BURAK BEKDİL > Why some “Turks” are less equal

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Back in 2009, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I quietly complained that “we are being crucified daily.” The government’s response was a quick, not-so-veiled threat, issuing a statement that said, “[We] hope that was a slip of the tongue.”

Never mind the threatening wording of the response. Luckily the patriarch has not been literally crucified since then. But it was most bizarre that the official reply to the remarks of a Turkish citizen had come from the foreign minister. Where was the foreign element in the words of a full Turkish citizen?

The bitter truth remains unchanged: Some Turks are “foreign.” Last week, press reports revealed that the prosecutor’s office in Istanbul that had tried the Israeli soldiers involved in the Mavi Marmara incident had asked the intelligence services for a listing of Turkish Jews who travelled to Israel two weeks before and after the incident. The suspects were allegedly put under surveillance and a list was sent to the court.

Once again, the Foreign Ministry replied to allegations of a Turkish Jewish witch-hunt. The ministry’s spokesman said “we strongly rebuff efforts to give the image as if there is any sentiment against our Jewish citizens.” Another little foot note of no importance had been engraved in Turkish history: The foreign – not the justice or interior – ministry officially commented on a prosecution against Turkish citizens.

But why do the Turkish diplomats see nothing weird about commenting on the domestic affairs of fully tax-paying Turkish citizens? And why do tens of millions of Turks just accept that as normal, as the norm, as if there is nothing bizarre about it? Can anyone with a little bit of sanity find it normal if the U.S. Secretary of State “denied efforts to give the image as if there is any negative sentiment against American Jews?”

Let’s call a cat a cat. In both cases, i.e., the patriarch and the Turkish-Jewish “traitors,” the foreign minister and his ministry showed the reflex of getting involved simply because they, like an overwhelming majority of the nation, see something “foreign” about the Turkish citizens in question. And that foreignness is about the fact that those Turkish citizens are not Muslim.

This thinking and behavior are a violation of the Constitution, but does no one seem to care? That’s why I have often argued that the Turks would always find de jure ways to breach even the best-written constitution and, hence, too much talk over a new constitution is just too much talk.

One of the most poignant moments in Jenny White’s new book “Out of the Chrysalis,” according to the Economist, is an exchange with Ishak Alaton, Turkey’s best-known Jewish entrepreneur and a frequent target of anti-Semitic rants in the Islamic media. “Jenny, you can write this in your book,” Alaton said, “that the man you interviewed today, who has reached his 82-years-old, has never been given the feeling by this nation that I am part of it.”

But there is an element of fairness here. The Turkish state and most Turks have always indiscriminately discriminated against the “other,” whether the other is “foreign” or not. Before the AKP supposedly rebuilt democratic culture, there was systematic discrimination against non-Muslim Turks, Muslim or non-Muslim Kurds, Muslim or non-Muslim Alevis, devout Muslims and communists. All of those Turkish citizens felt precisely like Alaton felt: they were not part of this nation.

And in the years of the AKP’s “advanced democracy,” there is systematic discrimination against non-Muslim Turks (foreigners, are they not?), Muslim or non-Muslim Kurds, Muslim or non-Muslim Alevis, communists, anarchists, atheists and secular Muslims.

The foreign ministry’s spokesman’s words that “the Jewish community are [made of] equal citizens and an integral part of our society” can be more creative than Hans Christian Andersen’s but are certainly much less amusing.


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Notice on comments

Sandra Jacoel

1/18/2013 11:47:02 PM

I think most commenters here have missed Burak bey's point. I believe he is not referring to foreigners as such but to Turkish nationals who are not Muslim, despite the fact that that modern Turkey was created as a wholly secular state where a persons religious entity bares no significance to that persons authenticity as a citizen. That is what Mr. Alaton refers to and I have lost count the amount of times I have heard people ask " is he/she Turkish?" To the reply "No, Jewish".

mara mcglothin

12/27/2012 5:00:05 PM

A;l enjoyment aside MR BEKDIL, great writing! As to the topic. We are all imperfect beings, whether we are Turks, Americans or any other nationality. WE always look for each others similarities to find common ground and that only highlights our differences. Turks are judgemental, and suspicious of everyone, including other Turks, and this is not different from any other nationality. Turks might be a bit better at it than some, since they spend much more time at it...only difference.

cloud chaser

12/27/2012 12:18:02 PM

Aydin, regarding your first comment - YES, it is strange. I have seen hundreds of interviews with politicians, in many countries, about various subjects. Not once had the interview with a foreign country's politician been with the foreign minister, if the subject wasn't related to the foreign ministry. Not ONCE. What has one thing to do with the other? The one who is responsible, is the one being interviewed. Always.

Anita Asar

12/27/2012 12:30:41 AM

I have always felt more accepted as a person and as an individual in Turkey than I ever did living in the UK where I was born!

Aydin Amsterdam

12/26/2012 8:39:25 PM

american, first i made a comment on mr bekdil's article. my 2nd comment was a response to others like johanna about the attitude of turks towards foreigners. my point is that in any country that kind of attitude towards foreigners exists. so if they think turkey is deluded, then all countries are. ofcourse there are religionist or xenophobic turks, but it's unfair to say they all are. so, stop generalizing turks as bad, xenophobic or whatever, its hdn unworthy!

Atilla Turk

12/26/2012 6:14:18 PM

Haters guna Hate, I am a Turkish American, born and raised in the USA, state champion wrestler and all state Football player. Its the same in every country, I live with racism everyday of my life. Your average American thinks that all Muslims are Arabs and that we are all radical's. Most people say and do things offensive to others without even knowing it. I would suspect that is how it is around the world.

Harry Foundalis

12/26/2012 6:06:38 PM

I second Mr. David Ellison, and I'll rephrase his comment here before it is buried in the second page: there can be no better confirmation of the truth of what Mr. Bekdil wrote than him writing about non-Muslim TURKS, and people like Dogan Kemal Ileri starting to talk about FOREIGNERS. The "subconscious tongue" speaks the truth, @dogan. ;-)

Pawel Bury

12/26/2012 6:06:23 PM

I also have to add that according to several studies, there are a lot of crypto-Christians in Turkey. I suppose everybody understands the reason why these people are hiding their true religion.

Ken Alden

12/26/2012 6:00:20 PM

The condition of "inequality exist in every society of every land and nationality and boils down to the simple fact that some membersof that grouping are less tolersnt of the less fortunate ones, than themselfs! Just look around your own circles of associates, frinds or relatives in your own Families!

Johanna Dew

12/26/2012 4:29:28 PM

No Aydin, most people in Amsterdam are foreigners, or related to, or do you live there in your Turkish world? Most Europeans were xenophile countries until the average people became so abused by the new system and the ever-growing demands of some groups that they became less enthusiastic but most still not xenophobic.. Wrong conclusion you made.
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