Umut Özkırımlı’s Major Mistakes

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s effort for calming a crying girl who got excited on the stage caused striking reactions both in Turkey and abroad. Apparently, this effort is being used as a branch to be clanged by the front lines which cannot prevent Olive Branch Operation due to being concurrent with the research “Is Turkey Experiencing a New Nationalism?” of Metropoll company.

Also Ahval News Analysis website allegedly financed by UAE joined this effort without delay. The article of Umut Özkırımlı, Associate Professor in Political Science and International Relations who has no fellow feeling with the present government of Turkish Republic as it stands out in his almost every articles having effectual publishing on Nationalism took part in Ahval.

In dear Ozkırımlı’s worthwhile article, there are a large number of mistakes not matching up with the realities of Turkey. Assessing the whole article requires to perform a study as comprehensive as a thesis study. For this purpose, we only assessed the major mistakes.

The article starts with “The return of the Sheikh: On Turkey’s so new nationalism”. It is extremely strange and desperate that significant and popular academician Ozkırımlı commenced with a hypnotic sentence. By looking through in this sense, it has no meaning to continue reading the article.

The word “Sheikh” is commonly used in Arab world. It commonly designates the ruler of a tribe, who inherited the title from his father. “Sheikh” is given to a royal male at birth, whereas the related title “Sheikha” is given to a royal female at birth.

There are major mistakes as we examine the word Sheikh in terms of today’s meaning.

Etymology and meaning of Sheikh: The word in Arabic stems from a triliteral root connected with age and aging: شيخ, shīn-yā’-khā’. The term literally means a man of vast power, and nobility, and it is used strictly for the royal families of the Middle East.

There are also major mistakes as we examine the word Sheikh etymologically.

Sufi term of Sheikh: In Islamic Sufism, the word Shaikh is used to represent a wali who initiates a particular tariqa which leads to Muhammad, although many saints have this title added before their names out of respect from their followers. One prominent example is Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, who initiated the Qadiriyya order which relies strongly upon adherence to the fundamentals of Islam.

There are again major mistakes as we analyse the word Sheikh in terms of sophism.

As we look at the regional usage of the word Sheikh, it is a word profoundly important for Arab world and insignificant for Anatolian geography.

It was a memorable, decidedly chilling sight. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had supporters hoist a little girl dressed in military camouflage onto the stage with him as he was addressing his party. Noticing the tears welling up in the little girl’s eyes, he said: “See, we have our maroon berets. Maroon berets do not cry.” Kissing her cheek and clutching her to his side, the president tried to calm her down. And he continued: “Gendarmerie special ops, lieutenant colonel, maroon beret … Mashallah. And she has the Turkish flag in her pocket. If she becomes a martyr, she will be covered by that flag. She is ready for everything, right?

This section assessed by Ozkırımlı is composed of the speech with the purpose of encouraging an excited girl by its location. Actually it is more than that, an emphasis on the significance of maroon berets, the value of the sacrifice for their country. The addressee of the speech is not the girl. It is the maroon berets themselves.

Like Umut Ozkırımlı, Prime Minister’s real addressee is the ones who have come somewhere by the help of Turkish Republic’s opportunities, have their hearts beat for their native country and the ones whose heart should beat for. A courage speech made for the brave men who do not refrain from sacrificing their own lives in such a dangerous region like Afrin. Also, it is an allusion for the ones who should make the same sacrifice.

It is indeed strange that the misunderstanding of a lecture about a love of flag and country by the academicians like Umut Ozkırımlı. The faulty assessment of Umut Ozkırımlı here might be related to his associate professorship in Political Science and International Relations. Otherwise it is not possible to make a deduction that he does not like his country.

This harrowing scene reminded me of another similar incident in 2008, when the then chief of staff General Yaşar Büyükanıt was offered a Turkish flag painted with the blood of 13 high school students. “The flag made him emotional”, the newspapers covering the “ceremony” reported.

This speech which terrified Ozkırımlı is the same with the speeches made by the commanders who create the actual nation prior to every war. I exonerate Ozkırımlı from this speech, instead of commitment to the country, terrifying is more frightening. The hypnotic impression that Ozkırımlı wants to affect through a given example here may only for the ones who do not keep the love of flag. This assessment of Ozkırımlı reminded us of the flag crisis happened in Famagusta. The Greek named Solomus Solomu attempted to lower Turkish flag in 1996, his mistake costed his life. Even though the Westerners who do not know the meaning of flag, showed empathy to Solomu, not recurring of such incident demonstrated that Greek people learned their lesson. Ozkırımlı knows the value of the flag for sure. We wish him to show this value to the Westerners through his articles as well.

Then I thought of the headline of a report by John Halpin, Michael Werz, Alan Makovsky and Max Hoffman of the Center for American Progress (CAP), a Washington D.C. based non-partisan think-tank, summarising and commenting on the findings of a new survey on Turkish self-perceptions. “Is Turkey Experiencing a New Nationalism?” the authors asked . Their answer was positive. Surely, the survey had provided some original, unprecedented insights; why else would the authors feel the need to refer to a “new nationalist spirit”?

Ozkırımlı is about to make a very big assessment mistake. As a result of this assessment of Metropoll, about 90% of the Anatolian people having an extremely complicated ethnical structure such as Kurd, Circassian, Zaza, Laz, Alevist, Sunni, laic, Kemalist described themselves respectful towards, Turk, Turkish, Muslim and other beliefs. The importance of politics among the participants of the survey remained at the level of 50%. It matches up with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s citizen line a while ago. A sociological change seems to have come true corresponding to the new nationalist spirit at the end of the paragraph. This is an evolution not to be afraid of, to be pleased.

Alas, the findings of the survey, carried out by the polling firm Metropoll, which conducted face-to-face interviews with 2,453 people from 28 provinces in November 2017, simply reiterate what we already know thanks to dozens of other, similar, surveys conducted in last two decades. In this respect, it could also be read as a complement to Bilgi University’s “The Dimensions of Polarisation in Turkey” survey that I discussed in some detail a couple of weeks ago.

Polarization is defined as “division into two sharply contrasting groups or sets of opinions or beliefs” in dictionaries. Quite the contrary the results of Metropoll proved solidarity at the level of 85%. Perhaps mentioning about polarization takes place in the last.

Thus an overwhelming majority of the respondents (86 percent) affirmed that “being a Turk” was an important part of their identity. Conceptions about “what it means to be a Turk” are also in line with the findings of earlier surveys; a belief in strong families, speaking the Turkish language and being Muslim are the three most cited identity components – by roughly 68 percent who said they all are “very important” in defining Turkishness.

The findings do not fail to register the resilience and wide appeal of the Sèvres syndrome either, the belief that the West is bent on dismembering Turkey as it did the Ottoman Empire. Some 84 percent of the respondents agree that “Global economic and political elites have too much power over Turkey and should be resisted”. This is compounded with a strong anti-immigrant feeling with 78 percent agreeing with the statement that “Turkey spends too much time and money caring for refugees from other countries and should focus more on its own citizens.” One other interesting, yet not so unexpected finding, is the belief – mostly held by AKP supporters of course – that “Turkey under Erdoğan is fulfilling Atatürk’s ideal of a strong and independent nation”.

These are important findings, but what leads the authors of the report to conclude that this is “a new nationalist spirit grounded deeply in Islam and opposition to Western nations and non-Turkish citizens”?

Metropoll’s results show the conception of Turkishness is independent from where the person is in the bloodline.

If they are referring to the centrality of Islam in defining Turkishness, as they seem to do when they point to the 80 percent who agree with the statement that “Islam plays a central role in my life”, this is a platitude known to all observers of Turkey’s politics, expert or non-expert.

If this is meant to draw attention to “a new form of Turkish nationalism”, they are again off the mark for Islam was an important ingredient of several strands of Turkish nationalism, since at least the transition to multi-party politics. As several commentators have noted, these strands differed from the official Kemalist narrative only in the extent to which they stressed the salience of religion in defining Turkishness (see for example my article, “The Topography of Nationalism in Turkey: Actors, Discourses and the Struggle for Hegemony”, in Riva Kastoryano (ed.), Turkey between Nationalism and Globalization, London: Routledge, 2013; or Tanıl Bora’s earlier essay, “Nationalist Discourses in Turkey”, The South Atlantic Quarterly, 102 (2/3), 2003, 433-51).

Ozkırımlı avoided commenting on these results which show the necessity of assessing Islam as well right beside if it is required to assess the citizens of Turkish Republic socio-politically and socio-culturally.

More importantly, however, the authors turn a blind eye to the complicated relationship between secular official nationalism and Islam which the republican elites used to rally the Anatolian masses round the radical goals of the Kemalist revolution. In fact, the solution proposed by one of the twin founding fathers of Turkism, Ziya Gökalp, to the fledgling nation’s identity dilemma was a synthesis that brought together what he described as the three elements of Turkishness, namely Turkism, Islamism and Modernism, summed up in the slogan “To be of the Turkish nation, of the Islamic religion, and of European civilization”.

It is true that at least at a rhetorical level, the founders of the republic did downplay the role of Islam when they set out to define what it means to be a “modern” Turk. Yet they adopted a much more accommodationist attitude towards religion in practice, keeping it under control rather than trying to eradicate it. And Islam was the tool the Democratic Party (DP) used to challenge the hegemony of the establishment Republican People’s Party (CHP) from 1950 onwards.

It seems that the three principals of Ziya Gökalp who formed the intellectual infrastructure of Turkish Republic together with M. Kemal Atatürk have annoyed Ozkırımlı. So why Islamization created by Ziya Gökalp with Atatürk’s supports is defined as tool by Ozkırımlı?

What we witness today is not the rise of a new nationalism, but the return of Ziya Gökalp whom Yusuf Akçura, the other founding father of Turkish nationalism, described as a “sheikh”, or spiritual guide, in an essay he penned for a special issue of “Türk Yurdu”, the foremost Turkish journal of the period, dedicated to the life and teachings of Gökalp in the wake of his death in 1924. It was precisely this status as a guide, a sheikh, that convinced the Turkish youth to join “the most perfect confraternity that has ever existed, the confraternity of Turkish nationalism” (for these and following quotations, see Umut Özkırımlı and Spyros A. Sofos, Tormented by History: Nationalism in Greece and Turkey, Hurst and Co. and Oxford University Press, 2008).

The Turks, Gökalp said, were a nation rich in culture, but poor in civilization. They had borrowed “the institutions of foreign peoples and produced an artificial civilization out of them, instead of creating their own”. This also explained the gulf separating the educated and the “common people” in Turkey. To bridge the gulf, the educated had “to go to the people” and learn from them the basics of the national culture, as well as introducing them to modern civilization. The formula he proposed was simple and quite straightforward: “Let us try to acquire everything in techniques from Europe, but let us find our culture only in our own national soul.”

Does this sound familiar to you?

Yes. Umut Ozkırımlı’s article seemed very familiar to us.

Without having learned Orientalism Sociology, the Westerners who were not effective in Muslim Arab Turkish World could have infiltrated the region after being aware of the region’s decency and cultural structure. We would like dear Umut Ozkırımlı to tell the Westerners that this is like that and ask whether their experiences resemble present-day or not.


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About the author


Mustafa Akman

Mr. Mustafa Akman is a freelance journalist.

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