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Local, National and Beyond

Cuma Cicek*

“I warmly greet the friendly and brotherly capitals and peoples of Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Amman, Cairo, Tunis, Sarajevo, Skopje, Baku, Nicosia, and all other countries who have turned their eyes to Turkey and are eagerly following the news from Turkey. May the results of the June 12, 2011, elections be beneficial for our country, our nation, our entire geography, and the whole world. I hope these results will contribute to peace, justice, tranquility, and stability in our region and the world.”

The above words are from Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s balcony speech after the general elections of June 12, 2011. This speech, reminiscent of the hinterland of the Ottoman Empire, actually pointed to an expansionist policy. This policy, formulated in the early years of the AK Party as the “zero problems with neighbors” policy and expressing the aspirations to transform Turkey into a regional power both economically and politically, was widely debated around the concept of “neo-Ottomanism” at that time. Indeed, during the 2000s, the volume of trade with neighbors increased significantly under this policy; not just politics, but also Turkish capital, both large and small, benefited greatly from this.

The 2013-2015 Peace Process was actually a result of this policy. However, towards the end of the process, the AK Party, along with its partners, turned to a new policy: “native” and “national.” As Tanıl Bora emphasized in his Birikim article titled “Native and National,” these two concepts already had an important place in the rhetoric of both the MHP and the National Vision tradition. However, after July 15, we can say that this rhetoric gained a new content.

In my 2017 research for the Istanbul Policy Center of Sabancı University titled “The Kurdish Issue and Civil Society after July 15: Opportunities for Dialogue and Reconciliation,” one of the participants I interviewed mentioned that “nativeness” was controversial, but “localness” could play a key role in resolving the Kurdish issue. However, over time, these two concepts have become inseparable and have become the symbol of a new politics and regime that includes much of the opposition in Turkey.

With the collapse of the “Solution Process,” described as a “native,” “national,” and “authentic” process, this rhetoric gained new content after July 15 and transcended the Kurdish issue to become decisive in the re-establishment of the state and politics. It was not limited to domestic politics but also penetrated foreign policy. This new rhetoric, as defined by AK Party officials, moved Turkey from a “zero problems with neighbors” policy to a point of “precious loneliness” in foreign policy.

Group Boundaries?

After this dramatic/harsh change, it’s beneficial to ask: What is native? What is national? What is the relationship of the native and national to the global/universal/worldly? More importantly, can we talk about a fixed, unchanging, and singular nativeness, nationalism, or worldliness?

Group identities constructed over different social dynamics such as ethnicity/nation, religion/sect, and gender actually rely as much on interactions with external actors as they do on internal group dynamics. These interactions often establish certain power relations and resource distributions that produce inequalities. This setup strengthens some groups while weakening others through social inclusion and exclusion mechanisms.

At this point, we can underline two issues. First, the presumed distinction between the native and national and the worldly is actually non-existent. At a given time and place, every native and national actor imagines and positions themselves within a “selected world.” In other words, like nativeness and nationalism, worldliness does not indicate a single state. The issue is which world you belong to or connect with in a worldly state. The rising rhetoric of nativeness and nationalism in recent years, marked by increasing risks, fears, and insecurities, is not unique to Turkey. Rather, it points to a new state of worldliness focused on and confined to within-borders, connecting with other native and national actors sharing this state. After all, in today’s world where there are more SIM cards than people, there is neither absolute native and national isolation nor any group advocating for it.

Second, the distinction between localness, nativeness, and worldliness is based on an incorrect assumption. It presupposes the existence of an authenticity/localness/nativeness that excludes the universal/worldly, and vice versa. However, these three layers or states are actually intertwined and constitute each other. Moreover, we can say that the native and national can indicate more than one thing. For example, thinking of it just as a scale, localness can refer to the country level as well as to regions, provinces, districts, and even villages.

In summary, the boundaries of the native and national are established at a certain time, place, and with certain actors. There is no socialist experience that is not native and national, just as there is no Islamic experience. Similarly, there is no localness or nationalism without the imaginations of worldliness/universality, such as Islamism, socialism, liberalism, and nationalism. Contrary to popular belief, nationalism also imagines a kind of worldliness, in this sense, it is not just “native” and “national.”

Comparison and References

The dynamic and integral state between the native, national, original, and the global/universal can be understood through a key concept: “comparison.” We can argue that comparison is one of the fundamental references for understanding the world. Even the difference between the dozens, hundreds of shades of green, blue, and other colors in nature we live in alone is enough to show the importance of comparison, difference in comprehending the universe and constructing the social.

Regarding the boundaries and relationships of the local, national, and universal, how we understand difference and our reference/comparison point is important.

Three Different Ways of Looking/Seeing

As far as I can observe in Turkey, there are three different ways of looking and consequently seeing that dominate people across different political spectrums from right to left. These ways of looking/seeing differ according to their reference points. Of course, this distinction is not absolute; each encompasses the other two to some extent. However, in most people, one predominates and shapes the main way of looking/seeing.

The first is the “normative way of looking/seeing.” This way, based on certain values, ideals, norms, constitutes a small minority in society, looking and seeing on the right and left faces of the normal distribution (bell) curve outside of two standard deviations. Most of these groups can be said to look more at the world/universe they feel they belong to than at the native and national.

The second is “looking/seeing by comparing with the past.” The “past,” a social construction itself, determines the way of looking and seeing today. Actors with different perceptions of the past compare today with “their” past and perceive it through it. This view generally creates a conservatism that focuses more on the native and national than the universal/worldly.

For example, in Diyarbakır, the city I live in, those who like the city’s newer settlements, formed after the 2000s with relatively wider boulevards, open spaces, and green areas, generally compare it either with the old city or other cities in Turkey. This comparison creates a sense of progress/improvement, so the new construction styles are generally well-received.

Finally, we can talk about the way of “looking/seeing by comparing with the best of today or the field.” I think the concept that best describes this way of looking/seeing is benchmarking. I continue to use this term, which originated in the market and later permeated public administration, in this article because I could not find another term that better explains the situation.

If you look at the literal meaning of the term benchmarking, you encounter meanings like “comparison,” “comparative evaluation.” However, the concept essentially refers to a company examining its competitors in the field, most importantly the best in the field, to increase its competitive power and improve corporate performance, and renewing its corporate structure based on this. This transformation/renewal through comparison can vary and expand from purchasing to production, marketing to management, communication to salary policy.

Linking it back to our topic using the Diyarbakır example, this way of looking/seeing does not evaluate the city’s new construction by comparing it with old construction areas or other cities in Turkey. It evaluates the new city by looking at relatively affluent and free world cities with an average population of about a million. How are transportation systems set up in affluent and free cities? What kind of infrastructure do they have? How are the parks, gardens, green spaces of the cities? What are the cultural policies, social policies? To what extent is equality achieved in urban areas? It compares Diyarbakır with good cities through countless questions like these. It goes without saying that this perspective focuses more on the universal/worldly and considers the native and national through this lens.

From education to health, transportation to communication, energy use to access to clean water, access to food, housing rights, social rights to cultural rights, the extent to which we look at, see, and take as a reference the good knowledge and experiences built globally in the public/common area allows us to go beyond the distinction of native-national-universal and build a better life.

How we build our lives in a world where the security order, trade order, and most importantly, the digital order are rebuilt every day on a cross-border scale is determined by our reference points, our differences, and our ways of looking and seeing that build bridges between comparisons. Our way of looking and seeing, which carries a desire for change, forms a necessary starting point.”

This article was originally published in Birikim Magazine on December 17, 2023 and translated into English by Politurco.

Cuma Cicek is assistant professor in the Faculty of Economic and Administrative Sciences at Mardin Artuklu University, Turkey. He received his PhD from Sciences Po in Paris and has published several books in Turkish.

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