2 Nisan 2009 Perşembe

What is wrong with the official history of Turkey?

How to write or rewrite the history of Turkey is a question that I believe has been on the agenda in Turkey lately, getting more attention by the day. To me a history, history of any kind, is an explanation that is meant to last until the conditions that make it possible get disrupted. A historical discourse is valid as long as the explanation it offers about whatever it is trying to explain seems believable or does work. What I am saying here is not much different from what the “punctuated equilibrium” theory in the evolutionary biology says about life on Earth. A history works until it satisfies the need to have explanations about certain topics, problems, questions and etc in some cultural habitat. When it starts losing this capacity, suddenly there appear various attempts to offer a new explanation and they go on until the members of the cultural habitat that the previous historical discourse used to organize agree upon a new history. Then there is another long period of nothing; the new history reigns until the same process repeats itself.

Turkey seems to be at such a point right now. The official history has lost its credibility. Although there are many who still take it seriously, there are also many people who now question many of the assumptions of the official history. These particular members of the cultural habitat that I call the Turkish Republic, who had, until recently, either accepted or simply chosen not to object the assumptions forced upon them by the official history, are now directing many questions at it and trying to form their own, supposedly more objective and closer to the truth, versions of history. Most of these new historical experiments are simply ethnic in character, concentrating only on telling their own story, without paying attention to the others around them, which is an understandable venture, as some of these groups have been deprived of their own stories and therefore own voices for some time now. And some of these experiments are as ambitious as the official history has been, as they also try to encompass all the peoples, different groups, thought mostly in ethnical terms, under one big or grand history. It is probably best to put them under the category of Anatolian histories, as they all seem to prefer the term Anatolia.

Both approaches are ethnic. Their major reaction to the official history seems to be based on the fact that the official history recognizes no other ethnic group except the Turks. The official history is simply the history of the Turks. The other groups are hardly mentioned. So the objections are framed in ethnic terms as well. The concept of ethnicity, whether or not it can be used to explain the history of thousands of years, is hardly criticized. The ethnicities are treated as if they have been around since the very old times. Another problem with these new explanations, which unfortunately put them in the same category with the official history, is that they are as discriminatory and therefore as inadequate as the official history as well. Not only that they seem to go to the other extreme in their attempts to have their voices recognized by becoming way too resistant in giving any positive role to the Turks or unwilling to see them in terms they use for themselves, they, however, also seem to be unaware of the possibility of talking about the past in terms of other groups not ethnic in character.

The official history has not only been Turkish, but many other things as well. It is, for example, very macho, too, or put in other terms, based on the warrior-hero type. When one looks at the characters in the official history, the heroes dominate, which is, one may think, only natural. There are of course no anti-heroes; but perhaps there should be. Then we should also include those who are neither heroes nor anti-heroes, but simply just there. And there is hardly any woman in the official, only except when they are portrayed as heroes again. The official history is basically a male history. It is also a very aggressive history and mostly violent as well, but I guess this part is difficult to see since nowadays violence is everywhere in our lives, including our living rooms. But one can still say that the violence is portrayed in the official history of Turkey as one of the most effective methods to get results and the concept of “might makes it right” is hardly criticized.

Some may think I am being a bit unfair here, but these points are important for any history. Most histories, especially the nationalist histories or nation histories, are taught to children of very young ages, when they are the most impressionable. Therefore, it is necessary to pay attention to the pedagogic component of any official history as well. What kind of individuals is targeted in such histories is a very important question and one that needs to be answered not solely in ethnic terms. Assimilation is important problem, but turning even women into male-hero-warrior type or giving the children the idea that it is okay to resort to violence are also equally important. For example, most women characters in the official Turkish history are bad people; they either harm whatever state the Turks are running at the time or come as assassins. There are of course attempt lately to remedy this problem, but one is still looking at a very male history, a history of a very aggressive and violent hero male. When this male needs something, he goes and gets it. Whatever fight he is in , it is just, even if he might be the one who started it.

At any rate, I will not go into more detail. But I would like to say that simply being against the official history does not necessarily mean a very different history may appear or a demand for a very different history is being made. We should also look at what I would like to call the history-making capacity of the culture under observation. What kind of histories a particular culture has the ability and/or intention to produce? This should perhaps be the main target, if there is interest to cause a major change in how people portray themselves and their past, how they see others.

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