[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News]
Well, of course, there is no literal “fascism award” in Turkey. But the one recently given to one of the country’s top judges well deserves to be described as such.
I am speaking about the “Mahmut Esat Bozkurt Award” that the Istanbul Bar Association gave last week to Kadri Özbek, the deputy chairman of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). Both the Bar Association and the HSYK are die-hard Kemalist institutions; therefore it was perfectly normal that one flattered the other. But the persona after which this award was named, Mahmut Esat Bozkurt, was a little odd.
Non-Turks as slaves
The late Mr. Bozkurt was the long-time justice minister of the early Turkish Republic. But he was also a leading ideologue of the Kemalist “single party regime.” Actually he coined the very term “Kemalism” in 1932, and articulated some of its core ideas. In one instance, in a public speech in 1930, he was particularly articulate:
“It is my firm opinion… that the lords of this country are the Turks. Those who are not real Turks have only one right in the Turkish fatherland, and that is the right to be servants and slaves.”
Ugh… Pretty heavy stuff, right?
But let’s not just judge the man with a single quote. This might perhaps be “out of context,” as the Istanbul Bar Association argued in the face of criticisms. So, let’s get a larger picture.
Hans-Lukas Kieser, a professor of history from the University of Zurich, presents one in an academic book about Turkish nationalism. In his chapter about Bozkurt, Kieser describes him as “an ethno-nationalist rightist revolutionary” who believed in “a nation defined ethnically, and in the necessity of using violence to achieve modernity.”
Bozkurt had theorized some of these views in his 1940 book titled “Atatürk İhtilali” (Atatürk Revolution). Kieser summarizes one of the book’s striking parts as follows:
“For Bozkurt, Atatürk completely personified the Turkish Revolution and the Turkish nation. Thus if Atatürk reigned, the nation reigned, that there was perfect ‘authoritarian democracy,’ the chief taking his authority from the nation/people. In his book, Bozkurt [also] asserts that German National Socialism and Italian Fascism are nothing other than versions of Atatürk’s regime. For Bozkurt, National Socialism was the German liberation movement, analogous to that of the Turks after the First World War … He proudly cited Hitler’s explicit affirmation of this position in a speech in the Reichstag.”
Bozkurt’s sympathies for Hitler was possibly supplemented with his take on the Jewish people. “For me, a Turk has more value than all the Jews of this world, not to say the whole world,” he once said.
With all such mind-boggling views, and his passionate devotion to “total Turkism,” Bozkurt was clearly a racist with fascist tendencies. And, as such, he represented the more radical wing within the Kemalist CHP, the Republican People’s Party. (Another like-minded party elite was Recep Peker, the secretary-general of the CHP, who visited Nazi Germany in 1935 and came back with full admiration and a plan to implement: the creation of a total party-state, which was realized in 1937.)
To be fair, there were also more moderate figures among the Kemalists, such as Celal Bayar, who favored liberalism, at least in the economy, and who preferred Great Britain to Nazi Germany. And Atatürk, to his credit, tilted toward this line in his later years.
But the fascist component within Kemalism was never really abandoned, let alone questioned. In fact, it has been quite definitive. After all, Recep Peker’s Six Arrows, which excludes both democracy and liberty, still dominates the CHP’s flag and the education system. And the official history is still based Bozkurt’s narrative, which Kieser defines as: “a cult of Turkishness… fused with the cult, equally quasi-religious, of the leader-savior Atatürk.”
This is the HSYK
Now, one can say that we should not be unfair to Bozkurt and his ilk, for theirs was the era of fascism, and they were simply influenced by the zeitgeist. And I would agree.
But I can’t agree with the contemporary Kemalists who still cling to these terrible ideas, and wish to impose them on the whole nation.
Actually, one would expect from them to be a little smarter. When they decide to give awards to their comrades, for example, they can name it after less controversial figures than Bozkurt, whose non-Turks-can-only-be-slaves statement is notoriously famous.
Well, it is their call. I just have a reminder: The Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), whose deputy chairman must be enjoying his Mahmut Esat Bozkurt Award these days, is currently at the heart of the constitutional reform package.
This is the very board, in other words, that many of my colleagues are telling you that should be left alone and preserved as it is. This is the way, they say, to preserve an “independent” judiciary.
I rather worry that it would only help preserving a fascist-minded one.