Post-Brussels: Thoughts on Turkish Nationalism

First, there was nothing. No light or sound. Only infinite darkness. Then, one night, a moon and a star, shining brightly on a blood-soaked river. The blood of fallen soldiers. On that night, when the fate of the Turks and the entire Middle East was sealed, a man pointed at the river. And out of the red water rose a flag, and a new country. Rose a nation, a stubborn nation. A nation that can proudly exclaim it was never subdued.

A nation, also, that is considered ignorant by its leaders and by others. A nation that is one, yet divided. A nation that was never able to achieve peace. A nation that still struggles with democracy. A nation that was robbed of its own history. A nation that regards any criticism from within as treason. A nation to which I belong, a nation that exhausts me.
The recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium – my home country – have caused a lot of grief, anger, but also discussion in my surroundings. Identity was always a central theme in those discussions. Knowing who you are, supposedly, is your protection against extremism. For Turks, identity is evident. That identity is Turkish, and rarely anything else. To me, my identity is anything but evident.

For European Turks, Turkey is always close. It’s always present. They live here, and have accepted that they will not return to Turkey, because of their jobs and their children, but their hearts long for Ankara. For Istanbul, Konya, Isparta, and Kars. Turks are proud of their nation. Of their history, their culture, their language. That pride, however, often makes every form of self-criticism impossible. For many Turks, loving your country means defending your government, an opposition party or the army, even if they do bad things. I can’t do that. I can’t defend Turkey’s involvement in Syria. I can’t defend the EU-Turkey deal about the refugees. I can’t defend any political actor, in a country where politics is too ridiculous to bear. It is in this sense that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to identify myself with a nation that rarely shares my vision, or appreciates my (non-nationalistic) opinion.

The terrorist attacks in Brussels made me think about identity, the supposed importance of origin, the arrogance of many westerners, and the extreme nationalism in my community. Both Turkey and Belgium, two countries with which I have a strong bond, are in chaos. In both countries, there is fear and there is an imminent threat of terror. The attacks, but also the events in my country of origin, confirmed what I already knew but what I chose to deny for a long time. Turkey is not really my ‘home’. I am, culturally, not that Turkish. I’m not entirely Belgian either. My cultural identity is a mix of the two, with ‘Belgian’ being more dominant. Of course I still need a dish of bulgur with chickpeas at least once a week. And there is nothing as awesome as a grand Turkish wedding. But to me, my home is where my family and my friends are. I think many Turks of the younger generation, living in Europe, feel the same, but will never dare to say it. It is strange how tragic events can give you a deeper insight in yourself.

There is nothing wrong with being proud of your culture, your language and your history. And I do think, we as a people, the Turkish people, have a lot to be proud of. I am – most certainly – proud of my roots. But I am troubled by the extreme nationalism in my community, though I understand where it comes from. Why is politics so omnipresent in every conversation? Why is everything always black or white? Being critical of certain policies does not mean that you don’t love your country. It doesn’t mean that you have forgotten about your roots. My love for Turkey is unconditional. But with everything that’s going on, both here and there,

It has become a difficult love. A painful love.

Written by Humeyra Cetinel

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Humeyra Cetinel is a 25 year old student of Assyriology and part-time teacher, currently writing her thesis. Her main interests include politics, literature and theology.