God forbid: What if it wasn’t a slip of the tongue?
ORAL ÇALIŞLARWhen the prime minister said “one religion,” I thought, “I hope that was a slip of the tongue.” The fact that a person who represents 50 percent of Turkish society, and a man who is expected to become president soon utters words that could be interpreted to mean, “From now on, you will all belong to identities that I have specified,” was a situation beyond the traditional monism that is incorporated into the heart of this land.
We’re only learning now, by exceeding the boundaries of the official history, what has happened in the past to those who did not identify themselves as Muslim and Sunni; in other words, those who did not belong to the most widespread identity in Turkish society.
We can remind ourselves of happened to the Armenian community in Malatya, who now number less than 20 people, when they wanted to repair their old cemetery and build a place for prayer there. Just a few months ago, teams from Malatya Municipality knocked down the properly designed building in the Armenian Cemetery overnight. In the same cemetery also lies Tilman Geske, a man of German origin whose throat was slit five years ago because he was a Christian.
Alevism is not treated any differently. Alevis from every walk of life have been stating, from the start of the Alevi initiative, that their cemevis (Alevi houses of worship) are places of worship just like mosques, and should be accepted as such. Despite many meetings and initiatives, the status of cemevis has not yet been clarified. We all know that both the coup supporters and the religious masses of this country love to detect dangerous “missionaries.” Christianity and Judaism are perceived as concepts upon which conspiracy theories can be built. There are even Alevi-themed conspiracy theories. Diverse identities are not valued as a source of richness, but are seen as a source of danger.
One-party dictatorship was also monist
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a politician who continues to criticize the authoritarian nature of the Republic, the one-party dictatorship. However, if viewed from a different angle, we see that he has not given up carrying on the “monist” discourse created by the Republic (which, however, never officially included “one religion” until today). What’s more, from time to time he adopts stances that emphasize this even more that the Kemalists did. The monism in Turkey is so deep-rooted, even those who set about aiming to criticize it, after a while, whether consciously or not, fall under its sphere of influence.
There was no official discourse of “one religion” in the Republic, but practices in several fields completely supported a single religion: The campaign to “nationalize the economy” that started in the 1920s was in a way an “Islamization of the economy,” because while the Christians and Jews who were influential economically were citizens of the Turkish Republic, and were even officially considered Turkish, they were not Muslims, and that was the real distinguishing feature.
While the economy was being “nationalized” under this program, paradoxically, pious Muslims were also excluded from the center. It is would be worthwhile to separately review the discontentment and pressure they feel. To what extent do this wide majority regard as genuine the constant highlighting of their identity by the system?
When we look at the bigger picture, it would only be verifying a fact to add “one religion” to the discourse of “one flag”, “one homeland” and “one nation.” The most clear example of this is that the Law of Foundations still continues to define the Christian and Jewish citizens of this country as “foreigners.”
For better or worse, it was good that the prime minister’s tongue slipped. Actually, we can even try to be a little bit optimistic: Maybe the bureaucrats and the administrators of this land, who have been trained under the “monist” educational system, will begin to doubt and think, “Has there been a change in the state’s monist philosophy?”
The minorities living in this country know that the dominant stance in this country, despite its secularism and orientation toward the West, is still shaped around “one religion” and “one sect.” The world also knows. We are only fooling ourselves. The issue drags on.
Oral Çalışlar is a columnist for daily Radikal, in which this piece was published on May 11. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.