Türkiye'nin en iyi köşe yazarları en güzel köşe yazıları ile Hürriyet'te! Usta yazarlar ve gündemi değerlendiren köşe yazılarını takip edin.

Identity debates

Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ delivered a speech at the War Academies Commandership on April 14. He did a good job when he shared his opinions on some critical issues. Therefore, the general paved the way for discussions on these subjects, one of which was about nationalism.

Başbuğ described nationalism as every citizen is a "Turk" who gathers around a supra, or common, identity without any race or religious discrimination; this is a citizen of the Republic of Turkey.

At some other point, Başbuğ elaborated the relationship between supra and sub identities. He said in modern democratic societies, secondary cultural identity characteristics other than supra/common identity may be expressed and exercised. The important thing is that, he added, the secondary identities should not be prioritized over the supra/common identity and not be transformed into a sovereign identity. Identity issues are of importance today. Identity is something subjective. It is a notion that distinguishes the subject from other subjects. So the concept is based on "I and the other" distinction.

The "I" can only exist with the "other." And today identities are taken up with cultures. There are some people who want to see identities as an unchangeable part of cultures.

But in the globalization era, identities vary. Globalization allows nations to build cross-border ties. Through airplanes, telephones, computers, televisions and cinema, individuals get in touch with other cultures, break apart from the values system of the narrow community they live in. So they prefer to see themselves as independent subjects and decide their own identities.

Multi-identity is possible. Or an identity may be integrated with some other identity or be assimilated. Even natural ethnic identities are not important anymore. Therefore identities shouldn’t be confined in shallow forms. People should be free when it comes to identities. Hierarchy such as supra-identity or sub-identity shouldn’t be.

But instead, I believe the republic should gain a democratic quality in a way to allow recognition of different individual identities and cohabitation of such identities. Gen. Başbuğ didn’t refuse such an approach either, for he said that the understanding of the modern nation-state and liberal democracy does not block individual freedoms. On the contrary, they spread individual cultural freedoms.

Individual identity gains importance when the individual has contacts with other individuals in a society and when societal ties get stronger because a formation of an individual identity needs recognition by other individuals. Therefore individual identity transforms into an identity built around common values.

Importance of individualization
Republic and democracy are not contradictory but complementary notions. We should exert efforts to bring the republic to the higher level of democratization. Above all, liberal values such as human rights and law states should be well absorbed and implemented. We still see dramatic flaws in the subject. Besides, we should be able to form a pluralist, multicultural society that accepts and recognizes differences in harmony.

In the meantime, we should raise active fellow citizens who try to shape-up society to participate in social life and who have critical thinking. But the precondition for all these is that Turkish people should leave the notion of living in communities but be able to individualize and to become a subject. I believe the element to keep people together in Turkey is not identity but the commitment to a democratic constitutional order.

Rıza Türmen is a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights and a columnist for the daily Milliyet, in which this piece appeared Friday. It was translated into English by the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review's staff.