Daily Sabah, Turkey
June 29 2014


Do?an E?kinat 30 June 2014, Monday

June 28, 2014 marked the 100-year anniversary of Archduke Franz
Ferdinand's assassination in Sarajevo. To commemorate the event, the
Washington Post put together a short list of things we inherited from
the World War I years: Daylight saving time, Meatless Monday, plastic
surgery and Iraq ` the country that emerged out of the time period
that marks the beginning of the 20th century. A look back to the years
from 1914 to 1918 would also reveal that most, if not all, pressing
issues in contemporary Turkey are related to the Great War. With the
marking of the first global war's centennial in Istanbul, the Ottoman
Empire's then-capital, one realizes that what the nation strives to
accomplish today is to close a century-long chapter of denial, forced
assimilation and inequality.

The Great War, which continued until November 1918, paved the way for
the downfall of the Ottoman dynasty along with several of its
contemporaries. As the empire slowly disintegrated, the authorities
adopted extraordinary measures to initiate a process of, to borrow
from Joseph Schumpeter, creative destruction to establish a new
nation. In 1915, the wartime government forcibly relocated hundreds of
thousands of Ottoman Armenians, once known as the loyal nation or
millet-i sadıka, to pave the way for a great tragedy. Although the
Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), which orchestrated one of the
most shameful acts in Turkish history, could not survive World War I,
the organization's legacy formed the ideological basis of the Turkish
nationalist movement that proceeded to establish the Republic of
Turkey in the early 1920s. The CUP's commitment to the principle of
centralized government, in particular, had an immense influence on the
new elites who, once in power, turned away from various ethnic groups
including the Kurds with whom they had previously joined forces to
oppose Western colonialism. They subsequently embarked on a violent
campaign to impose Turkish identity upon them. The indoctrination was
so effective that the question of whether or not the Kurds were a
genuine ethnic group or merely "mountain Turks" remained a
hotly-debated question up until the 2000s.

It was around the same time that Turkish society began to reflect on
the legacy of the Ottoman Empire's final decade and engage in an open
conversation about the grievances that building the modern Republic
required over the years. First and foremost, the dialogue on Turkey's
darkest taboos owed to the nation's ever-stronger interaction with the
outside world in the post-Cold War years. With trade liberalization
and comprehensive improvements in communication technologies, the
Turkish street became exposed to competing narratives about many
issues including that of the Ottoman Armenians, which radically
differed from the Republic's official history. From the late 1990s
onward, the rise of anti-establishment political parties with Islamist
or Kurdish nationalist agendas both reflected and bolstered the
ongoing conversation about the Republican legacy. Over the past
decade, the two movements have transformed mainstream politics to lead
the charge against the old ways from within the political system. The
Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government's attempts to
address the suffering of Ottoman Armenians as well as the Kurdish
population of Dersim, where Republicans killed thousands in order to
crack down on local rebels in 1937-1938, reflected this commitment.
Similarly, the authorities have implemented reforms to acknowledge the
long-denied cultural rights of millions of Kurds, among other groups,
to undermine the Turkish state's historical denial.

A century after Franz Ferdinand's death, Turkey seeks to come to terms
with a dark chapter of its modern history and negotiate a new set of
ground rules to facilitate and celebrate diversity. Meanwhile, the
efforts of anti-establishment parties to challenge the old ways
understandably triggers objections from social groups whose sense of
national identity heavily depends on the Republican ethos that all
citizens constitute a homogeneous whole. The already intense public
debate around the Republican legacy, to some extent, informs
discussions about the upcoming presidential election and will become
even more relevant next year with the Armenian diaspora organizing
year-round commemorative events to mark the centennial of "Red Sunday"
- April 24, 1915, when the Ottoman authorities arrested 250 Armenian
intellectuals and forced them to relocate.