Why do Turks always fight each other?
I have spent some four decades in Turkey, as a Turk myself, and the most significant political reality I have seen has been a pretty constant one: Fighting. There has always been, in other words, some sort of confrontation between various political groups. For a long time, secularists and conservatives fought each other, for example. Nowadays, there is new battle within the conservatives. The war (literally) between Kurdish and Turkish nationalists is already huge, as the older one between “the right” and “the left.” The left, on the other hand, has always had its internal wars on who are the “real” communists, the Leninists or the Maoists.
The actors, the battle lines and the topics of all of these fights always change. But the game does not change, and we Turks keep spending our energy with endless struggles against each other.
But why? Many Turks would say “foreign powers” pit us against each other. I would say, however, this very common answer is a part of the problem, because it keeps us away from self-examination and self-criticism.
On the latter aspect, here is my two cents. First of all, I think one of our main problems is the monolithic vision of the nation. Almost all political camps, in other words, have an “ideal nation” in their minds, which naturally resembles who they are. Secularists want to see all women in the “modern” dress code they prefer. Conservatives want to raise a “moral youth” that stays away from alcohol or flirtation.
Such authoritarian efforts to impose an ideal on society breeds constant reaction and tension.
Secondly, we are quite paranoid. Conspiracy theories are the national way of interpreting the world. In this mindset, your political opponents are not just opponents, but the paws of a larger conspiracy cooked up by “foreign powers” – Europeans, Americans, “Zionists,” “capitalists,” “imperialists,” or even Arabs and Iranians. Thus, you can’t reason with these people; you just have to be “alert” about their evil tricks and give them no “concession.” (“Concession,” in the Turkish political language, is a very dirty word.)
The third trouble we have is that our state, the Almighty Turkish Republic, is such a huge, colossal, centralized, all-encompassing machine. Controlling the state, therefore, gives enormous privilege to those who are lucky enough to come to power. When the government changes, all the patronage it distributes in bureaucracy, business, universities, or the media also changes. That is why the power games in Ankara are very relevant and vital for everybody.
But can we solve all these problems and move on to become a more peaceful, harmonious, open society? Sure. We just need to become a more pluralist and less paranoid nation. And we need a more minimal and de-centralized state. Easy, right?
Since none of this is so easy, our political fights keep reoccurring at every stage, only with brief intervals of silence.
The better news is that, thank God, the fights I am talking about are generally non-violent. With the exception of the armed conflict between the state and the Kurdish separatists, we luckily don’t kill each other over political tensions. We rather irritate, humiliate or infuriate each other.
Personally speaking, I am not getting irritated by all these fights anymore: I just accept them as facts of life. But I am getting really, really, bored and tired.