Turkey Needs A Literary Voice More Than Ever

Some time ago I submitted to your attention an article, written by Ayfer Tunç, expressing the need for Turkish literature to stand independent from any supposed Occident-Orient conflict. She argued that such a narrow literary outlook confined its voice to a set of Western expectations in which there was no space for nuance, overlooking poetic idiosyncrasy as some sort of curious cultural trivia.

Over the weekend, Reuters reported that Erdogan’s government has replaced a number of key military personnel following its leadership coup in 2011:

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who chaired the Supreme Military Council meeting, has eroded the army’s power since his Islamist-rooted AK Party first came to power in 2002. The secularist military staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and pushed the first Islamist-led government out of office in 1997.

The council decides on promotions and retirements of top officers every year at its three-day August meeting and had been expected to make major changes at this week’s gathering.

The forced retirement of paramilitary gendarmerie force commander General Bekir Kalyoncu, who had been the leading candidate to take over land forces, was the most unexpected of the Council’s decisions.

Media reports said Ankara was opposed to Kalyoncu leading the country’s land forces as he was regarded as a government critic and his name had cropped up in testimony in the trial of the alleged Ergenekon conspiracy against Erdogan’s government. A verdict on that trial is scheduled for Monday.

Instead, General Hulusi Akar was given the job and, according to custom, would be expected to replace General Necdet Ozel as overall armed forces head in 2015.

Meanwhile, General Ilker Basbug has been jailed for his role in the “Ergenekon” conspiracy – what would be appear to be the final gasp of the Kemalist secular military.

The removal of an unaccountable military has been essential since Turkey’s earliest bid to join the European Union in 1987; but the irony is that this is also precisely the methods deployed by authoritarian governments to consolidate their rule. They roll over the secular tradition under the pretense of civil rule – as we found ourselves arguing in remembering Morsi – only to restrict, simultaneously, the power of the voters who gave them the authority to do so. Democracy is meaningless without the constitutional commitment to human rights and political equality; but who now could protest if Erdogan were to lift the ban on religious parties?

Following the violent crackdown on the Gezi Park protests, Germany shut down negotiations on Turkey’s entry to the EU; in response, the Turkish EU minister has been quoted as saying “the EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU” and that “if we have to, we could tell them, ‘get lost'”. Where, then, does this leave the Cypriot occupation, poorly enacted women’s rights, the denial of the Armenian genocide, intellectual property law, the Kurds, abuses of the environment?

European, Western, secular, religious, conservative, nationalist? As Hitchens said in 2011:

The nascent Islamist populist movement—the Justice and Development Party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan—understood very well that, once in the European Union proper, Turkey would be prevented by EU law from submitting to another period of rule by men in uniform. We thus saw the intriguing spectacle of quite conservative and nationalist Turks (with a distinct tendency to chauvinism in Erdogan’s case) making common cause with liberal international institutions against the very Turkish institution, the army, that above all symbolized Turkish national pride and prestige. This cooperation between ostensibly secular and newly pious may have had something to do with a growing sense of shame among the educated secular citizenry of big cities like Istanbul, who always knew they could count on the army to uphold their rights but who didn’t enjoy exerting the privilege. The fiction of Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s complex Nobelist and generally liberal author, has explored this paradox very well. His novel Snow is perhaps the best dress rehearsal for the argument.

We could really do with some more Orhan Pamuks to inform us about which direction Turkey is heading. Preferably beforehand…

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2 Comments on “Turkey Needs A Literary Voice More Than Ever”

  1. Great post. The divisive parallel with Egypt stands out – an activist Islamist government running headlong into a secular establishment supported by the military. Sectarianism, even when empowered through democracy, is a very dangerous thing.

    • Thanks! I certainly agree with you there. I’m tempted to think that how Turkey should develop hereon could turn out to be a more moderate image of how Egypt could have panned out had Morsi not been removed. Or perhaps that would be much too reductionist. Either way, ideologies have their parallels…


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