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Enemy Brothers

Murat Belge*

I am increasingly concerned about the pervasive spirit of “hostility” that is engulfing our society. In my article for T24 this week, I focused on this very issue. And it seems we will continue to discuss it, as long as time permits.

Indeed, “modern” Turkey was built on a foundation of contrast: it was established not by eliminating this contrast, but rather on top of it. This can be seen as a sum of various complications expected from the transition from an empire to a republic; it could also be termed as the inevitable cultural shock of a state policy towards Westernization and modernization. We might find other names for it. In any case, the uneasy existence of a “duality” is evident. I have written many times about living in a society where even the numbering system has both a traditional and a Westernized form, and the relationship between these two forms continues in a rather strained manner. Moreover, the term “yüznumara” itself (a mix-up of the French “sans” and “cent”) speaks volumes about the absurd nature of this process.

The dual structure of Turkey has persisted throughout this “century-old republic,” but almost entirely under the dominance of forces leaning towards the “West” — until the rise of the AKP. When this happened, the “Westernized” segment (despite incidents like the September 12 regime, the February “postmodern” coup) was shocked. Within this segment, a narrative began to take root: “If these guys come to power, I’m with Kenan Evren.” It was at this stage that they initiated a policy of hostility; the army was called to duty. There was a presidential crisis, attempts to shut down the party, etc. However, it seems that the political forces backing this segment lost their energy after these events. Abdullah Gül became President, the party was not shut down, and the AKP, managing to stay in power, began taking steps to solidify its position. This path led to their gains being tested in the July incident, the coup attempt, which they survived.

During this process, starting with the Gezi resistance, Tayyip Erdoğan also began to unleash the hostility his faction harbored towards the Westernized segment. He continues to amplify this hostility. It seems he is determined to continue. For some time now, the means of making noise in society have been in his hands.

In such polarizations, if one side is subjugated (especially if it’s a group like the “Islamic segment” that has been subjugated for a long time), it is understandable for this “victim” group to accumulate hostility. In this case, it is also expected that the group would concoct quite surreal anecdotes.

In a multi-party parliamentary political system, it is a given that rival parties come and go from power almost in rotation. These comings and goings are rivals, and their relationship being more or less strained depending on the circumstances is normal. Not so in Turkey. Here, the opposition reaches a level where it cannot tolerate the existence of the other. Tayyip Erdoğan’s style of “coming to power” involves keeping this tension at this level, not relaxing it.

Consider the issue of opposition-run municipalities. Istanbul was lost, and Tayyip Erdoğan started the “lame duck” policy. Those who voted for İmamoğlu are not just people who “didn’t vote for us,” but crowds that need to be punished, not deserving the “native and national” label. Depriving them of various things to win the next election has become party policy.

“There’s a sentence, ‘rejected by the votes of AKP and MHP deputies,’ right? We hear it often. This sentence is uttered whenever a proposal from the opposition comes up, and then it’s over. Is the opposition saying stupid or wrong things? No, or rather, what is said doesn’t really matter. What matters is who is saying it. If it’s the opposition, the answer must be ‘no.’ You have to ignore them; the goal is to train society to learn and accept a Turkey without them. And the partisanship is unbelievable! It’s most evident in the field of law. Did someone ‘of ours’ commit a crime? They must be helped in every way. Did someone from the opposition, let’s say, make a statement about something? It’s necessary to create an uproar about their having committed a crime and to harass them with ridiculous lawsuits.

We know this because we see countless examples every day. These examples are multiplying, accumulating. What will happen? What will we do? It’s not easy for powers of equal strength to coexist in such tension — nor is it healthy. The solution (if there is to be a “solution”) won’t come from one of these forces annihilating the other, but where and how can reconciliation occur?

Erdoğan’s policy of maintaining tension does not lead to a similar attitude in the opposition; at least their “language” involves thoughts of inclusion, not exclusion. I hope this continues and becomes influential in society. The behavior of society does not seem to claim that this is impossible. I don’t think society is in favor of maintaining this tension. There are certainly those who are; if we say that most of them are militants to a considerable degree, I don’t think we would be saying something very wrong. But I don’t think they constitute the majority.

I think, I don’t think… It’s a complex situation, and the possibilities it presents are varied. But those who act to maintain this tension are playing with fire. Because in this unstable situation, proponents of conflict might succeed, and we might find ourselves in chaos that will last far beyond the lifetimes of our current political actors.

*Murat Belge (born 16 March 1943) is a Turkish academic, translator, literary critic, columnist, civil rights activist, and occasional tour guide.

This article was first published in Birikim Magazine and translated into English by Politurco.

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