Dr. Mehmet Efe Çaman, who has been teaching in the Political Science Department of Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) since 2015, was department head of the Political Science Department and Dean of the School of Economics and Administrative Sciences of the Turkish-German-University in Istanbul before immigrating to Canada.
Broadly interested in democratic decay, human rights issues in Turkey and the political justification mechanisms of authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes, Dr. Çaman also produced studies on Turkish foreign policy after the Cold War, Turkish foreign policy’s new orientation and Turkey’s regional policies.
Turkish Minute spoke with Dr. Çaman, who is the author of “Reis’in Rejimi: Erdoğan dönemi Türkiye’sinde demokrasi erozyonu, otoriterleşme ve hibrit politik sistem üzerine notlar” (Regime of the Reis: Democracy erosion, authoritarianization and hybrid political system in Erdoğan era Turkey) and “Derin Rejim: Erdoğan Türkiye’sinin inşasında muhalefet ve ötekiler” (Deep regime: opposition and others in constructing Erdoğan’s Turkey) and has been a frequent media contributor and op-ed writer about the marginalization of government opponents in Turkey and the old habits of the Turkish state.
For a long time, we have seen that the Turkish state views its own citizens as enemies and as threats to its existence and that it also punishes the “enemies” from time to time. What do we see if we compare past governments to the present AKP government? The state and the government can easily convince people that targeted groups – Kurds, Armenians, non-Muslims, Alevis and also pious Muslims — are “traitors.” What is this all about?
I see continuity, or in other words, a clear pattern. The concept of the state is a problematic one in Turkey. However, the Turkish state is not just an institution – it’s an eternal idol, a mythological holy entity, an instrument of discipline, a supernatural being according to the political culture in Turkey.
Whoever controls this state also absorbs its characteristics. This is almost unlimited power. Thus, it is not difficult for those who are in power and can control the state to declare some threats or potential threats as “traitors.”
On the other hand, denial — falsification of history, distortion of the historical record — is the most important component of long-standing state policies. Do you agree?
History has been used as a tool by the nationalist political elites, and their model has focused on nation-building for over a century, since the Union and Progress Party (Young Turks) in Turkey. The monotype, uniformitarian Turkish supremacist identity that refers to racial and ethnic origin and is built on this history thesis has been a cornerstone that was imposed on society from kindergarten to university throughout the entire education system without interruption and without undergoing a single change.
The school curricula, state radio and TRT television – long the only channel for many — played a crucial role towards identity formation by designating the socialization process. This history thesis was built on the ideology that Turks form the vast majority in Anatolia and that the minorities such as Kurds, Jews, Turkish Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians, Arabs, Bosnians, Circassians, Gypsies, Daghestanis, Chechens, Laz and Georgians, who are not ethnically Turkish, must be delighted for their Turkification.
The most significant and influential denial in Republican Turkey was the denial of what happened to the Armenians. The population of the Armenians in Anatolia before 1915 is estimated to have been between 2 and 2.5 million.
Today, it is estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 Armenians live in Turkey. Between 1 million and 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives in this genocide according to international sources. And the remaining ones took shelter in various countries through migration. A terrible kind of demographic engineering took place. Turkey and its people could start the spiritual purification they need more than ever by a thorough self-criticism and facing this terrible past.
What is the aim of this state-backed nationalism towards “others” in Turkey?
We see that the Turkish state always targeted groups that got out of the mainstream and questioned the paradigm given by the state. Accordingly, numerous ethnic communities such as Armenians, Greeks and other Christian minorities, Jews, Alevis and Kurds, and numerous ideological groups such as Communist and leftist movements, Islamists, Kurdish political movements, etc., were targeted and persecuted several times. This is a pattern – almost a main characteristic of the Turkish nation-state which is based on Turkish supremacy and ethnic-racial nationalism.
The “others” are clearly defined and systematically purged by the Turkish state. To be classified as “the other,” it is enough to question one of the fundamental discourses of the Turkish state, such as Turkish supremacy, ethnic-racial nationalism, the unitarian, centralist state model, Atatürk and the Kemalist ideology, the Turkish model of secularism (laiklik principle) or new discourses such as the narrative of July 15 [the July 15, 2016 coup attempt] or “FETÖ” [Fethullahist Terrorist Organization, a derogatory term coined by the AKP government and its supporters to refer to the faith-based Gülen movement as a terrorist organization].
What is the role of the “National Turkish History” in all these politics and political developments?
History, or the Turkish history thesis, is at the center of the Turkish state construct. It is the main source of the (fabricated) identity. The Turkish national education system is based on the Turkish history thesis, and history has been used as a tool by the nationalist political elites to serve their vision of a government model.
As I said before, the school curricula played a crucial role towards identity formation by designating the socialization process. The following presupposition is the touchstone of the Turkish history thesis: “Turks who moved into the Anatolian peninsula as a result of a great mass migration and settled in this underpopulated piece of land became the dominant ethnic group while politically controlling the region.”
In other words, the Turkish history thesis dictates that Turks aggregately migrated into Anatolia from Central Asia and therefore Anatolia was Turkified. Further to this touchstone, it states that the “proto-Turks” had migrated to Anatolia in the period well before the 11th century. Although it cannot provide any evidence, it argues that “Turks are Anatolian natives” and tries to dilute the opinion that Turks arrived in Anatolia at a later stage.
As a third stream, they are trying to “prove” that all nations are Turkish descendants with fabricated and frivolous arguments such as the “Sun Language Theory” that was put forward during the time of Atatürk. None of these three assertions coincides with the findings of historical, archeological, anthropological, folkloric or musicological disciplines. Furthermore, they are also challenged by the results of DNA research that provides very definitive results about the ethnic movement of migration today.
To be continued…