Talking Turkey

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Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk has a "Talk of the Town" comment in The New Yorker about his pending trial for daring to speak publicly about the Armenian genocide. Pamuk is puzzled by the "paradox" of a nation so committed to becoming European simultaneously gripped by the sort of "virulent and intolerant nationalism" that gave rise to his persecution—and Pamuk is, as he notes, scarcely alone among his countrymen on this score. He posits that elites who've experienced a "rapid rise in their fortunes by assuming the idiom and the attitudes of the West" adopt an ultra-nationalist pose to reaffirm their authenticity as Turks and defuse criticism from "the people."

Maybe that's right—Pamuk's obviously in a better position to judge than I. But I find myself thinking of Olivier Roy's analysis of the globalization/traditionalism dynamic from Globalized Islam, which rejects the popular model of salafist jihadis as reacting against globalization, revealing them instead as a product of the process. The analysis doesn't cross-apply perfectly—Islam presents itself as a borderless ideology binding a global Ummah in a way that Turkish nationalism doesn't, so the reactive model is an intutively better fit in the latter case. Still, I wonder how accurate is the portrait of a robustly "authentic" Turkish hoi polloi casting a suspicious eye at increasingly alien-seeming elites. Nationalist fervor hits its peak when shared identities are felt to be threatened—but the most profound threats are internal: The threat constituted by group members' own ambivalence about their identity. So is it elites defensive against more traditional, nationalist masses, or might it be that the masses themselves are demanding nationalist affirmation precisely because what it will mean to "be Turkish" in coming years is starting to seem more uncertain? Obviously, I have no idea—but I'd be interested in thoughts from anyone out there who knows Turkey well. Whichever it is, as more countries outside the traditional "West" become more fully integrated in a global culture and economy, we'll probably see a good deal of both dynamics playing out.

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  1. Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk has in The New Yorker about his pending trial for daring to speak publicly about the Armenian genocide.

    Oh, has he?

  2. In the first sentence of the second paragraph, the object of the sentence is “me,” not “I.”

    That is all.

  3. Talk about over-analyzing things.

    Like all good patriots, Turks assume that their own country can do no wrong.
    Plus, how could a civilized, european country ever participate in genocide?
    The fact that the percentages of “patriots” in Turkey, Greece, or the whole Balkans for that matter are higher, merely reflects the fact that these nationalisms are newer and hence more virile.
    (Note that I compare Turkey with the Balkan countries, as I think they have more in common with them rather than the Arab world).

  4. I don’t think there’s anything incompatible about being European and simultaneously being “gripped by virulent and intolerant nationalism”.

  5. Talk about over-analyzing things.

    Like all good patriots, Turks assume that their own country can do no wrong.
    Plus, how could a civilized, european country ever participate in genocide?
    The fact that the percentages of “patriots” in Turkey, Greece, or the whole Balkans for that matter are higher, merely reflects the fact that these nationalisms are newer and hence more virile.
    (Note that I compare Turkey with the Balkan countries, as I think they have more in common with them rather than the Arab world).

  6. I always assumed most folks realized that radical Islam is a product of the process of modernity. Hell, similar groups (with less technological capability obviously) were tossed up in its wake in Europe and North America in earlier periods, why its surprising to some see them in the Islamic world I can’t say.

  7. Pedant, are you sure? I believe there is an implied ‘am’ after the “I”. I think that ‘I’ is the subject of the implied ‘I [am in a position to judge]”

  8. See, pedant, ‘than’ is not used as a preposition. ‘I’ is correct usage. You could do either, though.

    http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Writing/t.html

    That is all. 😉

  9. It definitely should be ‘I’. If the author uses ‘me’, he is saying that Pamuk isn’t a good judge of the author.

    Pamuk’s obviously in a better position to judge the situation than I am.

    And as for that style link, wellfellow…

    The problem, though, is that in all but the most formal contexts, “than I” sounds stuffy, even unidiomatic.

    If the Kurgan can get away with it, I wouldn’t worry about its sounding stuffy.

  10. Well stated, wellfellow.

    pedant, go back to sixth grade English class.

  11. Back to the topic of the post…

    Being the son of a Turk, I think I can add some insight…

    The term Turk cannot be applied to any unique ethnic group. The original Turks conquered and assimilated tribes throughout Asia, so that by the 1500’s many unrelated ethnic groups were known as Turks. At this point what the original Turks were is pretty uncertain.

    When Mustafa Kemal Attaturk decided to create a Turkish nation out of the ashes of the Ottoman empire, he set upon the path of manufacturing a Turkish identity, and convincing a large population that had no particular ethnic identity to be loyal to it. The borders of the new nation were picked for their defensibility more than out of ethnic demographics.

    A significant portion of my curriculum in grade school was devoted to propaganda at building and reinforcing that identity.

    In order to combat the backwardness that had doomed the Ottoman Empire, he also tried to adopt western European republican institutions.

    Personally, I think Attaturk was quite mistaken in his desire to create a Turkish state. It was a step backward from the multi-ethnic character of the Ottomans.

    Since the 1980’s, the strategic situation of Turkey has improved; it is not as menaced by adversaries like Russia, Bulgaria, and Greece.

    With a reduction in the perceived threat will come a loosening of the ropes binding the people living there culturally.Like many injustices, the whitewash over the anti Armenian pogroms is driven by fear.

  12. tarran,

    Ever read A Peace To End All Peace?

  13. Turkey is a bitch country. I hope they get hit really really hard by bird flu and/or AIDS sometime in the next couple years. The fuckers deserve it.

  14. I’ve visited Turkey several times on business over the past 15 years – Ankara and Istanbul. It has definitely improved as far as infrastructure, business climate, and cleanliness. Turks will go out of their way to help you and are quite warm once you get to know them – although they can be cold initially. Turks don’t say hi to strangers on the street – even in small towns – like we do here. They are very paranoid however. I was in Istanbul during the annual Kurdish celebration in some southern section of Turkey. One celebrant burned a Turkish flag – the equivalent of anti-war protester burning a US flag in San Francisco. After that happened, many residents placed Turkey flags on their apartment balconies and windows – as if they had been attacked on a large scale by a foreign enemy. When I asked some Turks about that – I also commented it was excessive reaction by the Turks – they said, it was because of all the years the PKK committed terror acts against them and it was a reminder of that. Also, a lot of people in Turkey are reading a fiction book on a war between the US and Turkey in Turkey. I don’t remember the name, but it is a very popular book. Again, more paranoia, I think, on the part of Turks. Another thing about Turkey, despite all the positive changes, I’ve noticed more women wearing headscarfs on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara, especially among younger women. This seems like a step backwards to me and cause for concern.

  15. Julian’s question is best answered by looking at the dialectics of the situation. Turkish nationalism, hell, most nationalism in developed countries at this point, is both a reaction to globalization, and a product of the process. It’s all about Hegel, baby.

    Just as a small example, I fly a flag off the front of my house. There are a lot of reasons I do this – probably the most important is that I own the type of house that looks really good with a flag pole hanging off of it. I know, shallow mofo. But another reason I wanted to start doing this is because there are Puerto Rican, Laotion, and a hundred other types of flags and national symbols hanging off of car mirrors and in windows of houses all over my city. It’s not that I’m reacting in opposition to them, so much as I want to do it, too. Hence, the globalization of my city has caused me to react with an act of American patriotism, but not as an act of defiance towards that globalization.

    And “A Peace to End All Peace” was a really good book.

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