy. As it is, equality can only exist in a democratic atmosphere; turned the other way, we could say if there is no equality, democracy is impossible no matter what. And this is where the problem lies for me: the gains made in recent years do not bring about equality.

My personal problem lies with the system. Let me use history to put forth a comparison. In an era when there were villagers who were actually serfs, there were some tyrannical landowners and some kind and fair landowners. The serfs would love the kind and fair landowners because, of course, their lives were easier under such men. At the same time, these villagers were only able to become equal citizens when this entire feudal system came to an end. Because the real problems they faced had not to do with goodness/evil, but with a hierarchy that placed some people on top and some below. It is one thing to talk about doing good deeds or being treated well; it is another thing altogether to build a modern society, and to live within the definition of such. (Note: I am not saying that feudal systems exist today!)

It should be quite clear from what I have said that my own expectations have not been met. For example: You look one day and see that the top authorities in your country have turned your rights into a bargaining chip with other countries. Things like: You build a mosque in your country, and I will permit “my citizens” their rights! I guess this shows what sort of a citizen I really am. So, does allowing religious masses in a monastery really get rid of these stains? Bülent Ecevit, widely recognized by many for being a humanist and a democrat, once noted that it was a great mistake for so many Greeks to have left Turkey. But I wish he had not completed his thought. Because in the continuation of his comments, he made a very concrete point of what the “mistake” really was: “Now we will no longer be able to ensure the balance that keeps the rights of the Western Thracian Turks protected!” I have always lived with the sense that they see me as a hostage and as someone to keep the balance. Even worse, I have also always felt like someone with my palms open, just waiting for some high-minded leader to drop my “rights” into my hands.
Let me say clearly for myself: I have never pursued either personal privileges or rights for my own community. I have always only been interested in all citizens being granted their human rights. Included among these are certain rights to worship, to form foundations, to dress as one wishes, to join or form organizations as one wishes and to demand - or not demand - apologies. After all, individuals in free atmospheres decide on their own how they will use their own rights. Rights cannot be distributed according to groups; you cannot grant one group rights while telling another group “wait for your turn.”

Rights for all

When granted, rights must be given to all citizens. If you pass out rights by turn, and in different doses, it means that equality does not exist. What's more, those at the back of the line will certainly feel excluded. Even worse, those rights that are then granted are not even constitutionally or legally backed rights; they are more like gifts or donations made from the heart by those at the helm of the ship. But in a democratic country where equality reigns, rights are protected within a legal framework, and everyone, from a Greek to the president, has equal access to these rights. By comparison, rights that are granted when it is appropriate and when the desire strikes from time to time are not really rights at all; they are more like small gifts of mercy, or favors passed out. This is the feeling that I have always been made to have, and this is not a good feeling.

There are two topics that get mixed up, and I don't think it's on purpose

It also provides happiness for some, who see themselves as somehow superior after having done said deeds. But a democratic society cannot be built on this method; when rights are distributed according to ethnicity, belief, community, etc., and in different doses, then the citizens - or rather, those waiting to be citizens - experience true discrimination. The idea of giving certain groups their rights in a step-by-step fashion rather than ensuring that everyone has equal rights all at once, is reminiscent of the millet (nation) system of the past. In a true, modern nation state, it is unthinkable that one group would have fewer rights than another. Of course, the whole nation state project is marked by many deficiencies. But since the French Revolution, the first principles on the agenda have always been equality and freedom. These are not goals to be casually tossed away.

And so, this is what I have some difficulty explaining sometimes. The whole millet system from the Ottoman times has been so fully internalized by so many that this column may seem to some not only utopic and overly romantic, but even full of its own ignorance. To others, the desires I have stated above might seem resonant with ingratitude and an insatiable appetite for more. There are also those who might ask why I am in such a hurry. As for me, all I can say is, I have been waiting since the time of the Tanzimat. (Tanzimat was the name for a period of reforms under the Ottomans; it lasted from 1839-79.) I should also note that some minorities here in Turkey might even respond to all this by reminding me that things are better now. “Eat the grapes, don't ask about the arbor,” they might warn. But I have always wanted more than just the grapes anyway.





To my friends at the other pole




Today’s Zaman, 14 June, 2014




People who complain about polarization in Turkey are fanning the flames of polarization. Those who shout, "People are insulting me without respecting the principle of presumption of innocence," are hurling insults at people they don't like, treating them like criminals. This is exactly what polarization is: criticizing the other side without seeing one's own faults. Aware of this fact, I frequently check myself to see if I am blinded as well. There are several methods to test our soundness. One way is to look at what the people we trust are doing. But polarization is already making this impossible, as our closest friends - not all of them, though - have ended up at the other pole.

When a person whom I have so far considered a close friend and colleague starts to vilify me - in a self-assured manner - without understanding my mood and without empathizing with me, this is nothing but polarization. I am referring to Halil Berktay, who has been a close friend of mine since my youth. In an interview he gave to the Yeni Şafak daily on June 2, he briefly described the opponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP):

"The opponents are those who hate the AKP and [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan. The hostility against the AKP led to the Gezi incidents and the Dec. 17 'narrative.' These opponents don't believe in democracy and they despise people; they long for a coup d'état; they use violence. Therefore, we are going through polarization. They don't care about Turkey's future. They are heartless. This subversive opposition recklessly uses hate speech, profanity and insults. They try to prove their revolutionary credentials by clashing with the police. They don't seek to promote their democratic rights; they stage protests for the sake of protesting only. There are youth groups who are filled with anger and hatred. These protesters don't have any vision. They are obsessed only with forcing Erdoğan to quit his political career. The AKP is under siege both by domestic and foreign forces. Some people are waiting for an opportunity or excuse to take to the streets and start fires and clash with the police. As a social scientist, I adopt an objective approach to the developments."

Supposing that all of these remarks are true, can we say that there is not a single person who criticizes the AKP in a sound and justified manner? Is there no one who can do this? Is there no reasonable "group"? Why are dissidents categorically portrayed as sick, spiteful, anti-democratic and unscrupulous enemies of the public? Where in this discourse is the skepticism that we should expect from intellectuals? We can find no such skepticism in the interview published by Yeni Şafak, as all "dissidents" are depicted as evil. Nowadays, it is riskier to be a dissident, as a dissident person is seen as the source of all evil because of his or her criticisms. Worse still, the interview was censored - or abbreviated, in polite terms. The original text posted on the author's website is different from the one published on the paper. On the website, you can read about what Berktay doesn't like about the AKP and the prime minister:

"It was a wrong move to proceed with the project to establish a shopping mall in Taksim. The police used intense violence.” Berktay is "possibly" against the projects to build a third airport and a third bridge over the Bosphorus in İstanbul. He says it is wrong to reduce relations with the West and Europe as has been done in recent years. He does not like the prime minister's language becoming harsher at times. He finds the prime minister's meddling with everything wrong. The prime minister can be very stubborn on some issues, he thinks.

A good example is the prime minister's insistence on building a shopping mall in Taksim. It was wrong for him to order the demolishing of a statue in an arrogant manner, Berktay says. And he thinks that Erdoğan's meddling with people's lifestyles, even at the discursive level; his interventions into women's freedoms regarding their bodies; and his meddling with the right to abortions and C-sections were wrong. His suggestion that people should drink ayran [a traditional yogurt-based drink] instead of raki [an anise-flavored alcoholic drink] was incorrect, according to my colleague; calling German President Joachim Gauck "an old pastor" was wrong as it meant walking into the trap of reviving typical hostility against Christians. It was wrong to criticize the Freedom House report saying, "It is presided over by a Jew," because it meant walking into the trap of anti-Semitism; "The prime minister contributes to polarization and tension," Berktay writes. 

Problems with this interview

There are several problems regarding the two versions of the interview. First, I think it is unethical to censor the interview and not publish Berktay's criticisms of the AKP. This is a problem that the newspaper in question must address. It may be perceived as the newspaper's "politics" or "mission." Second, it is hard to understand Berktay's saying "I saw and approved the abbreviated form of the interview." How can an intellectual not feel uneasy about the removal of his criticisms of the prime minister from the interview? Let us suppose this is a personal choice. Personally speaking, such an abbreviation of an article of mine would certainly bother me, especially at a time when polarization is at its peak, but I cannot ask everyone to think and act like I do. Everyone is free to choose their own standards.

The most serious problem, I guess, is our attitude toward people whom we take as our opponents or foes. The mistakes, errors and incorrect moves listed above bother me and many other people I know considerably. Really, who is setting these traps? Extreme violence by the police, bad relations with the West, harsh discourse targeting "internal and external enemies," interventions into private life and art may not bother some people - they have certainly a right not to be bothered by them - but these developments may make others quite uncomfortable. Failure to understand this discomfort - or treating it with contempt, scorning it with so-called psychoanalysis and spewing your hatred and anger for your foes are not democratic actions. You may find any critique targeting the rulers exaggerated, but if you don't say this, but opt to portray dissidents as subversive, unscrupulous and anti-democratic agents of internal and external enemies, this will certainly add to polarization. Words turn into weapons and lose their meanings and social communication is broken.

As you might notice, I haven't touched the Dec. 17 “narrative.” All the other mistakes and faults are sufficiently worrisome for me. This is because all of them indicate a certain direction. If mistakes are pointing in the same direction, we can start to talk about "tendencies." A person may choose to lend support to the government, taking into consideration the positive steps it has taken so far, but also taking note of these tendencies. This is a constitutional right. But other people may take these mistakes more seriously and choose to stress or highlight them. This is another democratic right. This applies to the freedom of assembly and demonstration and the freedom of expression. Such people should not be treated as traitors.

In other words, in order to be able to talk to each other in the future, we should not create stereotypes through generalizations. We should also remember that the ideologies we had advocated in the past may prove to be worthless in time.




Keeping silent about the 'parallel' thesis


 H. Millas

Today’s Zaman, 13 August, 2014




I carefully read and listen to the arguments made by those who are against the "parallel state"  trying to understand what they are advocating. This is because among the proponents of this thesis are people I would respect and whose views I agree with. Their arguments can be summed up as follows: An organized group of people engaged in certain unlawful attempts targeting the government and the society and eventually they staged a coup - they refer to the graft and bribery investigations of December 17 and 25. This group (or gang, network, etc.) was influential within the judiciary and police, causing certain unlawful court decisions to have been issued in recent years - they refer to the Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) decisions. They say that this "gang" is linked to outside circles and promotes the interests of the US, Israel and the Vatican. This amounts to espionage and treason.

This is a very serious allegation. But it is nothing but a hypothesis unless it is proven. And this has to be done via court trials. But at this point there is a vicious cırcle.

First, they said that the judiciary was being controlled by the "parallel state" and therefore, it was partial and could not be trusted. So they reshuffled the entire judiciary. Now, other people raise objections, saying, "This judiciary is created by you and they are partisans, and cannot be trusted." In the end, the court's decision won't be respected. Just as a significant portion of the society didn't pay any respect to the Independence Courts (İstiklal Mahkemeleri); to the court that sentenced Adnan Menderes and his colleagues to death; to the courts established during the military regime of September 12, 1980; and to the courts that heard the Ergenekon/Balyoz cases, the decisions passed by the court in connection with political contentions will be considered as questionable.

Yet there is a difference to the recent court decisions. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will have the final say about them. We will have to wait a long time for the Strasbourg court, but in the final analysis, it represents the only reliable authority in this respect. In other words, the "parallel hypothesis" will remain unproven for many years to come.

But in the meantime, we have to understand, know and make sense of developments. I would really want to discuss this matter with some sane people, but this does not happen. I can understand the reason why. The parties to this conflict are not uttering different things, but they certainly talk about different matters.

One group continually asserts that a "parallel structure" is a very bad thing - OK, I, too, condemn all sorts of unlawful clandestine efforts - while the other group claims that the first thing that should be done is to prove the existence of such a gang, if any.
These are two different matters. When I look at the words of those people I would have felt close to in the past but now are far away from me, I see they tend to keep silent about certain points. I want to bring these points to the forefront.

First, they never mention the principle of the presumption of innocence. Even the person who is caught red-handed with a knife on the body of a murdered person is referred to as a "suspect." A community has been labeled as a traitor (and many other unwanted descriptions) for months. These people don't make any comments about this deficiency. Another thing associated with this "deficiency" is that the top government officials are violating this principle in a way to influence the judiciary. They are silent about this matter as well.

If there is really such a parallel structure, they don't talk about the responsibility of the government about this failure to deal with it. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure the smooth functioning of the state apparatus. If a "gang" had influenced the judiciary for years, causing courts to pass unfair lengthy sentences to senior commanders of the army, the government officials are as responsible as the parallel state for this. Government officials cannot evade responsibility by declaring themselves to be naive. Indeed, a naivet
é-induced crime is still a crime. In fact, all crimes stem from naiveté. 

Moreover, the opposition parties have been harshly criticizing unfair trials. Therefore, the government officials cannot hide behind the excuse, "We didn't know it." However, many intellectuals opt to keep silent about this matter.

Another matter they "overlook" is that certain individuals and organizations that would have supported the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) until very recently do not find this "parallel" thesis at all convincing. These form two groups: The first group is the AKP's Western (former) friends, such as the EU and the US. This group does not voice any criticism about the parallel state, but voices concerns about the increased authoritarianism of the Turkish government. They continuously stress the need for a fair trial.

Many people who had supported the AKP until recently are not warm to the "parallel" thesis and note that this claim is manufactured to conceal the government's corrupt practices. I am talking about those people who used to be the AKP's friends and who are connected to the "Community." What happened to them? Our intellectuals do not talk about this, either.

They also don't talk about how this so-called parallel state can be accused of being spies or traitors. For whom do they work as spies? Those intellectuals who still maintain a certain level of dignity forget about this matter altogether. Their silence, on the other hand, implies that they don't believe in the truth of this claim. If the espionage component of this parallel thesis is not convincing, why don't they criticize it? What is this frenzy for?

They don't discuss why the opposition parties do not care about this "parallel state" that threatens the state, the county and all of us and why they don't lend support to the government. Of course, there is the convenience of declaring anyone who is against the AKP as a member of the parallel state, the lobby, a self-seeker, vindictive, etc. Moreover, there are breaches of law, interventions with the media and corruption and bribery, but they produce excuses to cover them up.

The most striking comment came from Bülent Arınç, who, calling on the "Community," said, "Say, 'Some of us engaged in wrongful acts and they are not from us,' and be saved" (Radikal, July 25, 2014). Is it really so simple and easy to get rid of the terrible charges? When they will say, "They did it," the spies, agents of outside circles, the parallel state that undermined the judiciary, "Pennsylvania," etc. and  they will be free to go their way.

Aren't the advocates of the "parallel state" thesis supposed to comment on this statement? How can they forgive traitors? As part of the same statement, Arınç also said, "They tried to secure votes for another political party and they voted for another party." Is the real problem about not supporting the AKP?

Finally, our intellectuals avoid any discussion of a "coincidence": When the corruption allegations became manifest on December 17 and 25, the government became suddenly very sensitive about this so-called parallel state. One is urged to think about another hypothesis that is firmly held abroad: The government's sole intention is to intimidate those who made these allegations manifest, even if there were certain unlawful acts involved - such as unlawful wiretapping. Those who advocate the "parallel state" thesis carefully avoid any discussion of this hypothesis.

In my opinion, this second hypothesis is simpler and more convincing. It does not have points that have not been discussed and contradictions such as those I mentioned above. It does not talk about foreign lobbies or enemies as reminiscent of paranoia. Moreover, it explains the extreme and hurried anger exhibited against the suspects.

I don't expect those people who nurture small self-interests and those who adore certain political figures to be fair in their comments, but I would certainly expect those who find it wrong to hide behind silence to discuss these matters and express their views. They are already late. 



Nationalized consciences





Today’s Zaman, 28 August, 2014




Our consciences have been nationalized. I cannot explain the situation that we are going through in any other way. We hear the sound of our consciences when one of us is persecuted, but we remain silent when others are persecuted. How can we define this kind of conscience? When racism hurts one of us, we cry out. We are sensitive about human rights if there is an attack against our people, our flag or our faith. We all know what racism, prejudice, shame and sin are when the people we are connected to through bonds of kinship or religion are attacked in another country. However, we do not raise our voice when others are subjected to the same attacks. I call this kind of conscience, which has grown completely indifferent toward those who are different from us, a nationalized conscience.

Let me recall the infamous caricature crisis with Denmark. Now, where are those who cry out, saying that we need to respect the sacred values of people? Places of worship and holy places that belong to different Islamic sects, Yazidis and Christians are being destroyed, and these people are being forced to convert to Islam in Iraq. They are being subjected to bloodcurdling and horrifying practices, including beheading, burying alive, rape and selling people as slaves when they refuse to denounce their beliefs. What we face is not a caricature published by a magazine but genocide. We are not talking about five or ten people; tens of thousands of people are being tortured. When Turkish people were killed in Germany, the newspapers ran headlines about the incident, our statesmen made angry statements, and people staged demonstrations in the streets to protest the incident. So why is the reaction against these incidents in Iraq so limited, despite the gravity of the situation? Excluding some elites, we have adopted a “cool-headed” approach toward these incidents.  

'Other humans' rights'

Throughout history, people have always struggled for their rights. I mean, only for their own rights. In the past slavery was legal or women had no right to vote or slaves and criminals were subjected to torture. Now it is claimed that things have changed. We say that there are fundamental rights and freedoms inherent in all human beings, regardless of their race, sex, ethnic origin or religion. This also means that all human beings have to be human rights advocates. Everybody will protect, advocate and guarantee all others' rights. Based on this principle, we raise our voices against injustices done in any other country. If we remain silent against the new injustices in Iraq, how can we stage a demonstration and ask for justice when “we” need to? Based on what legitimacy? How will we explain our double standards?

What is currently happening in Iraq is among the most barbaric practices that we have witnessed in the recent history of the world. It may be the worst, because those who have committed similar crimes in the past used to conceal their genocides and pathological actions. Some of them were aware of what they were doing. The Nazis tried to conceal the crimes they had committed from the rest of society. At the end of the war, many people argued that they had not heard about these crimes. Now it is different. Those who commit the crimes in Iraq publicize their actions. We cannot claim we have not been aware of what is happening in Iraq.

How can we explain the fact that our conscience has grown so insensitive toward others' sorrows? I think it is the identity of "us" that we have been trying to form for decades and we have finally formed. Our education system and our textbooks show what we were trying to create. The whole system is established on the basis of “us” versus the “others”. "Us" does not mean the people, children and mothers, our neighbors or peers, or the people who experience similar problems as us. The notion of “us”-“others” is designed on the basis of ethnic and religious differences; and worst, as a relation of conflict and war. In order to instill the so-called “national consciousness” in society, a special dominant discourse in education, in political views, in literature and even in daily small talk has been prioritized. Paranoid arguments of "they have attacked us, they have killed us, we have defeated them, they hate us, they want to harm us," have established a culture of killing and defeating the real or imaginary “others”.   

Thus, our consciences have grown insensitive. Not feeling pity for those who are different from us has become normal; even more, those who respect and love the others are met with skepticism.

Why aren't people demonstrating?

If the same incident took place in a Western country and these crimes had been committed against Muslims, there would be major demonstrations. This identity of "us" is paramount but not as an identity of humans. Our humanity has become secondary. The lethargy of us stems from the fact that we have chosen a narrow local identity instead of a universal one. Once we adopted only a national identity, we classified human beings as “ours” and the “others”. We do not see people any longer, but ethnic and national groups.

In other words, societies across the world have not internalized "human rights”. In the future we will be criticized for these selfish actions of "us"; just as we criticize medieval practices and the people who carried out those practices. To be realistic, I am aware of the fact that there are not many things we can do. This is the reality of this world. I wrote this in order not to feel ashamed of myself while settling accounts with my conscience.


A brave New World in Turkey





Today’s Zaman, 3 September, 2014





            We see a new Turkey before us. Or at least, we have a new wealthy class, a class with its own unique perception of the world, with its own tastes, its own expectations and its own demands. We also see that this class has its own particular style of rhetoric, its own values, its own traditions and ways of seeing things. These are all new.  

            Deep-rooted changes and contact with different cultures - in short, the unfolding of new eras - can cause revolutions in language. And in fact, we see that the revolution in this arena is quickening these days; words are taking on new meanings during this period. For example, the word “haşhaşi” in Turkish (a word from which the more commonly used word 'assassin' is derived) now appears to be synonymous with the political “opposition” in Turkey. The moment we hear someone described as a “haşhaşi” in Turkey these days, we immediately understand that this person is someone who is vocal in his or her critiques of the government, someone who opposes all that is “new.”

            The same goes for the word “darbe” nowadays. It used to mean “a blow,” or even “an event or scandal that makes someone's life difficult.” And of course, “darbe” has also been used for a long time as “hükümet darbesi” or a “coup d'etat.” The new usage of “darbe,” though, has transformed this word into one used to describe every scandal, every disgraceful incident that might cast a dark shadow over the government, as a “coup against the government.”


Constitution not a reflection of one political party

             What we are now observing in Turkey is a whole series of new situations, each of which deserves its own separate article. I listen with great surprise to talks about the new goal stated by this government: to attain enough votes (through elections) to change the Constitution. I am surprised! The Constitution is a special set of laws; it binds, even unifies, everyone. It forms the basis of national unity. It cannot and ought not to be changed through the power of one political party. As a written text, it is certainly not the reflection of one political party. No matter where you go in the world, constitutions are created through widespread consensus. And so it is that the goal in Turkey on this front should be different than just picking up enough votes to change the Constitution: What we need, in fact, is consensus in Parliament, consensus between the political parties, and of course, consensus within society itself; not a majority of votes, but widespread consensus. A constitution created by virtue of the attainment of a majority of votes is destined to be a constitution of conflict. Despite all this, though, we can note that new regulations have been implemented with regards to this topic. And so it is that the government's view seems to be: We'll create this new constitution after grabbing the legal opportunity to do so. This government views 50 percent of the vote as two-thirds. By these same standards, the government's thinking seems to be: Consensus can come along later… we'll import it later into the situation, if necessary.  

            This whole process carries a risk of highs and lows. We all know the dialectic of the fight at hand: At the beginning, there is a small, rather secondary sort of misunderstanding. Later, the opposing sides become more stubborn in their positions, their differences -- which of course predate the smaller conflict -- suddenly growing larger and more distinct. In the end, the seemingly small difference between the two sides is transformed into an essential difference. The Kurdish problem is fast heading down this road. For years and years, the Kurdish problem was debated along the lines of two basic axes: the military solution as opposed to the political solution. In the end, a decision was made to abandon forcing people to do things, with a resolution for dialogue instead. And now -- and this is also new -- the style of the dialogue, manner, actors and even reasons have taken center stage, threatening to derail the entire “process” through arguments over these facets of the process. It will be such a shame if this is what happens.

            The true essence of democracy is being discussed these days in Turkey as “fighting for rights” or “attaining rights.” Rather than saying, “We gained these things,” these successes are portrayed as democratic gains. But the truth is, democracy has no connection to these things! After all, fighting for and attaining rights are things that have always existed in this world. And in addition, not every attainment of rights is a democratic gain. For example, kings, privileged classes, powerful groups, ethnic classes, religious communities, even influential individuals, have always been good at attaining certain rights. This sort of thing even happens within the animal world. For example, lions don't let other animals into their hunting area; they are fierce about protecting their source of prey and their relative privileges when it comes to catching these prey. So yes, democratic gains are something different all together. These rights are strongly connected to equality. When rights are equally accessible for everyone -- that's when they are democratic!   

            A new piece of rhetoric we have been hearing lately is: “Those who have been accused should head to court to be acquitted. Why don't they act on this?” This is a ridiculous suggestion; more than that though, it is sly, as well as being full of irony and suggestion. The real message inherent in this rhetoric is, “If you weren't guilty, you would have gone to court, but since that's not what you did…” In the end, people simply are not expressing themselves clearly. All the talk we hear is full of implied and ambiguous messages. This too is new. What do you think?

'The old is always bad, the new is always good'

            Listening to and observing all this new rhetoric, these new ways, these new plans, I start thinking about what “new” really means. I looked at the dictionary. There are a variety of definitions provided therein: unused, something recent, something that has never happened before. What you really don't see in the dictionary when it comes to the word “new” is some sort of positive meaning attached to its definitions. Clearly, attaching a positive meaning to “new” is the business of a certain kind of philosophy. What's more, this positive meaning is meant to be symbolic or metaphorical in nature; it stands to illuminate the difference between the old world and the new era, highlighting a phantom difference therein. The word “new,” used in this way, is the result of the view that “the old is always bad, and the new is always good” (of course, conservatives don't really agree with this view.) The truth, of course, is that the new can be very, very bad. For example, entire systems such as imperialism, communism and fascism were themselves, not long ago, new. So perhaps this new take on “new,” with all its implied connotations, is meant to be an expression of the new wealth we see all around. So the “old” becomes inherently linked to the poor life of the past, while the new is the modern life of abundant consumption. I suppose this is the root of all the praise for “the new.”  

            It certainly never occurred to me that I would write like a conservative. Oddly, this is a “new” kind of me! But lately, I've been thinking strongly about Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World." In it, Huxley writes about a new world that is truly nightmarish. I personally don't believe that all the talk of “new” is in and of itself explanation enough. Alright, perhaps it is important that some things are new, but is everything being new what we really want?!  




Human conditions are the same,

but the reactions are different






Today’s Zaman, 10 October, 2014





 It is normal for those who are in office to get involved in some undesirable business. By “normal” I mean that cases of nepotism, favoritism, bribery and other illegal activities are frequently observed. Such sinful and immoral actions have always been seen in communities throughout history. The famous 10 commandments stress that man shall not kill, commit adultery, thievery or perjury and shall not be greedy toward what his neighbor possesses. This means that these bad ethics have been observed at least since then. Likewise, Bias of Priene (B.C. 625-540) made some wise remarks on this matter. Bias is referred to as one of the seven wise men of ancient times. He lived in Priene, a town close to present-day Söke (Turkey). Now this ancient city is far away from residential areas due to the disruptive impacts of nature. But what he said still remains fresh and valid: “Arhi andra dhiknisi” (Power exhibits the nature of man).  


Others have subsequently confirmed it. For instance, Abraham Lincoln said, “If you want to test a man's character, give him power.” A man is considered honest not when he is unable to become corrupted; he is considered honest when he does not go corrupt even if he has the opportunity to do so. Bias of Priene made other crucial remarks that took me by surprise, because they sound pretty contemporary: “Democracy is a state of affairs in which everybody is afraid of the laws as if they were tyrants”, “Arrogance prevents you from becoming a wise man”, “Win by persuasion, not by force”, “A man is honest when he has a good reputation not wealth, when he leaves power.” In short, people have always been occupied by such problems.  


If you run a search on the internet for political scandals, you will find a number of filthy relations involving money and sex. Such scandals in 47 countries are listed below: ( The list includes the countries we are most familiar with; in fact, Turkey has recently been included on the list with the Susurluk and December 17/25, 2013 scandals. All the cases are explained in detail. Let us recall some of them: the Watergate scandal in 1972 and President Richard Nixon's resignation; the Irangate scandal about illegal arms sales to Iran, in which President Ronald Reagan was implicated in 1985; the case of bribery involving Senator William Jefferson in 2009; the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal; the Silvio Berlusconi, Mark Sanford and Edward Kennedy sex scandals and the relevant lawsuits; the arrest of Taiwanese President Chen Shui Bien right after the end of his term in office ended on May 20, 2008, on corruption charges (his wife was allegedly involved in an illegal transaction of $30 million); after lengthy trials, the president was sentenced to time in prison; the Profumo scandal; Christine Keeler's affair with the defense secretary in 1963, which turned into an espionage scandal and led to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's resignation.




Scandals are nothing new


Such scandals have always taken place in this world. There are situations considered illegal under the law or unethical under the social code, say, corruption or sex scandals. What and who is at the other end? There are the judiciary and prosecutors and judges who do their job. But in addition to those official forces, there are also other actors as well, particularly in democratic countries where a diverse set of circles stand firmly against these political scandals. These actors are the opposition parties, the journalists or some “dissidents” who oppose such scandals. They do not show mercy against their rivals; they take the opportunity if they are able to use it. These opponents rely on two different references: a) the laws and b) the ethical values of the society.


In this sense, politicians are under a lot of pressure. For instance, the extramarital affair of an ordinary man is considered private life, whereas the actions of politicians are evaluated differently. Politicians are supposed to stay away from anything that is immoral and unethical because their “secrets” can be used against them as a means of blackmail. Of course, I am talking about democratic countries; in other countries, nobody would oppose the rulers.


What has been happening in Turkey is not different from the scandals cited above. The corruption scandals and alleged immoral actions are “normal” situations we are familiar with. But what is not normal is the defense raised against these allegations. Adopting an aggressive stance rather than agreeing to be held accountable under the law is not a usual attitude; this is unique. A number of allegations after which presidents and prime ministers have had to resign, apologize, leave their political post or agree to judicial action have been made in the past in the world; however, we have never seen those who unearthed the scandalous facts being accused and persecuted. In other words, their right to go after the suspect has never been violated. Being critical was never considered something the critics should be fearful about. What happened in this world was that the accuser had to prove his point and the suspect tried to prove his innocence. Of course, this applies to democratic countries. In other countries, nobody can defy the rulers. This is a news report from last week: Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond had to resign as prime minister and as a member of the Siumut Party until an investigation into allegations that she irregularly spent money from the state budget in Greenland is concluded. Transparency is that simple.  


In the “Western” world, which includes our allies and which we want to be part of through membership of the European Union, when they hear references to corruption, they are neither shaken nor surprised. They are aware that a number of people including royal figures and high-level officials have been involved in corruption, and they are fine with this fact. What surprises and disappoints them is the disproportionate response to the allegations. The repressive reaction against the police, the judiciary or the media means not only some sort of acknowledgement of guilt but is also a sign of trying to escape justice. Worse, this also raises questions about the level of democracy in the country. Naturally, they do not claim that there are some complex conspiracies behind the corruption allegations.



Who discovered America? Well, who didn’t?





Today’s Zaman, 30 November, 2014




The argument by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan “Not your guys but ours discovered America” attracted a great deal of attention worldwide because it was made by a head of a state; otherwise, this argument is pretty common and could be dated way back to decades ago.

Some said this argument was made to change the agenda or attract attention. Some in the global media view this discourse as Islamist defiance. Others found this argument hilarious or embarrassing. Some remembered other factors and motivations. For instance, the newspaper El Pais recalled that some of his aids believed that the Turkish prime minister would be killed by telekinesis. What I particularly thought about was the role of the advisors. Were they asked to offer an idea? Or do they share this view?

In fact, this “who discovered” debate within scientific circles is being made with reference to the question “how does a mythos emerge”. There are some interesting works on this subject. I will mention one here: “Invented Knowledge” by Ronald Fritze (2009). Hundreds of myths were invented after America was discovered and were redefined. These myths tell us that many people arguably discovered America: Ancient Egyptians, Ancient Greek travelers, Trojans who left their cities, Romans, Buddhist missionaries, Chinese immigrants, Mongolians, medieval Arabs and many others.

Such myths first emerged while Christopher Columbus was still alive, to make his endeavor worthless. A so-called “unknown guide” provided guidance for the discovery of America. This pilot might have been Andalusian, Basque or Portuguese. In 1558, Nicolo Zeno from Venice “proved” that his ancestors discovered America. The French also made similar arguments. Guillaume de Postel argued that ancient Gauls discovered America. The British attributed the exploration to Prince Madoc of Wales in the 16th century. The argument goes to say that the prince traveled to the continent in 1170. Those British arguments were backed by some “historians” including Humphrey Llywyd, John Dee, George Peckham and David Powel. Some Welsh scholars, including Zella Armstrong, Richard Deacon and Gwyn Williams, still subscribe to this thesis. What I am trying to say is that it has been always easy and convenient to find a “historian” to defend this argument. We should also note that Morgan Jones identified some American Indians who spoke the Welsh language in 1666 (but nobody else was ever able to find them after that). Still, some textbooks in the US in the 20th century referred to “redskins” from Wales.

Without quoting other names (because of space restriction), let me recall some other claims on this matter. Some argued that Scandinavian sailors first discovered America around A.D. 1000. In the 20th century, some African Americans strongly believed that West Africans found the continent. There are two versions of this view: Some argued that the continent was discovered before the Common Era, whereas others argued that Africans discovered it in the 13th century.

Phoenicians, Egyptians or Malians....

This indicates that the first to arrive were Phoenician slaves. Other “researchers” showed that they were Egyptians or from Mali. All these views were proved by so-called scientific methods. However, it is obvious that these views were all about oral tradition or myths.

Archeologist Harold Gladwin (I am giving a name because you may think I made this story up) argued in 1947 that Alexander the Great brought civilization to the native Americans after crossing the Pacific Ocean. Some others (for instance, a Harvard professor) argued that Ancient Egyptians and Jews explored America before the Common Era. Yet more “researchers” argued that native Americans were people who survived the total destruction of Atlantis. Others noted that the first settlers were Carthaginians; a Portuguese historian also identified a precise date: 590 B.C. There is a vast literature on this matter. Another version of this story placed emphasis upon Phoenicians. Sometimes references are vague; Carthage and Phoenicia appear to be the main actors at the same time. Some Jews also developed their own theses and argued that the ten lost tribes referred to in their sacred book were native Americans. A Spanish researcher even wrote that Odysseus, the mythological character in Homer's books, was the first to arrive in America. I should note that there are a number of books and publications on the theses I referred to above.

India also joined this campaign in the 19th century. Some argued that the Chinese settled first, before the Indians. The Chinese thesis was strongly defended by new publications in the 2000s. Some others stressed that Siberian Tatars arrived on the continent by crossing the Bering Strait. In other words, a huge market on who discovered the continent emerged. There are a lot of myths and legends on this matter, but it is hard to find a serious approach. The subtitle of the book I referred to above in this piece is “False History, Fake Science and Pseudo-religions.” The book focuses on the myths about America but also Atlantis and pseudo-religions as well. What this book says is that there are countless so-called scientific theses and arguments in our world.

If we look at the Turkish side of the story, I am sensing a shift in the Turkish history thesis from the view that “Turks are the greatest” to one in which “Muslims are the greatest”. I think that there are two dimensions to these views. One is about identity: People tend to glorify the source they built their identity on. The second is about insecurity. If people feel insecure, then they try to present their true or imagined past as superior to others. And it is not hard to create an imagined past. As seen above, many different nations were involved in this game. You could make your point or support your argument by resorting to a book or to a so-called research. The real problem is to make sure that such personal and subjective views are not turned into national dogmas taught at schools. It will be unfair for future generations to create new myths without dealing with the previous ones.



The feeling of déjà vu





Today’s Zaman, 2 December, 2014




The expression in the title is originally a French term and it is normally used in its original form. It means a sense that a particular present occasion or feeling was experienced before. This has happened to most of us; during a conversation, reading a book or walking on the street, you might have felt that you have experienced that exact moment before. (It is normal if you have not had such a feeling, don't worry!) I have experienced this feeling a few times in my life. The “feeling” was there but I was unable to define what I experienced exactly.

Lately I sensed this feeling. I thought that in the past I had lived this milieu, I had heard this discourse and I had experienced this logic. Not once, but twice. This was an atmosphere and an approach. It was an environment of relations and values; it was like a belief where all of us were entrapped. I had experienced all these in my early adolescence and for a second time in my early youth. Let me call the first “Kemalism” and the second “Marxism.”

'A future where everything is perfect'

My first experience was a common story that goes as follows: a new Turkey is being created; everything will be perfect in the future but at present we have domestic and external enemies including supporters of Shariah, separatists, communists and imperialists. Some stage traps against our state with the pretext of political criticism; for this reason we have to remain united and strong. This is a fight between the evil and the good; it is a war of liberation and independence of this nation. Some make use of the shortcomings of some of the laws to go their way. We should pay attention to the essence and not be stopped due to some details of the laws.

The Marxist paradigm had a similar story in almost every country: a new world is being created; the future will be nice, just like heaven. But right now, the imperialists and their collaborators are our enemies; and all means are allowed in this war. The laws and international justice are sneaky tricks of the  bourgeoisie.

I have seen similar analyses the last few months. Two assumptions are apparent: that there is an ongoing war against the enemies, and – this is the déjà vu - a beautiful future is awaiting us in the next yrars. Not right now; at present we have to deal with the external and domestic enemies. They have to be destroyed first, legal restrictions should not stop us, everything is allowed in this fight of existence.

There are some commonalities in these three stories: an imagined perfect and happy future, domestic and external enemies; their dangerous assaults; a struggle of life or death of the nation; a discourse suggesting that law is being used for evil purposes and that every means are allowed for this bright future.


Throwing out the baby with the bathwater

I have heard statements of this kind a lot lately. A sense of déjà vu … At the end I recalled the novel Küçük Ağa (Young Lord) by Tarık Buğra; that was it! He depicts the bloody days in the war of liberation of Turkey. In the novel, the Armenians and the Greeks are the chief enemies, and they are being killed. The writer refers to the “good others” (i.e., Armenians and Greeks) as well, yet these “good others” need to be sacrificed, too. In other words, the baby has to be thrown out with the bathwater. The writer explains: “I wished there were not innocent people like doctor Minas and textile trader Mr. Eftim (among the massacred people). This would make the thing easier for us. We would say Greeks, Armenians and we would feel relieved; our deeds would have been our ‘right’”.

We have seen this many times in the medieval times; a general massacre had been committed after the uprisings. The same logic was raised in the interviews with the Nazis who committed the Holocaust: some innocent Jewish people were killed, but this should be considered collateral damage. The same view was underlined in all genocides and fascist practices. With such a mindset, everything becomes justified if one is aiming at a Machiavellian victory.

But in our contemporary world an order based on the supremacy of law was created to avoid such problems. Proper measures were taken to consolidate this principle; crime was defined as an individual liability. Punishing the innocent along with the guilty one became a crime. It is preferred now to have suspects acquitted instead of risking sentencing an innocent person. In fact, prosecutors can label suspects and only judges can label criminals. If everybody declared their own criminals and suspects, this would lead to frenzy. The principle of presumption of innocence was also introduced to avoid victimization. This suggests that declaring somebody guilty without a court order is unacceptable. And now, we hear a ‘medieval’ narrative which legitimizes the harming of an innocent in an effort to do away with the problem.

During a war on the battleground it is not usually feasible to distinguish the enemy from the innocent. Of course, we could consider this approach from a reverse angle as well: If one wants to be free to commit a crime he may as well declare that there is a war going on. We may fabricate a war to justify our actions. Creating a sense of war, as is evident by our past experience, has not been so difficult in these lands. We have always had domestic and external enemies. These have been the cornerstones of making politics.

Interestingly, the déjà vu does not have to be about negative and unpleasant developments. It may be associated with some fantastic and enjoyable moments as well. Here, I referred to sad events because I was influenced by the recent developments. I may be a little tired and gloomy too. In principle I try not to be pessimistic. In fact, I am generally optimistic; my death is my great consolation: all my troubles are just temporary.



What do we see in Greece?




Today’s Zaman, 5 February, 2015 




The parliament building in Athens, Greece. The world has been closely watching the political developments in the country since the far-left Syriza came to power last month.


Watching the political developments in Greece from the Turkish media can actually be quite informative. I learn how everyone finds something that fits in with what he needs or what his perceptions are; like a kind of a Rorschach test. Lest you don't know, the Rorschach test is a kind of psychological test in which people are shown mixed-up shapes that look like ink blots and stains. The people are then asked what shapes they see. An analysis of the particular person's feelings, perceptions, hopes and fears is then done, based on what they say they see.

These days, Greece is presenting us with a kind of Rorschach test. Of course, when the test is over, we haven't necessarily learned anything more about Greece. We do see more clearly how people living in Turkey view Greece and why. The picture has long been like this, actually. When politician Andreas Papandreu (who at the time had gotten quite old) betrayed his wife and took up with a younger lover, many Greeks were very embarrassed by the situation in the name of the country. In Turkey, though, the view of what was happening in Greece was very different; some “macho” types opined openly that Papandreu was “quite a man, able to ignore the rules of diplomacy with his mistress on his arm; good for him.” Rorschach test is about our own inner worlds.

Many on the right side of the political spectrum find Syriza risky and doomed to failure, on the basis of its leftist orientation. Liberals and supporters of the EU now see that a risky coalition composed of radical left and radical right political elements has been formed in Greece. We see that a 40-person new government cabinet has been formed, with many of its members coming from varying factions of society to join ranks with Syriza. Nine of these people began their political lives in the ranks of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). Most of these people were high-level directors in their former political parties. Five of them are transfers from the center-left Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) party. What's interesting is that five are from the coalition partner, the Independent Greeks (ANEL); persons who broke away from the center right forming an even more right-wing party. Some say they are straightforward racists. In the meantime, the true nature of this unique sort of coalition has not really been analyzed and illuminated in Turkey. But the question needs to be asked: What on earth could the views, programs, ideologies, interests and social support that drive the radical left and right political elements to join forces really be?

In Turkey, leftists see their dreams coming true in Greece: The left has won a giant victory, with the right defeated at the ballot boxes due to bad leadership. In observing all this, there are some who perceive the likely beginnings of the end of capitalism, the end of imperialism, the end of the neoliberal economy and the end of the enslavement of the people. They see the start of a process set to change Europe and maybe even the world. While some in the Republican People's Party (CHP) clamor to assert “We're next,” some even more “extreme” leftists chime in with “this business will fall on the shoulders of the true Marxists.” It looks like the “hope” slogans have jumped over the borders and into Turkey.


The forgotten recent past

But what lies behind these contradicting views are the different views on the economic crisis in Greece. Until just a year ago, declarations written by Greek academics about the country's economic crisis would fill me with surprise. There was almost nothing left unscathed by these one-and-a-half-page texts, signed off on by some 1,000 or so professors: capitalism, imperialism, neoliberal policies, the EU, the International Monetary Fund (IMF). There was never even one sentence included about actual Greek responsibility in all this. But the truth is, everyone has known for years about the propensity of governments in power in Athens to give thousands of people state jobs - with the intention of basically buying votes - and thus creating a massive cadre of state workers.

Everyone is also aware of the enormous foreign loans taken with the intention of fulfilling the desires of the villagers so vociferous at protests, without any thought as to how they might be paid back. Everyone is also acutely aware of how in Greece, pressure applied by almost corporation-like labor syndicates has been used to reduce competition - the only really positive aspect to capitalism - to almost zero, and how in response, foreign capital flow into Greece has dwindled to nothing, with local Greek capital forced to look outside for opportunities. It is also clear how all the parties in the opposition basically cheered all this on, supporting the general direction things have taken. Yes, with the taking-on of enormous debt, there is no question that living standards in Greece rose in the past decades, but this “abundance” was doomed from the start not to be sustainable.

In the end, though, it was not that those who knew said things that appeared attractive to the voters in the past elections but rather that hope-filled promises were made by some candidates. And so votes went not only to the left but also to the extreme right, to the ANEL and Golden Dawn parties, with the latter coming third. The truth is, in order to get an accurate reading of the political situation in Greece, one needs to look beyond the left/right split. Most political arguments in this past election season were based on either being for or against the “memorandum,” as the austerity reforms are called. But there was no political party that wanted to talk to Greeks about the real reasons behind the economic crisis. Rather than admitting that “the responsibility lies with us,” we've seen a huge preference for talking about “the others,” a phrase that is easier on the ears and helps soothe the damaged national identity. And in the process, it was the EU, the “order of things,” Germany and so on were all turned into scapegoats. Paired with this, the memorandum - the critical austerity measures - was not perceived by anyone as being a way to end the crisis, but rather the reason for the problems everyone faced. The call “Let's put an end to the memorandum” turned into an election slogan. In fact, this was the political vision that wound up uniting all the extreme political leanings in Greece.

The truth is, the normal voter in Greece does not wish for a different political or economic order; what they really want is a return to those old living standards that extreme indebtedness had made possible. They want things to return to the way they used to be. This is why so many voters wound up moving over to the leftist Syriza, with its anti-memorandum slogans, or to ANEL and the Golden Dawn party. Since support for the memorandum is seen so widely as representing a “game played by the West,” the “West as other” sits front and center in the rhetoric heard from the extreme right and left parties in Greece. In fact, anti-West stances and anti-austerity measure stances are the same thing in Greece. And in fact, the message that austerity reforms need to be brought to an end, and that everything will then be fine, found lots of takers. Not only did the idea take root in broad factions of society but even among intellectuals with state jobs.

There is little question that the coming days will bring some interesting developments. The messages from the EU are quite clear. European Parliament (EP) President Martin Schulz, who recently visited Greece, as well as European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem, some of top-rank government officials and Germany - and even certain prime ministers of EU countries - have all expressed the view that Syriza's suggestions are simply not realistic. They all say that treating Greece in a manner that falls outside EU principles is not possible and that for solidarity between Athens and Brussels to continue, certain structural reforms need to be completed. In the meantime, though, it appears that the new Greek government is turning in the opposite direction from all this. A country at the brink of bankruptcy, where unemployment and debt have swollen to all-time highs and where investors simply aren't there, clearly should not further swell the ranks of state clerks as its first piece of business, or put an end to vital reforms. If this new Greek government really does wind up parting ways with the EU - even if only temporarily - the crisis might only get deeper. And if and when this happens, my fear is that rather than accepting responsibility, the Athens leadership will turn to find respite in blaming “the others” and talking of how a “trap was laid for us.”


Greece: revolution or romanticism?



 H Millas

Today’s Zaman, 17 February, 2015



A protester waves a Greek flag during an anti-austerity pro-government demonstration

in front of the Parliament in Athens on Monday.



This is yet another faulty question because there is actually no dilemma: A revolution can also be romantic; and romanticism may have a revolutionary outlook. By romanticism, I mean excitement, enthusiasm, risk-taking, a passion to be different and a spiritual state of mind that seeks out adventure.

The romanticism that became influential in Europe in the 19th century gave birth to idealistic movements and nationalist currents that represented proud revolts. For this reason, it is not reasonable to make a distinction between romanticism and social revolutions. The influence of Rousseau and Herder can be seen in the French Revolution as associated movements, but also in Nazism as well.

Greek people are demonstrating a type of strong solidarity that has never been seen before. Surveys reveal that 80 percent of the people of Greece support the new government. At a time when negotiations are being conducted with creditors, people who take to the streets to protest are talking about economic hardship, the injustices done to the country and the undermined image and prestige of the nation. There is general agreement on this. The general wish of the people is for another option, another path for the economy and a different style of politics. “Enough is enough” is the general sentiment. The most optimistic people predict a new political style in Europe and in the country.

This general mood is seen as a just revolt and a political pursuit for a more advanced society in a number of countries, including Turkey. But if certain factors are considered, this also leads to fears and concerns. When some widespread views and sentiments are combined with certain parameters, an interesting web of perceptions emerges. I will summarize these:

 1- The far right and the far left have formed a coalition government. 2- Even the Communist Party and the racist Golden Dawn party, which were left out of the coalition, hold a common approach vis-à-vis the “common enemy.” In other words, they indirectly support the anti-Western government. 3- The list of common enemies includes Germany, the West, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) etc. 4- In the distinction between us and them, the Greek side considers itself completely innocent. 5- The West is not considered a creditor; but they are shown as indebted to the Greeks. Specific references are made to debts from the Nazi era 70 years ago. 6- Cartoons in pro-government newspapers depict German politicians as Nazi officers telling their victims that they will make soap out of them. 7- As a nation, the Greeks are considered pioneers in Europe and even in the world. This sense of Greek superiority is frequently underlined. 8- In short, the pride and perception of "others " are based on a sense of victimization. Socialism is experienced together with nationalism. Does any of this remind you of a bad ideology from the recent past?

Looking at Greece from Turkey is a whole different case. Some Turks praise Greece as they see something they have been missing for a long time. We can understand them. The Greek prime minister says he is an atheist and objects to a religious swearing-in. What he is doing is to implement the most fundamental principle of secularism. But this is a problem that has been resolved in Greece and the West; it is not a big deal and would not cause any serious problems. What matters is that secularism has not taken root in Turkey yet.


Politicians who do not wear ties may also be considered important in Turkey, which still adheres to protocols. But this is seen as a romantic childhood sickness in the world and does not attract attention. Of course, defying the West requires boldness and courage, but whether ties help is a separate matter. This courage may remind us of Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand's protagonist. This hero dies before rejoining his lover, but he preserves his honor. Personally, I prefer initiatives leading to solutions over showy moves. (I care about Syriza starting to make concessions, saying they will pay the debts of the country and saying they will no longer ask for loans.) If you look from Turkey, you may think that it is important if a politician rides a motorbike, has a partner without being married, does not hide that he is a communist or walks on the street by himself. But in the West, all of these are commonplace moves. These are not Greece's problems.

Over a million unemployed

There are more than one million unemployed and jobless people in Greece. Around 100,000 more businesses are needed to employ these people. Investment is required for additional businesses, and investors and capital are needed for investment. The country needs to produce more.

At the time this was being written, the Chinese Prime Minister made a phone call to Tsipras asking him to support Chinese investments. After pro-statist economy remarks, investors panicked; they now want to leave the country. For instance, the Italian Terna company and foreign oil-extracting companies are leaving the country. Greece, failing to introduce the necessary social reforms, is ranked at the bottom in terms of suitability for investment.

The new government has made some symbolic moves. They have made some symbolic promises, as well. They promised to sell the luxury cars of politicians, reduce taxes for the poor and supply electricity to the poor free of charge. Undoubtedly, they hold some good intentions in the name of social justice. They will be tolerant toward illegal immigrants and strengthen the social state.

But there is a problematic approach as well: They ask that the austerity plan be ended to promote development. This may sound good, but those who recommended the austerity plan did so to create a solution to joblessness and poor development performance. The real question is different: What measures will contribute to development?

The response to this question in Greece suggests that the Troika should be dissolved and the memorandum should be abolished. They argue that money should be transferred to the markets. What money? Who will supply this money? The EU has supplied billions of euros in recent years. Why did this not lead to development? Can Keynesian measures help in a country that has no production capacity?

Right now, Greece and the EU are asking different questions; and naturally, they are after different goals. One party generates a fairly abstract and nationalistic discourse. And the other is pretty pragmatic. Let us assume that what is being proposed by Greece is right. Can a small country on the edge of collapse impose a different program on 27 European countries? This is not about a simple economic austerity plan; it is the pursuit of multidimensional economic project. The developments in coming weeks will be a lot more illuminating.






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