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Turkey : the end of a one century-long history


Standpoint of Turkey 

Turkey: the end of a one century-long history

Hamit Bozarslan


Hamit Bozarslan

Director of Studies at the EHESS (Paris)

Professor Hamit Bozarslan is known for his analyses of movements of violence in the Middle East, Turkey and Kurdistan and radical and moderate Islamism. Bozarslan states that fragmentation in the Turkish society has intensified and AKP government has worsened this process by trying to disqualify any alternative project for society. By proposing to the Kurds to accept them in exchange for their assimilation into the Sunni-Turkish majority, the AKP reproduces the policy adopted against the Armenians in 1914. According to Bozarslan, while a history of a hundred years is collapsing on one hand, the envisioning of a common future that would create a new society in Turkey is absent. We publish the first part of the interview done by İrfan Aktan.

It appears that a serious cleavage is taking place in Turkey. On one side anti-Kurdish lynching and grudge is being commoved directly by the political elite. On the other hand, there is a polarization on a social level that can allow this to happen. The climate of hatred and anti Kurdish violence that had appeased the time of the peace talks resumed, fueled by Turkish politicians and legitimized by a climate of extreme tension. What kind of a time are we going through from the perspective of a social scientist and of an academic analyzing the atmosphere of the Middle East?

This is definitely a process of defragmentation. Just looking at the election map tells us that this defragmentation is really deepening. We see in the election map that the powers dominant outside the Mediterranean and Aegean regions are generally HDP and AKP, and in general MHP is seen as the alternative of AKP. Both on the level of discourse, and on the level of the electors. Turkey at some point is paying the price of Ziya Gökalp synthesis which was the following: in order for the New Turkey to be founded, alternatives established upon liberalism and decentralization had to be ostracized, the state had to be at the core and the state had to have an official identity. This identity was Turkishness, Islamism and Westernism. Ziya Gökalp used the term “contemporary civilization” to describe this.

But I think the Westernist leg is absent at the moment.

At least, in that period, it was present. The Westernist leg was, in any case, not a democratic Westernism. What we see at the moment is that the synthesis could allow for the integration of the Turks and the Sunnis to the state. Yet at the same time, this made it inevitable for the other social groups, especially the Kurds and the Alevis, to be excluded. What is clearly seen in the sociology of “Re-election” is that the Kurdistan’s gaining complete autonomy. Kurdistan appears as a micro-climate that has its own political sociology. A significant amount of Alevi votes go to CHP and this was not the case in the time of Kemalism. At the same time, we see that the civilization solution of the state is rather conservatism and Ottomanism oriented, instead of Westernism. I think that this hundred-year-history is at the root of the fragmentation.

Is this course of events getting close to a conclusion or to a new process of establishment?  Are we moving towards what AKP summarizes as the “new Turkey”, what Tayyip Erdoğan puts as “the system has actually changed” ? Are we going to a new system, or is it what Ziya Gökalp predicted, a stage of a movement from this deepening chaos and conflict to a system?

It is hard to say that. Especially in a country like Turkey, it is hard to predict the future. It is not possible to be able to see ahead twenty-four hours in Turkey and in The Middle East. No one could have predicted the current situation of Syria in 2011. What I can say is this: HDP at some point was the last call of Kurdistan to Turkey. “It is still acceptable for us to be part of Turkey” they say. “We support the Kurdistan while trying to expand a democratic current across Turkey. This implies that you accept our existence”. At the same time, there is no societal terrain for the Alevis in terms of a land. The Alevis have scattered in Istanbul and in other cities. Yet, this is the very calling that comes from them. “We are a part of this country. But in order for to be able to be a part of this country, we must not be politically forced to become Sunni.”

From a framework of civilization, we can say the same thing in terms of multi-culturalism. When we look at the history of the Turkish Islamist movement, this history was at the same time a history of opposition against the state’s imposition of civilization. At the moment, AKP or this conservative Islamist tradition impose their own civilization and their efforts to exclude searches for other civilizations or ways of living.  The question is how to get out of this Ziya Gökalp synthesis, how to make the transition to a system in which the state doesn’t impose a national identity, religion, language and civilization. If there are powers who are able to do this in Turkey, a new Turkey can be imagined. However, if there are no powers who can do this, and AKP or others classify society as “nationalist, non-nationalist, traitors, those who are not traitors, those who pose a threat to the society, those who do not pose a threat to society”, then this disintegration and fragmentation process will unavoidably get worse.

You said HDP was the last call of the Kurds to the Turks. HDP actively, as well with the hope it carries, catches this systematically. In Kastamonu, a crowd of people set fire to HDP bureau. They burned also a banner on which is written: “Invitation to Great humanity" [one of the election slogans of the HDP, NdT]. This is a very strong scene from a symbolic point of view. Is that the response from Turkey?

I don’t know. The answer of the government at the moment is to evaluate this final call as a traitorship and a non-national attempt. Namely, when we look at the discourse in Turkey, which in fact was the discourse that was present before 7 June as well: it points to a new kind of crusades, against Zarathustrans, homosexuals, Jewish capital and the Armenian diaspora. If you read the development and choices of a country from a historical perspective, you inevitably see that a war dynamic is being imposed. At the moment, the answer given to the HDP calling - or to the message that Kurdistan sends to Turkey by way of HDP- is a civil war. I do not know whether this civil war will continue or whether some actors including AKP can once again find a rational solution.

At the risk of a reductionism, I would like to make a comparison. After Abdullah Öcalan was delivered to Turkey in 1999, a social conflict had been experienced for days. Lynching against Kurds had taken place, as well as reactions from Kurds. Then in 2003, a false news was reported, about two kids in Mersin burning a Turkish flag and General Turkish Staff used the term “pseudo citizens” to describe them. After that date, until around the end of 2005, a strictly racist atmosphere was dominant in Turkey. Large flags were hung up everywhere, lynchings took place, etc. I think the lynching against Kurds had taken place in the holiday town of Seferihisar in İzmir in 2005. Both in 1999, and in the years 2003-2005-2006, we wrote that Turkey was drifting towards a civil war. However, somehow a state reasoning worked and it was said that it can not be perpetuated. Or other actors like the democrats in Turkey interfered. Is the current situation similar to this past experiences or is this a different course of events?

I think this is a different one. After 2007-2008, we see that the influence of the army in the society or in the state diminished at least a little. On the other hand, we see that AKP established a strictly hegemonic block that has many legs: puritan bourgeoisie, poor classes which were told that poverty is not a matter for politics but for charity, or a worker’s union like Hak-Is. This hegemonic block strengthened AKP’s hand very much. The solution AKP offered to the Kurds after 2008-2009 was this: “We accept you, we also admit the unfair treatments that were done to you, but in exchange for this, you now need to be integrated to the Sunni-Turkish nation and you need to accept the domination of this Sunni-Turkish nation”. In a sense, this was the same solution offered to the Armenians in 1914. “Of course we accept you, and in fact you even have political parties, we can ally with these political parties, but what you need to do in exchange for this is to accept the authority of the Turkish nation and become servants of it.” At the core of the genocide, there was this point as well. Of course we are not in 1915, I don’t think there is the threat of a genocide.

Is that so?

It is clear that we are at a very intense point in terms of violence, but there is no risk of genocide. It seems the solution AKP offered with regard to the Kurdish question was never to accept the Kurds as a group, was never to see them as “subjects”. The Kurdish movement is a hundred year old movement at the moment. Diyarbakır Municipality was won in 1977 through election by Mehdi Zana who was a candidate who introduced himself as a Kurd and pursued his political activities on the basis of Kurdishness. This means, we are at the end of a process of forty years. It is not possible for the Kurdish movement to say “If you give us the right to mother tongue, we will serve the Turkishness”. I think one of the reasons of the conflicts was this. Will the Kurds be accepted as subjects? Or will they be accepted as objects determined by and in the service of Turkisness?

These conditions, of which you give a theoretical framework, are also speculated upon as being related to politics of power such as the desire of Erdoğan to become president, as the desire of AKP to rule again. Perhaps this is the real reductionism. I mean, the reason that all state powers, including AKP, unite against the Kurds, has something to do with the civil dimensions of the matter.

We face a power struggle both in the narrow sense, and also in the larger historical sense of redefining Turkey. What is clear in the narrow sense is this: In order for Erdoğan to be able to realize his project - which is a Bonapartist or Putinist project - no organized opposition must remain. We saw that a great many of the organizations were emptied of all sorts of essence after 2010. In order for Erdoğan’s and AKP’s project to reach success, AKP must be stripped of essence as well, it needs to lose all its contents, because a Bonapartist model apart from this is out of the question. Erdoğan wants to move to the position of a leader that represents history, with whom history will be represented. In this regard, he sees himself as the second Mustafa Kemal in a way. Of course this is the narrow sense of the matter. In this respect, the real problem is caused by HDP. HDP also represents a democratic left that are not Kurdish. It is a layer that is 10, 12 percent, and perhaps it will reach up to 15 percent soon. This layer of 10-15 percent is at the same time the biggest obstacle in front of the realization of the Bonapartist project. However, if this 15 percent, can become such an actor at this stage, this also shows very clearly that the Kurdish movement is a subject that is resisting against objectification attempts.

In recent time, HDP had a reproach. Selahattin Demirtaş expressed this clearly by saying “A mission awaits Turks at this time : are you going to be in solidarity with us or not, that is the question”. When we spoke earlier, you had said sociologically “Turkey is actually divided, Kurdistan has gained autonomy”. Where do you place Demirtaş’s reproach? Do you think it will get a reaction in the Turkish society? When we look at the current societal separation, is there still a Turkish reality that wants to live with the Kurds and live equally?

Such a Turkish reality exists, but it is a very limited reality.

And I think that it is also disorganized.

Yes, it is disorganized. There are two or three facts there. The first is, when we look at the elections since 1950, we see that conservative parties received 60-65 percent votes. This rate comes principally from a Turkish and Sunni layer. Democrat Party, Justice Party, Milli Selamet Party, ANAP, DYP and then it reaches up to the present. The question is whether a democratic alternative layer will form inside this conservative Turk-Sunni layer.

It is said that in 2003-3007, AKP was the most democratic right wing conservative party, but this is what it has come to.

Yes, but we can say that this is the fate of all liberal movements in Turkey. DP introduced itself as a democratic movement and in the first years provided democratization, but then it came to an authoritarian point. AP was a revolt against the 1960 coup, but we saw where it arrived in a very short time. We can give ANAP as a similar example. I mean, in my opinion, for whatever reason, in Turkey a truly liberal movement can not form inside the Turk-Sunni layer.

The second fact is this: In the 60’s and 70’s, the Kurdish and Turkish leftist movements were almost intertwined. There was a 68 and later 78 generation. After that there is the 88 generation in Kurdistan, and most probably there is a 2008 generation. Yet, when we look at Turkey, the left has been crushed and lost its meaning in such a way that after the 78 generation, an 88 or a 98 generation could not form. The fact that Kurdistan had five political successive generations, brought along with it a serious politization of Kurdistan. It also brought along with it the feminization and rejuvenation of the Kurdish movement. When we look at Turkey, the last exit was the Gezi. But Gezi Park was at the same time an exit that did not have a strong social base. The Gezi phenomenon was important in this sense: different layers were coming together, it showed that at a certain point global capital did not correspond with tangible capital. Tangible capital was in the hands of the puritan bourgeoisie that were getting richer and richer in power, but cultural capital was in a new layer. Nevertheless, the Kurdish movement existed in a very feeble way in the Gezi Park movement. What we see today is a great dynamism in Kurdistan, but Turkish leftist and democratic movement can show very weak reactions. And this shows that, the reaction processes of Kurdistan, Turkish left and Turkish democrats are becoming more and more different from each other.

They are called as “Kurdish movement” and “Gezi protestors”.

We can put it that way as well.

Because Gezi did not consist only of leftist democrats.

Of course it did not, but Gezi movement was at the same time a coalition. In that coalition what interested me was especially this leftist and liberal democrat movement. Because there was also  nationalist movements in Gezi, as well as a radical leftist characteristic. Those who were from the Gezi movement and who voted for HDP are more democrats, leftists, environmentalists; it is a layer that we can describe as really mild left in terms of France standards. It is a layer like the Greens or something like that. We see this very clearly. Their reaction times do not coincide with one another anymore. In the 60s and 70s, it did coincide. Perhaps expectations did coincide in the 80s. For instance, in the formation phase of HEP, the expectations of the Turkish and Kurdish movements partially coincided, but at the moment, even though 2%, 3% of the votes that HDP receives are left votes these processes do not fully coincide with each other anymore.

In this regard, is it slowly getting more and more impossible to transform Turkey in alliance with the Turkish left that the Kurdish movement attaches so much importance to, and to weave a new struggle? During Gezi resistance times, during the seven, eight days that I was there, the people were always asking this: “Where are the Kurds?” During the events in Diyarbakır in March 2006, almost no voice was raised from the West of Turkey. And now we see Cizre, Yüksekova. This time the Kurds say “And where are the Turks?” It seems that their chances of finding each other in this darkness have greatly diminished?

Those chances are diminishing. Elements like a common ground, a common shared political vision, the imagining of a common future are missing. In Turkey there had come to pass a long time of intense immobility, non-activity except for Gezi Park resistance. On the contrary, a serious activity is at hand in Kurdistan. It is necessary to see this: I had spoken of how the situation reflects the Ziya Gökalp synthesis. At the same time, the process that comes to Lausanne from the time of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire is also failing. When we look at the Middle East, Kurdistan has gained full autonomy in Iraq. That is, even though it continues to be a part of Iraq, there really is no continuity between them and Iraq. The same thing is being experienced in Syria as well. Most probably, there is a strict internal opposition and sociological difference between Kurdistan and other divisions. And this sociological difference is being experienced in Turkey as well. That is, a history of a hundred years is collapsing. A history is collapsing both in the sense of the Ziya Gökalp synthesis, and in the sense of the dissolution of the heritage of the Ottoman Empire and Kurdistan’s division between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. The questions we can ask when history collapses are as follows: Are there any envisioning that will make the formation of a new society possible? Is there a will that can make the formation of a new society possible?

The Kurds have these will.

Yes. Does it exist in Turkey as well? Does it exist in Iraq or Syria as well? I mean, you see how Iraqi, Syrian and Arabic societies are divided at the moment. I think saying that Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia are strong countries is a big mistake. There is no strong country. There are no strong countries including Europe. Countries can only be strong to the extent that they can show the will and envisioning living together. These sociological differentiations are experienced a lot in the Middle East and in Kurdistan very clearly. But let us add this: in our present day Scotland, the Scottish National Party has fifty one of the fifty two parliament members. The Basque country at is a country that has changed a lot sociologically. Catalonia is a country that has become very different from Spain sociologically. But this does not mean that there is violence in the countries. Because there is an other envisioning that makes it possible to live together or even separating tomorrow, but without resorting to violence.

Which one weighs more heavily as being the main cause that creates conflict in the Middle East and in Turkey? Is it Islam, religion, denominational differences or is it ethnic elements like Turkism, Arab nationalism, Kurdish nationalism? Or is there such an influence called “The European civilization” or “The Western Civilization”?

I think all the factors exist, but one of our friends working on Algeria was saying this: “If you combine the compulsion for oneness that comes from Islam and the Jacobean doctrine that comes from France then it cannot be possible for you to accept the Berbers any way.” I think this is valid for Turkey as well. I mean the Middle East can not somehow come to terms with its own history, but it could also not come to terms with the history of Islam. When we look at Islam, the second Khalif of Islam was killed, the third Khalif was killed by being accused of writing down the Koran, the killing of the fourth Khalif causes a civil war in Islam. At the root of the Umayyad State, that is the first great civilization of Islam, there is civil war. At the root of the Second Umayyad Empire there is the ruling out of the Umayyad and the Abbasid revolution. Against all these separations that it considered to be instigation, Islam developed a doctrine saying “We are together, there is no difference between us, we will not question our past, in order to stay together, we will obey to whoever is ruling”. This doctrine inevitably brought together with it the reappearance of the unquestioned.

Does this doctrine have a name?

The name of this doctrine is the doctrine of obedience. That is, it is a doctrine that was formed between the 7th and 10th centuries and it owes its most exquisite formulation to El Maverdi. “You Muslims, show obedience to Allah, to the prophet, to those who rule over you and to the state.” When you reach El Maverdi this obedience becomes necessary and inevitable. Even if the Prince, Amir or Khalif is not a good Muslim, obedience becomes compulsory. Because there is a fear of separation. In the same way we know this: The reason why the last two centuries of the Ottoman Empire were extremely bloody was because of not accepting the separations, of not questioning history. Not asking questions like what do the Greeks want, what do the Armenians want, what do Serbians, Arabs, Kurds want. In all societies where separation is seen as treason or a great fear violence is inevitably a part of life. The state separated the society as friends and enemies, but in the final analysis division also becomes inevitable. Prince Sabahattin saw this very clearly in 1911. He was saying two things.

He was suggesting decentralization.

He was suggesting decentralization, but beyond that he also suggested: “We went and conquered their countries, now we need to make up to someone and ask them what they want.” Secondly he was saying this: “Albania can break off one day. But if you continue with this politics of violence the breaking off of Albania will be inevitable in any case. Then you will have an issue of conscience in your hands.” I mean both in Islam and in Turkey, that is the continuation of the Ottoman Empire, this “what does the other want?” question is somehow not asked. Since a view like, the other has a right to be different from us, the other has a right to be a subject, the other has a right to see itself as separate from us, is not developed, in the last analysis they resort to syntheses. Like the Ziya Gökalp synthesis, like El Maverdi’s state synthesis. And these syntheses lead to new implementations of violence.

You say that a hundred-year-old history is collapsing and that whether there are actors who can gather from this collapse the envisioning of a new society, the envisioning of a new future, or not, is going to be very influential. In the perspective of the Kurdish movement, of HDP and essentially in the perspective of PKK, there isn’t an independent Kurdistan. In the theory that Öcalan summarizes in Democratic Confederalism, there is a tendency to incline your evaluation that there is a serious break off in Iraq, Syria and Turkey towards a kind of smooth transition. A formulation that will make Kurdistan’s internal transitivity easier, but also one with which it will be able to continue its relations with the countries that it is dependent upon. Does the forcing of central ruling powers, for example the forcing of AKP in Turkey, blow up this theory, this desire? I mean is this going towards a separation despite the Kurdish movement?

What we have at the moment is a move towards separation despite the Kurdish movement. The last unity message that Kurdistan sent through HDP was rejected. AKP became radicalized. What is interesting is this: AKP appeared at a time when both in Turkey and in the Middle East Islami movements went through a process of deradicalization and it could rise because it was able to deradicalize its discourse. A great deal of the leftist liberal movement that voted for HDP at the moment supported AKP at a certain point. A portion of the middle class supported AKP. This phenomenon is not seen only in Turkey. When we also look at the end of 1990s and the 2000s, we see a general deradicalization in Islam movements except for El Qaida. However, after 2010, you see AKP becoming deradicalized in the same way, but this time it was a radicalization as the actor controlling the government. We can see this in all fields. And this radicalization shows itself very clearly at the moment in the Kurdish question as well. When the state becomes radicalized in this way and can not in any way think about a solution envisioning then inevitably the radicalization of the Kurdish movement emerges too. This is a general sociological phenomenon.

For example, it was possible for France to read Algeria in a different way. In that case, maybe Algeria could start again but it would not be as bloody as this, there would not be massacres in the country, the French in Algeria would not have to leave Algeria and there could be the envisioning of a very different world. We see this in the Catalonian country and in the Basque country. If the countries are blind and they can’t read their societies a radicalization of other movements or counter movements necessarily takes place. Because violence has a practical aspect and a discourse too. That discourse is not impartial, it is not a neutral discourse. When you call another person “traitor” this necessarily changes the categories. Categories of enmity take the place of categories unity. In this regard, there is a relationship between that which is on the practical level and that which is on the level of discourse. If a country can use a discourse like this, if the state can describe some people as traitors or if press supporting the AKP can openly make a call for lynching, can encourage murder, then necessarily on the other side a radicalization like this will be seen.

This interview was broadcasted in the program “Nasıl Yapmali” on Nuçe TV on 16.09.2015.





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