Learning to apologize
Once upon a time, when I was a small kid attending the English College, or the Maarif College, in the Turkish Cypriot quarter of Nicosia, there was a history teacher named Hasan Nevzat, may he rest in peace. Although he was one of the founders of the college (after Turkish Cypriot kids were no longer able to attend the English College in the Greek Cypriot quarter of the city), he was a very humble man.
“Kids, you may learn history, philosophy, chemistry, biology anywhere… School must educate you,” he said when we were having difficulty in what he was trying to teach us. He was so tolerant of what we did, including turning the back of his bald head into a target in the “greengage throwing contest.” Each time, of course, some of us found ourselves standing in front of the class for questioning. “Why do you behave like this, my boy?” We knew the miracle words: “Sorry, my teacher, I apologize for the inappropriate action!” His anger came to an abrupt end the moment we used a form of the word “apology.” He was dead serious in teaching us it was not at all difficult to apologize. “My boys, my girls: To be able to apologize is the first step in learning empathy. You apologize because you realize the damage or pain you caused on someone else or the loss you caused with your actions. The golden rule is apology must be sincere and should not be used as a shield to escape punishment.”
Initially, we were not sincere. We knew that greengages landing on his bald head were hurting him. We knew we would be pardoned if we expressed our regret. We were expressing our regret without really regretting what we did. However, time after time we started developing a sense of awareness of the results of our naughty attitudes.
Like a father, besides teaching us some about British history or “development of the concept of constitution,” he made us understand the importance of empathy, to understand and accept differences and abandon the “ifs” and “buts” we often use in search of some legitimate pretext for our naughty attitudes.
Like other peoples, we Turks do not like at all the idea that we might be wrong. It is easy to find some pretext to use to provide legitimacy to the awful actions we undertook. “They have stabbed us in the back” and “They fired first” and such are very common even in our “history books,” which, because of such oddities, unfortunately turned into storybooks.
Thus, irrespective of whether he was sincere or just opening a new front in his vendetta with Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan apologizing for the 1937 to 1939 massacres committed by the state in Dersim, or today’s Tunceli, was a landmark development. Even if he was insincere in apologizing today, the more he and other Turkish leaders repeat such “insincere apologies,” we will learn to sincerely apologize and elevate our society to a better level of civilization.
After more than 60 years, it should not be at all important what triggered the state action on Dersim or how right the state might be in undertaking such stringent actions. To heal a 60-year-old wound, the Turkish state ought to apologize and for a change thank Erdoğan for this courageous action. Yet, I do have difficulty in understanding why this courageous premier and his government are undertaking actions that Turkey most probably will be compelled to apologize for a while later.