July 22, 2007
“I am in New York, but New York ain’t in me[,]” says Mary to the “Invisible Man”, the
protagonist of Ralph Ellison’s novel of the same name. She was a Southerner who had
moved to the North thinking that New York could perhaps free her of the unrelenting
shadow of Jim Crow. Notwithstanding hours of keyboard efforts that pass as news and
commentary about the upcoming “free and fair” elections in Turkey, they will be nothing
of the sort. To be sure, voting has made it to the lands administered by the Turks, but the
ruling circles in Ankara have stymied its results since the inception of the republic. This
latest exercise, like the other exercises before it, will not bring forth anything new. Like
Mary, Turkey is unable, so far, to overcome its legacy of authoritarianism. But unlike
Mary, it will not have the honesty to proclaim, “the elections ain’t in me.”
To do so would require the Turkish military, the self-appointed guardians of the state, to
come to terms with the reality of the Kurds and Islamists. An estimated one third to one
fourth of the country is Kurdish, and yet the military dictated constitution of the country
has simply declared us, courtesy of the Article 66 of the Turkish constitution, Turks.
(Imagine telling all the Palestinians in the West Bank: they are now Hebrew speaking
Jews by way of a solution to the intractable Israeli-Arab conflict.) A vast majority of the
population in Turkey is Muslim, but the Turkish armed forces go ballistic when their
country is labeled Islamic. They love it whey they are called Europeans, but don’t ask
them, please, to act like Hans, Bridgette or Tommy. If they had a wish they would wish
all Kurds called themselves Turks and all Muslim declared themselves atheists.
But people, unless they are subjects of totalitarian systems, do not like it when someone
out of the blue appoints himself, be it Ataturk, their prophet and declares the fantasies of
his sick mind as a revelation for their future. That vision, to make Turkey a carbon copy
of a European country, noble as it may sound, has produced schizophrenic individuals
throughout the country. Woe to the person who has challenged it or found himself unable
to conform to the prescribed orthodoxy. Mind numbing are the stories, as they are
heartbreaking. They are well known in Turkey. They are a source of pride for the
country’s Taliban-like secularists. But they make the friends of the Turks, those of the
Kurds and those religious freedom cringe every time they hit the news. This Sunday we
will have more of the same.
One thing is for certain: this dissident will not take part in these “free and fair” elections.
Turkey doesn’t take kindly to its critics and especially those who have made a profession
of airing its dirty laundry. Inside Turkey, my kinds are silenced. Outside of it, we are
trying hard to sound the alarm bells for liberty’s distress. Unlike the rest of the world,
where politics is often divided up between the traditional rightwing and leftwing parties,
in Turkey, if a European style democracy were practiced, there would be three groupings:
the military and their favorites; the Islamists; and the Kurds. But don’t look for a
European style election here. Something called 10 percent threshold has made sure the
Kurds will not make it to the parliament as a party. The Islamists and the militarists will
fight this one out.
But the Kurds, numerous as we may be, are not the only ones subjected to the lawful and
awful wrath of the Turkish state. We have had company lately, and it is no other than the
most illustrious son of Turkey, Orhan Pamuk. The recipient of 2006 Nobel Prize in
literature is now “almost” officially a persona non grata in the country. He has left
Turkey, the newspapers note, for fear of his life. He goes home, on rare occasions –put
down your coffee to read this one– unannounced. If you think this is sad, there is more.
The president of the country, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, did not call him to congratulate him
for the award. And can you guess what might have been the reason? He had said,
“30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me
dares to talk about it.”
With all due respect to the esteemed Turkish author, 30,000 Kurds spoke before he did
for the right to be themselves, the Kurds. But “our” government, bewitched by the legacy
of Ataturk, shamelessly calls even their buried corpses Turks. There were those who
insisted that the world was flat too. Science finally, thank God, caught up with them; will
truth ever do the same with the children of Ataturk?