[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News]
Ahmet Davutoğlu, the former academic who has been mastering Turkish foreign policy since 2003, is a remarkable man. First as an adviser to the prime minister, and recently as foreign minister, he really transformed the way Ankara does business in the world. His strategies of “zero problems with neighbors,” “pro-active engagement,” or “multi-lateral foreign policy” made Turkey a much more influential actor in its region. You might like or dislike the results of this new paradigm, but it would be only fair to acknowledge the depth and creativity of its vision.
Yet some opposition figures in Turkey have a simpler way of explaining why Mr. Davutoğlu is such a revolutionary man. One of them is Ensar Öğüt, a member of Parliament. He is also a member of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, the bastion of “Kemalism,” the ideology that comes from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.
The trouble with impure blood
A few weeks ago, Mr. Öğüt gave a press conference, in which he angrily bashed Mr. Davutoğlu for not being nationalist enough. He first showed a map aired on an American TV program and which defined eastern Turkey as “Kurdistan.” Then he asked why in the world the foreign ministry doesn’t protest this heinous conspiracy against Turkey. He then personally called on Mr. Davutoğlu:
“What do you, man, as Turkey’s foreign minister? What do you really do? What is your surname, Davutoğlu or Davutyan? Are you really Turkish? Why then do you not protest?”
Now, for those who are not well-versed in the linguistic intricacies here, let me explain: The suffixes “oğlu” and “yan” both mean “the son of.” But the first one is in Turkish, while the latter is in Armenian. So, asking whether Davutoğlu is actually “Davutyan” implies that he is a crypto-Armenian. (And being an Armenian, apparently, is a very bad thing in the eyes of Mr. Öğüt.)
If he were the only Kemalist with this attitude, I wouldn’t worry that much. But, alas, the paranoia about Turks-who-are-not-real-Turks is a popular Kemalist theme. About a year ago, Canan Arıtman, another CHP deputy, had made headlines by claiming that President Abdullah Gül was a “secret Armenian.” Otherwise, she claimed, why would the president be so friendly to Armenia?
Armenians are not the only scapegoats, though. Two years ago, a die-hard Kemalist author, Ergun Poyraz, produced a series of “investigative” books claiming that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and other prominent names in the “Islamist” Justice and Development Party, or AKP, were actually crypto-Jews conspiring against Atatürk’s Republic hand in hand with the “elders of Zion.” The books remained bestsellers for months, giving us a clue about the popularity of insanity in this country.
Besides the AKP folks, many liberal intellectuals as well have been accused by the Kemalists of being “kanı bozuk,” which literally means, “whose blood is impure.” I see similar suspicions raised against myself, too, in some of the comments that come to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. A few commentators openly argued that I couldn’t be “a real Turk,” for that I fail to properly acknowledge the spotless wisdom of Atatürk, “the father of all Turks.”
But, alas, where does this obsession with ethnicity and “purity of blood” come from?
Well, one answer can be found in the teachings of none other than the father of all Turks. He has a famous “Address to the Youth,” which every school child in Turkey is made to not just memorize, but also internalize during the 11-year-long “national education.” In it, Atatürk warns his young followers against the “enemies within and without,” and orders them to fight relentlessly to save the Republic from these bad people. In the very final line, he proclaims this gem:
“The power you need exists in the noble blood in your veins!”
This implies two things:
1) The followers of Atatürk, the “Turkish Youth,” have a special bodily fluid (a “noble blood”) that gives them some special power.
2) The “enemies within” lack the same blood, and that is one reason why they “combine their personal interests with the political ambitions of the occupiers,” as the “Address to the Youth” also nicely explains.
Please don’t address the youth
Like every other Turkish child, I grew up by reading the “Address to the Youth” in every textbook, seeing it on every school wall, and reciting it out loud on every national day. I just had to grow up a little more to realize that all this brainwashing was a part of a totalitarian agenda to make every Turk a Kemalist. If you fail to be a Kemalist, the same discourse defines you as an “internal enemy” whose blood is not of the noble one that only Turks have. You must be Armenian, Jewish, Kurdish, Circassian, or something – but not a Turk.
This archaic ideology, this relic from the ’30s, can’t help modern Turkey, if it really wants to become a democratic country. Kemalism, of course, has the right to be an ideology among other ideologies, and compete with them within the rules of the democratic game. But it does not have the right to remain as the official doctrine and impose itself on every citizen.
One good step towards democratization would be to remove the “Address to the Youth” from textbooks and schools. The “Youth” have learnt more than enough about the “noble blood” in Turkish veins. What it really needs to learn is democratic values such as tolerance and respect to different thoughts, faiths and identities.