Turkey: A State in Denial
by Uzay Bulut
As a nation and state, Turkey appears to be in denial about many historical and sociological realities of the land on which it was established — including about Greeks, Christians, Kurds and Alevis, in particular, and about the West in general.
Islamists in 2016: ‘No nation called Greeks’
Abdurrahman Dilipak, an Islamist columnist for the Turkish newspaper Yeni Akit, recently wrote, “There is no nation called the Greek nation and no civilization called the Greek civilization.”
He continued: “There are ‘Ionic’ peoples. The geography on which those peoples lived is called Ionia. And Ionia is where the islands of Crete and Peloponnese are located. Greeks are relatively dominant among the ‘peoples of Ionia.’ And what they call Greeks are sailors from Lycia. And what is called the Greek language is the version of Lycian spoken by the lower classes.”
Dilipak added that “the Greek civilization is a civilization of usurpation and plagiarism.”
These are not just the views of one Islamist writer in Turkey. Actually, in 1923, the Republic of Turkey was founded not only on the slaughters of Greeks and other Christians, but also on the denial of the Greek heritage in Anatolia.
Kemalists in 1920s and 1930s: ‘Greeks are Turks and Turks brought civilization to the entire world’
After the republic was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his followers (known as the Kemalists) the ideologues of Turkey wrote their own narrative of history, which included stories about Turkish nationalism, national days of Turkey, the Turkish independence war — or the Asia Minor Catastrophe — and “throwing the enemy forces (the Greeks) into the sea,” and so on. Even today, 90 years after these narratives were created, if you sanctify these narratives, you are considered a true citizen. If you do not, you will be labeled a traitor.
During the final years of the Ottoman Empire, the annihilation of Christian populations of Asia Minor brought the collapse of a magnificent civilization, especially in art, architecture and cultural life.
In the 1920s, the Turkish republic was established on Turkish ultra-nationalism. Its national history in history textbooks was mostly restricted to “the Turks and their enemies.”
The direction of ‘modern’ Turkey: Central Asia
After the reforms of the 1920s, under the title of “Westernization,” Turkey set its sights on a new target: Central Asia. This new narrative and direction mainly concerned Turkish language and history, and did not seek to Westernize the country. It aimed to reach the so-called pre-Islamic Turkish history. The official “Turkish theory of history,” for instance, claimed that the ancestors of Turks from Central Asia had dominated the whole world. This official theory, which the regime actively propagated, held that the cradle of civilization was Central Asia and that Turks were a superior race. According to this theory, Turks were also the first indigenous people of Anatolia, making them the first owners of the land, and the Greeks were actually of Turkic origin.
Apparently, the ideologues of the new republic — including “academics” and parliamentarians — had the most vivid imaginations ever.
‘The Turkish Theory of Language’
The Turkish theory of language — or the “Sun Language Theory” — claimed that the Turkish language was the language from which all civilized languages derived. According to this theory, all human languages could essentially be traced back to Turkic roots. Ataturk himself was a very important contributor to these theories, which were studied at Turkish schools and universities during his rule.
In the book, Civil Knowledge, which was mostly based on Ataturk’s writings, the premises of Turkish democracy were not referred to as the French Revolution or any other European development; the roots of Turkish democracy dated back to the “Hittite, Sumer and Akkadian Turks.” And the roots of Turkish civilization were represented as the “Alpine Turkish race,” which was said to have introduced civilization to the West. The book was first published in 1930, and was studied as a textbook at middle and high schools.
The West in the eyes of Turkey
This sense of racism seems to have prevented Turkey from trying to understand the democratic values of the West. As the masses were propagated with false myths of Turkish supremacism, embracing the rational and cultural ideals of the West must have become even more difficult. This intense chauvinism contradicted attempts on the part of the new regime’s westernization of Turkey. Such a powerful, ultra-nationalist, racist narrative, based on lies and propaganda, would never help a nation adopt the values of a power – the West – which they saw as “inferior” or as “the enemy.”
With this history of anti-West and supremacist propaganda, Turkey’s stance towards the West remains ambivalent. Turkish government authorities and many Turkish people see relations with the West as an “obligation,” because they think that they need the support of the West for their interests. At the same time, many Turks see the West as “corrupt” and “degenerate.” The West, many people in Turkey think, is a “kafir” (infidel), an “enemy” and an “imperialist power” busy plotting and scheming against Turkey to stop its advancement.
In 2014, the Pew Research Centre reported that 73 percent of the populace in Turkey had an unfavorable view of the United States. It stated, “Only 19% in Turkey like the U.S… But Turkish distaste for foreign powers does not begin and end with the US. On balance, around two-thirds or more Turks express unfavorable views of the European Union (66 %). The people of Turkey also hold negative views toward NATO specifically (70% dislike the organization).”
According to the same poll, Israel is the country most hated by Turkish citizens.
Even the national anthem of Turkey, which was officially adopted on March 12, 1921 by Turkey’s parliament, refers to the West as “that battered, single-fanged monster you call ‘civilization.’”
Before the 1915 Armenian genocide, nearly one third of the population of Anatolia was Christian. Today, almost everyone in Turkey is Muslim – or at least is registered as such.
According to the CIA World Fact Book, Muslims today comprise 99.8 % of the population in Turkey (mostly Sunni), and 0.2 % are other groups — mostly Christians and Jews.
This is the grim result of genocides, ethnic cleansings and pogroms that Christians and Jews in Turkey have been exposed to throughout the history of the Turkish Republic.
Nor is it only the Greek history of Anatolia that is denied by the Turkish regime. The Kurdish ethnic identity and language, as well as the Alevi faith, have not been officially recognized by the Turkish government either – even in 2016.
This must make Turkey one of the least secular or democratic regimes on earth.