Turkish Historical Bypass

by | Oct 18, 2015 | Stress Blog

Turkish historical bypass by Bojan Budimac

Sometimes, and it’s usually when I’m reading online comments on some news from Turkey in foreign media, I get urge to scream: “All you think you know about Turkey is wrong!”

Where from I get the idea that wast majority of the world have no clue about Turkey? Well, simply wast majority have knowledge based on one mythical, revolutionary history, in fact on the myth. Myth that so far showed exceptional resistance to the facts for the simple reason it was always supported from two sides – domestic and foreign. Domestic, logically, because maintaining the myth was/is in interest of revolutionaries and elite they formed, and from abroad because of selfish geopolitical interests of Western powers, which kept country under control over that elite.

Roughly speaking myth consists from narrative that after liberation war and revolution that Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) won single-handedly he modernised remains of one desperately backward Ottoman empire, about which nothing positive can be said. In fact lot of that modernisation is exaggerated and/or misinterpreted. For example one of the most famous myth is that he separated state and religion. Fact is he didn’t. He wanted to control religion so “he therefore chose not separation of church and state but the control of religion by the state (the imams are under an office of religious affairs, the Diyanet, that pays their salaries and even compose sermons),” writes Olivier Roy. Imams on the payroll of the state? Strange kind of secularism, isn’t it?*

It is normal for revolutionary regimes to embark on denigration of previous system and revise history presenting period before revolution as the worst of worst. However, in the case of Turkey something we can call historical bypass was done. Unlike heart surgery bypass that is bypassing clogged blood vessels leading to or from heart this Turkish historical bypass bypassed the heart – six centuries of Ottoman history. In order to uproot (historical) memory Turkish History Thesis, invention of father of the nation, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, described continuity of Turkish existence from the very first lump of proteins on Earth till the population of modern Turkey skipped elegantly over those six centuries. It was official and real science of young republic of Turkey. Same as Sun Language theory, I’m sure very few readers know that Turkish was THAT primal language from which all others are derived (goes without saying that Earth is flat).

Speaking of language, language reform had the same goal of uprooting historical memory. I don’t want to be too detailed in description of the process of cleaning language of Persian and Arabic words and creating new ones in the dinning room of Çankaya palace. For that purpose blackboard was installed in it. “The high point of the process was a short, totally incomprehensible speech with which Mustafa Kemal greeted the Swedish Crown Prince Gustav Adolf in Ankara in October 1934,” writes Andrew Mango in Ataturk: The Biography of the founder of Modern Turkey.

However that was not intended and wished incomprehensibility. Reform of alphabet, which made illiterate over night good portion of anyway not big number of literate, made incomprehensible in a very short time and for wast majority everything written and archived during six centuries of Ottoman empire. And when it comes to archives revolutionaries sold them (for any case?) as paper for recycling to Bulgaria in 1931. Luckily, Bulgarians checked what they bought for 13 grouches per kilo (in today money it would be $0.04), and without any intention they became owners of huge part of Ottoman archives and are working hard on restoration and translation of priceless documents.

It is hard to explain that destruction of own heritage just by revolutionary zeal. Beside it is exercise of motto from Orwell’s 1984 “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past,” that destruction had elements of hate triggered by inferiority complex. Namely, all that was done in the name of enlightenment, progress and above all primitive understanding of modernity, by which modernisation exclusively and only means Westernisation.

Actually whole that social engineering looks as one massive exercise in applied Orientalism (of course in Edward Said’s meaning of the word). It resulted in one, at the first glance paradox (actually it’s not, because similar kind of divisions are happening in other societies) that ultimate Other – object of ridicule and contempt, and in some (rare) circumstances of admiration or fascination – belong to the same nation. ”Emancipated,” skin deep Westernised, here known as white Turks, tried for decades to control every aspect of life of ”non-emancipated,” those who didn’t suddenly start to be ashamed of their roots (black Turks).

That division which doesn’t have anything to do with the colour of the skin, or ethnic origin but is purely sociological (and class) category is the root of the polarisation of Turkish society. Polarisation recently became very popular word in attempts to explain events in Turkey and to pin it to “polarising policies” of ruling party or more often to Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However phenomena precede both for many decades. Material evidence of that division is reflected in the fact that every village have two tea houses and two mosques – relic of two party system (1950 – 1960).

For the people in spite of the people,” Kemalist’s motto is not very compatible with democracy, and democracy was a condition for membership in so-called Free World, or more precisely to military alliance formed for defence of it. Therefore facade of democracy, which hid system of army and bureaucratic tutelage, was formed. In four decades there was four open army interventions in politics against legal and legitimate governments. Every time when given frame of democracy was in danger to be expanded and bring some substance, hence endanger positions of self-proclaimed “owners” of Turkey, and by that set loose wires by which country is controlled from abroad, army intervened.

All those interventions were greeted, explained as justified by “Free World,” regardless how deep wounds they left on the tissue of Turkish society. From abroad those wounds are invisible. To justify and greet coup d’états, overthrows and generally violent attacks on politics in someone else’s country, and in the same time to promote values like freedom, democracy, equality, human rights etc. is hypocrisy. Did I mention Orientalism? Well, that explains urge for screaming from the beginning of this text.

Processes that are going on in Turkey for two decades now, and which are articulated during the last 13 years of ruling of Justice and Development party are complex and multi-layered. Attempts to explain them by just one element, let’s say economy, will result with partial very limited understanding, not much better then misunderstanding. If I would be forced to explain those processes in one sentence I would say that regaining (or gaining) self-confidence of the major segment of society, the one that was oppressed, or at least looked upon as inferior, is the key for their understanding. Everything else is derived from that. But in order to be able to use that key one has to know non-mythical history of the republic (and to get rid of the sediments of Orientalism).

Hopefully I’ll be able to ad bits and pieces not just of that history but explanations of today’s events in Turkey on the pages of Antiwar.com. Looking forward to brake few prejudices in the process.


* And how absurd is that the sentence “we need secularism as in US” (Recep Tayyip Erdogan) was included in prosecutor’s list of “evidence” that Justice and Development party is a “focal point of anti-secular activities” in the case against the party in 2008. 

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