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Ziya Meral

My dream of a Cosmopolitan Turkey

10 Kasım 2008

As a young Turk, not with the capital ‘Y’ of the World War 1 era, I do not have memories of 60s and 70s leftist-socialist-communist struggles against fascists and dictators. As a man of my age, my instinctive mistrust of utopias, revolutions and brand new futures only alienates me further from older Turks, whose political imaginations, language and modus operandi seem to have frozen in time. I cannot find a place for myself and people like me in their vocabularies; left vs. right, secular vs. religious, nationalist vs. separatist, liberal vs. conservative and socialist vs. capitalist.

I marvel daily at imaginary clashes, differences presented as irreconcilable, distances thought to be unbridgeable. I suffocate in homogenized dreams, where every trace of difference is a threat and every call for acceptance is seen as an attack. Those who are so ready to discard and dehumanize others, force and impose their visions at all costs, “for people, in spite of people,” scare me.

So I raise my glass; is there not another way? I sincerely hope so and I believe that actually there is.

It is true that nationalistic feelings have been on the rise in Turkey. It is also true that Turkey tops the global attitude surveys measuring xenophobia. It is also true that thanks to the self-serving politics of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and their supporters, Turkish society has been polarized for no real reason. It is true that because of the failure of Turkish leftist political groups to unite and the inconsistent bizarreness of Baykal’s CHP, there is no solid alternative to the AKP’s dominance. It is also true that we are haunted by age-long problems with ethnic minorities and shady deep-state actors.

Turkey is changing

Yet, before we all sink into the despair of the status quo, we must learn to recognize the changing undercurrents. Turkey is evolving, a lot faster and a lot deeper than commentators give it credit for.  The unrest and tension are only signals of a shift we are going through. Turkey is undergoing a metamorphosis from a 19th century vision of politics and society, into the reality of the 21st century. The system and its executors are being confronted with the end of their wisdom and know-how. Turkish armed forces are no more able to manipulate society or politics as they used to. Turkish politicians are facing an increasingly questioning and demanding public. Turkish police are struggling to accept that they are not lawless sheriffs anymore, only civil servants.

Our society is showing signs of anomie and feels lost in the face of an extremely complicated global world. It is not narcissism or even ethno-centrism that causes Turkish nationalism. It is the fear that we will be swallowed by this new era that leads Turks to hold tightly to what they perceive to be under threat.

Postmodern Turks

In the middle of all of this, a new breed of Turkish citizens is emerging. They are at home in the West and in the East. They cherish difference. They are pragmatic and forward looking. They are void of old-school politics. They mistrust authorities and elites and blind allegiances. They are not afraid to criticize. They are not afraid to disobey. They are not afraid of taboos and forbidden conversations. They respect others’ religions but do not want a theocracy or singular-dominance. In other words, there are the post-modern Turks, those whom the Turkish generals have declared to be the next face of their internal imagined enemies. Strange, that what the angry generals see as their enemy, is actually the future of our country.

It is true, we are not there yet. But as I gaze out to sea from a hotel room, I cannot help but feel optimistic. All of this mess has the potential to give birth to an entire new Turkey. A cosmopolitan Turkey; a Turkey beyond futile polarizations and ideologies! A convivial Turkey; a Turkey that celebrates its ethnic multiplicity! A global Turkey that is proud of its own identity yet at the same time, warm and inclusive towards the world.

(Ziya Meral can be reached at ziya_meral@yahoo.com)

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