Why the Turk is a wolf to the Turk
When I was a kid, Marxism was a big deal in Turkey. There were various communist groups, some of them violent, who were passionate about “the revolution” that would supposedly create a Turkish heaven on earth. However, they had a peculiar tendency that I had a hard time understanding: They hated not only “the fascists,” or the anti-communist right, but even those very fellow Marxists who deviated from their particular brand.
Hence came the bloody conflicts among various Marxist groups, which was a part of the systemic political violence of the late 1970s. The Leninist and Maoists hated each other so much that they both condemned the other camp as the greatest obstacle to “the revolution.” Newspapers would routinely report that some members of the People’s Liberation Army attacked the members of the People’s Liberation Something.
According to one of those communists of the 1970s, Halil Berktay, who is now a professor of history and a prominent liberal, the notorious “Bloody May Day” in Istanbul’s Taksim Square in 1977 was the product of this bitter fanaticism. Some 40 people died in that big Marxist rally, due to several gunshots and the subsequent panic. The culprit was soon declared as the Turkish “deep state” and “the CIA,” whose alleged snipers supposedly fired on the crowd. But according to Berktay, who was in the crowd that day on the Maoist side, there was no such conspiracy. There was only:
“An unimaginably bigoted and fanatic political rigidity, which saw every group that deviated from the narrow ideological line of its own group as the enemy which serves imperialism, bourgeoisie, CIA, etc.”
As an outsider, you would have a hard time understanding why all these different factions of Marxism, who should be comrades in arms, were so bitter toward each other. “Are you not all communists, man,” as I once asked in the 1990s to a veteran Maoist who still believed that the Leninists were in fact the biggest enemy of the “working class.” He had enough conspiracy theories to refute me.
Now fast-forward from the 1970s to today. The intra-communist battles are long forgotten now, but an intra-conservative battle is shaking the country. Two camps, which are actually very similar in their values, lifestyles and even political visions, are engaged in a bitter political fight. Accusations of “serving the imperialists, the CIA” are again flying in the air. And outsiders, again, are having a hard time understating what the big deal is.
The big deal, I think, is that we Turks cannot handle political disagreement well. Once a dispute emerges on an important issue, the two sides involved just cannot agree to disagree and move on. They rather quickly get angry and bitter. They want to impose their view on the other, whose resistance soon becomes the proof of its evil intentions.
For sure, the current political war includes many mind-boggling details, but at its core, I believe, lies this national deficiency in handling disagreement and sharing power instead of dominating it. Unless we honestly face this underlying political culture, if not social psychology, we will probably not have a chance to have some peace of mind. One war will end, another one will begin. And the Turk will keep on being a wolf to the Turk.