Erdoğan et al rediscover Turkish nationalism
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
An article by BURAK BEKDİL
Hurriyet Daily News
In the early years of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s governance, there were basically two schools of thought in Western capitals, including rival ones in Turkey’s vicinity, regarding the prime minister’s ideology on nationalism. One group, mentally aged between 12 and 16 and featuring an average IQ of below 40, argued that Mr. Erdoğan would finally ruin Turkey’s persistent and proud nationalism which had often caused headaches in foreign capitals. The other group maintained that Mr. Erdoğan’s ideology was no less nationalistic than the “deep state’s,” but was just not as equally visible. After several years, the “junior” group has admitted defeat.
I came to this European capital for plenty of good reasons, namely a mystical stop-over before another journey takes me to even more mystical cities by the ocean; loud baroque music at the bar Santo Spirito; a shot of Plomari at Ouzeri Ellas; skillfully ground coffee at Daniel Moser; the quiet streets which once witnessed underground Cold War activity; and… to act as a judge in the finale of a political bet between two old diplomat friends.
It was the infant days of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, “regime.” Most Western embassies were cabling reports telling their capitals that the AKP meant the demise of “dangerous Turkish nationalism.” G., a diplomat, cabled home the same since he firmly believed that (a) the AKP would fight the “deep state” which fed dangerous Turkish nationalism; (b) the AKP had an ideology that by nature went against nationalism (as it instead favored religious bonds over ethnic ones); (c) with the AKP in power, “dangerous Turkish nationalism” would be sterilized first before completely perishing; and (d) therefore, the AKP must be supported against the Turkish deep state by any country that feels threatened by the “dangerous Turkish nationalism.”
But the competing idea, as summarized by N., another diplomat, argued that (a) the AKP was no less “dangerously nationalistic” than the Turkish deep state but was successfully hiding its true colors; (b) the AKP would return to its blend of Islamist/Turkish nationalism at the earliest possibility once it no longer felt a need to hide it; and (c) the AKP’s fight against the “deep state” did not mean it was also fighting the “dangerous nationalism” boasted by the deep state.
During our “summit” for the finale and before I even attempted to act as the referee as agreed years earlier, G. admitted defeat but did not forget to use his compromise as a means to defy my age/IQ theory for his camp. “I would not have admitted I was wrong if I had been younger than 16 and had an IQ less than 40,” he reminded me as we raised our Prosecco glasses to the winner of the bet, N.
The AKP has never been at war with “dangerous Turkish nationalism.” It has been at war with the ultra-secularist establishment which often supported the “dangerous Turkish nationalism.” In rhetoric – but seldom in practice – the AKP stood up against the kind of nationalism the ultra-secularist establishment favored. But in fact it stood up against the establishment. That, understandably but wrongly, was perceived by some Westerners as the AKP’s fight against Turkish nationalism. No, it was the AKP’s fight against the secularist establishment.
With the war against the secularist establishment now over, the AKP has no reason to mask the nationalist ethos which its political genes harbored. Remember, Turkey’s president and prime minister come from an ideology which in the early 1970s organized demonstrations asking the government to ban rock music because “rock music would lead to the degeneration of the Turkish nation.” Lest they forget.
Mr. Erdoğan et al. smartly thought that they could fool the Westerners aged between 12 and 16 and with an average IQ less than 40 (sorry, G!) and win their support by presenting their fight against the secularists as a fight against the secularists’ nationalism. They did well. They privately told the generals to go ahead with whatever military plan around Turkey’s borders could have been perceived by the West as “yet another nationalistic action.” They privately told the Western capitals that it was the military acting on its own and that the poor government was helpless to stop these Kemalist/nationalist barbarians.
Overflights on the Aegean? Oh, it’s the generals! We tell them to stop but they never listen to us. An incursion into northern Iraq? Ah, how we wanted to stop the military but these generals won’t listen to us. Armaments? God, the generals want to buy all the weapons available on the world’s arms market. And we cannot stop them!
Of course, the truth is oceans away from that smart cheating. The truth is that the prime minister knows several months in advance what training flights the Turkish fighters will make over which Greek island and precisely at what time and which day. The truth is that the prime minister – and his ministers and some other important people – know in every detail which weapon systems are to be purchased. The truth is that the defense minister proudly announces plans for the design, development and manufacturing of Turkey’s first “national fighter jet” along with its first “national battle tank.”
This is precisely why this columnist wished the Armenian protocols good luck, but cautioned that they would fail; why this columnist supported the reunification of Cyprus but predicted that Mr. Erdoğan was a fake peacemaker. As he has consolidated power and felt confident that he won his war against the “establishment” he would rediscover his nationalist self. Which he did… Mr. Erdoğan had a problem with the establishment. He did not have a problem with the establishment’s nationalist ideology. The establishment has gone. The ideology remains under Mr. Erdoğan’s auspices.
Meanwhile, Mr. Erdoğan’s chief negotiator with the EU, State Minister Egemen Bağış, proposed a brilliant idea a few months ago for a solution to the Cyprus problem. According to Minister Bağış’s Sistine Chapel proposal inspired by the Vatican rules for electing the Pope, the Turkish, Greek, and Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders are to be shut down in a room to agree on a reunification plan for the divided island and won’t be let out until they do so.
I think this is the best idea Mr. Bağış has ever proposed. It really is a win-win idea! I agree, and hope that the Greeks, Turks and Turkish and Greek Cypriots should agree to it, too. It would be something to celebrate if the very important Turks, Greeks, and Turkish and Greek Cypriots agreed on a solution. It would be equally wonderful if they didn’t.