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Being unable to face the past causes damages in the identity


Standpoint of Turkey

Being unable to face the past causes damages in the Turkish identity

Tanil Bora


Tanil Bora


According to Tanil Bora, who analyse legitimization mechanisms of lynching activities in his book  "Lynch Regime of Turkey”; people shape their identities as per their sense of threat in Turkey. Recently, while the concept of religion is welded stronger to the identity, opposing voices are identified with “foreign forces”. According to Bora, we must make “facing the past” as an integral element of identity construct.

REPAIR : New edition of your book called "Lynch Regime of Turkey” has just been published. “Sequence of lynches” that becomes ordinary as you mentioned in your book, makes us think that we are living in a culture established on a continuous anger, violence and destroying the existence of the other. Why does Turkish identity express itself with such anger? 

Tanil Bora : I do not want to explain these lynch attempts as totally “organizations, setup” and become complimenting to conspiracy theories. But, we should not forget that these attempts are “organized”.  There are some people who encourage and promote those. There are some structures become professional in this work within a long-term experience of using anomalous war device. Those are already in a symbiosis with organizations and groups which are unable to get their tongue around the racist-nationalist hate speeches. The most important thing is to allow, tolerate, brush over and even legalize those attempts as “national indignation”, “reaction of our citizens”. The biggest promoter is this police-justice and government attitude that normalizes, excuses, shows those lynch attempts as normal. This is an attitude which uses lynch threat as an unspoken threat and a “state of emergency” tool. I mention a “lynch regime” which gives this little book its name due to this systematic attitude. 

But, what makes conspiracy theory absurd is not identifying a conspiracy, but to absolutize it and not taking other subjective and objective factors into consideration. You must not become like this. Because it is so simple : if you could obtain any result from this incitement, there is also a “person who is incited”! Why can those people incited? This must be asked and taken seriously. While we are looking for the answer, we face with strong sense of threat. There are different senses of threat from national education to daily political speeches, to newspapers’ columns and internet salvos, that are reproduced continuously. Senses of threads about enemy… Whoever the subject is, it is a speech of threat that operates by indicating to an absolute enemy. 

Does this sense of threat shape Turkish identity? Why does this sense of threat never end? 

Firstly, as I said before, since it is always reproduced, it never ends. Second, with the contribution of the dominance of this “format”; other and real senses of threat, which have no concern with national issues, are transferred here. I am talking about economical threat and concerns due to loss of "social handles". Especially, in where lynches towards Kurdish people occurred, we could see that, both poor people and those who have middle properties have worries about works, jobs and economy and these worries and concerns could be easily directed to “Easterlies”. With a little embellishment, we could draw a parallel to racism that targets immigrants.  It is “getting his knife into” “others coming from outside” of worker-unemployed who are afraid of finding no work in the construction sector, and of craftsmen who do not like to share customer potential with a new shopkeeper… If we take a few steps back and look, I think that the life as generally becomes more difficult, becoming more unsecured, more financial, briefly problems due to capitalism and modernism and need to “belong to somewhere, a congregation” increases the fondness to be “us” and to oppress “the other”.    

And what about relations with “the other”?  

Need for “the other” increases in such mediocrity I try to explain. It increases negatively. As supports, handles of “us” become more fragile, people are more keen on identifying themselves from the malignancy of the Other. This triggers a spiral that makes the relation with the Other minimum even quit. “the Thing” which you don’t know, you are not familiar with makes you fear, you beware of getting in touch with it. We must try and make effort meticulously and specifically for having connections, meetings, events in order to crush these identity cages. 

When sense of threat is not mentioned, we just announce ourselves “leader of world or region”. Couldn’t we find a happy medium? 

Turkish nationalism and conservatism had been casting a role of “great country/state” for itself since before now. Sometimes with regards to a tradition based on Ottoman, sometimes by attributing a mission of “novus ordo seculorum” for “thousands” of years to Turkism. Even in the environment of first years of Republic that was tired of the war and aiming Westernization first, the claim of “being an example to the whole world” occurred with historical essence of Turkishness by depending on the freshness of “Turkish revolution”. Recently, an economist nationalist speech indicating a dynamism which could make Turkish economy and Turkish people winner against “Tired West” has been added to valor of history-mission. 

I have to add: such arrogances, “pan”-nationalist dreams, imperial eagerness sometimes have the meaning of “escape forward”. When you feel that you lose something and face with an important and serious problem, you feel yourself better by drawing “greater pictures” to see. Actually this is valid and effective for pan-Islamism and Turanism in the last era of Ottoman Empire. But, today, there is also a wave of “escape forward” occurs. 

A chaos intermitting between concern due to the sense of threat and arrogance, as you know, it is the meaning of “complex” in Turkish, and completely convenient with the adolescent soul. 

You identified nationalism as “Lasting Adolescence”. Does Turkey still suffer from this adolescence period? 

Why do I mention adolescence? Because it is a season of mood that totters between demands, fantasies, an optimism that believes the whole world opens for it and the sense of failure and melancholy of “nobody can understand me”. Here, nationalism could mean “unable to get out of this season” such as a type of global warming effect. 

For example, Isn’t it a sign of adolescence that “incitation” is valid unquestioningly for both lynches and women murders? Adolescents become easily provoked, they act impulsively, a type of “incitation right” is entitled to them since “they are young, full of life”. Such institution of a virtual “incitation right” makes me think that we are an “adolescent-society”. 

In every nationalism, the soul of adolescence announces itself by any means. We may mention for Turkish nationalism that it could not leave its adolescence period. Of course there are some speech which show some signs of “growing-up” among different nationalist speeches but we could mentioned about such a problem totally. There are also related with what we talked about before, the sense of threat and lack of confidence and endless and ideological multiplication of those. 

Where does religion stands within this identity? 

In nearly every sections of Turkish nationalism; religion is one of the main elements of national identity. It is also valid for Kemalist nationalism that is deemed as secularist. From early Republican politics to today’s nationalism; Turkish means Muslim-Turkish. Conservative nationalism increases the position of religion of being the fundamental elements of national identity, it refers so many moral-material functions from “cement” to “soul”. The mainstream of Pan-Islamism other than radical wings that regret nationalism, is more or less in the same line. Here; religion becomes the handle of rosary of national identity. We could see that in last 10 years, the position of religion within national identity installation expands in this direction. 

Of course, the effect of this direction causes that speech which is suitable for excluding those who are not religionist and even those who do not believe from national community and as well as reducing the religion to identity. It is instrumentalising the moral and philosophy of religion in hands of political of identity.  

In this period which is identified as  “Post-Kemalism“ by some authors, do any changes occur in identifying Turkish identity?  

One change is brazing religion to national identity stronger. As we mentioned before. Another change is the claim of “being a world leader” and “flying of the handles which we mentioned in economist nationalism. In fact, this second change served for establishing a self-confident and “tranquil” nationalist speech until very recently.  Gathering with the seeking a solution for Kurdish question; government was establishing a liberal nationalist speech that says the real nationalism is “serving the nation, developing it” against heroic and offensive nationalist speech. We remember similar one of this economist and liberal nationalist speech from “comfortable” governments of Demirel and Özal.  

But this optimist, poised environment did not last too much. I do not think that the only reason of this is disappointment due to the failure of the strategy of undertaking a mission of “regional leader” in especially Syria and Middle East. The belief of government that it has all the power in hands depending on a majority, became rougher and stronger by shaking due to the rising of social opposition; this aggression also reflects to the national discourse. A myth of “Turkey, the Rising Star”; constitutively feeds the sense of threat; each opposing voice is defined as the riot of “foreign forces which are jealous of our growth. The arrogance of government joined the national arrogance I have to add : the attitude which does not really accept BDP as interlocutor in Kurdish Question, already reproduces this constitution of conceit chronically. 

Recently, discourses of "foreign forces" and "conspiracy" are reawaken again. Is there any echo of these discourses in the society? 

Yes, amply dimensioned people, "opinion leaders" spout their conspiracy "analyses" towards society. We are turning to the beginning, starting over. As the same as lynches, there is a incitation but there is also an environment that is prepared and willing to the incitation. Because, there is an established ideological mechanism, a strong base of mentality. Minds are well-trained for conspiracy theory. I will mention the effect of precarity besides the fact of being well-trained and ideological learnedness.  People shall incline their ears more to dark rumors as much as they feel themselves unsecure and perceiving threats. We also know that conspiracy theory is being developed interbedded with the myth of “absolute evil”. Hate speech is good for a conspiracy mentality. As you make your enemy more evil, you shall not think about his/her incentives, reasons and you shall explain each movement of him/her with his/her malignancy. 

Do people in Turkey perceive that mentioning about Armenian Genocide as an insult to their identities? 

Of course. Overall tendency is to perceive this crime against humanity as an accusation to Turkish “identity”, a slandering.  Here, difficulties of this trouble called “identity” occur. We are inclined to perceive the identity as a natural existence mode, as barely ourselves, as “what we are, we are”. Bu identity is existence which is constructed, which is installed with dreams, wishes, experiences.  There are also “given” factors in it, and those we contribute with what we do consciously. Interactions between personal identities and different collective identities make these identity installations more complex. None of us has single identity, we have plural identities. As well as our plural identities, there are so many contents, so many faces of both our personal and collective identities.  Is it easy to face with this situation, “to deal with” this? No, it is absolutely not.  You will feel yourself responsible for thinking about your identity, building it in the way you think “right” and even sometimes reconstructing it rather than blindly defending your identity.   

It is the same in the question of Armenian Genocide. You shall not accept the “Turkish” responsibility in Armenian Genocide as an insult if you shall not deem identity as a natural, organic existence and as you query those given identities.   You already query your given Turkish identity or refuse to identify with that in the rate of your distance to nationalism. But, you have to note it down: Armenian genocide and denial towards it, is a material which is mixed with Turkish national identity and national state; you are a sharer of a historical-social settlement/organism/tradition depending on the crime, but not to crime itself directly. You have to show your opposition to this identity installation which includes such a crime itself in the ratio of any civilized responsibility that you feel due to your identity. Turkish identity must be established again by facing that unfortunate element of the identity and by making this reckoning with itself as a content of the new identity installation.   

Does “Being unable to face the past” create distortion in identity? 

Within the framework as we talked in the previous question, the answer is “yes”. It creates a constant identity attitude which is closed to the effect of human experience and historical process that changes people and societies. It contributes to a perception of history and politics depending on heroism. It forms basis for an illusion of absolute goodness, absolute legitimacy. It makes the identity a cage in which we are closed and trapped. 



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