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In Celebration Of Our Turkishness
by Mahmut Esat OZAN
WHO WAS A ROMAN?
WHO WAS AN OTTOMAN?
WHO IS A TURK?
Before answering these questions above, let us pose another one, "What are the similarities existing among the old citizens of the Roman and Ottoman Empires and the contemporary inhabitants of modern Turkey?" Well, here's the answer: We must acknowledge and accept the fact that all three of them have the same social make-up. In the framework pertaining to the societal composition of the Roman and Ottoman Empires, one does not notice any racial, ethnic, or even religious alienations caused by prejudices injurious to the running of a society.
In the Roman populace, as well as in the Ottoman one, every citizen was known as either a Roman, or an Ottoman. The same has been true for those living within the confines of the new Turkish nation created by its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In Turkey, every citizen, regardless of his or her ethnic, religious, and political background, is known and referred to as a Turk, no hyphens are necessary.
Not so long ago, in Miami, Florida, a political asylum case involving a young Turkish citizen, reached the Immigration and Naturalization Department's desk. What I am relating now is the true account of events which took place.
In the past I was offered work in which I could be of help in interpreting in various court cases involving Turkish nationals. The young man in our story was a Turkish citizen of Kurdish extraction. He reluctantly fled his homeland, his birthplace, leaving his family, his girl friend and others behind. His adventures, spanning half of the globe were in search of a safe haven. His words are revealed here with the condition that his real identity is kept secret. Hasan Volkan is not his real name, of course.
Hasan had been fighting for his life in order to escape those who were pursuing him relentlessly to punish him because he had repeatedly refused to kill for the dreaded PKK. While being interviewed by the US agents of the I N S(Immigration and Naturalization Service), he kept on saying he left Turkey because he was not interested in jeopardizing his life for a cause that was alien to his beliefs. He thought that staying in Turkey would bring about his early demise.
In order not to burden the reader with the whole account of Hasan's plight, which I related in an earlier essay, I would like to reveal here that, after three years of hiding in the USA, he is now back in Turkey and has rejoined his family and his girl friend. The last I heard from him is that he was about to get married.
While I was helping him with the INS, he had made some
interesting statements. One in particular was very meaningful. Here's
what Hasan told the INS attorney in Turkish:
The 20th Century is almost over. The year 1999 will be the very last span of time before humanity will embark into a new millennium. It is anybody's guess how posterity will record these turbulent past hundred years.
I wonder how historians will judge this century in the next millennium. It began with the dream of universal peace, but saw two tragic world wars, the birth of the atomic bomb, a 'Police Action' in Korea, and a costly 'Vietnam experience', plus a hundred smaller wars, and now it is coming to an end despite the ravages of dreaded terrorism, with a renewed hope for international harmony.
The above heading actually comes from a bumper sticker I remember seeing some twenty years ago. But the words it contains are much more persuasive today than they were in the Seventies. Nevertheless, all levity aside, the world's population in 1900 was a mere l.5 billion, a figure almost matching the number of inhabitants living in Communist China today. In that year, 1900, one of the greatest military minds and one of the greatest emancipators who ever lived, Mustafa Kemal, was a 19 year old young man. The world at large was yet to discover his genius. All Turks know this as a factual certainty, that if it weren't for Kemal, who later on became ATATURK, the father of his nation, there would be no one today who would be addressed as a Turk, and no one would be left to elucidate the pride exhibited in the significance of the world "TURK."
I remember clearly the 10th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey. The whole country was singing, including us, the students in the Ortakoy preparatory section of Galatasaray, on the shores of the Bosphorus, the memorable words of a catchy tune "CIKTIK ACIK ALINLA," the stirring musical composition of the day. This patriotic song was saying proudly that in a short 10 years Turks had created 15 million young people of "all ages."
During one of those days, on a warm spring afternoon, we were able to view our dear President, Gazi Mustafa Kemal Pasha, (three years before he was given the name of ATATURK) riding in a convertible limousine, sitting next to the Duke of Windsor, the future Edward VIII, the King of England.
It seems that after all those years, and despite what seems to be an unsurmountable prejudice piled up against them coming from all corners of the globe and overlooking the drawbacks, real and contrived, Turks are still able to celebrate what is proudly known as 'TURKISHNESS.' Once again, going back to what we were discussing earlier, we see that there was no need for nobility in the Ottoman Empire. Any Muslim, even one who converted from Christianity, had the chance to rise all the way to become a VEZIR. The world would witness this type of opportunity in the USA centuries later.
Ever since Alparslan, the Seljuk Turk military leader's victory over the Eastern Roman Emperor Romanus VI in 107l, the way up the ladder of success began in the military. If an ordinary citizen wanted to get somewhere in the power system, he had to attend a military school.
Many great men in Turkish history began their illustrious lives in this fashion. A May, 1996 article of mine in this newspaper, "TURKS' LOVE AFFAIR WITH THEIR MILITARY'" is a good indication of this complex relationship between the public and their military institutions.
Unlike other societies, in the Turkish one it was the Military that sided with the common people. It still is the Military that extricates the country straying from the course designated for Turks by their great leader, Kemal Ataturk.
Someone in the soldierly stature of NAPOLEON BONAPARTE had once made a statement which illustrates what the concept of "military" meant to the Turks. They were invincible then, they may still be counted on the premise today. In 1799, after he returned to France from his inconclusive Egyptian campaign in the Ottoman lands, he related anecdotes about an encounter he had in the city of Acra, where after a long siege of the area, he chose to retreat before the Turkish forces. Napoleon's words were, "Gentlemen, my conclusion is that Turks can be killed, but never vanquished."
Recently, a letter writer said the following in an
English language publication, "...I've been in Turkey 8 months, and
I intend to spend the rest of my life somewhere in your country"...You
have made me feel most welcome...I am proud to be living here, and I
am so pleased that I chose Turkey rather than Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,
or France." I'm not able to decipher why the letter writer mentioned
two of the most backward lands in the same sentence with France, but
I appreciate his admiration for Turkey. There was another person with
similar laudatory words for Turkey and the Turks. This one was not just
a regular letter-writer, his name was Charles VII, the King of Sweden,
who wrote the following letter to his sister Ulrique-Eleanore in 1772:
If you listen to the rancorous, vindictive and vengeful
words of Lloyd George, the fallen one-time Prime Minister of a dying
British Empire, you will be amazd to hear how uncivilized a so-called
'gentleman' could be. He and his First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston
Churchill, by his side, suffered collectively one of the worst military
defeats at the hands of Mustafa Kemal and his legendary defenders of
Gallipoli in 1914. Here are the ugly words the British Prime Minister
Lloyd George uttered when he was about to launch the invasion of that
disastrous Dardanelles campaign:
Well, George, listen to the words of another observer, only this time, a more objective and much more civilized one than yourself. His name is David Hotham. He is a 1975 TIMES correspondent, who writes the following about Turks in his book simply called TURKEY. He might as well be referring indirectly to our TURKISHNESS when he says:
"The Turk is unusually full of contradictions. Not only has he East and West in him, European and Asian, but an intense pride combined with an acute inferiority complex; a deep xenophobia with an overwhelming friendliness and hospitality to strangers; a profound need for flattery with an absolute disregard for what anybody thinks of him."
These last few lines of an honest observer such as Mr. Hotham indicate that TURKS are, indeed, cut fom a different cloth. In the case of the British Empire, the colonial masters were all "stiff upper-lipped" British, the epitomy of class consciousness, condescendence and conceit. They were, conversely, the opposite of Turks, the descendents of tolerant, democratically imbued, down-to-earth people, who never interfered with the social, religious freedoms of the subjects they conquered. For them magnanimity was not an outlandish dictionary word. They lived it in the past and they are still living it today. They loved their conquering heroes then, they still revere them today. Turkey is a place where the word 'military' has been an inspiring solace for them, whereas the same word has been branding fear in the hearts of others.
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