Turkish republic of shallowness

Turkish republic of shallowness

BELGİN AKALTAN - belgin.akaltan@hdn.com.tr
Turkish republic of shallowness

This photo shows olympic wrestler Rıza Kayaalp with his mother Sevgi Kayaalp.

Oh, how I wished, when I was 15, to be the flag-bearer for Turkey at an international sports event. Just like other Turkish teenagers who imagine themselves undertaking this honorable duty: Carrying the Turkish flag while walking in front of the Turkish team…

Well, not anymore… When I say “not anymore,” I mean this honorable deed has lost its meaning in my eyes and probably in the eyes of many others. What should otherwise be a glorious moment has fallen victim to shallowness; just like so many other things in today’s Turkey. We seem to be going through times of massive superficiality.

What actually happened? Olympic medal-winning wrestler Rıza Kayaalp posted racist tweets during the Gezi Park incidents, insulting Armenians. The International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) suspended him for six months, banning him from competing in international tournaments. The Turkish federation appealed the decision. The suspension has been suspended pending the appeal process.

Immediately after posting racist tweets, Kayaalp was picked to bear the Turkish flag during the opening ceremony of the Mediterranean Games in Mersin. It was as if he was being rewarded for his racist outbursts. Turkish sports officials all acted very protectively toward him.

The government, which is trying so hard to keep politics out of stadiums just before the football season begins, has, in a sharp contrast, politicized the sports arena to an irreversible extent. I think the next athlete to become the flag-bearer of Turkey will not be able to do it with peace of mind.

What could be the reasons for this scandal? First of all, we have fallen so behind international standards that the distance between us and the contemporary world is widening every second. We have also lost our ability to catch up because we have gone back a couple of centuries. Instead of adopting the newest and the best, we have developed an admiration for the past. This makes us unaware of what is going on in the world, around us. We are very much behind in gender equality, individual rights, minority rights, freedom of expression; we have not updated our thoughts on hate speech, discrimination, all kinds of violence, advanced democracy, women comfortably wearing shorts… We are obsessed with the female body, how to cover it, how to oppress it, how to restrict it… Medieval primitive chauvinism has conquered our administration, academia, media, small towns and certain neighborhoods of big cities. Those parts of Turkey are not aware that the year is actually 2013.

The second reason is the effort to raise monotype people. Because we Turks basically all have military minds, making soldiers out of every individual is the aim of our entire education system. We want to create a big, huge country with identical souls. It is as if accepting everybody is Muslim, everybody is Turkish. And indeed everybody is Sunni. We have destroyed our minorities. Even in Istanbul, the number of minorities is decreasing day by day. Instead of communicating to our people to love and embrace the person who may be different than us, we have been preached at, or rather told, to hate the different. We so resemble each other – there is no room left for the “different.”

Another factor is our official perception of Armenians. Because of our own dilemma about the tragic events of 1915, we keep avoiding confronting our past. We only hear about how the Armenians betrayed us, how they betrayed the Ottoman Empire, how they tried to stab us in the back, how they united with the enemy and tried to take our land, how they attacked Turkish villages and innocent Turkish women and children. And then tragic events happened. With the implication that Armenians are all bad people and that they deserved what they got.

So we have developed a natural hatred against Armenians. The word Armenian is used like an insult by certain segments, sometime by officials. And this vicious practice is not being prevented or discouraged. To call someone Armenian or of Armenian origin is used like a swear word. Instead of fighting back against this dangerous trend, nobody is doing anything about it. And a young athlete picks it up and uses it…

Now, in this superficial environment my interpretations appear to be not-so-deep either. What do you expect? I am also a product of this land.

To break this superficiality and add some sophistication, here is a paragraph from Mustafa Akyol’s column this week, titled, “Why Muslims have few Nobel Prizes”:

“Today’s common Muslim mind, including the intellectual Muslim mind, is quite insular, and is focused on protecting an “Islamic” (and quite closed) mental sphere from influences from the outside world. The result is a defensive culture that refuses to engage with the ideas of ‘the unbelievers,’ and therefore only repeats what it has learned from its own forebears. If we Muslims want more Nobel Prizes – and all the knowledge, sophistication and success that they imply – we must begin with challenging this closed-mindedness, and strive to have more open minds.”