Bigotry in Turkey and in Europe

Haroon Siddiqui, Ankara,, 14 July 2011

Say you are Jewish or Sikh or Hindu or a Unitarian in Turkey. Can you be a full-fledged Turkish citizen?

Yes, in theory but not in practice. You’d have to subsume your religious, ethnic and other identities into being just “Turkish.”

Haroon Siddiqui, Ankara,, 14 July 2011

Say you are Jewish or Sikh or Hindu or a Unitarian in Turkey. Can you be a full-fledged Turkish citizen?

Yes, in theory but not in practice. You’d have to subsume your religious, ethnic and other identities into being just “Turkish.”

This is not another variation of the old Quebec separatist refrain about who was a true Quebecer — only the pure laine. This goes to the core of how, even whether, Turkey can move beyond multi-party elections and evolve into a liberal democracy in which all citizens are truly equal.

Turkey is an important emerging power, the only Muslim member of NATO, a model for many in the Arab Awakening, and a bridge between the West and the East.

Its $1 trillion market-driven economy is booming, recording a growth rate second only to China’s. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has also succeeded in asserting civilian control over the shadowy “deep state,” the unelected trinity of army, judiciary and bureaucracy that for decades dominated elected governments, even toppling them.

Turkey’s next challenge is to end a century of discrimination against minorities, the largest being the separatist Kurds, nearly a fifth in a population of 75 million.

That would mean confronting the authoritarian political and social legacy of Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish republic in 1923. That was a time of great chaos amid the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The 1915-16 genocide of Armenians had eliminated up to a million people. Post-World War I, the Allies plotted to divide the Ottoman Turkish heartland — a plan Ataturk thwarted. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne sanctioned the deportation of 270,000 Christians to Greece and the acceptance of 130,000 Muslims from there.

The territorial integrity of the new republic was paramount. Non-Muslims — Armenians, Greek-Orthodox, Christian Arabs, Jews, etc. — were deemed fifth columnists. The new “Turk” was going to be a Turkish-speaking Muslim — a Sunni, at that, who subscribed to Hanafi theology (one of five schools of Islamic jurisprudence).

That formulation also excluded the Alevis (an offshoot of Shiite Islam), the Kurds (who were both Sunni and Alevis) and the Laz (an ancient people related to Georgians and living on the Black Sea).

All would be “Turkified.”

This was ironic. The new secular order that had abolished the sultanate and the caliphate, switched the day of rest from Friday to Sunday, banned the hijab, and changed the Turkish script from Arabic to Latin, was resorting to a religious identity to define citizenship.

Yet the new state also wanted to control Islam. It ordered the new Sunni Muslim citizen to subscribe to laiklik, secularism. But unlike the French laicite, which separated state and religion, the Turkish model empowered the state to dictate all religious observances, including how to pray and dress.

All this Stalinesque social engineering also entailed a complete denial of what had been done to the Armenians. It led to genocides and pogroms against the Kurds, Alevis, Greeks, Jews, etc.

The tension between Islam and secularism that Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk so famously wrote about is but one slice of a larger complex picture.

The 2002 election of Erdogan’s mildly religious Justice and Development Party ended the political and social exclusion of the religiously conservative class. But the marginalization of others remains.

The Kurds want their ethnicity, language, culture and autonomy recognized (a nation within a united Turkey, if you will). They want to teach their kids in Kurdish (as Quebec has French language schools).

In the 1980s, the Kurds took to guerrilla warfare. More than 40,000 people were killed in the conflict. Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured in 1999. From jail he has renounced terrorism and separatism and wants to negotiate.

Now that Erdogan has won a third straight majority, expectations are high that he would launch a rapprochement. That would mean taking on the Kemalists who have long viewed concessions to the Kurds as a slippery slope to dismemberment of the nation, and any nod to multicultural equality as a threat to the false security of forced homogeneity.

Turkey is at a new crossroads. So is Europe, especially those who oppose the entry of Turkey into the European Union. The task for the leaders in Turkey as well as Europe is to confront their respective bigots.

Next: Foreign policy, 16 July 2011

  1. Arabs don’t need Turkey to be a model

    I am not aware whether Mr. Siddiqui, emeritus editor of the Toronto Star and former head of PEN Canada has acknowledged, without equivocation, the veracity of the Genocide of Armenians by Turkey. Here, finally I see it in black and white.

    He presents a picture of Turkey through rose-tinted glasses. Mr. Siddiqui is under the impression that Turkish President Erdogan and his party, following their third electoral victory, will be more inclined to make concessions to the Kurds and perhaps treat minorities less harshly. That wishful speculation remains to be seen.

    What’s bothersome is that Mr. Siddiqqui advocates Turkey a model for the "Arab Awakening". Either he is blinded by the ephemeral economic success of Turkey or is brushing off the dynamics that, in the 20th century, shaped the Middle East. He neglects to mention that the Arab countries are in this mess partly because the West supported Turkey all along, following dictator Ataturk’s accession to power and during the Cold War.

    Arabs do not need Turkey as a model. They have a long history of struggle against tyrants who are backed by the major powers. They also have their own models to take inspiration from.

    It’s a bit rich to advise Arabs to follow the successor of an imperial and racist state which oppressed Arabs for five centuries and was driven out only through the martyrdom of countless Arabs seeking independence from Sublime Porte’s colonialism and bloody misrule.

  2. Humanity vs. Humanity

    It’s a shame that the world values a country’s financial power more than its human values.

    Turks, the rulers of the Ottoman Empire, committed numerous genocides, mistreated minorities and indulged in a long list of crimes against humanity, yet for financial gain and/or political reasons, many people tend to put these crimes aside and ‘praise’ the power of such a criminal state. The US and western European countries went further–they admitted Turkey into NATO and helped it financially for decades.

    What have we become? What’s the future of humanity when criminals are rewarded and their victims re-victimized?

  3. Turkey and the Kurds

    Treating non-Turks as equals isn’t just a challenge for Erdogan and his party. More significantly, it’s a challenge to the Turkish nation and establishment–about 55 million (if one doesn’t count the Kurds) of them who feel the presence of 40,000 Armenians (0.05% of Turkey’s population) threatening to the ethnic homogeniety of the country. I guess one Armenian is one too many for the Turks occupying 100% of Western Armenia and threatening the Republic of Armenia.

    To most of these Turks, "Armenian" is a socially accepted expletive. In this day and age it’s enough to ruin the career of a politician or a leading Turk if he is denounced as being of Armenian origin. These are the same racist people Siddiqqui believes belong in Europe, in EU. The latter’s rejection of Turkey is a result of Turkish policy, mores, racism and "civilization".

    This is the country which considers itself European, spousing human rights, democracy, etc. while it continues to deny what Turks–government and ordinary Turks–did to 1.5-million innocent Armenians. Turkey can’t move forward unless Turks, not just a couple thousand Istanbul intellectuals and righteous Turks, recognize the massive crimes of their nation.

    That its economy is doing well is no justification to assume (as Siddiqqui does) that Turkey belongs among enlightened nations. The oil sheikhdoms on the Gulf have healthier bottom lines but nobody calls them progressive.

    Siddiqqui’s agenda is no secret. He is a propagandist of the Islamic bloc. By citing Turkey’s recent economic success, Siddiqqui wants to make a case that Islamic nations can be modern. Of course, they can, but they haven’t yet, despite Siddiqqui’s years of diligent effort.

    By the way, why does Turkey threaten Europe that if Ankara is not admitted into EU, Turkey would turn East? If it is truly progressive and "Westernized," why does it try to blackmail Europe? And why does it oppress the Kurds, and illegally occupy northern Cyprus and Western Armenia?

  4. Siddiqqui Ploy

    In the guise of universalism, humanitarism, anti-racism and several other "isms", Siddiqqui is pushing for Turkish penetration and eventual dominance of Christian Europe. If Turkey is admitted into the EU, it will soon become the largest, by population, "European" country. What the Ottoman invaders couldn’t do, modern-day Turks will do through procreation, funded by the generous European welfare system.

    It’s funny the way Turkish and Islamic apologists, like Siddiqqui, holler for humanitarianism and deplore racial exclusivity when the Moslem countries they come from (India, Pakistan, et al) are notoriously racist (caste system in India and similar discrimination in Pakistan among the Pathans, Sindis, Baluchis, etc.). Let these propagandists, who condemn European exclusion, first fix their racist, corrupt, religion-hamstrung, backward societies. They have nothing to teach Europeans. All they want is the good life of Europe while living in their medieval "culture".

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