By Dogu Ergil
Once again a spurious agenda item occupied the public debate when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: ?For years those who had different ethnic identities have been expelled from our country. This was the result of a fascist policy. Even we have committed this mistake from time to time. When one thinks rationally one tends to admit we have really committed grave mistakes.?
This statement was made following the debate over the probable demining of a vast area of arable land lying along the Turkish-Syrian border by foreign firms who would receive the right of cultivating the land for more than 40 years in return for their services. The nationalist and xenophobic reflex surged again, becoming agitated by the putative sale of the motherland to ill-willed ?enemies? who would eventually snatch it away from us. The prime minister complained about this shortsightedness that has cost the country so much in the past. Needless to say, the opposition parties who think their role is to oppose anything and everything the ruling party and its leader does and says retorted by claiming that no minority has been expelled from Turkey.
The problem of our beloved nation is that it is subjected to the teaching of a fabricated history in which we Turks are always right and often the victim of foreign and domestic ?enemies.? The end result of this ideology-laden history teaching is ignorance of the historical facts and the truth about what we have done. That is why an average Turk believes that the 1915 deportation of over a million Armenians is only a just measure for punishing them for committing treason. The 1923 population exchange with Greece that forced two-and-a-half million people of Greek origin to migrate was a successful ethnic purification that was necessary to build a nation-state. The 1934 intimidation that forced the Jewish citizens out of Thrace (European Turkey) was a measure to secure the western lands from minorities in preparation for the world war that was approaching. In 1941 and 1942, non-Muslim males were drafted on short notice to work as laborers in what were called ?labor battalions.? They were also subjected to exorbitant taxes in order to force them to sell their property and abandon businesses. This was a measure to Turkify the entrepreneurial class, which was thought to be the right thing to do under the shadow of Fascism and Nazism, then the fashion of the day. The (officially organized and provoked) events of Sept. 6-7, 1955 saw the destruction and looting of non-Muslim businesses and shrines in İstanbul and İzmir with a number of casualties. This formidable threat drove the point home that they were not welcome in this country. Greek citizens mainly left for Greece and Jewish citizens, by and large, went to Israel. These things were all done against the principles of the constitutive Treaty of Lausanne (1923) that gave birth to the Turkish Republic.
Then came the forced evacuation of thousands of Kurdish villages in the '80s and '90s; a part of their population saw no future in the country and left for a better life elsewhere where they would not be oppressed and persecuted. Additionally, 15,000 leftists had either been expatriated or forced to leave during the military regime following the 1980 coup. In the last decade many young women wearing headscarves were deprived of the right to higher education and had to leave the country to receive professional education abroad. These are all minorities of some kind whose rights have been denied for the sake of ?state security.? One is tempted to ask ?What kind of security is this that works against the basic rights, freedom and welfare of its citizens?? We have not really produced a plausible answer to this fundamental question yet. Failure to do so has left our democracy immature and force of law has not been replaced by rule of law. Laws continue to protect the state rather than its citizens.
In short, the prime minister was telling the truth. However, telling the truth and being consistent with it indeed are two different things. In the formation of the new Cabinet Mr. Erdoğan has left in place the minister of defense, who is on record as declaring publicly how wonderful it has been to eliminate all the ethnic and religious minorities to create our nation-state. Obviously, the military establishment was not unhappy with this unfortunate public statement, either; otherwise, the minister would not have been reappointed. Additionally, all the institutions of the state have taken part in the discrimination against minorities, limiting their property rights through systematic confiscation to force a change of proprietorship. The judiciary (e.g., Council of State) deems non-Muslim minorities as ?domestic aliens? and treats their endowments as foreign institutions in order to limit their rights to property. Both the bureaucracy and the judiciary have been instrumental in implementing the two principles that have been in effect since the last decade of the Ottoman Empire: 1) to get rid of the minorities, and 2) to transfer their properties to Muslim citizens.
However, the usurpation of property has not made this nation any richer. Entrepreneurship is not the same as proprietorship, and ethnic or religious purity does not create problem-free and cohesive nations. These truths have been realized after so much human suffering and loss. What a pity.
Dogu Ergil's email: [email protected]
Source: “Today's Zaman”, 31 May 2009