It is hard to be a Turk

Spring has arrived again, bringing with it heavy insults and accusations against the Turkish nation once more. Parliaments are passing genocide bills one after another. First, let us make some observations.

The Ottoman mentality would find it hard and even impossible to understand or perceive the idea of destroying any nation of people created by God, though the Westerners do not want to accept it. Like the past of any nation, ours, too, is rife with wars, massacres and tragedies. But, we have never entertained such a Western vision as the destruction of a race. It is the Western civilization that has given birth to fascism and racism. They first imagined them in their minds before they put them into practice. Franco, Mussolini and Hitler could kill millions thanks to this vision. It is not in vain for famed Turkish novelist and scholar Kemal Tahir to describe Westerners as cannibals with neckties.

Ottoman Turks never nurtured such a vision. They never had the world of beliefs or the heritage of civilization suitable for this. The Ottoman state was a state whose hundreds of thousands of people, connected through bonds of kinship or religion, were banished from the Balkan territories where they had been living for centuries to İstanbul and Anatolia and whose state organs were left in tatters. Westerners who travel in time back to 1915 tend to see the sending into exile of Armenians and the massacres they were subjected to during this migration. But they ignore the Balkan exiles, Çanakkale and Sarıkamış. They do not want to understand that in that year, Turks, whose existence they intended to wipe out, engaged in a life-or-death struggle.

Those countries that sought to destroy Turks in the early 20th century are today passing bills that describe Turks as genocidal. Sorry, but we do not accept the accusation and say return to sender. Nowhere in the world is a child born with as heavy a burden of history as a Turkish child.

We, Turks, start the match with three goals already scored against us. Why? For three reasons. First, because we are Eastern, not Western. Every Easterner, be he Chinese, Indian, Arab or non-Arab, starts life already beaten or disadvantaged. The second reason why we are born into this world disadvantaged is that we are Muslims. Being Muslim is a source of pride for the overwhelming majority of Turks; they talk about being honored for being Muslim and they believe this deep down in their heart. That is it. Yet, for the last two centuries, to be Muslim is to feel the heavy burden of history. It means humiliation, oppression and disparagement. In the 19th century, this burden grew heavier, and in the 20th century we were crushed under it. We will see what will happen in the 21st century.

The third reason why we start already beaten in life is our being Turks in ethnic or cultural terms. In the eyes of Westerners, the Turks and the Ottomans are one and the same. Actually, this observation is not completely misguided. Coming from the depths of the East, from the steppes of Central Asia, Turks pushed the Christian states back to Vienna, to the depths of Europe. This happened through wars that lasted for centuries. But it did not happen all through wars or coercion, as the Western public believed. At that time, there were Christians who preferred the Turkish turban over the Latin miter. If the image of the terrible Turk was engraved in the minds of Westerners, it is not because it happened exactly like this in history, but because the winners wrote the history that way.

Coming back to our time, Turkish statesmen should not deceive themselves in vain. There is nothing they can gain by calling for history to be left to historians. They won't listen to you, and since they won the war, they want to write down the history as they like it. Of course, as is the case everywhere every time, history is written by politicians, not by historians.

So, what can be done? Won't this talk of genocide ever end? Of course, it will end if four conditions are put in place: a robust economy, a well-trained population, a well-established rule of law and democracy and a powerful army. What Turkish politicians should do is try to fulfill these conditions, not sit down and cry or make angry statements. In short, what will put an end to the genocide issue is not historians, but politicians who will create the above-mentioned Turkey. The rest is empty talk.

13 March 2010, Saturday
GÜRKAN ZENGİN