INTERFACE OF CULTURAL
Quest for Cultural Identity in Turkey
National Unity of Historical Diversities and Continuities
Deep in sleep, I ask myself:
who am I tonight?
In which age, where?
My task is to give life to words
to spin the yarn of the mind
to weave the human spirit
in all its passions, yearnings, jealousies and loves
into this narrow yet boundless frame.
I, against my brother,
I and my brother against our cousin,
I, my brother and our cousins against the stranger.
In memoriam of
Mr Srinivas, who had
urged fellow anthropologists
to study their own societies.
(Myerhoff 1978: Foreword)
Questions of cultural identity in Turkish development is hereby presented, by introducing conceptual frame of human identities, reviewing historical antecedents of the case, touching upon premises and purposes of the Turkish (Kemalist) Revolution, reflecting identity problems presently encountered, and concluding with an overview of mediations and prospects.
Conceptual Frame: Identities and Identification Processes
Identity may nowadays be taken as answers to the specific question "Who are you?" ID or bank cards, driver’s licences and passports constitute one sub-type of individual identity. They certify, the names, birth place and date, a recent photo, an address of the individual, name or logo of the institution or authority issuing the document, the duration of validity, etc. Such a document or two of them is sufficient to identify or, at least, locate the person. ID cards, serving the purpose of distinguishing one person from others, may be classified and referred to as the individual identity.
Real persons would hardly consent or be satisfied, however, to identify their beings with their ID cards alone. One’s sense of own identity or perception of self-existence would, by and large, include complementary information found in one’s curriculum vitae, such as, sex, martial status, kinship, parenthood, schools attended, vocational, religious or political affiliations, hobbies, clubs, ranks or positions held in voluntary associations, beliefs, aspirations and the cosmologies, etc. Preferential or self-proclaimed identities as above may be called Personal Identities, in contra-distinction of individual ID’s given or taken away by public institutions. Personal identity is at once subjective and objective, individual and social. Unlike the individual identities, however, personal identities or identifications relate or tie the individuals to others and institutions, private or public. In its subjective sense, personal identity is a homeostatic feeling of sameness or oneness, a comfort giving continuity through the changing times and spaces, including circumstantial roles that one has to play throughout life. It is an internalized image of the I-ego, in a micro-cosmos. Identity in this sense implies a self similarity between the cognizant being and the goals, values and purposes that a person defends or pursues in life.
Social contexts, value symbols and institutions associated with social and/or cultural aspects of identity are bound to change, independent of the individual’s adherence to or identification with them. Hence identification with communities, societies and states constitutes a historical problem which requires readjustment, redefinition and even reconfirmation of perceived identities. For viability, modern societies and their states demand to have, at their disposal — if not command — , energies and loyalties of all their members that emerge from developmental growth. When new identities are confirmed, societal bonds are renewed and supposedly strengthened.
Towards the "fivefold consideration of the paradigm shift in development ideology" delineated by the organizer of the present seminar, I propose this last category as the national identity. When this type of identification fails, however, for many individuals and their societies, political crises and/or cultural crises may become inevitable. At this point, identity and ideology become complementary aspects of the relationship between the individual and the group. Ideological crises often search and strive for some higher forms or levels of historical, cultural or national synthesis. This leads to the painstaking, new phase in which old identities are joined, fused, renewed, and even transcended. (Erickson 1968: 64) Whether evolutionary or revolutionary, all kinds of social change due to techno-economic development induce some crisis of identity in functions and structures of society and man. There is no smooth or ideal way (Wilson 1945). A viable ideology by definition is a formal set of values, which guides and unifies individuals’ strivings towards a new identity in the next generation. In eliminating the generational gap, the ideology may become a popular way of life or turn into a militant (patrimonial) oppression or radical restoration — often both at the same time, one inducing the other (Lichtenstein 1963).
It is in this conceptual frame of the genesis of "national identity and identification" (Güvenç 1993) that the Turkish case is hereby reviewed.
Antecedents of the Turkish Scene
Who are the Turks? What is their historical allegiance and geographical orientation? Are they an East European or West Asiatic people? Asiatic or European? Is their’s a Muslim secular (laique) state? Are they natives of Asia Minor or ‘nomadic hordes’ from Turanian steppes of Asia? Are they despotic rulers or innocent bystanders despotically ruled? Are they descendents of ancient people from Hittites to Romans or the last surviving mercenaries of Genghis Khan, trying to conquer the world on a divine mission.
Are the Turks wandering orphans of the Ottoman Dynasty, defending the Muslim faith against the neo-Crusaders? Or else, as reflected, in the eyes of Western World, fearsome inmates of a prison — turned madhouse, as portrayed by the infamous movie film The Midnight Express (made in the late 1970s but being shown to this day, somewhere)? Or simply the trigger-happy invaders of peaceful islanders? Or still, slave-drivers of oppressed minorities, such as the Armenians and the Kurds? And so on.
Are they, in retrospect, conquerers or the conquered? Or both perhaps as in the saying, Victi victimus! What is the historical truth if there be such a thing as the historical truth? What are the historical (i.e., cultural) roots of such images and realities? Are the Turks themselves, solely responsible for the biased judgements or anti-Turkish feelings? (Jogschies 1987: 110)
Turks’ answers to some of these relevant questions may be found in Table 9.1. A cursory evaluation of the scenario presented in Table 1, would be that Turks are all that but, of course, a little more. If, for example, other groups of the society were polled, a more diversified pattern of responses would certainly emerge. Modal answers vary by regions (Eastern, Western, Black Sea, Southern etc.); by ethnicity and mother tongue (Abhazian, Albanian, Aegean, Arabic, Armenian, Azeri, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Circassian, Georgian, Greek, Kurdish, Laz, Persian); by religious denomination of Muslims (Sunnites, Shi’ites, Alawis, Bektashis, Mawlavis, Nakshibendis, Tahtajis, etc.) and by non-Muslims (Christians, Jews etc.). Such a complex mosaic of diverse identities that Turkish citizens do remember their being Turk at cross-national circumstances and international contests. Turks have an existential philosophy for distinguishing individuals from the society, rather than integrating them with unifying symbols beyond the home community. As observed by Gellner (1983: 13), "In a traditional milieu, an ideal of a single, overriding and cultural identity makes little sense."
Before the First World War, the agrarian Turkey had become a semi-colony of imperialism. (Novicev 1937) The ‘semi-colony’ diagnosis, which is generally verified by Turkish economists and scholars (Çavdar 1970) and was accepted by the leader Atatürk himself (Ökçün 1968).
Turks' Answers to the Question : 'Who are You?'
"We are villagers, living here peacefully at the centre of the world, ever since the creation !"
"Grace be to Allah, we are true Muslims, defending our faith against the infidels !"
"Hailing from Turanian Steppes, we are pioneers of a noble tradition. We are not going to settle down like peasants. We shall endure."
|Business Community||"We are kin cousins of the Western Civilization. We are the (Urbanites) first and genuine Westerners !"|
|Guardians of the State (Patrimonial Republicans)||"We are guardians of the Turkish Republic, entrusted to us by the late, great Atatürk.|
* Model answers of 'ideal types' as observed in the field [by Guvenc, 1993].
In the long-durée perspective of historical continuities (Paz 1985), the agrarians of Asia Minor have always sustained and survived the central powers succeeding one another: Say, from Hittites down to Ottomans, whether they were stable, indigenous states or transcient invaders like Darius, Alexander the Great, Crusaders, Timurlane or Mongols etc. (Muller 1958) Natives made history either by soldiering and feeding the armies of the ruling states or else, by resisting against them. Like traditional (oral) societies elsewhere, they did not write their own histories. Nor, official scribes hardly ever saw them as worthy of history. In the Cradle of Civilization and Loom of History ‘eternal peasants’ remained historiless. When they made history, however, the state often seemed in trouble (Inalcik 1973: 50-52). Agrarians had their time-tested cultures, in which "Mores made everything right" (Sumner 1960). There has always been a steady but one-way migration from the countryside to towns and cities (i.e., from rural to the urban). Those who went out hardly came back and the two worlds, making up the ‘great tradition’ (Wolf 1966), never closed the gulf yawning wide between them. By sheer irony of semantics, the most ambitious or comprehensive regional development project ever undertaken in Turkey is now known by the acronym GAP, standing for "South Anatolian Project". So observed Halman (1979: 579):
In Asia Minor, their distinct yet distant co-existence has continued through modern times. Until 1950, the rural/urban breakdown of the settlements remained nearly six to one (85% rural to 15% urban, taking all municipalities above 2000 as ‘urban’). This ratio was not much different from the Neolithic Era of Mesopotamia (Cole 1961). That is, peasants were living in their universal solitude (Cf Paz’s Mexico 1961; with Stirling’s Turkish Villages 1966). Historical continuity of peasant cultures is not readily affected by technological development or modernization projects drawn in far away capital cities. How could a modern nation be built out of these isolated and insulated villages based on self-subsistence? When, for example, Atatürk declared that "Peasant is our master", the age-old peasant wisely declined the honorific. He was much too sophisticated for sweet talks (see Cartoon 1). Revolutionary slogans of development did not bridge the gap.
In the 1930s Republican People’s Party founded for, and entrusted with, overseeing the welfare of Turkish Revolution, held that the country had been sufficiently developed. What remained to be done was the universal education of those ‘eternal peasants’ over there — somewhere. Hence the "Village Institute Movement" was conceived and engineered as an "Educational mobilization for social change" (Kirby 1962 and Kazamias 1966). The editor-in-chief of the semi-official daily Ulus (i.e., nation), was commissioned to prepare an ad hoc compilation (titled "Our Villages") to convince President Inönü, who wished to be better informed about villages before giving his consent. Thereby was started the Village Education Movement. For reasons of their own, majority of villagers never approved nor supported the idea, even less its implementation. In 1950, on the eve of the first democratic election ever held in Turkey, the whole Institute Movement fell down like a dream house built of playing cards. Democrats took over the government. Despite several military interventions since for causes of national unity (1960), peace and order (1971) and the ‘restoration’ of "Kemalist Reforms" (1980), democratic parties and their coalitions managed to remain in power. To better appreciate social dynamics of, and reaction to, the development and change, one has to turn to premises and purposes of the Turkish Revolution, generally referred to as ‘Kemalism’ after Mustafa KEMAL Atatürk founder and the first President of Turkish Republic (Turkish National Commission for UESCO 1960).
Premises and Purposes of the Turkish Revolution — Kemalism
Atatürk saw the problem of his nation simply as the "Creation of a new Turk". "The foundation of the Republic will be culture" he declared. Adding however, "Not the obsolete, anachronical and foreign cultures left over from/imposed by the imperial era, but a national culture suitable to our character and history, which will earn a rightful place for the secular Republic among the family of modern (i.e., developed) nations of the World."
That, Atatürk was after or up to a total culture change may be read in the following dictum:
According to Atatürk, the only way for having national independence and safeguarding "peace at home and abroad" is to follow the path of culture or civilization. He described his vista-vision in a Tylorian (1871) fashion:
This new concept of culture or civilization that was to create the new Turk and Turkey may perhaps be ascribed as
in humor veritas
A word or two may be in order about this program. Atatürk’s concept of world history is quite in line with the evolutionary thinking of the nineteenth-century Europeans. He saw civilization as the common pool of all mankind. The Ottomans have failed, mainly because they fell out of the mainstream of development. Since civilization was not under the monopoly of the Westerners Turks, like all other nations, could be a member, rather than victim of it. Towards this end he founded museums, historical research institutes, supported archaeological excavations and encouraged their publications through the History Foundation of Turkey. He boldly declared:
Science is the most reliable guide in life!
This positivistic epigraph, which has remained engraved on the main façade of Ankara University, was contrary to the popular belief that "Faith (in Islam) is the one and only guide in life." To counter-balance the Islamic predominance in public ethos, he spoke about the pre-Islamic existence, and speculated about bright (post-Islamic) future of the Turkish nation. Unlike the Turkish and Muslim scholars of his generation advocating in unison to adopt Western technology and preserve Eastern culture (i.e., Islam), he did not distinguish between culture and technology but saw the modern technology as an inseparable component of industrial culture. "In modernization, we shall catch with, and rise above the contemporary civilization", he willed. In this holistic attitude and radical program, he anticipated ‘technolithic’ taxonomy of cultures, later proposed by archaeologist Childe (1943 and 1951).
Atatürk was convinced that all "man-made institutions" of culture could be changed and developed by Man himself. He tried all he could and entrusted the remaining work to the future youth of the Nation. In changing the Quranic script, he was a unique revolutionary of his times. He believed that for progress change was necessary and inevitable — though admittedly all changes may not necessarily be progressive. In order to further accelerate the creation of the new man and society, informal re-education of the parents was to be realized in the Folk Houses and Chambers of culture innovated for this purpose (see Box).
To improve the yield of national education the Turkish language was "cleansed and purified" from loan-words (mostly Arabic and Persian) and expressions. It was this reform which tied culture, language and education together and enabled the Turks to think in their mother tongue. Kemalist Revolution was committed to building a contemporary society and modern nation along the Western lines. The emphasis, however, was on modernity and development, not imitation but creation. Western sources and resources were examined, adapted but not adopted. The motto was Turk, be proud, work hard and trust.
Another maxim of the time, "We resemble ourselves" implied that we Turks are and going to be Turks. The goal was not, Westernization but modernization, that is, development and progress in time-space.
Last but foremost, the Kemalist Revolution tried to build a laic nation out of parochial communities, over 90 per cent of which professed to adhere to Islam. Alawis were more liberal than the orthodox Sunnis, but Muslims nevertheless. This program, which seemed to be well trenched in urban centres, had no visible effects in "forty thousand" or so many villages and was hopelessly grounded in conservative or provincial townships.
Identity Problems Related to Development
Democrats, who replaced the Republican People’s Party in 1950, had clearly seen that the Kemalist Revolution had reached and taken over about one-third of the population. Two-thirds of the (rural) majority were either unaffected, undecided or non-committal. In the ‘democratic’ decade of 1950s, Governments followed a four-point development program: Road, Water, Land and Mosque, all for the village. In the 1960s schools and health centres were added; in the 70s energy and irrigation projects started, in the 80s telephone networks were nearly completed. Improvements in Public health (TB, malaria, pox etc.) and school services have rapidly reduced the infant and crude death rates and raised the national life expectancy from about 35 to about 65 years of age in less than two generations. This mild case of population explosion has so far been doubling the population in less than a generation. As a result of internal migration (attributed to rural push and urban pull), more than half of all Turkish citizens (including the unemployed) now make their living in urban centres. Moreover, nearly two-thirds of all urban dwellers are of rural (village) background. Squatter communities of the town are known as Gecekondu meaning ‘built overnight’. As the urban centres keep on growing at this rate, quality of municipal life steadily fall. No system of management could cope with the acceleration of growing demands. Estimated unemployment rates vary between 10 to 20 per cent of the active population. Annual inflation rates have stabilized at about 65 per cent. Social dynamics have taken over the five-year development plans, and yearly programs are no longer debated by the daily press; while draft projects for land, tax, education, health and income distribution reforms are endlessly processed in bureaucratic or parliamentary committees. According to official statistics, the economy is growing at the rate of 5 per cent and the population 2.5 per cent. Development processes have reached a homeostatic phase. Hey-days are over. Consolidation (i.e., overhaul) has become a magic word. State-planned transition to liberal capitalism is well underway, the economy is struggling to privatise her state enterprises. This is where the nation stands today. What else could be done shall remain a speculation. People are presumably better off than ever before as the average per capita income (expressed in US $) is said to be rising but the parity of Turkish Pound keeps falling, irrespective of the dollar. Entrepreneurs enjoy gains, underprivileged ones sustain losses, others in between try to keep their own. Turkish nation is probably coming of age in a hurry. In the rush of daily chores there is not much time for reflecting about identity.
While well educated, well-to-do citizens with status may lean towards Turkish national identity and see themselves as Turks, private citizens of various ethnic origins may prefer their Muslim heritage. This basic dichotomy brews two intermediary identities like Muslim Turks and Turkish Muslims. While most Turks are gracefully well disposed to all religious identities, radical and orthodox Muslims do not share or reciprocate this tolerance. Muslim ideology does not allow for, or legitimize, intermediary identities between Islam and Muslims. Since the 1970s and 80s, the "Club of (Muslim) Intellectuals" (Aydinlar Ocagi 1973) has been actively trying to reconcile this ideological polarity. Their formal proposal known as the "Turk-Islam Synthesis" was adopted by the Armed Forces in 1983 as the "National Culture Plan". Güvenç et al. (1991) showed that it was simply a deception. The essence of the master plan was ‘Islam’ disguised and presented as ‘National Culture’. After a decade of trial and many errors, the plan appears to be a wreck but not abandoned. Although the Muslim camp do refer to 98 per cent popular adherence, it is an assigned identity rather than volutional one. Political conflicts of interest amongst Muslim factions may be as fundamental as those between Muslims and non-Muslims. Islam is State politics par excellence. In Turkey, orthodox (Sunnite) and radical (Shi’ite) Muslim images are further handicapped by their rumoured affiliations with, and sources of, finance from followers of Sharia. Radical Muslims for their part openly claim that laics (i.e., Turkists) are heathen. Some political leaders try to mediate by announcing that laicité is not paganism, without clarifying, however, what it actually is. Head on conflict between laics and Muslims may thus be reduced to alternatives of culture or religion. If cultural identity may in fact be equated with language (as suggested by Braudel 1980) and if "Turk is he who speaks the Turkish Language" (as proposed by Roux 1979), then, the actual dichotomy is simply between language and religion (Geertz 1963). In a parallel vein, since Arabic is the language of Quran, the identity question lends itself to the dichotomy of Turkish vs Arabic ! Here, I believe, lies the essence of the problem. Turks find the integrity and the independence of their cultural being in Turkish language; radical Muslims violently oppose any resurrection or renaissance of the modern Turkish. Subconsciously, Turks internalize their mother tongue as a symbol of their cultural identity, against all likely intruders. (Fishman 1973: 79-80) [cf. the Arabic epigraph of this paper, quoted from Gellner]
Caught in this multi-faceted flux, where "everybody is against everybody else", is a distinctly Turkish phenomenon, which has come to be known as ‘Arabesque’. According to anthropologist Stokes (1979), the Arabesque (as observed in films and heard as distinct music), reflects the drama (alienation) of Turkish peasants who cannot adopt, or integrate with, the urban way of life. Scenarios and librettos are all in Turkish with Arabic decoration, dramatic stories sound Turkish but monophonic and monochromatic melodies favour Arabian flavours. It is, at best, a naive caricature of the Turkish-Arabic synthesis. Melodies and stories leave an Avare mu (melancholic, bitter) taste, similar to the famous film made in India by the same title, which was very popular in Turkey for many years. Arabesque heroes — not so much the heroines — seem to enjoy their depression, solitude and sufferings. They yearn, try their best but get nowhere and resolve, at the end, to accepting their fates. Japanese culture’s traditional mono no avare, too, interpreted by Tazawa (1973: 1), as the "saddening beauty of autumn", rather sounds like the Turkish Arabesque.
Both Western and Islam oriented Turks have displayed anti-Arabesque attitudes. Born in collective taxicabs, driven by migrant country boys, Arabesque had once grown into several hundred million dollar media industry and was doing until recently rather well in the R-TV networks. According to the video and audio sales and ticket-box returns of popular Arabesque stars, 20 to 25 per cent of the Turks appeared addicted to this melancholic mood. Today, however, with an unprecedented media explosion of private TV and Radio stations managed by urban youth, a healthful variety of aesthetic moods have dethroned the Arabesque. The episode seems practically over.
Overview of Mediations and Prospects
While revolutionary ideology had aimed to create a modern (laic) republic, the Democratic Movement collaborating with the die-hard Muslims has successfully staged an anti-laic restoration of the revolution (cf Cartoon 2). Laïcité equated with modernity (i.e., development and change) and Islam identified with sacred morality (conservatism and continuity) are opposing one another. The Muslim roots are certainly stronger than they appear. The Laic Front, however, is not as fragmented and disorganized as it once suspected. Mysterious killing of columnist Mumcu of the daily Cumhuriyet, the champion spokesman for the laic ideology of Kemalism, has brought unprecedented reactions from the left and right alike. Eventual victory is anybody’s guess. A reconciliation without a show-down or a civil war seems more likely. The final round will probably be decided upon by the sweeping, new aesthetic mood breathing and enjoying the freedom of expression. The outcome of liberal economic development will be another factor to contend with. People still have their trust in development and democracy. They prefer to believe that, in the long run — though "in the long run we will all be dead" according to Keynes — it will soon be possible to overcome structural handicaps and join the family of developed nations. If the liberal economic policies fail, however, radical Islamic and/or neo-corporatist praties may become strong alternatives for power. Since the revolutions must and do export their ideology, Turks already had a first hand chance to observe what they will be like. Unofficially there are nearly one million political refugees in the country. Though, the Radical Islam cannot certainly be ruled out; it seems possible but highly improbable. Historical conflict between Sunnites and Shi’ites is another obstacle. Turkish society, by and large, seems to have cut the theocratic Rubicon. Despite the propaganda that Islam is advancing for an eventual take-over, the national popularity of Radical Islam at the polls varies between 10 and 15 per cent. Hence, young Muslim ideologues seek and find conciliatory platforms. They even appear receptive to recent prepositions for re-interpreting Quran — in Turkish, of course — which may be the first revolution in the Orthodox Islam.
The question of identity vis-à-vis development or otherwise boils down to philosophical riddles like one or many, monism or pluralism, unity or diversity, solidarity or uniformity etc. Islam, founded on Oneness (One God, One Prophet, One State, One Belief, One People) has already diversified for survival. Western World, coming from polytheism, two prophets, several states, scores of churches and multiplicity of faiths try to be united. Blue prints of the New Architecture of Europe calls for several culture, many languages and a variety of religions. The motto: Unity is diversity/Diversity in unity, has been one of the guidelines of Western Democracies. It was a happy occasion to learn from the Preamble of Seminar invitation that unity-diversity paradigm is also one of the landmarks of Eastern Wisdom (Ex oriente lux !). Contrary to Kippling’s false prediction, twins meet as we do.
What are the prospects of Turkish society for seeing this light, reach her horizon? Though, as a student of Mankind, I am neither ready nor willing to make hasty projections of things to come I wish to conclude with two hopeful — if not wistful — afterthoughts:
Who are the Istanbulians?
|Others (than above)||+2|
Source: Konda 1993.
Notes : (1) More than two-thirds majority of the metropolitans identify I-self as "TURK".
(2) Nearly one-fifth feels "Muslim TURK" — not Turkish MUSLIM, however.
(3) Muslims and Kurds who overtly decline the TURKISH identity are less than 5%.
(4) Sample and methodology are not yet disclosed, hence they wait to be verified.
(5) Findings should be taken as tentative.
©1996 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi