Turkish Daily News, Turkey
Jan 3 2008

How I became a 'so-called' Turk?
Thursday, January 3, 2008


In his challenging book `Identity and Violence' Nobel laureate
Amartya Sen argues that our identities are constructed not only
through our own efforts but also by the enforcement of our setting.
For example, an Irish man may consider himself `white' and can have
strong feelings against people with darker skin colors. However, it
is only recently that the English have considered the Irish `white.'
The Irish have been seen in lesser terms than the `actual whites.'

The exclusion of the Irish from the noble `white' community
obviously has nothing to do with color, as one doesn't really get
whiter than an Irishman. Whiteness is a social construct and the
`real whites' are considered so because of their privileged place
within the community of `whites'.

Recently, I have learned the hard way that `Turkishness' too has
its own share of social enforcement and exclusion. I have always seen
myself as a Turk. Turkish is my mother tongue. I was born and have
spent most of my life in Turkey. I am a Turkish citizen. I genuinely
love my country and I am committed to its future. All the members of
my family are ethnic Turks, with the exception of one grandma who is
Kurdish and my great grandmother who was a Greek convert to Islam.
All these years I assumed that these were what made one `Turkish.'

Yet, my `Turkishness' has been challenged. This first happened when
I turned 18 and, out of my disillusionment with Islam, I decided to
follow the Christian faith. Though none of my family members are
devout Muslims, I spent the following 11 years trying to explain that
I love my country, do not work for the CIA and have no part in plans
to reinstate the Byzantine Empire. My apologetics have not been too
successful as since then I regularly hear the rhetorical question;
`What kind of a Turk are you?'

As my `Turkishness' began to be questioned by my community, I too
started losing my attachment to it. I studied in East Asia for three
years and then continued my studies in the UK for three more years.
Having studied five different languages (and messing them all up) and
traveled to more than 20 countries for research or school reasons, I
must admit that I love Japanese food and Shusaku Endo more than I
love lahmacun (Turkish pizza) and Murathan Mungan.

When fate and academic interest in collective memory, ethnic
conflict and transitional justice put me right in the middle of
Turkish-Armenian relations, my Turkishness entered a new stage.

A clumsy newspaper called Avrupa Gazetesi - Turkish but printed and
distributed in Europe - published a puzzling piece about a conference
in which Dr Fatma Gocek and yours truly were going to speak to lobby
for the Armenian cause. I only smiled, since I not only did not know
Dr Gocek, nor have ever been invited to such an event, I was not even
in the UK during that time.

The correction, which Avrupa Gazetesi published, was too late to
stop the ripples. Soon, a host of nationalistic websites and e-groups
elaborated further with titles such as `A new addition to the list of
Traitors' and I was declared to be a `missionary', `Armenian
lobbyist', but most significantly a `so-called Turk'. Thanks to these
nationalist groups, I learned that there are two kinds of Turks:
Turks-in-essence (özde Türkler) and so-called-Turks (sözde Türkler).

Some advice!

There is a moral to my identity career. First one is practical: if
you don't want to lose your `Turkishness' please don't follow my
footsteps, it would only lead you to anomie and significant loss of
social capital.

The second one is theoretical. It appears that `Turkishness' is
defined by religious affiliation plus historical and political
opinion. Though most of these nationalist groups will give wild
reactions when being a Turk is reduced to being a Muslim and Islam is
seen as what makes us Turks, nevertheless adherence to the official
and dominant views seem to be the criteria for judging to what degree
someone is a Turk.

Apparently, citizenship, place of birth, mother tongue and personal
feelings of the individual towards his or her country means nothing.
One's `Turkishness' is validated and enforced by a quasi-official
criterion and its willing executors, who have the market monopoly.

If this is so, then `Turkishness' is an ideology which one assumes
through alignment of personal opinion. As ideologies inescapably
shift and modify themselves, those who are privileged to be
Turks-in-essence have to continually keep up with subtle changes so
as not to be kicked off the list. Thus, it is quite tiring to remain
a Turk and to maintain the boundaries of `Turkishness'. You never
know when the next de-selection will be and who will be joined to the
ranks of the outcasts.

* Ziya Meral is a researcher on Middle East minorities and a
writer. He can be contacted at [email protected]

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress