- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 27, 2007

Hrant Dink, a beacon of conscience and liberty, was shot dead on Jan. 19. Since that black Friday, many Turks have shown the virtue to condemn this heinous murder and cry out for the memory of this noble man. Yet some of our “opinion leaders” have also invented concealed plots against “the Turkish nation” behind this public killing. This is, they rushed to conclude, a maneuver by “foreign powers” and their intelligence services directed at putting Turkey in a difficult situation in the international scene.

But lo and behold. The Turkish police caught the killer and he turned out to be no agent of the CIA. Nor of Mossad, MI6, Mukhabarat, or some People’s Army for the Liberation of the Turkish-Occupied Wherever. He is neither Armenian nor Kurdish. He is, as his family proudly noted, “of pure Turkish stock.” Moreover, as he himself proudly noted, he is a die-hard Turkish nationalist who killed Mr. Dink out of his zeal for the “Turkish blood.” It also turned out the 17-year-old apparatchik was directed by his elder “brothers” in Trabzon who have an ugly history of nationalist violence.

The city is the citadel of ultranationalism: The Rev. Andrea Santoro, a Catholic priest, was also shot there a year ago by a 16-year-old militant, who had a profile very similar to his comrade who killed Mr. Dink.

In the face of all that, it is simply tragic and repulsive to see some prominent figures in Turkey who insist on blaming imagined “external enemies.” Alas, enough is enough, and it is time be honest. We face an internal enemy, and it deserves to be called “Turkish fascism.”

The term does not imply an organic link between Turks and the fascist ideology. The latter is a modern disease that has influenced many nations throughout the 20th century. Germans and Italians are the two most obvious cases, of course, but there are countless others. Even the quintessentially liberal Anglo-Saxons had experience with the monster. (Remember the Ku Klux Klan and the British Union of Fascists.)

In Turkey, the story of fascism is most ironic, because although our contemporary fascists are fanatically anti-Western, the ideology is an import from the West into the traditionally multicultural lands of the great Ottoman Empire. It all began with the Social Darwinism that some Young Turk intellectuals, such as Yusuf Akcura, acquired in European capitals in the turn of the century. Their vision of a fully Turkified state came true in the 1920s, with the creation of the Turkish Republic.

Kemal Ataturk’s vision for this new state was not racist, he instead defined Turkishness in terms culture and citizenship, but things started to change in the ‘30s. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were admired by some of the Republican elite, such as Recep Peker, the long-time general secretary of the CHP (the party is now chaired by his intellectual descendant, Deniz Baykal.) The Turkey of the ‘30s also imitated corporatism, the economic model of Fascist Italy, and internalized Benito Mussolini’s motto, “Everything for the State; nothing outside the State; nothing against the State.”

In the same period, “Turkishness” also acquired an ethnic meaning. An officially sanctioned “scientific” congress was held in Ankara in 1932, in which the “advanced” features of the “Turkish skull” was praised and Turks were proudly declared to be “Aryans.” During the same period, public calls for applicants to government offices demanded them to be “of the Turkish stock.” Tevfik Rustu Aras, the foreign minister, affirmed, “Kurds will be beaten by Turks in the struggle for life.” And Mahmut Esat Bozkurt, the justice minister, notoriously announced, “In Turkey, non-Turks are the servants and slaves of Turks.”

During the war years, Turkey also initiated the infamous Wealth Tax, designed to confiscate the properties of its Christian and Jewish citizens. In 1942, the first and only Jewish labor camp was established in Askale, a district in Erzurum. Had the Third Reich won the war, Turkey apparently would not have had much trouble fitting into its “New Order.”

Of course, Turkey never became fully fascist, but there is plenty of evidence to argue it was deeply influenced by that monstrous ideology. But, alas, since Turkey never became fully fascist, it never had the chance to fully liberate itself from it. Postwar Germany, Italy and Japan started as tabula rasas, but Turkey had only a partial transition to democracy. In 1950, the Democrat Party (DP) came to power in the first free and fair elections since the beginning of the republic, with the motto, “Enough, the nation has the word.”

But with a military coup in 1960, the DP was crushed by despots in uniform, who did not hesitate to execute Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and two of his ministers after a show trial.

Since then, fascism, not as a system but a spirit, has survived in Turkey. The depiction of all other nations as “the enemies of Turks,” the cult of personality built around the country’s founder, and the deification of the state are all elements of that spirit. In recent years, as a reaction to the EU-inspired push for more democracy and freedom, the fascist rhetoric has ascended. Some media elements, along with some pundits, bureaucrats and politicians, systematically spread the fear that Turkey faces existential threats. Kurds, Armenians, Jews, Greeks, missionaries, non-nationalist Muslims anybody who falls outside the narrow definition of a “good Turk” are all seen as “internal enemies,” who are in bed with the external ones: the Europeans, the Americans, Iraqi Kurds, and, actually, the whole world.

The militant who killed Mr. Dink is the product of this popular hysteria. Unless we accept this bitter fact and start to think seriously about our internal fascism, it is quite likely Turkey will produce more of them. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, “Nationalism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” We should not tolerate becoming a nation of scoundrels.


A Turkish journalist and writer.

Originally published in The Turkish Daily News.

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