Turkish government is facing its recent history

Published 13.11.2014 02:15

Even the world's great nations, which preach democracy and human rights to the world, have skeletons in their closets they'd rather pretend weren't there. More than that, the atrocities committed by many modern powers happened within the last century, not in a distant medieval past. As recently as 60 years ago, people were systematically burned to ashes in Europe. The memories of the massacres perpetrated by the European empires in their colonies are still alive today. There has yet to be a book published that could adequately describe what the U.S. was doing in the Middle East, the Far East and Latin America, all while struggling with civil rights at home.

Turkey is no different. The nation wasn't without its black marks during the process of its transformation into a "modern republic" after the decline of the Ottoman Empire. In the formation phase of the nation state, Kurds, religious people, non-Muslims and Alevis were systematically marginalized by the regime. Those issues were a taboo in Turkey until recently. However, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which came to power 12 years ago, opened up these taboos and brought them into the national discussion step by step. It began returning fundamental rights to the Kurds, religious people and non-Muslims. Apologies were made for the fascistic practices used in the past that targeted those segments of society. Finally, the time to tackle the Alevi issue has come.

Alevi community's 'Stockholm Syndrome'

During the era of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, Alevis were dealt with cruelly, harshly and discriminately, being massacred or exiled. The Republican People's Party (CHP), the only party of that period that is still in Parliament, was the main perpetrator during this shameful period. In 1937 and 1938, thousands of Alevis were brutally killed and thousands of them were exiled in Dersim province, now Tunceli. The orphaned Alevi children were assimilated by being given up for adoption to Sunni-Turk families, while hundreds of Alevis that resisted this tyranny were executed.

In the following periods, Alevis were victimized and provoked. The Kemalist regime aimed to kill two birds with one stone, while implementing their systematic assimilation project. While it tried to pacify Alevis, it also put together a sinisterly masterful propaganda campaign that charged Sunni Muslims for the assaults. Thus, it legitimized the security policies of the military-dominated regime for years. Unfortunately, in that regard they had considerable success. Stuck between the state's "bronze hand" - the literal meaning of Tunceli in Turkish, the new name given to Dersim by the state - and radical Islamic paranoia, Alevis were influenced by this underhanded manipulation. They no longer criticized the CHP or its disastrous acts and official ideology; instead beginning to regard religious people as the threat, even though the religious community was as marginalized by the regime as the Alevis were. This contradictory case is commonly described as "the Stockholm syndrome of Alevis" among the Turkish public.

Prime minister began with an apology

The AK Party government's prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, officially apologized last week for the Dersim Massacre. For Turkey's official discourse, this expression was as crucial as German Chancellor Willy Brandt's apology by kneeling before a Jewish monument.

There is also a certain justice in the fact that it was the AK Party government that made the apology, with many of the grassroots of the party, chaired by Davutoğlu, consisting of religious people who were aggrieved by the regime in the past, just like the Alevis. Consequently, this gesture to all religious people, who have been characterized as evil figures by Alevis due to the Kemalist regime's manipulation, is critical in terms of providing social peace.

After the official apology, Davutoğlu initiated an "Alevi Workshop" to meet the fundamental demands and expectations of Alevis.

However, the approach of the opposition parties in Parliament to these steps, which have been the hot topic on the agenda this week, has been a total fiasco. The CHP, the successor of the only party primarily responsible for the Dersim Massacre, does not even acknowledge that such a massacre ever even happened. Although the parties involved were the state and its citizens, they define the incident as a "reciprocal conflict." Another member of the opposition, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), almost goes as far as to blame the Alevis for the slaughter.
If Davutoğlu can keep this great social collaboration in the official discourse and keep it centered on the unjust treatment the Alevis were subjected to, Turkey will be rid of a heavy burden.

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