A useful analysis with regard to the function of nationalism in contemporary Turkey might be conducted through a theoretical vision which defines the notion of nationalism as a mobile and a differentiating phenomenon, instead of taking it simply as a fixed referent which signifies a particular sign at all times. This type of an approach is visible in Katherine Verdery’s article, “Whither ‘Nation’ and ‘Nationalism’?” in which the author indicates the two senses with which one should treat nationalism. First, our scholarly enquiries “should explore which sense of nation is apt to the context in question” and second, “it should treat nation as a symbol and any given nationalism as having multiple meanings, offered as alternatives and competed over by different groups maneuvering to capture the symbol’s definition and its legitimizing effects.” In this regard, Meltem Ahıska in her commentary on Hrant Dink’s assassination, points out a “fissure” which exposes the transforming boundaries of social groups who promote nationalism in Turkey.
In what ways is the concept of nationalism a non-fixed signifier? Ahıska points at the importance of social class while discussing this fissure that is revealed. In Turkey until recently, while racism was “marginalized as the business of a group of young activists”, Ahıska underlines that “the upper classes, due to their strong desire for power, have turned their eyes away from racist violence which is often enlisted to remove obstacles, so that the empty gesture of nationalism can survive.” However, the newly emerging “White Turks” have replaced the Kemalist elite in course of promoting nationalism in accordance with “their new consumption/identity patterns in the age of globalization.” Consequently Ahıska argues that “for some years now, the upper classes have tried to build their lifestyles based on racism as much as on exclusive brand names.” Beside the fact that the “fissure” reveals the togetherness of social class and national belonging among forerunners of nationalism, it underscores the ways in which the very “symbol” of nationalism shifts its meaning.
Once can illustrate the hypothesis that regards nationalism as an unstable signifier by referring to Jale Parla’s analysis of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar. Parla tells that the Kemalist elite ignored Tanpınar who refused to adapt the new Turkish language which Kemalist regime purified and impoverished, since they considered him “a bizarre, nostalgic, Ottomanist living in the ashes of a lost era.” Subsequently, Tanpınar began to gain popularity among traditional Islamists who positioned themselves in opposition to Kemalists. However, Parla states that with 1980’s, “Islamist traditional as well as Kemalist modernist, claimed Tanpınar on their own.”
Although Parla doesn’t elaborate on the reasons of post-80 interest of Kemalists for Tanpınar, one can suggest that this transformation is due to the changing nature of the “nationalist signifier” as mentioned before. Additionally, this transformation among the Kemalist cultural and linguistic vision is related to the “impotence” of the state on sustaining its order, as Ahıska speculates: “… one can argue that the state, with its legal and institutional frame, couldn’t sustain the hegemonic and inclusive principle of nationalism once associated with modernity.” One can notice the effect of the “institutional frame” in Kemalist literary institutions, when Parla tells the incident in which Oğuz Atay and Türk Dili (Turkish Language) journal were involved. When Atay submitted his short story “The Railroad Storytellers: A Dream” to Türk Dili Journal for publication, the editors published the story in its simplified version, without the consent of Atay. The meaning was destroyed so that the language of the story was purified.
However, one can further claim that the Kemalist cultural program was unsuccessful in sustaining its hegemony over literature by transforming the literary language. Therefore it had to come to terms with the authors who were once proclaimed as “heretics” by the nationalists.
As one last point, I will mention of the term “National Symbolic” in relation to the discussions of Turkish literature and Hrant Dink. Geoff Eley and Ronald Grigor Suny adopt Lauren Berlant’s usage of “National Symbolic” which aims “to link regulation of desire, harnessing affect to political life through the production of national fantasy.” According to them, the National Symbolic indicates “how the idea of the nation works, figuring a landscape of complacency and promise, inciting memories of citizenship, but bringing its claims and demands into the intimate and quotidian places of ordinary life.” An objection would simply put forth that “citizenship” do not always equal to national belonging, as evident in the assassination of Hrant Dink; who was a citizen but was still “abjected”, so to speak.
On the other hand as mentioned above, today there are nationalists who reconcile with Tanpınar about whom they speak proudly by declaring that that he beautifully makes use of Turkish language and represents “our” literature with dignity. One can suggest that Tanpınar is now included into the “National Symbolic”. However, I think that this should not be celebrated, since nationalism itself doesn’t diminish. The same applies to the recent political moves in Turkey; especially to the Kurdish and Armenian Expansion packages. We should look for the ways in which Kurdish and Armenian cultural and political rights should be granted without the whole campaign being assimilated by the “National Symbolic”. In that regard, the closing down of DTP marks the point where the “Nationalist Symbolic” intervenes. Therefore, in a way it is good that Orhan Pamuk’s name isn’t pronounced with bliss in the mouths of nationalists. However, it doesn’t mean that we should not struggle to, let’s say, include Pamuk’s novels in high schools syllabuses. We should, but in doing this, we also should not tend to reconcile with nationalism, since it is always possible that the National Symbolic might assimilate our cause.
• Geoff Eley and Ronald Grigor Suny, “Introduction: From the Moment of Social History to the Work of Cultural Representation” in Becoming National: A Reader, eds. Geoff Eley and Ronald Grigory Suny, Oxford University, Press, 1996, pp.3-37.
• Katherine Verdery, “Whither ‘Nation’ and ‘Nationalism’?” in Mapping the Nation, ed. Gopal Balakrishnan, Verso, London and New York, 1996, pp. 226-234.
• Jale Parla, “The Wounded Tongue: Turkey’s Language Reform and the Canonicity of the Novel,” PMLA, Vol. 123 (1), January 2008, pp. 27-40.
• Meltem Ahıska, “A deep fissure is revealed after Hrant Dink’s assassination” New Perspectives on Turkey, 36 (Spring 2007), pp.155-164.
Picture retrieved from http://eibo-jeddah.deviantart.com/art/Racism-136089692