There are a couple of words in Turkish language which are very difficult to translate into English. One of the words that have been visible in use in recent years is the word “Türkiyeli”. The word Türkiyeli has a different meaning than “Turk” or “being Turkish”; it refers to an individual who is born in Turkey rather than having ethnic ties whatsoever with the predefined notion of Turkishness as an ethnic or national marker. The word Türkiyeli has been uttered by various right wing liberals and left wing democrats in more than last decade to refer to the multiculturalism that embodies the society that we live in. Most importantly, the word points out a new sense of belonging in the society that we need to establish by recognizing all kinds of ethnic, cultural and religious differences as an umbrella category. Just as we are in need for a social contract which would redefine the foundational basis of our society in an egalitarian manner, we need to have a new vocabulary to provide this new existence with the necessary means to manifest itself textually. As the philosopher of deconstruction, Jacques Derrida says, “There is nothing outside of the text”; the word Türkiyeli is yet to be established within the text itself since it stays outside of it.
It is not surprising that the champions of the current nation-state which was defined on Turkish nationalism since the early Republican period have negatively reacted to the introduction of such vocabulary. For example, İlber Ortaylı who is a reputable historian in Turkey claimed that such word to define our society does not exist. According to him, such a word cannot exist since “it has not translation in any other languages, including English”. It is true that such a word does not exist in English language. Yet our attempts to redefine our existences in this society should definitely be freed from any “Western gaze” which imposes its own way of thought upon us. Otherwise, the idea of “Turkishness” and “Turkish society” would be nothing other than rhetorical imperatives that does not touch our daily existences in this society with different senses of belonging. Considering Dr. Ali Murat Yel’s recently published article on Turkey Agenda, in which he emphasizes the idea of “Asian mode of democracy” with its rhetorical connotations, we certainly are in need of a new vocabulary to define our societal existence other than mere rhetoric which would cause us to lose ourselves within the Derridean “text”.
This particular point which critically negotiates the particularities of Muslim society regarding their adaptability to survive in any political regime explains the unique dynamics of the gradual change in politics that Turkey has been experiencing in the last 12 years. As I have previously stated elsewhere, democratization process in Turkey has been underway for more than 10 years with certain paradoxes; between the AK Party’s democratizing will on the one hand and its authoritarian discourses on the other. I argue that the paradoxes that the AK Party displays is very much related to the idea that Dr. Yel poses regarding Muslim’s adaptability to live under any political regime. Moreover, the point of critique, which suggests that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has developed an even more authoritarian personality as a “cult leader” is valid in some ways; yet his powerful personality has a unique function in our society which is crucial to the re-establishment of a new political regime (“the second republic” as some would argue).
The fact that Muslims can live under any political regime can also deem any political body formed by Muslims to be vulnerable against the authoritative structures of such regimes. The particular argument which suggests that the AK Party has been taking an authoritarian stance, indeed does not point at an essential attribute of the AK Party as a political body. To distinguish “the state” and “the government” from each other in political terms, the roots of authoritarianism is to be found in the already established structure of the state apparatus itself. Thus, as the ruling political body, the AK Party can be considered as the only political party who can apply the least authoritarianism compared to other parties such as the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) who are the reproducers of the status quo of the already established state apparatus. The difference is, following the arguments in Dr. Yel’s article; Muslims can live under any political regime whereas Turkish nationalists or Kemalists cannot. This particular flexibility of Muslim community provides a certain advantage for democratization since Muslims can distance themselves from the status quo at any time by not identifying themselves to any “meta narrative” of that political regime. Yet at the same time, they can occasionally exercise the repressive or ideological apparatuses of that very regime because they own the exercise of such apparatuses. Dr. Yel’s article therefore, is crucial to explain the paradoxes of the AK Party: having an authoritarian stance on the one hand and being the sole democratizing power on the other. Eventually, the flexibility of Muslim communities to survive under any political regime might be the root of such paradox.
In this regard, the idea of a “cult personality” which sounds anti-democratic in Western sense can also be a rhetorical tool which accompanies the orientalist vision of the Western gaze that categorizes Prime Minister Erdogan as “The Dictator.” However, one should critically elaborate the function of such Weberian charismatic leader rather than merely focusing on its disadvantages in the first place. The AK Party has accomplished many democratization attempts and has taken bold steps with the three taboo issues in Turkey: Kurdish issue, Armenian Genocide claims and discrimination of Muslim community. Especially the first two regarding Kurds and Armenians are very challenging even to the most voters of the AK Party since the majority of individuals in Turkey grew up with discrimination and phobic discourses against Armenians and Kurds due to cultural upbringing or educational curriculum. Yet, these segments of society do not object in any of the steps taken which would resolve these taboos. For this reason, Erdogan’s charismatic leadership prevents such reactionary objections by the public who identify themselves with the charismatic figure and continuously try to make sense of, rationalize and legitimize his arguments. This is another Gramscian tactic that Erdogan and the AK Party employs; hanging onto populist politics on the one hand by following the “common sense” of society, and the transformation of that common sense into “good sense” (in Gramscian terminology) with democratization attempts to resolve these taboos by the very help of the charismatic authority of Erdogan. Hence, it was not surprising to hear from Leyla Zana, a prominent Kurdish politician, claiming back in June of 2012 that only Erdogan could solve the Kurdish problem. Many social classes which have been discriminated by the republican project of the nation-state, most importantly Kurds, do realize the function of such charismatic authority. The function of the strong political figure can be explained by Weberian notion of charismatic authority; and it can further be elaborated by Foucauldian notion of power, which is not repressive but rather productive.
Maybe not “Asian mode of democracy”, but the word Türkiyeli can be considered as the outcome of such productive aspect of power relations in Turkey. The resolution of Kurdish and Armenian issues is both critical in the establishment of a new social contract which was established from above by the early Republican elite. Dr. Yel’s crucial intervention which suggests that Muslims can live under any political regime, points out their key role of such new establishment, with the unique function of a charismatic authority. Maybe, only then, we can rewrite our history, redefine our senses of belonging and introduce a new vocabulary with which we will manifest our existences freely and uniquely as the people of Turkey, as Türkiyeli…