What is the product?

In recent years and increasingly so, Turkey’s near abroad policy can be described assertive and defiant at best, foolhardy and hazardous at worst. For some, it is just looking for trouble almost all the time, everywhere. The latest addition to the list is the Azerbaijan-Armenia border skirmishes.

In recent years and increasingly so, Turkey’s near abroad policy can be described assertive and defiant at best, foolhardy and hazardous at worst. For some, it is just looking for trouble almost all the time, everywhere. The latest addition to the list is the Azerbaijan-Armenia border skirmishes.

One novelty here is the refusal of the HDP to add its signature to the usual parliamentary joint statement. In which text you come across, much chewed wooden taste expressions like “two states, one nation”, “brotherly and friendly country”, “…is in the wrong path.” Foreign Ministry from its corner invites all “to come to their senses” -which is business as usual as well. 

Who still spare time to read these, which media outlets make use of these, I have truly no idea. Perhaps, it does not matter for their authors either. These texts and piles upon piles of hollow expressions seem more to be destined for public consumption and designed as insurance policies against attracting the potential ire of the “palace”.    

The real question is elsewhere: Who is the buyer or where is the market? How do we market ourselves? Who “is” we or what is the product? These are not rhetorical but pertinent questions to my mind. We came a long way and then we lost our way. As an Armenia or the likes of it which thread the wrong path perhaps. Or again perhaps, as the metaphorical climber who turns around to contemplate the view, to face only the mist.

“Ultimately, the real power of France matters little: its influence has more to do with its history and the universality of its culture than with the vitality of its economy or the extent of its military forces; it has more to do with what it represents than with what it is.” argues* historian Patrice Gueniffrey. Cut “France”, insert “Turkey”, and there you go, click “send”.

For any nation state with a proud imperial past the same may hold true. Ways and manners of confronting that past is another story though. Republic of Turkey is the direct heir of the Ottoman Empire. Fact. Republic of Turkey is but one of the over twenty countries that arose from the Ottoman Empire. Fact number two. Managing the relations with these Christian, Jewish and Muslim countries is the main challenge. 

“When with a hammer at hand, all problems appear as nails”, the saying goes. And it is generally used to criticise global power US’ hegemonic foreign and national security policy. Would it be too off the mark to qualify Turkey’s near abroad policies as “hegemonic”? Prof. Dr. İlhan Uzgel calls it “sub-imperial.” On the inside, the sheer lack of accountability and the level of carelessness in constant consuming of limited resources is simply mind-boggling. 

Recently in these columns I have tried to think Turkey while watching China’s Hong Kong policies and Russia’s modification of its constitution. Harun Akgül Güney of Wroclaw University, Political Sciences Department got his inspiration from opposition candidate Trzaskowska’s narrowly losing but optimism creating presidential campaign against the incumbent Duda.

Why not indeed? If Budapest’s mayor Karacsony found Istanbul mayor’s campaign İmamoğlu inspiring in his struggle against Orban’s populism, it may as well be interesting enough for Turkey’s democratic but fractured opposition to steal a page from its’ Polish sister’s playbook. Yet similarities and possibilities appear to be quite restricted between EU member Poland’s Catholicism and Turkey’s Islamism.

Mr. Güney rightly draws our attention to the inability of CHP’s defending universal values in order to avoid turning the islamist and nationalist vote away from it while the Polish opposition fair and square stands up against the Catholic church in Poland. He goes on to add that CHP turned a blind eye to HDP co-chair Sancar’s call to establish a democratic coalition and that CHP seems to also ignore the fact that caretaker governors are assigned to 51 municipalities of the HDP alongside the two of its own.

I subscribe to all that wholeheartedly. Then again, the diagnosis of the illness down here must be much more comprehensive in my humble opinion. It is rather a soul searching experience. By way of evidence, simply I do not see how and why would any presidential candidate from a joint CHP-İYİ Party ticket do anything differently on the Libyan, Syrian, Iraqi, Eastern Mediterranean and now the Caucasian fronts.

What republican project has the Republican People’s Party CHP has in store? What are the broad outlines of the “new” republic when it comes to essential issues like secularism, pluralism, administrative reform, freedom of expression, rule of law etc.? If we do not get to know these, and fast, just another castle will be built on the quick sand of our deliberately obscured history. And while we are at it, how about straightforward confrontation with our history? What our common narrative will be like?  

Which boxes will be checked? Re-alignment of our foreign policy with our Western partners. Re-orientation of our foreign policy towards the membership in the EU. Re-thinking of our republic as an equal one among the others that emerged from the fallen empire. Mutual economic dependency based relations with our (especially southern) neighbours. Re-imagining the Kurdish belt that goes along our southern frontiers as not a national security threat but a natural buffer zone that will keep the fires that burn away from reaching our common home. Peace building, balanced approach to numerous conflicts that encircle our country. The list goes on. 

Like the French, Turkey’s citizens too prefer their state strong at least in appearances. Like the French, we too like to see “grandeur” in our leaders like Mehmet the Second or Atatürk. That is the reason I keep parroting that not a starry-eyed “democratic coalition” but a business-like “rassemblement pour la république” is what we need. As historian Pierre Nora put** it, de Gaulle succeeded “in draping the actual diminution of French power in the vocabulary of grandeur”. I am afraid, if we do no not dare to ask new questions and come up with new answers to the old ones, the product that we keep marketing will unfortunately remain the same snake-oil.


*as paraphrased by FT’s European commentator Tony Barber -from “Napoleon and De Gaulle-Heroes and History”, Belknapp Press, translated by Steven Rendall


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