Seeking the true face of Turkey

February 4, 2009

The following blog was contributed by Humeyra Pamuk:

haranguing Israel’s President over the Gaza offensive, supporters hurried to praise the Turkish Prime Minister’s pointed language (“I know very well how you …killed children on the beaches”). Turkey’s Western-oriented elite – the so-called White Turks – seemed to balk at the same direct and undiplomatic flourishes.
This cascade of emotion illuminated the unease White Turks may still feel about Erdogan, six years after his election. Many have suspended a suspicion that, for all his denials, as a child of political Islam what he seeks is a different, religious state, ‘another Turkey’. The clash with Shimon Peres, the direct language (even if the Israeli President had himself been emotional in lecturing Erdogan with wagging finger) and the scenes of jubilation when crowds welcomed him back at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport seem to have given some pause for thought.
Commentators less sympathetic to Erdogan examined the events in detail over the weekend.
Many rallied against what they have described as an insult to their prime minister, and thus to their national pride; but their disagreement over Erdogan’s “ways” highlighted the divisions within the society.
They pondered the anatomy of anger and the psychology behind the words of a man renowned for his distaste for being publicly criticised. They asked, and then answered, their own questions on why a prime minister – particularly one who has stepped up to the role of mediator in the Middle East at a very critical time – should storm out of an international panel discussion while thousands watched. His criticism of Israel may have been shared by many Turks but it was not so much what he said. It was how he said it.
They played down the enthusiasm of the crowd that welcomed him back from the World Economic Forum in Davos, waving Turkish and Palestinian flags, chanting, “Turkey is proud of you”.
Not that Erdogan’s actions found no resonance in the mainstream press.
“The prime minister was right”, ran the headline of veteran commentator Fikret Bila’s column in Milliyet. Bila argued the Israeli President’s manner was provocative and aggressive, repeatedly asking Erdogan how he would feel if rockets fell daily on Istanbul. If Erdogan had not reacted, then he would be open to criticism. “Israel can do whatever it wants, with the wind of the U.S. at its back. Noone reacts or can react, noone can touch Israel. Someone had to do it.”
Hurriyet columnist Oktay Eksi dismissed the admiration Erdogan enjoys on what he calls “The Street”, writing:
”They will applaud you today, because they act with “emotion” rather than reason. But for the very same reasons they could just dump you the next day.”
“We understand why no diplomats come out of Kasimpasa” was the headline over commentator Semih Idiz’s more gentle treatment in Milliyet daily. Kasimpasa is the neighbourhood where Erdogan grew up – a working class part of Istanbul known for a culture of bravado.
Erdogan made no apology for the ‘rough edges’ that many supporters see as refreshing directness.
“I don’t speak the language that some retired diplomats understand. I don’t come from a diplomatic background, I come from politics. I don’t know the ways, traditions of those diplomats, especially the ‘mon-chers’,” he said, slipping into a mocking Turkish- French that was taken amiss by some of Turkey’s older generation of diplomats.
“And I would not want to know.”
Erdogan, without diplomatic niceties, has pushed Turkey’s campaign for EU membership, although entry remains a distant prospect. He has won some respect among White Turks for economic progress. But the fear of the Other Turkey – a Turkey more conservative, with its roots in Anatolia rather than the boulevards of Istanbul — remains, embodied for some by the crowd at Ataturk Airport. The military, above all, see him as a possible danger to secular government and has tried to have his party banned for Islamist activity.
Millions will vote across Anatolia in municipal elections in March when the popularity of Erdogan, re-elected with a landslide in 2007, five years after he first came to power, will be put to the test.
A former Islamist espousing a European future for Turkey, Erdogan marks a break from the traditional secularist parties who had governed the country for decades and collapsed in 2002 polls as voters deserted them. Supporters saw him as straddling the social divides in Turkey. Many in the secularist middle classes, whatever their reservations, contributed their vote in confirming him in power with increased support in 2007.
Are they now taking fright over the man from Kasimpasa? Are the fault lines showing in the secular state created eight decades ago out of the theocratic Ottoman Empire? Or are the two Turkeys, the White and the long silent Brown Turks, simply learning to come to terms with each other?
Turks will be looking to the March elections for some clue.


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There used to be some people called Kurds. Extinct? Pot calling the kettle black, eh? Not to discount what he said, it is all very true, and the Israeli Holocaust survivors would have been the people feeling most for the people in the Gaza. After all, sorrow has no creed or race or nationality. A dead child is just a dead child.

When will people start pulling out and examining the skeletons in their own cupboards? A bit of introspection could save the world of a bit of sorrow and suffering. We have to share whatever world we have and the sooner we realize it the better. That goes for the hundreds of groups spreading suffering throughout the world. It simply doesn’t make sense.

Posted by Jayadevan | Report as abusive

Erdogan’s intolerate nature towards criticism has long been the main complaining point for White Turks. His latest display at Davos was hoped to be seen by the world as an example to the world what sort of attitude Turks have needed put up with over the last 8 years or so.

As much as his attitude is inappropriate, the foundations of his objections have solid ground. Most people are overlooking the obvious facts. Shimon Peres’ rhetorical question “What would you do if Istanbul was under rocket attacks?” is by no means an equivalent comparison as it is not Tel-Aviv (nor Jerusalem) that are taking hits from the attacks. No city is, since Hamas rocket actually do not have the range to hit any major city in Israel. Fruthermore, taking into account that no more than a handful of Israeli’s have lost their lives due to the “rocket attacks by Hamas” over the last 15 years, bombing a vibrant city and taking lives of over a 1,000 people can not be classified as self protection but at best only as a vendetta for losses from over a decade ago. The fact that Western countries, who so often meddle into affairs of third world countries can not act to prevent this act does not mean it is acceptable.

One commentator above declaring the Kurds “extinct” obviously doesn’t know what he is talking about as the population of Kurds living in Turkey has more than tripled over the last 30 years. The Israel-Palestinian conflict is very different than the Turkey-Kurdish conflict (I won’t go into a long debate but one hint: notice how I can not write down a country name for the Kurds)

Posted by Gunes Sel | Report as abusive

agreed, Turkey did invade iraq to push back kurdish rebels, sound familiar?

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

There are strong feeling about Gaza. Also, there some of us are trying to capitalize the situation. I would say, Turkey is a secular country it should remain as secular. Best of my knowledge, Israel is a untouchable caste. American is determine to cause a third world only for Israel. I say, let the Gaza find its own way to deal with the situation. So that we may avoid the third world war.

Posted by Shahin | Report as abusive

Thank you Mr Erdogan. Not only have you done a competent job of running and transforming a complex country like Turkey over the past 6 years but you have shown the world how to deal with the Israelis. Aferin Sayin Erdogan.

Posted by SAS | Report as abusive