Polarization’s tragicomic photo
An international symposium on Abdülhamid II had been held under the leadership of Turkish Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman at the Dolmabahçe Prime Ministry Office in Istanbul by the National Palaces Directorate. And this year, between Nov. 1 and 4, a symposium called “Sultan Reşad and His Reign” was held.
But the symposium received criticism from main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul lawmaker Barış Yarkadaş, who turned down an invitation to the symposium.
“Instead of being interested in the Oct. 29 Republic Day, the parliament speaker is making a program about Sultan Reşad in an attempt to erase the history of the republic,” Yarkadaş had said, accusing Kahraman of “following the footsteps of oppressive and repressive sultans.”
Kahraman’s lawyer filed a lawsuit against Yarkadaş on charges that he violated personal rights. They then filed a complaint with a prosecutor on accusations that Yarkadaş “insulted the Turkish nation, the government of the Turkish Republic and state institutions.”
This is polarization’s tragicomic photo.
I have previously criticized Kahraman’s romanticism of history in my columns. Conservatives like him even oppose to the idea of modernization of the Ottomans. They portray this as a betrayal in their speeches during election campaigns.
But on the other side of the coin, there is the hypocrisy of rejecting an invitation to the symposium on grounds related to “oppressive sultans.”
It would have been more justifiable had he looked at who the speakers of the symposium were and asked a historian what they thought about it.
I do not know each of the speakers, but, there were respected historians who look into history objectively. Unfortunately, it is very common among us to look at history emotionally, with stereotypes, prejudice and polarization.
I follow, respect and appreciate Yarkadaş’s works on law and freedom. But what he did here was wrong.
It is definitely wrong to polarize history, no matter who does it.
When one deploys such use of words like “oppressive sultan,” should we not remember the oppressive laws of the 1930s, the initial years of the Turkish Republic, when journalists and academics were fired?
Of course, you can justify them based on “the conditions of the time.”
But can the “conditions of the period” not be applied to the sultans then?
Throughout our history, during every period, the “authority” always had supreme influence, and social factors were weak against it.
In world history, the notions of democracy and freedom emerged in the modern era.
Starting from the beginning of the 1800’s, limiting the authority by law, separation of powers and finally the pursuit for freedom started to develop among us.
If modern education is considered to be the most important factor in the modernization of the Ottoman Empire, then we should name judicial modernization as another one.
In all main institutions of the republic, there are the remnants of the legacy of the Ottoman Empire.
If we look at history within a conservative or revolutionary framework, we cannot see this diversity and dynamics. History then will become a battlefield for us versus them schisms. Unfortunately, that is how it is happening today.
In my book “From Medina to Lausanne,” published in 1996, I had written: “History is a laboratory. When we look at history without bringing into it passion or hate and consider it purely as ‘history,’ we see how ideas, politics and institutions pass the test of life.”
To be able to see this, we must remove the ideology lenses.