Tracking Turkey’s future through its present
Part Two:From Izmir to Diyarbakir through Konya and Adana
By Evangelos Aretaios
Photography Eleni Papadopoulou
Originally published in “Politis” daily newspaper in Nicosia, Cyprus June 4th to 10th 2018.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER One | The Three Turkeys
CHAPTER Two | Izmir
CHAPTER Three | Konya
CHAPTER Four | Adana
CHAPTER Five | Between Euphrates and the Tigres
CHAPTER Six | Diyarbakir
CHAPTER Seven | Being a woman in Turkey
After the journey to Anatolia and the heart of conservative Turkey in early May, journalist Evangelos Aretaios and photographer Eleni Papadopoulou journey through south Turkey, endeavouring to record the new dynamics occurring on the axis between Izmir,Konya,Adana and Diyarbakir.
Chapter One THE THREE TURKEYS
The streets and alleys around Taksim Square and the Istiklal pedestrian street in the heart of Istanbul are full of police officers and special law enforcement units, in uniforms and plain clothes. May 31st is the fifth anniversary of Gezi and the major protests that then plagued Turkey for about a month. At the time, some people spoke of a “Turkish spring,” the supporters and the government of Tayip Erdogan spoke of an international conspiracy against Turkey, and later of an attempt to destabilize the regime from the Fethullah Gulen network.
Activists and many political analysts adopted the term “Gezi’s spirit,” referring to the coming together of totally disparate elements and groups of Turkish society during those weeks of demonstrations in Gezi against the perception of a growing authoritarianism and paternalism of Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP. From Turkish liberals and leftists to Kurds of the Kurdish political movement, from anti-capitalist Islamists to atheist anarchists, from hard-core organized fans of football groups to LGBTI groups.
This “spirit” appeared to have “evaporated” after the subsequent harsh repression but, according to political analysts interviewed by “P”, reappeared shortly before the June 2015 elections through the pro-Kurdish party of the People’s Republic (HDP). For the first time in modern-day Turkey, a party that had been “born” from the spirit of the Kurdish movement had changed philosophy and character and opened its doors to Turkish liberals and leftists as well as to minorities, members of the LGBTI community and more widely to the “Other“. The AKP would then lose its majority in the National Assembly for the first time in thirteen years.
The violence that erupted after the June elections, both with the terrorist attacks in central and western Turkey and the Kurdish areas, would return the vote majority for the AKP, while the opposition has already denouncing fraud.
“Gezi’s spirit” would “evaporate” again and remain in obscurity as the period following the attempted coup d’état of July 15, 2016 marked an unprecedented wave of persecution of members of the Gulen network, but also of various dissidents. The referendum of April 2017 would give a marginal victory to Tayyip Erdogan’s “yes”, with the opposition denouncing even more strongly fraud. The opposition’s hopes for change had been refuted once again.
In June 2017, Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chief Kemal Kilincdaroglu launched the “Justice march” on foot from Ankara to Istanbul, which would bring back some hopes for the dissidents for a few weeks, only to fade again.
Turkey had already plunged into a state of extreme nationalism, with military operations in Syria, the economy beginning to show signs of fatigue, and Tayyip Erdogan, along with his new ally, Devlet Bahceli, leader of the Party of Nationalist Action (MHP), resorted to early elections, scheduled for June 24.
In the first weeks, the opposition, which has now been joined by the Good Party of the hybrid nationalist, Meral Aksener, would be confronted with the old internal conflicts and litigations, unable to come to terms with each other.
However, Kemal Kilincdaroglu and the head of the small but increasingly important Islamic Felicity Party (SP), Temel Karamollaoglu, would come to a conciliation and also convince Meral Aksener to join an alliance against the alliance formed by AKP with the MHP. HDP would be left out of this alliance mainly due to Meral Aksener’s refusal, but its relationship with the anti-government alliance is becoming more appealing.
The “Three Turkeys”
Thus, less than a month before the June 24th elections, which have taken on a historical character for Turkey and its future, the main question that emerges is what is happening below and between the dividing lines as they have been formed through the model according to which Turkey is divided into three geographical and socio-economic sub-units.
A model that has indeed captured the dominant potential trends and dynamics in the political and electoral choices of the Turks, as has emerged so far by the electoral confrontations of the past almost three decades. Three Turkeys that are historically and traditionally in permanent confrontation. So far at least.
The veteran Turkish pollster Bekir Agardir, in an interview with Cumhurriyet newspaper a few weeks ago, summed up the Three Turkeys.
There are three geographies in Turkey: the first is the shores of western and south-western Turkey, from Istanbul to Iskenderun. It is the secularised, urbanised, old middle class and old-bourgeois tradition of Turkey, more developed, more westernised, with economic growth less dependent on the state. The second is located in Central and South Anatolia and the Black Sea, with traditional muslim and turkish conservatism, with very intense religious sensibilities, more recent urbanization and greater economic dependence on the state.
Finally, the third, in the Kurdish regions which are the less progressed economically and with a much newer and under harsh conditions urban development, and with questions concerning their identity.
Model of electoral behavior?
As evidenced by the election results of the June and November 2015 elections, the “first” Turkey is almost identical to the CHP, with some party’s enclaves situated in the inner and south-western Turkey in areas where mainly Alevites live, the “second” is almost identical to AKP and MHP and the “ third “to HDP.
These three are also highlighted by the results of the 2017 referendum. But they brought CHP and HDP to the same camp for the first time and also revealed a previously unknown section of “Islamist” new middle classes displeased by Tayip Erdogan and the AKP.
However, the polarization into which Turkey has sunk over the recent long period seems to have cast a great “veil” under which social and political shifting and dynamics not only continue at a very fast pace, but also seem to move the lines, both in the social behavior and everyday life of the Turks, as well as in their political choices and expectations.
Perhaps behind these three Turkeys another one emerges, a truly new Turkey in which polarization and fragmentation go into a different phase and the dividing lines lose the hitherto bright colors on their surface.This is something that might be be seen from the results of the 24 June elections and the period immediately after them.
In the wider opposition area, a growing optimism has been recorded in the last two weeks ahead of the 24 June elections regarding both the parliamentary and presidential elections, which are held together.
This hope is based on concrete facts today and, unlike the rather romantic hope that emerged in June 2015 with the emergence of the HDP, it appears to be even wider and deeper.
On a first level, the outcome of the elections will be shaped by the Kurds, who, as some political analysts believe, “hold in their hands” the future of Turkey and the dissatisfied Islamic new middle classes but also the nationalists who are split between MHP and IYI party.
On a second level, these two groups are in a long process of internal change and mutation, but they are also in full interaction with the ongoing mutations in the “Kemalist” space.
Consequently, behind the “Three Turkeys” new dynamics are found which may bring more heterogeneous and rival groups, and parts of the wider Turkish society, closer than they have ever been.
It may be that the convergence of these uncontrollable forces is not only opportunistic and superficial in the run-up to the elections, because of the rivalry against Tayyip Erdogan, but is a derivative of deeper dynamics and the emergence of new axes in society.
One of these is the gradual emergence of a new Turkish middle class formed by the middle-classes of the three different Turkeys.Because there is also an emerging Kurdish middle classe in southeast Turkey.
“Mosaic” of society
Another key feature of the current conjuncture is that the opposition has managed to come to an understanding to create an alliance which today represents in a very typical way the wider Turkish society, revealing a dynamic which may overcome some of the dividing lines thus far.
The alliance between the “Kemalic” CHP and the “Islamic” SP may be a historic turning point. And that is not because it will be the first time that “Kemalists” and “Islamists” come into alliance, it has happened before, such as the alliance of Bulent Ecevit with the historic leader of Turkish political Islam, Necmetin Erbakan already in the 70s. It is because, as empirical observations and analyses of veteran political analysts show, today’s convergences seem to rely on profound internal changes, common expectations and demands, as well as new proposals for the solution of Turkey’s problems.
As an experienced political analyst in Turkey pointed out, the narratives of the opposition parties have changed significantly in relation to their so-called “classic” narratives. The candidates of the CHP and the party leadership today are not talking about “Kemalism” as the “tool” to solve the country’s problems, nor is Islam a “tool” for solutions according to Temel Karamollaoglu of SP. Neither is nationalism as expressed by Meral Aksener of the IP. Moreover, the HDP has already embraced a narrative of incorporating the “Other” and trying to resist the siren call of Kurdish nationalism.
A key element of unity is undoubtedly the rivalry against Tayyip Erdogan, but there are deeper motives. The need for a new form of democracy that integrates and does not polarize, for the rule of law, for justice and for institutions, are today basic demands, sovereign needs, as they are felt by all opposition groups. And this is indeed something new in Turkey, but also something that may prove o have the potential to turn convergence between the opposition parties, including the HDP that is not in the opposition alliance, into a historic turning point for Turkey.
Erdogan fires but ...
As with Gezi, nowadays, Tayyip Erdogan is undoubtedly the one who sets off dynamics, and not only negatively, explains a veteran political analyst. Take, for example, the new generations of Turkey, including the “Islamists,” who are so integrated with the rest of the world and have a western lifestyle and global aspirations that have been shaped over the last fifteen years. But perhaps the Turkish President will no longer be the “protagonist” in the next developments as the social dynamics that have begun or accelerated during his time in power are now so profound and so powerful that they will overcome him.
In view of the June 24th elections, there may be a “genealogy” or “chronology” of specific turning points in Turkish society and politics.
This is the opinion of one of Turkey’s most prominent young academics, who explains that the first turning point, where the first convergence was made, was the attempt to find a common place and weaken the dividing lines in Gezi. Then came the elections in June 2015 and then the “March for Justice. Moments that depict profound changes in society and pave the way for the fermentations that are now in full swing between the opposition parties.
These are indications that within the Turkish society there might be a process of a collective growing maturity and a search for new methods of dealing with the chronic and with the most recent problems of the country. A process in which the AKP, which retains an important role irrespective of its course up to today, will be invited to participate at some point.
However, whether these dynamics and signs of ripening prove to be strong enough to bring about political changes and also pave the way for a really new socially and politically mature Turkey will only be seen after the June 24th elections .
Chapter Two IZMIR
The lights of Izmir stretch from below to the dark waters of Izmir Bay and farther away the Aegean Sea. Our bus from Istanbul, after climbing up the hills that dominate the city, is now easily descending to the heart of the Turkish Aegean city, this bastion that politicians and we journalists call “Kemalist” Turkey and the Republican People’s Party (CHP).
We reach the city center, in Conak, and walk alongside the sea to Alsancak, the heart of what remains of the old town before 1922.
It is Friday night, almost midnight, and the alleys, most of which have no names just four digits, are crowded. Bars, cafes, pubs, taverns, youngsters, middle aged men and women, some older people. Smiling girls and women with skimpy t-shirts, tight trousers, super mini skirts, low necklines, many with tattoos, men comfortable and carefree, used to being amongst all these beautiful and lightly dressed women.
“Izmir is the city of freedom and the Western way of life, here everyone lives the way they want, even Islamists can live here comfortably, it does not want to impose on others its own way of life,” says a friend of mine, a veteran journalist in Izmir.
In the Ottoman Empire, and especially towards the end of the years of Abdullah II, many reactionary Muslims were deceptively speaking of “Giaour Izmir”, “Infidel Izmir”, both because of the large number of Christians, mainly Greeks and Jews, and the liberal and western lifestyle that already dominated the culture of the city. This was something never said about Thessaloniki, even though the Christian element was very apparent there along with the Jewish one.
This expression of “Infidel Izmir” has been used by AKP’s politicians and advocates for the past few years, causing strong reactions both by the local population and by the politicians of the Republican People’s Party (CHP).
“AKP has tried to ‘spoil’ Izmir many times but never succeeded. I remember a period when several Islamists were passing through the cafes and bars, and giving out leaflets saying that alcohol is sinful, but we all reacted together and eventually they stopped. There are, of course, some areas outside the center and in the region where conservatives are dominant, but they are still the minority and, most of all, they have never managed to alter in the slightest the liberal way of life that is a basic feature of Izmir’s culture. Recent years have also brought an increasing ease of mutual acceptance of the way of life in Izmir. The Islamists do not try to preach or impose their own ways, nor do extreme Kemalists attack girls and women wearing headscarves,which did actually happen in the past. “
The young academic speaking to us is of Kurdish origin, born in Smyrna, who has lived in other major cities of Turkey, but believes that life in Izmir is more comfortable.
Immigrants in Izmir
Saturday morning, we are walking around Alsancak and Konak, the areas that before 1922 were the heart of the city’s social, cultural and economic life. The Greek and French consulates are directly opposite the sea, with remnants, along with other European consulates, of the old cosmopolitan Izmir.
The beach opposite, where the famous “Kordon”, the walk of Izmir with its fresh grass and clean cycle paths, welcomed in 1492 thousands of Jews who were inhumanely driven out of Christian Spain and became a place of martyrdom for the thousands Greeks desperate to escape from the turmoil of the Turkish army in 1922.
Further in the city, what is left of the old Ottoman buildings, for example, the Izmir Stock Exchange built in 1901 by Abdulhamid II, as well as old mansions, are a testament to the deep urban tradition of the city and the symbiosis that prevailed between such different ethnic and religious communities.
In recent years, a very significant migration from Istanbul to Izmir has been recorded, which for 2017 was the second placed city after Berlin on the list of cities of the world with the largest real estate price increases. According to official data, in 2016 sixteen thousand people migrated to Izmir from Istanbul and in 2017, eighteen thousand. Numbers are not so large by themselves, but the overwhelming majority of these immigrants are people with a very high level of education and very high incomes. Some journalists and sociologists are talking about a “ brain drain “ from Istanbul to Izmir.
“It’s not just the fact that it’s easier to find a job in Izmir,especially for those who have a high professional profile, but also the quality of life is clearly better than Istanbul. It is also because many liberal and western bourgeois inhabitants of Istanbul want to leave a city that they no longer consider their own to come to a city where they feel they can live comfortably and in a completely western environment. “ says a young academic born and raised in Izmir. He explains that the deep urban tradition of Izmir, and its development after the founding of the Republic of Turkey as a nation-state, continued mainly because the conservative majority of the city’s new inhabitants before 1922 were Turks from the Balkans, Greece and Crete, who were familiar with urban civilization while maintaining a very different relationship with Islam from the Turks of Anatolia and the Black Sea.
We are in the middle of Ramadan, the great Muslim fast that lasts a month and every day, from sunrise to sunset, full fasting is imposed, no food, no water, not even a cigarette. But the cafes, restaurants and bars were always full at all hours of the day.
Together with Istanbul, Izmir immediately became one of the bastions of the new Kemalist bourgeoisie and the new Kemalist elite, which gradually replaced the old middle classes of the minorities. In Izmir, what many of us call “Kemalism” remained even more intense and governs all forms of everyday life and politics.
Without this meaning, however, that CHP has the monopoly of the city’s citizens votes. In the November 2015 elections, CHP received 46.8%, AKP 31%, the Nationalist Action Party (MPH) 11.4%, and the pro-Kurdish HDP 8.6%. In the Karsiyaka region in the wider city center, CHP reached 66.5% in the November elections, while in total in Izmir, the “no” in the referendum of 2017 reached 68.8%, one of the highest rates of “ no” in Turkey.
What is “Kemalism”?
Kemalism, however, for many residents of the city, and the rest of Turkey, is neither experienced nor defined as some of us abroad would define it or often understand it.
As many of my interlocutors in Izmir explain, with each one giving his own perspective on “Kemalism”, there are three main aspects but also many subdivisions. What we call “Kemalism” has elements of social revolution, such as the radical revolution brought by Atatürk in the post-Ottoman Turkish society, and in the 1940s but mainly in the 1960s it also had a left-wing dimension. The exponents of the ‘68 movement in Turkey were “Kemalists” while Bulent Ecevit, one of Turkey’s most leftist leaders, was an integral part of the Kemalist tradition. After the 1980 coup of Kenan Evren, who was also a “kemalist,” the term “ataturkism” was created, which had more authoritarian features across all aspects and was an attempt to “steal” Kemalism from the left. While maintaining a strange relationship with Islam, on the one hand the regime then created the Turkish-Islamic synthesis as an obstacle to the left and later to the PKK and the left Kurdish nationalism, and in 1997 it overturned undemocratically the Islamist Necmettin Erbakan and started a direct conflict with Islam which would not be alleviated until the years after the AKP’s rise to power. “Kemalism” has another form too, “state-nationalism/sovereignism”, “ulusalcik”, which is the most nationalistic and statist expression of Kemalism.
The left and social democrats of “Kemalism” often think that the one who “distorted” Atatürk’s original views and heritage was his successor and old co-founder, Ismet Inonu, who has a similar poor image amongst Islamists who think he is responsible for what they perceive as a secularist oppression in Turkey after the 1940s.
However, a key feature of any “Kemalism” is modernization, with the western civilization as a role model, positivism and patriotism that can easily go up to nationalism.
“Here in Izmir we live comfortably as women, we go around dressed the way we like, nobody bothers us, we are not harassed by anyone. It is the only city in Turkey in which life for women is so good, so easy and free. And this is due to the special character of Izmir, but also due to the Ataturk culture and its revolution“ says a young lady sitting with her friends at the “ Kordon “ beach along with hundreds of other men, women, girls and boys who drink beer, eat, and play guitar on the grass, just as you would see in every park of any major European city.
Kemalism is not something monolithic or naturally stagnant, it is, as is the whole of Turkey, in full evolution and change, and even more so in the last period. Both in its ideology and the CHP, something that is interconnected and is occuring in parallel.
“Muharem Ince shows a very different style and expression of the party and of what we mean” Kemalism “trying to integrate all the different elements of the party from the left to the nationalists while himself has changed a lot as he was active for many years in the field of ataturkism. He is systematically sending messages to conservative “Islamists” that their lives will not change and that their social achievements will not be lost if he is elected as president. He has adopted a remarkably new narrative and style in respect to the Kurds, something no one expected “ says one academic.
And he goes on to say, “And all this is not only because of the the electoral contest, just because he wants to beat Tayyip Erdogan. A profound change within the CHP, has long since begun, thanks to the ‘silent hero’ Kemal Kilindaroglu, who is an Alevite and does not come from the elite of Balkan refugees. He is making an attempt to update and revitalise the ideology of the party in order to turn it into a party embracing diversity. This is not an easy feat, as there are still very strong nationalist and authoritarian elements in the CHP. But for sure the style and positive dynamics created by Muharrem Ince are signs of deeper changes in the field of “Kemalism”.
With the balances being very fine in the run-up to the elections, and with every citizen’s calculations relying not only on his support or confrontation with Tayyip Erdogan, but also on the wider demands for democracy and justice, electoral behavior on June 24th could bring many surprises.
“I, myself and other friends and acquaintances, will vote for Muharrem Ince in the presidential election, but the HDP in the parliamentary, for the Kurds must be in the National Assembly”, says a middle-class friend of mine who could be described as a “Kemalist” and who traditionally supports CHP.
Listening to these words, I realized that the shifts of the political-ideological and social tectonic plates in Turkey are so great that “Kemalist” Turks, even if only a few, were preparing to vote for a pro-Kurdish party that up to now was for them an existential enemy.
Walking to take the train to Konya, we see two girls with headscarves in the historic square of Izmir, and over it wearing the typical hat worn at graduation ceremonies. The students are posing in front of the oldest mosque in Izmir, something that fifteen years ago they wouldn’t even have dreamt of, going to university and being able to pose so freely in the heart of Izmir with their headscarves. And although they undoubtedly owe it to AKP and Tayyip Erdogan, they refused to tell us what they will vote in the elections ...
Chapter Three KONYA
Our carriage sinks slowly into the dark, under the blood hued red sky of the setting sun. The urban buildings disappear and their place now take the shadows of hills and trees and scattered houses in the night. Izmir and the Aegean are behind us and the train,the “Konia Blue Express”, is taking us gradually to the east. Towards Afyon Karahisar first, almost following the footsteps of the Asia Minor Campaign of the turkish-greek war of 1919-22 and its tragic retreat that marked the end of Hellenism in Asia Minor in 1922.Final destination of our night train, Konya, in the heart of Anatolia.
One of the most conservative cities in Turkey, one of the the “impregnable” bastions of the conservative Turkish right and the Islamic movement, Konya is one of the emblematic cities of Turkish Islam. This is partly because it is the center of the tradition of the great mystic Jalal al Din Rumi, known as the Mevlana of the Whirling Dervishes, but also because it is a city that maintains close relations with both political and social Islam.
Today, it is in a period of deep political and social change and is called upon to redefine its relationship with politics and society. As well as the fermentations and changes that are in full swing in the area of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and “Kemalism”, the internal shifts in the field of “Islamism” will not only judge the outcome of the 24th June elections, but will shape the future of Turkish society regardless of this result.
The episode of Menemen
Shortly before sinking into the dark, our train had passed from Menemen, a town that has now been virtually turned into a suburb of Izmir. On the hill that dominates the low houses, inside a camp, is the monument of Kubilay, a young officer of the Turkish army who in December 1930 was slaughtered by reactionary Muslims revolting against the Atatürk reforms and especially the abolition of the Caliphate. The head of the small rebellion was a religious leader of the great Muslim brotherhood of Naqhibendiya, which was banned along with all other religious orders and brotherhoods immediately after the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Identified with the power of the Ottoman Empire from the time of Mahmud II at the beginning of the 19th century, as was the Brotherhood of Bektass with the Janissaries just before it, the Naqhibendiya Brotherhood is one of the most characteristic examples of the deviation of one part of Islamic mysticism towards the real world and politics. Kubilay’s head was nailed on a wooden pole that the exiled dervishes and the mob displayed in procession on the streets, until Ankara suppressed the rebellion and condemned many of the rebels to death.
This insurrection, despite its small size, caused a huge shock to the Kemalic elite of Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir, who realized with terror that not only Atatürk’s changes remained on the surface, and in a very limited part of society, but also that the power of the Muslim brotherhoods could still pose a great threat to the newly born, secularized Republic of Turkey.
The until then more tolerant attitude of the new Kemalist regime would change and harden, the definition of secularism would become much more strict, the call for prayer, would be imposed in Turkish rather than Arabic and the Koran would be translated into Turkish, something profane for the Muslims of that time.
Menemen’s trauma has been perpetuated until recently, and has worked as a catalyst in Turkey’s collective subconscious, drawing the first line of the great separation between the “Kemalists” and “Islamists”. Although this was blunted after the rise of Adnan Menderes in power in 1950 and the progressive strengthening of political and social Islam in Turkey, coming up to the rise of AKP in power in 2002.
“If AKP and Tayyip Erdogan lose power, our life will again become difficult. Before the AKP it was very difficult for women like us, but also for all faithful Muslims. It will be very difficult again for all of us, “says a young girl at a store in the heart of Konya, wearing a very stylish headscarf, her beautiful features accentuated by discreet makeup.
This fear that the “others”, the “Kemalists” will take away everything they have gained in recent years is deeply rooted in AKP and Tayyip Erdogan’s followers, along with the main fear that Turkey is in danger of an international conspiracy that directly threatens its existence.
“Tayyip Erdogan and AKP are fueling this fear and this sense of threat that if Muharrem Ince and his alliance have a majority in the National Assembly, there will be persecutions against faithful Muslims. It constantly feeds the fear of the “others” and he is presented as the leader and the spokesman of Islam. Tayyip Erdogan wants to keep the wounds of what is seen as the traditional confrontation and discord in Turkish society and which was previously in force, but already in very gray lines. The polarization of “Kemalism” vs “Islamism” supports him. But society no longer works within these dividing lines “says an academic who systematically follows the mutations in Turkish society.
The old market of Konya, the heart of the city center has low houses and the small Seljuk mosques give a pleasant sense of intimacy. A wealthy city, one of the centers of Islamic business which made their appearance in the 90’s, the Anatolian Tigers, Konya is not like Izmir with its “Kordon”, its beers and guitars, but urbanization has put down very strong roots here as well. The last time I came to Konya during the Ramadan period was fifteen years ago, not only no one was eating, drinking or smoking in public, but neither did I dare to put anything in my mouth. Yesterday, almost all the restaurants and cafes were open during the day and many were those who didn’t observe the fasting.
The night has fallen in Konya, and the people are out on the streets after the Iftar, the ceremonial first meal after the day’s fast, which is also celebrated by those who aren’t fasting. It is past ten in the evening, the lit shop windows change the street colors and at the political party stands, members, executives and supporters begin to work.
“What is Turkey’s biggest problem today?” we ask a group of young members of the CHP, who are gathered around the crowd-filled stand.
The answers we receive are “education”, “justice”, “freedom” and “democracy”.
“Turkey is today on the edge of a cliff, we have a country in which all the institutions have lost their independence, where the government and the President cultivate polarization and the fear of the “ other “ are systematically alienating anyone who is not supporting them and accusing them of treason. Our country has the worst relationship it has ever had with neighboring countries, the EU and the US, “ says a young man with a passionate voice.
“The CHP is the party that expresses me both as a citizen and as a woman, I want democracy and justice, I would have no problem in a CHP Turkey,” says a girl who actively participates in the party campaign in Konya and is wearing a headscarf.
Around us, we now see several, not many, but several ladies and women with headscarves singing one of the songs for Kemal Ataturk.
“What we want is social peace, democracy and justice. The dividing lines between us have begun to fade, and we must find a new way of living, far from the polarization that Erdogan brings. That is why we support the alliance we made as a party with Meral Aksener’s Good Party and the Islamic Felicity Party of SP. A lot separates us from the Felicity Party from an ideological point of view, although we have some common ground such as anti-imperialism and social justice. Above all, however, the need for social peace is what unites us “says a middle-aged member of the CHP, from the left wing part of the party. He believes and considers it necessary that the alliance should continue after the elections and expand into society.
However, we hear some other voices in the CHP, a few, saying that “one that is drowning will embrace the snake “ in respect to the alliance with the SP.
“Foreign powers “
About two hundred yards away from the CHP election stand, which at the heart of the “Islamic” Konya has the most people this evening, is the AKP stand. There are fewer people and it looks quiet. We speak with young men and women of the party.
“What is Turkey’s biggest problem?”, we ask again.
“Turkey’s biggest problem is the foreign powers that threaten our country and work against us,” replies a meek and polite young man who seems to be the head of the stand, and everyone else agrees with passion.
“Foreign forces are trying to do what they did with Abdulhamit II and then they managed to break apart our Empire. They are trying to do it again today, but now we are happy to have Tayyip Erdogan, “ another young man tells us.
When I mention the SP and its alliance with the “Kemalists”, they frown and everyone agrees that it is “treason” and that the SP and its leader, Temel Karamolaoglu, are “traitors” to the Islamic struggle.
“Together with Kemal Kilindharoglu and Muharrem Ince, who are at the heart of the changes in the” Kemalist “ field, Temel Karamollaoglou is the catalyst for the changes that take place in the field of “Islamism, “ says our interlocutor, an academic.
“Temel Karamollaoglu is a unifying element, unlike Meral Aksener, whο is divisive because of her reaction to the pro-Kurdish HDP. He is a remarkably interesting personality and what is happening within the wider Islamic movement is very important. “
As other interlocutors point out, people that systematically monitor the social dynamics, the new “Islamic” middle class has developed a growing dissatisfaction with Tayyip Erdogan because of the instability that they feel is prevalent in the country and the economy. These classes worry about their future and don’t look at the past so intensely, and especially the past as it is narrated by the AKP and the Turkish President.
In these classes, both the older generations and the younger ones, the SP of Temel Karamollaoglou can now function as a serious alternative. That is because the nearly seventy-year-old “Uncle Temel”, as they affectionately call their party leader, has adopted a narrative accusing AKP and Tayyip Erdogan of altering and distorting the values of Islam. Also, because of the alliance with the “Kemalist” CHP, there is a sense of relief for the next day, as the SP will be included in any government scheme if the coalition wins the election.
“Our basic principles are that the majority does not have all the rights to impose what it wants on the minority, justice doesn’t come from power or authority but is a basic principle in itself and must be respected, Islam must not be used in politics and divisions shouldn’t be made on the basis of discrimination, “ says an SP official, emphasising that the alliance with the CHP is not just part of a rivalry with Tayyip Erdogan but a wider effort to bridge gaps in Turkish society. Speaking with two new members of the party, the most common words in the conversation were justice, democracy and an alliance of values with the CHP and the party of Meral Aksener.
“Still, no one dares to predict whether the SP will operate on a large scale, surpassing the 3% it appears to have today, having started at around 1%, and if some of the new “Islamic” middle classes will vote away from the trap of polarization and fear that Tayyip Erdogan cultivates”, comment “P” ‘s interlocutors.
However, the doubt about morality and legitimacy that the SP has created under the foundations of the AKP’s “monopoly” of islamism, but also in Tayyip Erdogan’s polarized narrative, is undoubtedly a new dynamic of a maturing Turkish society, he considers.
On our way to the railway station of Konya, we pass by the great monument of Jalal al Din Rumi, in the heart of the city. My mind is deeply immersed in all that I have seen and heard in Konya, and all over this country that is trying to find new ways of coexistence.
The sharp green dome of Rumi’s mausoleum rises in the sky and I amsuddenly thinking of how much the Turkey of today needs his message of love, reconciliation and harmonious symbiosis: “Come, come, whoever you are”
Chapter Four ADANA
A trembling, quiet whisper can be heard behind us. We sit in carriage number 2 of the “Toros Express”, the train from Konya that travels alongside the vast and dry valley of central Anatolia to the fertile Adana plain, after crossing the Taurus Mountains. In the seat in front is an elderly couple, the man has the features of a kind-hearted grandfather and is praying in a whisper, reciting excerpts from the Koran.
In the back seat, a young girl with a top that leaves her chest and arms uncovered puts her bare feet on the seat and speaks softly and quietly on the phone. From what I understand, she is talking to her boyfriend who is serving his military service somewhere.
The time is seven in the afternoon, the sun is covered by some sparse clouds, and now on the right side of the train appear the first rocks of the Taurus mountains, the natural and for a long time impassable “wall” that separated Cilicia and the Adana Plain from the the rest of Anatolia.
Kaiser and Sultan
The mountains become bigger and higher and our train sinks into an innumerable series of tunnels, sometimes chugging along, at others going faster. The first such tunnels were constructed by German engineers, Armenian foremen and skilled workers working for the Berlin-Baghdad Express, the “crazy” vision of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and Sultan Abdulhamit B.
The vision however was not all that crazy and it was certainly one of the greatest geostrategic visions of modern times. Aiming to undermine and overtake the enormous British Empire at the time, the Kaiser of the newly founded Germany and his advisors considered that a railroad linking Berlin and Baghdad, passing through the Ottoman Empire and making other sub-routes, mainly to Mecca and the Suez Canal, would be Germany’s largest geostrategic weapon.
This was a view strengthened further on the eve of the First World War when, together with the railroad, the German war propaganda recruited German and Austrian orientalists who “set up” a new theory of an Islamic sacred war, a jihad, in order to incite Islamic uprisings in the British colonies and change the course of the war.
The construction of the line from Istanbul to Baghdad was then turned into a race, judging as it would the outcome of the war in the Middle East in psychological and also practical terms with the transport of troops. But the Taurus mountain range became the nightmare of German engineers. The construction was delayed significantly due to the difficulty of digging into the rocks and because of the harsh, hot weather conditions at the construction sites and illnesses. It was also jeopardised due to the persecution of the Armenians and the genocide of 1915, which deprived the German engineers of their best foremen and workers. The tunnels were finally opened, but only much later when the Ottoman Empire was dissolved.
The valley of Adana is now spreading in front of us as the sun is disappearing behind the train.
I am thinking of what I have been hearing this time in Turkey about the foreign powers who want to weaken the country, even dismember it if they could, and how Abdullahid I tried to resist the “foreigners”, though he allied with the German Kaiser and how today Tayyip Erdogan is trying to resist “foreign powers”.
By crossing Turkey I realize what an immensely symbolic importance episodes in history have taken in the collective subconscious. Places and personalities have been transformed into traumas, myths, values and beliefs. And how persistent are the efforts started in Turkish society to unravel and overcome this Gordian knot between the past, the present and the future of Turkey. Also how closely people of different beliefs and ideologies can coexist as long as they stay away from the predominantly polarized political narratives.
“Greater Coalition” iftar
Trying to find better spots to take photographs, Eleni reaches the train’s engine room and meets a kind sixty-year- old conductor. The time is half past eight, in half an hour it will be the end of the day’s fasting, culminating in a ceremonial meal, the Iftar. The conductor invites us to the carriage at the back of the train for this Iftar.
From the window we see the tracks disappearing behind us. The carriage for the train’s employees smells like a home kitchen. Eleni’s friend has cooked a chickpea soup, meat with red sauce and pilaf. On the small table, all the plates are neatly arranged with care and respect.
With us are four more train conductors and employees, all middle-aged. They smile when they see us and compete with each other as to who will take better care of us. Everything is ready, we each hold a glass of water. The sixty-year-old conductor, whom other people call “baba” father, is looking at his watch. As soon as the time is exactly a quarter past eight they say a little prayer, we all drink a sip of water and start eating.
After the first bites, the conversation begins, with the monotonous noise of the carriages on the rails forcing us all to speak a little louder.
They ask me about Tayyip Erdogan and I ask them also. The two employees are supporting Muharem Ince, the candidate of the CHP, one of them had voted AKP in the past, but now he feels disappointed. “Baba” smiles and makes the Gray Wolf symbol with his hand and tells us that he is supporting the Party of Nationalist Action (MHP). Another is supporting Erdogan and he raises his fist and shouts “I’m a Tayipist”. The one who supports Muharrem Ince, after eating, moves to a small bed and starts praying while we are still talking, although we are whispering now out of respect.
Another employee now enters the carriage, a young man, who is voting for the pro-Kurdish HDP. They tease and make fun of each other, they tell me they sometimes fight when it comes to politics but they never really get angry.
“You see, everyone here supports different parties, from the nationalists to the Kurdish party, but we are all together, we work together, we eat the Iftar together,” one of the employees proudly tells me, while insisting Eleni should eat more sweets.
Half past nine in the morning and in the center of Adana the heat is already heavy and humid. The shops are now open and the world is rushing around on the wide avenues with palm trees and the big squares.
“Adana became an urban center in the early 19th century, it is one of the few cities in Turkey with a long bourgeois history and tradition. From the 19th Century it had trade relations with Europe and with the USA, it was one of the largest cotton export centers in the Mediterranean. Adana has a different culture, more cosmopolitan, you will see”, a historian friend had told me before I set off on this journey.
The old bourgeoisie of Adana was mainly Armenian, the first great mayors of the city were Armenians, who began to be persecuted from the beginning of the 20th century until in 1909 the great “Adana slaughter” took place, a dark omen of the genocide that would follow. When the French signed the Ankara agreement with Kemal and handed him over Cilicia, the French Armenian Legion abandoned Adana, marking the end of a long Armenian presence in the region.
In Adana of today live Turks, Arab Sunnis, Arab Alaouites, and Kurds, whose presence has multiplied since the 80’s when they were fleeing en masse Kurdish regions of south-eastern Turkey that were being destroyed by the Turkish-Kurdish conflict.
“The old urban bourgeois culture and the culture of coexistence of different elements in Adana is still continuing. And this is reflected in the balance among the political party supporters. It’s the unique character of Adana, because our society here is not dominated by one type of people or culture as is the case in the conservative cities of Anatolia, “ says a member of the AKP in Adana without hiding his pride for his city.
In the November 2015 elections, AKP received 36.8%, CHP 29.8%, MHP 19.6%, and HDP 11.7%, thus capturing the social equilibrium on the political scene in a way that does not allow any line to dominate. The MHP has a traditional power in the wider region of Adana and the mayor is from the MHP, but as many of our interlocutors have said, there is no tension between the different groups in the region.
“In Adana, there is an uncompromising culture of coexistence and this is what dominates between the people, among the citizens, in everyday life,” says an HDP executive, who nevertheless stresses that the crackdown on the party by the state is very harsh, as in all other eastern and southern regions.
“In the evenings around the Seyhan River you will see conservative Muslims next to friends who drink beer or raki, you will see Arabs, Kurds and Turks together. Around the river exists this culture of peaceful coexistence in Adana, and this spreads throughout the city, “ says one interlocutor.
In the old market in the city center, we notice different faces and outfits, we are indeed far away from Izmir where the western way of life dominates, and from Konya dominated by Muslim conservatism.
We sit at a Meral Aksener’s Good Party electoral center, flags and posters hanging around the walls and the ceiling.
“In Adana, we are used to living together, it is an old culture that has continued despite the changes in the composition of the region’s population, and it won’t change whatever happens,” says a party executive.
At the table with us is a rather serious but polite young man who belonged to the MHP but now is in the Good Party, a Kurd who supports HDP and a Turk who supports CHP.
“You see it yourself, we are friends, we do business together, we live together. This is Turkey, without polarization and segregation. But Tayyip Erdogan is cultivating this alienation and polarization,” one of them says.
“By 2007-08, AKP and Tayyip Erdogan had done a lot of good for Turkey, we should not forget that. But then polarization policies began. The worst thing that Erdogan did is that he did not operate collectively, he did not embrace, he alienated. “
“We need social peace and we must leave the past behind and look at our future, find ways to build bridges to one another. This is the most important thing for Turkey today. “
The serious but polite young man sitting across the he table tells me that he belonged to the MHP, but that he left this party because he did not agree with the support that Devlet Bahceli gives to Tayyip Erdogan.
“I want democracy, not one man’s sovereignty,” he says. Next to him another member of the party explains that Turkey needs education above all and social reconciliation.
Meral Aksener’s Good Party is trying to show a new, modern face, though still remaining close to the line of nationalism. However, our interlocutors told us that the Good Party is neither center-right nor center-left, it is a party that tries to include forces and trends from across the political spectrum and act as a pole of attraction of different elements.
“The Good Party is an unorthodox nationalist party in the sense that it neither mobilizes its supporters with nationalist symbols and symbolism nor has a tough nationalist rhetoric. It is, of course, a newly-formed party that will test its power in the elections and then it will obviously be called to clarify its political identity, “ a political observer told me in Istanbul who is very knowledgable about the Turkish right.
Nationalism is certainly a predominant element in Turkish politics and society, no matter how different parties and trends define it. It is not, however, a Turkish “privilege” in our time.
But the basic question and the most prominent issue in Turkey today is not only nationalism itself, but the extent to which society can find broader ways of coexistence and bridging the dividing lines, enhancing this maturity that is slowly emerging in some parts of it.
The dividing lines have discretely begun to diminish, as a large part of society, including the AKP supporters, are tired of polarization and tension.
But above Turkey, the Damoclean sword of the 24th June elections is swinging. As fatigue has reached unprecedented levels, no one can predict the reactions of the opposition coalition, or of the HDP and the Kurds in the case they suspect that the outcome of the election result was different due to fraud or pressures on the day of the election. And, of course, the reactions of Tayyip Erdogan’s government and supporters against any movements of dispute from the opposition .
This will be the biggest test for Turkey in recent years, and on election night it remains to be seen if the culture and mentality of coexistence that the Adana people are experiencing at their own level will prevail in the whole country or not …
Chapter Five BETWEEN THE EUPHRATES AND THE TIGRES
A warm red color pierces the darkness in the big front window of our bus. The driver, from a dark shadow, now begins to take shape and color as the sun rises right in front of us. We crossed the Euphrates river through the night, leaving behind the plain of Adana, and sunrise finds us in the heart of Mesopotamia.
The higher the sun rises in the sky, the closer we are to the Tigres river and Diyarbakir, the symbolic, psychological and partly political “capital” of all Kurds. The “Amed”, as it is called in Kurdish, is a name derived from the Hellenistic and later Byzantine “Amida”.
After Adana, with its mixed population, we are moving on to southeast Turkey, where the Kurdish element dominates and which was also once the homeland of the Armenians, who fled the area after the genocide of 1915, except for very few who still remain in some enclaves. Syrian Arabs also still have a significant presence here in some areas, such as around Mardin on the border with Syria.
After “Kemal’s” Izmir, the “Islamic” Konya and the “Gray Zone” of Adana, we are now in the “Third Turkey”, the most colorful, most multicultural and by far the most complex.
The streets are wide, in most places laid with fresh asphalt. The whole area belongs to the famous Southeast Anatolian Plan (GAP), an enormous Ankara development program for the area centered on the waters of the Euphrates and the Tigris. A total of twenty-two dams and nineteen hydropower plants in Turkish Mesopotamia, with the largest and most famous the Ataturk Dam supply huge land crops, and have made enormous changes in both the demography of the region, its economy and sociology.
The waters of the two major rivers of Mesopotamia had begun to be the focus of politics since the 19th century and the Ottoman Empire, especially since the beginning of Reforms in the Ottoman empire, “tanzimat”, since 1856 onwards as the Sublime Porte began systematic efforts to centralize and organize state power on the basis of European models of that time.
Geopolitics of water
The Euphrates and the Tigris will be the subject of wider policies, with extensions to Turkish foreign policy, after the establishment of the Turkish Republic by Kemal Ataturk. After World War II and the systematic erection of dams, river water was transformed into an “apple of controversy” between Turkey, Syria and Iraq, as Damascus accused Ankara of reserving waters to which Syria had rights. Despite the bilateral agreements, the problems did not stop and the situation in both Ankara, Damascus and the wider region of Turkish Mesopotamia became even more complicated after 1980 at the start of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict with the appearance of the PKK.The PKK attempted to sabotage the dam system while Turkey’s relations with Damascus reached the brink of war.
“Northeastern Mesopotamia might not have oil but it has water, and this has the same “explosive “ impact as oil does on the relations of the countries in the region. The water here is gold and has been politicized, like all in southeastern Turkey, “I was told in Istanbul by an academic who knows the water policies in the Middle East very well.
War and peace
The Byzantine walls rise majestically in front of us with their gray and black stones, dividing Diyarbakir’s old town from the new. It’s ten in the morning but it’s already hot and the heat of the sun is merciless.
We pass the “Gate of Mardin” and walk to the heart of the old city, “Sur”, and the large Seljuk mosque, the Ulu Mosque.The first time I came to Diyarbakir was in 1996, when the Turkish-Kurdish conflict was in one of its most violent phases.
Since then I have returned many times, I have seen this city live under terror, I have seen it prosper and smile the years of the ceasefire since early 2000, I have seen it hope for a settlement of the Kurdish issue after 2013, I saw it again torn and flaring up when the Turkish-Kurdish conflict resumed in 2015 and descended from the mountains to the cities.
It is a city full of people who have lived under unbelievable conditions, who lived through war and peace, people who continue to live, others hoping better days will come, others having lost their hopes.
We are sitting in Hassan Pasha Hani, Sour’s central han, across from Ulu’s Mosque. “The whole area behind the Han, most of Sur is inaccessible after the conflict of 2015 and 2016. When I had come here then, I’d seen an urban battlefield, armored vehicles, gunfire, explosions. Since then, the state has closed off most of Sur, which was almost flattened by the merciless battles between the men of the Turkish security forces and the PKK, with the main victims of all this having been the local population.
The future of Turkey
The wound from this last war is still open, one can see this coming across concrete walls blocking Sur’s streets and alleys.
Together with the local population, whose overwhelming majority had come to Sour in the 1990s when the Turkish army was then evacuating the mountainous Kurdish villages to deprive the PKK of support posts and who were forced to abandon their homes for the second time in thirty years, this last phase of the armed Turkish-Kurdish conflict has also been one of the biggest challenges for the Kurdish political movement and the HDP.
As many of our interlocutors in Diyarbakir, the stronghold of HDP, told us, PKK’s tragic decision to transfer the guerrilla war to the cities and the extremely violent reaction of the Turkish state made life very difficult for the moderates of the Kurdish political movement, who found themselves between two opponents. Not only difficult but also dangerous, facing the threat of imprisonment or even murder.
This Diyarbakir, living with the open wound of the latest violence and under emergency law, will be called upon in two weeks to make decisions that may determine not only the future of the Kurdish regions of Turkey and other neighboring countries where Kurds live, but also the future of the whole of Turkey.
Chapter Six DIYARBAKIR
A gentle and aromatic flavor fills my mouth and the smooth red wine is warming my stomach. A serene string melody spreads around us and a cool breeze blows gently across the square corridor of Suluklu Han is reaching us under the shade of a large mulberry tree that stands in the center of the courtyard.
We are with Eleni in Sur, in the depths of the alleys in old town Diyarbakir, in one of the oldest hans of the city. The sun has not yet set, but the shadows in the heart of Turkish Kurdistan are getting darker. Around us the tables are full of men and women of all ages, middle-aged people who drink raki, younger people who drink wine, girls with headscarves in groups or couples with teenagers drinking tea or refreshing homemade fresh juices.
Despite the excellent wine and the peacefulness around us, I need a little time to get used to and absorb what I am seeing. By the end of 2015 and early 2016, the entire Sour area had become a battleground between the Turkish security forces and the PKK. I had seen that conflict with my own eyes, I had seen places like this han closed down, destroyed or levelled. When I returned later in 2017, everything was still closed-off and abandoned. And I did not think it would come back to life.
In the years before the inhumane urban guerrilla warfare, the years of peace that had begun from the start of 2000 and reached the peak of hope and prosperity for the Kurdish regions with the effort that Tayyip Erdogan had launched for a solution to the Kurdish question, in Dyarbakir and mainly Sour people were talking about a “Kurdish renaissance”.
Kurdish artists came from all over, sculptors, actors, painters, intellectuals, a lot of cafes were opened by young people from the city or other Kurdish cities, even wine had made its re-emergence in Sur and many other cities in the area from where it had virtually disappeared after the Armenian Genocide and later the escape of the Syriac Christians.
“We make the wine, we make it in the old traditional way, as the Armenians had done before. And all the profit from the han here go towards the renovations of buildings in the old town. We have founded a collective, twenty men and women, and we are trying to do what we can to bring Diyarbakir back to its historical continuity and tradition. This is our fight, “ says a young man with broken features but with a voice full of determination.
“Flowers Between Tombs”
“We have put all the big plans behind us, the great hopes and expectations. We do not even have hope for the generous promises of the opposition, nor of Tayyip Erdogan and AKP, of course. Suluklu Han, and everything that managed to re-open after the war here is like flowers between graves. They may one day cover the tombs, but this will be done only with small steps from Ankara and the PKK, gradual democratization and small, local plans and visions to be able to stand straight “ says a friend of mine who is politically active in the region, as we walk through the narrow streets of the city.
Behind us is the noise of excavators and drills from the closed-off part of Sur, the largest part of the old city, which has been completely leveled and where the Turkish state has turned into a construction site since 2016.No one yet knows how things will be when the works behind the cement walls and barbed wire are over .
“As you can see, the more the Turkish state pushes us down,the more we will rise again. The Kurdish renaissance will return. Since the beginning of the Republic up to today, we have been living under oppression, in some periods less and others more, but we always feel we are the underdogs. Nonetheless we will always find a way to express ourselves and keep our identity alive. Now that for most Kurds the hopes of a great political solution are smaller than ever, the search for new ways of expressing our identity and culture will increase.”
“We do not expect much anymore”
Night has fallen, the Iftar, the meal that signifies the break from the day’s fast, is just over, and people are out strolling on the streets of Sur to cool off after a hot day.
We arrive at another old han which has survived the last war. We are offered tea this time and our hosts are rolling cigarettes with a heavy, dry Kurdish tobacco.
“Our politicians are in prison, and even Selahatin Demirtas, who is the HDP’s candidate for the presidency, is in prison. We do not expect anything to radically change for us after the election. If Tayyip Erdogan is reelected, AKP will continue the oppressive policies they have applied so far. And together with us, and all that we have suffered for years, all of Turkey will be drowning in authoritarianism. If Erdogan were to try for his own reasons to re-launch a peace process, no one would believe him. The trauma we have experienced since 2015, when the peace process ceased as soon as Erdogan saw that the Kurds would vote for HDP, is very difficult to heal,” says one of our interlocutors belonging to the most nationalist wing of the Kurdish political movement. Silencing however that, the PKK also had a huge responsibility for the last war, as many people now say in Diyarbakir.
“Ankara should Change Mindset”
“If the opposition wins we don’t expect much either. We have known Meral Aksener since she was Interior Minister in the 1990s when even then terrible things were happening here . Muharrem Ince promises a lot, too much, he flirts with the Kurds. He went to visit, for example, Selahatin Demirtas in jail. But deep down he is also a nationalist like most of his party. Unless Ankara’s mentality changes concerning the Kurds and the Kurdish issue, no Turkish politician will be able to bring a comprehensive and viable solution, “another interlocutor tells us.
“In 2015, in the June elections, when the HDP overcame for the first time the 10% barrier, and previously, as the peace process was still in the works, we believed in politics.But after the events that followed, our politicians and our mayors are today either in jail or under persecution.Young people are becoming more and more radical and we are increasingly moving away from Turkey mentally.”
Che Guevara and Sheikh Said
In a spacious courtyard of an old bourgeois house near the old Armenian district of Sur, before 1915, when the deputy mayor in Diyarbakir was always Armenian, traditional Kurdish dress, paintings, others with sad female figures, others with desperate faces and others with melancholic couples in love are exhibited.
The portraits of Che Guevara, Sheikh Said and Said Riza are hanging on the walls around the courtyard.
Sheikh Said was the head of the first major Kurdish uprising in the newly established Turkish Republic in 1925. Taking advantage of a mix of Muslim reaction against the elimination of the Caliphate by Kemal Ataturk and Kurdish nationalism, religious leader Sheikh Said also convinced parts of the Kurdish battalions formed by Abdulhamid II, that had played a terrible role in the genocide of the Armenians, to join him. The rebellion was drowned in blood, but it was only the first.
In 1937, as Kemalist Turkey was trying to force “turkification”, Sheik Riza would lead the great rebellion of the Dersim region, which Ankara renamed to the Turkish name “Tunceli”, meaning “bronze hand”.This rebellion even forced Ataturk to admit that this was the most serious problem facing Turkey. The repression of the Turkish state was relentless, and the Turkish air force bombed the Kurds, as it had done in 1925, with Ataturk’s step-daughter, Sabiha Gokcen, who gave her name to Istanbul’s second airport, becoming the most famous war pilot at the time.
In the late 1970s, the PKK would emerge with its purely Marxist ideology and the Turkish-Kurdish conflict would reach its climax.
“We have lived since the beginning of the Republic under threats and wars. Our hopes are few. But if these elections do not get HDP to pass the 10% barrier, the impact on both Kurds and Turkey will be tragic, “says an independent Kurdish analyst in Diyarbakir.
“Moderates will be at risk”
“As the other major opposition parties have allied, the 10% threshold hardly applies for them. For HDP it does, however, and according to our analysis, it seems to be around the levels of the November 2015 elections, when after the unprecedented June rate, 13.1%, fell to 10.8%, but it has the dynamic for more. If it does not pass the threshold and is blocked by the National Assembly, relations between the Kurds, Turkey will now be in danger of being totally broken at a psychological and political level. Everyone sees that HDP is being persecuted, but at least the psychological association has remained since the party is currently in the National Assembly. It will also be extremely difficult for the Turkish opposition alliance because without the Kurds in the National Assembly it will not have genuine legitimacy. The dynamics within the Kurdish movement, between the wing of moderates and those who believe and work for the Turkish-Kurdish approach and the wing of the Kurdish nationalists and the extremists who believe in the armed struggle, will be in danger of a tragic change at the expense of moderates.
“However, as far as the presidential elections are concerned, in the case of a second round, it is certain that the Kurds will support anyone up against Tayyip Erdogan. Muharrem Ince certainly with much more ease than Meral Aksener. In fact, forecasting shows a likely tendency of HDP voters to vote for Ince rather than Demirtas, to be sure that Aksener will not go through to the second round. And it is also noticeable that the AKP seems to be falling to the levels of the June 2015 elections in the Kurdish regions, which were its lowest. “
Tribes and religious orders
On the main avenue before Dar Kapi, one of the gates of the old city, the Good Party flags and large posters of Meral Aksener hang around a vivid building housing the party’s offices in Diyarbakir.
“The Good Party managed to come to a deal with a family member who is leading one of the largest tribes in the region, which up to now was to stand with AKP, but when that party’s MP, who was one of the leaders of the tribe, kept a distance from AKP’s opposition to the Kurdish referendum in northern Iraq as he has relations with Barzani,he wasn’t an AKP candidate in this election, “ says a political observer at Diyarbakir.
The tribes have played and continue to play an important role in the political and social life of South-Eastern Turkey, others are co-operating with the state with civil guards fighting against the PKK and others with the Kurdish movement.
“In Kurdish areas politics is even more complex than the rest of Turkey, as one has to take into account many factors. From tribes and religious brotherhoods to the Kurdish dynamics in Iraq, Syria and Iran, and to the internal struggles between moderates and nationalists, “ says a friend, born and raised in Diyarbakir.
“The Soul of Diyarbakir”
We are back in Suluklu Han in the evening. Under the big mulberry tree, the tables are again full of the same diverse crowd. A sombre classical music is playing.
“Diyarbakir’s society is as complex as its politics. The dividing lines that intersect Turkish society and the rest of Turkey here are weakening even more in recent years, losing their depth, their strength. Because here we are joined by common pain under the pressure of the Turkish state. We are joining the same effort to find new ways to experience our identity and express ourselves, far away from great ideas and expectations. Look around. Faithful Muslims, leftists, young, old, married couples, unmarried couples, wine and tea. This is very difficult to see in the rest of Turkey so intense, so free. “ says a friend from Diyarbakir
“The peoples hopes have lessened. Our traumas are still deep, our wounds open. But we still insist. What you see around you is Diyarbakir’s soul. It is our melancholic stubbornness.”
Chapter Seven BEING A WOMAN IN TURKEY
Crossing the “Τhree Turkeys”, from the westward and secularized Izmir, the Muslim Conservative Konya, the “gray zone” of Adana and finally the Kurdish Diyarbakir, “P” documented the three dominant politico-social characteristics that can be a “tool” for understanding the country. A “tool” that undoubtedly allows some dominant political and social trends to emerge, as until now the three dominant geographies of Turkey, the “kemalist” Turkey of the western regions of the country and the coasts, the “Islamic” Turkey of Anatolia and Black Sea and Kurdish Turkey of the southeastern regions are reflected in political and electoral preferences and trends.
Throughout the “Τhree Turkeys”, however, a cultural map of the predominant way of everyday life, expectations and social reflexes, appears even more distinctly. A “culture” of life, a cultural and anthropological identity shaped by the ideologies of political tendencies and parties that have dominated for decades in each region, historical and social realities and demographics, its economy and rapid development, or tragic stagnation, depending on the region.
The politico-social map coincided for years with the cultural map, that is to say, until recently there was an interrelated relationship between, for example, the CHP and its ideological and political ramifications with the Westernized secularized way of life. Between the Islamic, conservative right-wing parties with the conservative-Muslim way of life or between the predominantly Kurdish left-wing parties in southeast Turkey with some more secularized or left-wing lifestyle features in areas where the movement was more powerful than Kurdish Muslim conservatism.
Hybrid Identities and Political Movements
However, what “P” observed in its last journey from Izmir to Diyarbakir but also in the previous one in early May, from Ankara to Kars, traversing the heart of conservative Sunni Anatolia, is that profound and very fast social changes in all these areas change the data of the cultural map. This is because the dividing lines between formerly distinctly different ways of life, in clear cultural identities, have begun to retreat, to mix and create new hybrid identities.
In Kemalist Turkey, the attitude of the “Kemalists” and especially of the new westernised generations has changed, and it has become much easier today for “Islamists” to integrate in society without this meaning that the “Kemalist” element does not dominate.
In “Islamic” Turkey, the way of life has radically changed and has essentially been secularized, and Westernized in all its manifestations, although the predominant tendency is an attachment to references to Anatolia and Turkish Sunni Islam. In Kurdish areas where everything is more complex, there is also a tendency to weaken cultural dividing lines, on a smaller scale than in the rest of Turkey but with remarkable momentum.
Today, therefore, the political and social map no longer coincides with the new hybrid cultural map of the country, as the shifts of the cultural tectonic plates and identities change the everyday behavior of its citizens.
Under the “Three Turkeys” there is a burst of upheaval that may change the outcome of the upcoming elections. It is certainly apparent that the new Turkish society has significant potential and dynamic for maturity and rationality. However, it is not certain that these dynamics have yet entered a full-fledged state or that they will not back down again to new divisions, hatred and passions.
The new hybrid cultural identities that have been in full swing in Turkish society over the past three decades have gained pace during the AKP period and undoubtedly since 2002 they have shattered significant taboos in both society and politics, while huge economic growth has brought profound changes in the “Islamist” way of life.
However, AKP, but especially Tayyip Erdogan, are again playing a catalytic role in the cultural changes that are taking place, as the disappointment of a significant part of the “Islamists” and especially the new “Islamic” middle classes, who believe the Turkish President has distorted their original vision and Islamism, is one of the key factors shaping Islam in Turkey and, of course, the outcome of the June 24th elections. In addition, anti-Erdoganism, and especially the great fatigue of a significant part of society due to the polarization and what they see as abolition of institutions, has become a catalyst for new convergences between the heterogeneous parties of the opposition creating new synergies and osmosis.
“What is it like to be a woman in Turkey?”
The new hybrid identities of the “Three Turkeys” , the anthropological changes in lifestyle, and especially this process of hybridization that is in full swing, bringing confusion to both the people who experience it and to foreign observers , are portrayed in a very vivid way by the position of women in these different Turkeys
How different is it to be a woman in Izmir, Konya or Diyarbakir? How have these divisions changed? We attempted to explore these questions without getting clear answers, and can only aspire to give food for thought.
”Izmir is the best place”
On the grass of the “Kordon”, the coastal pedestrian walkway in Izmir , men, women, couples, tattooed boys, and girls enjoy the beginning of the evening.
“For us Izmir is the best place, it is the city in which we can wear what we want, go out as we want, have friends. There is no harassment or any problems like that. We would not change it at all,” say three girls wearing tight jeans trousers and t-shirts. All three come from other cities in Turkey and one of the main reasons they want to live here is this freedom they feel.
We are talking to two other ladies who have just finished their studies at the University of Izmir. “Before, we couldn’t go to campus in our headscarves and in Izmir it would have been even more difficult. Nevertheless, we studied and lived in Izmir very comfortably even though our parents and friends in our hometowns told us that it is a very difficult city for girls like us.”
“Kemalism” definitely gave women a new place, but like almost all the corresponding ideologies of of the newly-established nations of the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly of the interwar period, it sterilised women’s femininity and gave them a “mother of the nation” position as a worker for the sake of the nation. Over the coming decades, this trend has faded and social and economic changes have changed the female identity of the resident Turks to something very similar very to that of women in the West. However, it remains within a broader conservative framework, since Kemalism is socially conservative.
The Konya of Contrasts
“It is very difficult to be a woman in Konya, we cannot wear that we want, if we do not wear a headscarf people react, especially on the outskirts of the city, not so much in the center. They sometimes whistle and comment. Although we can’t imagine wearing what the girls in Izmir wear” says a girl wearing a black t-shirt with rock music symbols and jeans.Her friends agree with us and one of them who wears a headscarf comments that being a young woman in Konya is full of boundaries and restrictions. However, the oldest ones say that things have been a bit easier than in the past as conservatism has changed in Konya. Nonetheless, flirting and romantic relationships remain difficult, but not impossible like before. All of them support the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and they see the alliance of their party positively with the Islamic Party of Felicity(SP).
“It is very easy to be a woman in Konya, we go out comfortably, no one bothers us. It’s a good life for women here,” say two girls wearing headscarves who support AKP.
In a stylish Islamic fashion store we are talking to the shopkeeper and two employees. All three wear elegant headscarves and colourful clothes.
“In the past we used to wear the “tesetour” ( the Islamists traditional attire that was monochrome, all enveloping and unobtrusive) to prevent drawing attention to men.” “Now this has changed, it has become colorful and more fitted and worn to attract the attention of men. We do not feel right with this, it is not aligned with our religion and our morals, but we do it because this is the trend now,” one of the saleswomen tells us, without hiding her disappointment.
A friend, who is very familiar with the way of thinking of women who wear headscarves as she also wears, explains that for younger generations in Turkey, Islamic fashion trends come mainly through social media from Muslims in Europe and the United States and this sometimes brings about a chauvinistic reaction by Turkish women here.
“Islamism” also sterilized in its own way the woman’s femininity, considering motherhood and family her only positions and role in society, but in recent years, thanks to AKP, but surely not willingly, the “Islamists” live with a very different femininity which is very close to that of secularized women.
“AKP has done a lot for us”
We are in Adana with a group of women belonging to the AKP. Half of them are wearing headscarves, the rest are not.
“This taboo, this separation between “open” and “closed “, as the kemalists used to say and still say, no longer exists. AKP did a great deal for us, not only did it open the door for a university education, but it has allowed us to work for the state wearing our headscarves. We receive more social welfare, pregnancy allowances, maternity leave, training schools. AKP is a party for the woman,” they tell us vehemently with a smile
“Life for women here in Adana is difficult, not so so much in the center but more in the periphery. We can’t dress as we like, labor inequalities remain enormous and AKP places the woman in the foreground but essentially it is to strengthen male hegemony, “ says a female executive of the pro-Kurdish People’s Party (HDP) in Adana.
Feminism and patriarchy in Diyarbakir
ΗDP has clearly embraced feminist views and the entire Kurdish movement is systematically striving to cultivate a culture of equality, but it must fight primarily with the feudal and patriarchal structures of Kurdish society that govern all parties, even ΗDP, in the Kurdish regions.
The PKK has also turned women into a symbolic battlefield that is often an integral part of the propaganda and public image of the organization.
“For women here in Diyarbakir and in south-eastern Turkey it is even more difficult. We have to fight twice as hard because of our Kurdish identity, but also because we are women. AKP considers the woman only as a mother or a wife, it doesn’t encourage an independent individual identity, and this has to do with patriarchy and the misinterpreted Islamism that dominates in Turkey,” says a Diyarbakir intellectual who wears a headscarf.
“There are certainly important changes and dynamics,” she tells us, but reminds us that there are still many honor crimes in the area with female victims, and that families in rural areas still don’t send girls to school.