Category Archives: Turkey

Ece Temelkuran on Turkey’s minority issues

There’s a fascinating and wide-ranging interview with Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran on the New Left Project‘s website. Temelkuran has written extensively on Turkey’s issues with minorities and a lot on her book about Armenia. A few choice excerpts follow.

On the Armenian issue in Turkey today:

There is huge propaganda in the schools against Armenians, but it’s not only that. It’s on the street, it’s everywhere. ‘Armenian’ is a curse word in Turkish, still. And when you ask people about Armenians, you get this blank expression. It’s like you’ve entered the wrong password and their brain just stops, and the password is ‘Armenian’. They go blank. Especially in south-east Turkey, when you see an Armenian church and ask about it people will say ‘oh, it’s prehistoric’, although it dates back only to 1915. And when you insist on this question – ‘this is an Armenian church’, ‘where are the Armenians?’, etc. – if they don’t get angry with you they will say, ‘oh, the Armenians are gone. They are gone.’ And if you ask, ‘where did they go?’ ‘They went over the bridge’. And beyond that, it’s blank again. In Istanbul there are many Armenian buildings and you don’t really see them or think about them.

On Kurds and Armenians:

Well, when it comes to the Armenians the Kurds were also the perpetrators once. Today, politically, they have accepted their responsibility, while the state hasn’t yet. The BDP, a Kurdish party, offered such a declaration, acknowledging that ‘our ancestors did such and such to Armenians, and we apologise for that’. More broadly, for the time being, there is this undercurrent among people in Turkey, and it’s also true for Kurds, where people are looking back to try and discover their roots. And having Armenian roots became kind of ‘hip’. Now and then I hear people saying, ‘you know what? My grandmother had no relatives, so we might be Armenian’, or ‘I remember my grandfather talking in a weird language, so we might be Armenian too’. Especially after the death of Hrant [Dink, a prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist gunned down in 2007 by a Turkish nationalist], becoming Armenian started to be ‘cool’, and I think this represents another role for Turkish people – they don’t want to be the ‘perpetrators’ after Hrant’s death, because that killing touched their hearts, so they want to move to the ‘victim’ side by having Armenian roots.

On coming from the oppressor’s side:

Writing the book was intellectually challenging as well, because there was this ontological security issue. Although I don’t represent anyone but me, I was coming from the ‘side’ of the perpetrator, and I was telling the story of the oppressed. So do I have the right to do that? How should I do that? During my time in Oxford Bernhard Schlink, the writer of The Reader – he’s a German jurist and an author – was there giving seminars on collective memory and collective guilt, and I joined one of them. He was talking about his guilt, and his generation’s guilt, over the Holocaust. After a while, following the speech, a Palestinian Oxford student asked him what he thought about the ‘Holocaust industry’, and he said ‘there is no such thing’. I asked a question, ‘what do you think about the fact that a nation is building up its hostile foreign policy on your feeling of guilt?’ He said, ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ – no, he said ‘I cannot talk about it, because I am German.’ So that was a great example of this phenomenon where if you’re coming from the perpetrator’s side you’re obliged to shut up and not talk about it. And I don’t think that’s correct – we should talk about it.

That’s probably enough excerpts. Read the whole interview here.

I think the issues surrounding minorities in Turkey are, to a certain extent, unique because of the intensity of Turkish nationalism. Nationalism plays a bigger role in social consciousness here than it does in any other country I’ve been to, possibly with the exception of Israel. Chauvinism exists everywhere (we all know how common it is in the U.S.) but in relatively new nation-states like Turkey (and Israel) it is more pronounced, more public and more vehement.

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Filed under Human Rights, Turkey

The first from Istanbul

After months of (sort of) planning and anticipating, Helen and I have finally arrived and begun settling ourselves in Istanbul. We’ve got a small but pleasant apartment in a hip and rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, not unlike so many of our friends living in New York. The difference is that we have a balcony from which we can watch tankers and ferries glide along the Bosphorus. We’re still getting our bearings in Istanbul, learning how to get around, picking up basic phrases getting familiar with the sights and sounds and smells of Turkey’s largest city.

This seems like an appropriate time to resume my blogging endeavors and to, yet again, attempt to make the upkeep of this blog a regular habit. I’ll start by trying to explain why I’m here. Over the past few months as people asked me why Helen and I were moving to Istanbul of all places, I would often just reply with “Why not?” But there are actual reasons we decided to come to a totally new place where neither of us speak the language (yet) or have any experience.

I’ll admit off the bat that part of why we chose Istanbul is because the city seems fabulous. The weather and the food appeal to us. There is an endless supply of nice restaurants and pleasant bars and places to sit and look at the water. And there’s nothing wrong with moving to a place because it seems like a nice place to live.

There are, of course, more substantial reasons why we chose Istanbul. For Helen, an artist, the city has a large and growing arts community that is innovative and important. The neighborhood where we are now living is teeming with galleries and we’re about a quarter mile from a world-class modern art museum.

But why did I want to move here? As a journalist, I think that Turkey is an important place to be, in many ways much more important than Egypt, where I was living and working last year. This is actually the real point I wanted to make with this blog post, though I’ve kind of buried the lead now.

As the U.S. declines and other countries rise, the world is becoming ever more multipolar. This isn’t a secret and it’s not some kind of out there theory, it’s just what’s happening. For better or worse (I think for better), the United States can no longer be the sole important country in the world and other capitals will have to pick up the slack. Turkey, because of its size, its economy, its geography, is picking up a lot of this slack. I think it will be interesting to see the reconfiguring international order from this vantage point.

So there you have it. A re-inaugural blog post outlining what we’re doing here. I hope you’ll be able to follow along as I blog about my and Helen’s life together on the shores of the Bosphorus and Turkish politics, along with plenty of other stuff about food and Egypt and folk music and everything else.

 

Photo from my flickr account.

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Filed under Life Abroad, Personal Stuff, Turkey, Welcomes

Turkey: Islamist hotbed, economic powerhouse, East vs. West, Ottoman Empire

The Turkish expansion continues, back to furthest edges of the old Ottoman Empire:

Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Sabah, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) alliance, said trade between the two sides has been growing rapidly.

[…]

In 2008, GCC exports to Turkey rose five times over the previous year and their imports from Ankara increased a massive 15-fold, the Kuwaiti minister said.

And all this just after meetings a few weeks ago between Turkish and Syrian cabinet members to discuss issues from Kurds to free trade. For a smart take on Turkey’s economic and diplomatic expansion take a look at James Traub’s recent piece in Foreign Policy, which while it doesn’t avoid all of the Turkey cliches (then again, neither did I in this 200 word blog post), manages to do a smart and pretty unbiased take on developments in Turkish foreign and economic policy.

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Filed under Economy, Turkey