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“I want to dedicate this award to Turkey, my beautiful and lonely country I love with passion” said Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the Turkish film director, as he received the best director award in Cannes Film Festival of 2008. This was in May. And two days ago, on July 27 2008 to be exact, two bombs exploded in the Güngören neighborhood of İstanbul, killing, so far, 17 people, and leaving more than a hundred wounded. Since I learned the explosions, I can’t help but repeat the phrase “my beautiful and lonely country”. It keeps floating inside my head, hitting occasionally the walls of my perception but mainly remaining in that territory which is between understanding and intuition.

“my beautiful and lonely country”…

Bombs and/or terror related attacks are hardly news for Turkey anymore. Just two weeks ago some people who the police claimed were members of Al Qaida, wanted to attack the US embassy in Istanbul, leaving three cops dead. Killing and the language of war is no news either. Not a month passes without the military proudly expressing how many terrorists it killed by its super technological killing machines. Bombs, killings, terror, military operations, Islamists and seculars, the lost piece in the puzzle of mild Islam, a stage for the overdose kemalists to display and put into action their bloody plans… and amidst all these, a country who lost its soul, if it ever had one, lost that “it” that makes a country lovely, rather than lonely. Amidst all the fanfare, a country which is so lonely, yet still beautiful.  

I have been living in the US for the last 7 years and it seems I will be here for the immediate years to come. I am an in between soul who would miss turkey a lot when I’m in the US and would start to complain about it big time as soon as I land on Turkish soil. I do want to go back one day however. There is the place that feeds me, that is the place I feel I belong ultimately. Is it not sad, and in some ways weird, that the urge to go back to my homeland hits its peak in such days as July 27, 2008; on such days when the land bleeds, so to speak. On this type of days, I remember, and despise more than ever, my relatives’ and friends’ friendly “warnings” that Turkey is no good and I should stay in the US as much as I can.

There is no easy explanation for this. From the perspective of the “rational man”, this does not make any sense. Dying due to an explosion is much more likely in Turkey than in the US. I’m not even talking about more mundane stuff such as academic freedom, or the problem of scarce resources in the academia. Whatever comparison you come up with, Turkey comes short. And so it is clear that this desire to go back is not “rational”. Even though I can think of moments where it could be more rational for some people, It is about something else in my case.

It may be about guilt. The guilt that arises from the subtle innuendo placed in those friendly “warnings” urging me to stay in the US. “you saved yourself” they would say, “don’t come back, we’ll take care of ourselves here.” That guilt is nothing, of course, compared to what I feel towards myself and my loved ones. In certain ways, here I’m depriving of myself of my language, culture, codes, etc. But more than that.. The thought of death frequents my thoughts on these issues of staying or leaving. And it is in these days of “terror” that we see, most shockingly, that death is near. It’s around the corner. For myself, for my family, for my friends… It could be anytime. The relatively well protected lives of ours are in many ways an illusion. Especially in a place like Turkey, it could be anytime… That moment when you realize this is the hardest and that moment is the one that pulls you so strongly to where you call home. As cold as it sounds, you want to be next to them when that happens.

One other thing however is that the more you stay away, the more you start to look at your country from outside. You start comparing it with others. I start noticing, since I came here, that Turkey as an exception in the middle east is not quite the point. The attacks in Lebanon, which remain unsolved forever, are not in fact very much different from what has just happened in Istanbul. A game is being played, messages are being given, but there is no way to understand for the lay people to understand. Welcome to the foggy landscape of the middle east (featuring turkey!).

On the one hand, there is of course great virtue in this. What, after all, is social science if you cannot take a distance from your object of analysis? If I am a sociology student studying Turkey, I of course need that type of a distance. But you also lose something in that process. Part of me, as someone who constantly looks himself from outside, does just not want this to happen. Let’s not lose it, let’s keep it as it is. Let’s despise the country, hate from it, and love it at the same time. Let’s feel all these but not surrender to the cold blooded outsidedness of an outsider. Because what it slowly chips away from you is the passion, the desire to do something, even if you know that that something is utterly meaningless.

To be fair (to being outside), this feeling also has to do with beginning to understand politics in a multidimensional frame. It is about learning politics and gaining that vision that the discipline gives you. But it is also about understanding that that lonely country is not so lonely after all, which is also something a sincere course on the history of the middle east would tell you. So many different global powers are interfering with the people and so many different and slippery coalitions are forged and so many of them fail everyday. It’s a total mess. But Turkey is still lonely, because she is trapped in various chains, her history, her ultra nationalist vibes, the repuclic’s fear of religion and Kurds and non muslims… Is loneliness not, after all, a state of entrapment? But this is exactly the point: part of what makes this country beautiful is this feeling of loneliness.

I tried to find an ending for this essay, which indeed is more like a stream of thoughts than an essay, but I failed. There is no end in sight (anyway).

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Couple months ago, on February 29th 2008 to be exact, Sebahat Tuncel, a Kurdish deputy from the Democratic Society Party of Turkey, delivered a speech entitled “the Condition of Struggle for Democratic Rights and Liberties in Turkey” at the City University of New York. Ms. Tuncel  is one of the active names of the Democratic Society Party and its efforts to bring about a just and peaceful settlement to the Kurdish issue of Turkey and the war between Turkish army and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK as it is known with the Turkish acronym).

I was present in the well attended talk and so was my fellow blogger Sınmazdemir. After the talk, I remember exchanging with him my disappointment about the speech. My disappointment, which was shared by my neighbor blogger, was twofold: on the one hand, the big ideals that were voiced (and naturally applauded by almost all the people- including myself of course) by Tuncel seemed to be only that, grand ideals –such as peace, solidarity, women’s rights, protection of the planet, etc. How we could get to those ideals was not problematized by her (at least in the speech). This, I/we took to be the continuation of old style of politics in a new era. Turkey lived with what is now called “the grand narratives”, projects of changing the society, etc. in the pre 1980 era, and part of Tuncel’s speech seemed to take its inspiration and energy from such a rhetoric of politics. The second disappointment, on the other hand, was that her speech seemed a bit messy (and disorganized, shall I say). We could not exactly understand what the point of her giving a speech at CUNY was. Who was her target audience? Why was she giving that speech at all? What would the speech do for her party and political cause? Probably the speech was part of a larger political tour of the United States, she had programs such as visiting deputies in the Congress here in the United States and telling them about their plans as a party. I do not know what she talked with those people of course, but I had a feeling that if she talked as she talked to us that night, it would be strange, because her points did not flow from what she said. She had to be assisted by a translator and indeed this complicated things quite a bit.

Granted, of course, she cannot say “everything” because of potential legal issues she would face in Turkey for saying those things. You cannot, for instance, argue for the separation of the Kurdish region from Turkey or even talk about a possible federative system. But is it not election /campaign consulting that would help you with just that: to design your speeches and other actions so that you avoid landmines but still get your message across…  These landmines sometimes could be legal issues, and sometimes they are potential problems with parts of the electorate. Of course the two are categorically different, just like the political process in Turkey and the US is different. But if there is such a thing as expert election or campaign consulting, you would expect them to help you with all the problems on the way, including legal issues.    

This point about election consultants take me to the main issue here: Looking back, I realize how much of my perspective has been shaped by the campaigning style I internalized here in the United States. I reconsider my “disappointments” and ask myself whether those disappointments arose because of being subjected to a massive coverage of the presidential primaries by the so called political pundits in the United States. The heavy campaigning days for the 2008 elections certainly left their mark on my thinking. I saw Hillary Clinton declaring her affection for the “gun lovers” of the United States, I saw her drink beer with lower income workers. I saw Barack Obama eat Philly Cheese stakes or carefully distinguish himself from his (former) pastor in nice words. All was designed by the election campaigns of course. All these actions and speeches had, in my mind, a target audience and they were carefully crafted to reach to those parts of the electorate without alienating different parts. Every move seemed pre planned by a team of brainstormers. In turn, political pundits, every day in their columns or on the weekends on TV programs such as Meet the Press discussed whether such campaign work actually works.

I’m not going to go into details, suffice it to say that there is a whole world of politics organized around the belief that political campaigning is an expertise and my approach to Sebahat Tuncel’s talk was shaped through my exposure to such campaigning here. Whether or not such political campaigning could succeed or not in the US context, I’m not going to go into here because the question of whether or not it could succeed is the wrong question indeed. Sebahat Tuncel’s visit and reactions it triggered in me indeed point to the right question. What kind of a system is this and how is it enabled? How does it work, so to speak and what are its conditions of existence? This system, it seems, is not yet rooted in the minds of the Turkish deputies and I would argue of many people in Turkey. So what kind of an animal are we looking at?

I will continue next week with these questions. To give a hint about my position however, I could cite Emma Goldman. This is a system which makes sure that stability and status quo wins and which makes sure that voting is in fact, utterly meaningless for the masses. After all, as Goldman said, “If voting could change anything, they’d make it illegal”  

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