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The following article appeared in Radikal on 13 June 2013. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton

One country - two communities, or even “nations”


For weeks, decisive steps have been taken in the direction of a split into the two communities in Turkey of which Şerif Mardin spoke twenty odd years ago, one Islamic and one Secular.

“Nobody may directly deny the possibility of two nations being born in Turkey, one secular and the other Islamic. Even if the likelihood of violent confrontation between these two now appears remote, this may come to pass in the future.”*

This article (“Culture and Religion: Towards the Year 2000”) published by Prof. Şerif Mardin Mardin in 1989 had a powerful effect on both me and my valued friend, Gökhan Çetinsaya, when we were postgraduate students in Britain.

Yes, I am speaking of Council of Higher Education President Prof. Dr. Gökhan Çetinsaya. Our acquaintance and admiration of Şerif Mardin Mardin goes back to the days when we were wet behind the ears assistants at Hacettepe. We first became aware of the article which I mentioned above when we were together in Britain. Gökhan went on to deliver a brilliant seminar at the University of London based, to a significant degree, on this article.

I sit with both texts before me. The reason that I fetched them from the archive and placed them in front of me is that Turkey is on the verge of moving into the position envisaged twenty odd years ago by the scholar Şerif! For days the talk has been of a split into “two communities”, conjuring up the scholar’s far more spine-chilling reference to two “nations”.

All because “economic stability” has been made to play second fiddle to “cultural despotism”.

All because the kids who poured into the streets in the form of an “outcry”, the shrieks of an old and young “mainstream” mass, became stifled among the rhetoric and activism of “marginal” groups.

All because the burning of a flag by an (isolated) idiot was highlighted, while the sea of moon and star flags in the background was ignored.

All because the very people who, in the face of damage done to “state property”, strove to prevent this, grabbed stones from other people’s hands and, most importantly, tried to silence those who would swear at the country’s prime minister have become marginalised.

All because, in a manner that is reminiscent of the rumours that “Alevis bombed the mosque” prior to the Maraş slaughter, resort has been made to claims that those taking refuge in the mosque entered with their shoes on; it was even alleged, in face of denial by the muezzin, that they took drink. It was not revealed that the protestors performed prayers and distributed cakes to mark the illumination festival and were joined by veiled women.

The result?! That mass with its outcry, i.e. “the secular segment of society”, finds itself branded enemy of the state, nation, flag and religion; subjected to wholesale abuse and categorised under “the family of looters”.

Gökhan Çetinsaya, in the text of the above-mentioned seminar, elaborating on scholar Şerif’s pronouncements, says that in his opinion the “secular” component of society comprises twenty to thirty percent of Turkey’s people (p. 16). This figure is a matter of debate; you may find it low and assert that it is higher. You may even stake your shirt on the claim that it is “fifty percent-fifty percent”!

Even so, I will take Gökhan’s figure as read! Twenty percent of society? That makes about 15 million people. Thirty percent? That is equivalent to 23 million.

Well, what does the future hold for so many people? Cultural policing? No getting under anybody’s feet, no hugging and kissing, no drinking unless you do it at home? Or even worse?

Talking of worse, unfortunately, this brings Sudan to mind. The Islamification of the country in the wake of Ahmad Al-Bashir’s coup lead to the splintering off of a “Christian/Animist community”. The balance sheet – 2 million dead and 4 million injured. The result – in 2011, the “Republic of South Sudan” was formed.

“Turkey is not Sudan, ” do I hear you say? Do I hear you speak of democracy? Do I hear you speak of pluralism? Do I hear you speak of the religious and secular, raki drinkers and buttermilk drinkers continuing to chat and engage with one another?!

Proof is needed! There is a need for more people like İhsan Dağı among you. I will leave him with the final word, from his column in Zaman:

“What enabled the AK party to ‘create coalitions’ across different social and political milieus and then brought it to power was its language of democracy, freedom and pluralism and its being a common denominator. With this having been abandoned in favour of an oppressive, statist, authoritarian language, there will be political consequences of this. There are no vacuums in politics and these demands are not ‘vacuous’. Experience bears this out.”

* TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: This is my back translation of the author’s translation into Turkish of this quote.

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton