An abundance of marginals in Turkey

Ülkü Doğanay writes: What is actually marginal in Turkey today is the government’s mentality that regards the demands of the Kurds, and other ethnic groups, and the demands of the Alevis, and other religious minorities, as “discrimination” and “separatism; the human rights of the LGBTI+ as “perversion;” and the democracy demands of students as “affiliation with terrorism.” Appointing a person as rector who has never worked at a university is marginal.

Ülkü Doğanay 

In March of 2015, before Turkey’s June 7 elections, before the “peace process” had officially ended, President Erdoğan hosted a group of elected neighborhood heads (muhtar) from all over the country at his palace in Ankara. During this meeting told them: “There’s no Kurdish problem in Turkey anymore. My Kurdish brothers have a problem.” 

In 2005, ten years before this declaration, President Erdoğan addressed his ‘Kurdish brothers’ in Diyarbakır and said the following: “The Kurdish problem is my personal problem from now on.” What people took this to mean was that assimilation and denial were now buried deep in history, never to be seen again.

Thus, the Kurdish problem was deemed to have disappeared simply by acknowledging the existence of the Kurds. According to President Erdoğan, the problems would be addressed from that point on. Although Romani, Azerbaijani, Zaza, and Turkish ‘brothers’ also faced problems. At that time, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) positioned itself as being a cure all. It was as if there were no other problems facing the country other than the Kurdish one, and that “harping on this problem was actually partitioning the country; it was separatism.”

They sought to reframe those problems that required rights-based solutions so that those demands could be denied. This has been one of the main strategies of the government then and now.

We define separatism as an unequal approach to people who differ in language, religion, race, ethnic affiliation, gender, age, sexual orientation, and physical disability or as an equal approach to those people who do not have equal footing.

When the president claimed that talking about the Kurdish problem was separatism he propagated a policy that denied those problems which arose from non-equal approaches to people. However, he simultaneously described their desire for equal opportunities as discrimination against the ‘majority’ and even separatism.

This reversal of the concept also meant an eradication of its content. The minority demanding their rights becomes the perpetrator of discrimination and the majority that disregards these rightful demands by remaining silent becomes the victim of discrimination.

In the same speech, we see another word which the president lovingly manipulated and used as it suited him: marginal. He labeled the millions of people demonstrating during the 2013 Gezi Protests as vandals, looters, deluded, misled youth and a marginal minority. Similarly, he labeled the people who wanted the Kurdish problem to be solved as “marginal, atheist, devoid of belief, and disrespectful movements which lack the values of this country” in a speech he delivered in 2015. He also said that “those people cannot redefine the compassion which we have for each other.”

The word marginal, which originates from French, means contrary, on the edge, not associated with the main issue, remaining outside the societal order, etc. In the president’s dictionary, however, marginal means everything and everyone that opposes his rule since the Gezi Protests. He uses this term to radicalize and antagonize every rightful demand, and even the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) receives its share of this.

Before the repeat elections for the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality on June 23, 2019, Erdoğan announced that a CHP victory would “mean CHP fascism becomes Istanbul’s nightmare again.” He warned the electorate by saying, “We cannot allow the furious/desperate minority, which is at odds with the nation’s beliefs and with Istanbul’s history, to destroy the city’s texture and its primeval character.” Consequently, the 4 million 741 thousand 868 electorates of Istanbul, who voted for the main opposition party candidate, were honored with the marginal label, even before the election.

Aside from the electorate of Istanbul being marginal and constituting a furious and desperate minority, young people who oppose the oppressive policies of the government that interfere with people’s lifestyles, that turn our cities into cement blocks, and dictate mediocrity to all universities, are accused of being a marginal minority when they speak their minds.

When the students from Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University opposed the government’s military operation in Syria's Afrin in 2018, President Erdoğan dubbed them “terrorist students” and a “marginal minority” again. He warned the university professors that they would be affiliated with them if they supported their students.

In a speech he gave at Istanbul’s Beyoğlu District Congress of his party, he referred to these “marginals” wandering the streets of Beyoğlu and accused them of being intolerant towards those different from them. He did not explicitly state who those marginals were but insinuated that they would not be allowed to represent the country and would be thrown into a ditch unless they fell in line.

Finally, when students from Boğaziçi University objected to Melih Bulu’s appointment as the university’s rector by a presidential decree released at midnight, they started to protest.

Unsurprisingly, their protest was immediately labeled as the action of a marginal group. The president spoke of “those people who turn a routine appointment into an opportunity to cause unrest in our country” and of “persons affiliated with terrorist organizations.”

Students have continued their protests for a month now, despite harsh police interference, detainments, and arrests. They demand the resignation of Melih Bulu, who is not on staff of the university and who has never been a part of Boğaziçi University’s administration, juries, or decision-making councils.

They want the university’s rector to be elected by the university’s mechanism, which includes the student body, not by presidential appointment. In short, they demand democracy. So far, the government spokespeople have not been able to explain why the students and professors’ demands are marginal. All they have done is accuse the students of terrorism, marginality, and perversion. Their hate speech has been in open violations of the students’ human rights.

What is actually marginal is the government’s mentality that regards the demands of the Kurds, and other ethnic groups, and the demands of the Alevis, and other religious minorities, as “discrimination” and “separatism; the human rights of the LGBTI+ as “perversion;” and the democracy demands of students as “affiliation with terrorism.” 

Appointing a person as rector who has never worked at a university is marginal.

Aside from this, the opening of two new departments at Boğaziçi University without any consultation, yet again, via midnight decree is marginal.

Firing tens of thousands of people from their jobs and hundreds of academics via presidential decrees (KHK), even though the courts ruled them innocent, is marginal.

Declaring that the government does not recognize the verdicts of the courts, and not abiding by them, is marginal.

Hiring social media trolls to support a video claiming that the students’ protests were not freedom of expression is marginal.

Regarding everyone who is unhappy with governmental practices and does not vote for the ruling parties as enemies is marginal.

Telling equal citizens of this country who have different lifestyles or gender identities to “live appropriately or else we know what to do with you” is marginal.

Differentiating citizens as “those with us and who vote for us” and as “those who are not with us and who do not vote for us;” and offering to buy tickets for those who complain about the situation in Turkey to send them abroad is marginal.

Receiving barely half of the votes and still acting like you own the country is marginal.