I have been invited some weeks ago to intervene live on two Romanian radio stations and talk about elections in Turkey. The subject seemed to raise some interest and I gladly accepted. However, the elections were not the only matter of concern. One of the interviewers asked at a given moment about when I would publish something in Romanian about the Turkish political history in general and the developments of the last decade in particular. The question honoured and somehow puzzled me at the same time. I have written a few pieces on both Romanian and Turkish politics with a special focus on state nationalism, citizenship, and language and minority politics. Encouraged by some people from Romania and Britain, and by questions such as the one above, I may even take up the more difficult task of writing a book on the suggested topic.
However, I have recently started reading a volume written by a person I happen to know, namely Kerem Öktem. The title of that piece is TURKEY SINCE 1989: ANGRY NATION. Kerem, whom I met in 2005 during a conference at London School of Economics and Political Science, managed to produce such a concise and dense text that I feel a bit discouraged in my own project. The book is worth reading for a number of reasons. First, it is sharply but carefully critical of the Turkish Republic. Instead of demolishing irresponsibly traditional myths of the establishment, Kerem prefers to evaluate the ways in which they have been built and the costs they presuppose in this country’s contemporary politics. The book indicates the “deep state” as the main culprit in a sort of grand historical trial that is implicitly demanded in each paragraph. Despite the accusatory tone, it is easy, however, for an initiated reader at least, to see that Kerem Öktem loves his country. He loves it so much that he wants it cleaned of shadows of the past, especially murderous acts against which his judgments may be too harsh and even unfair sometimes. For love of the nation. Overall, the book is guided by a particular dichotomy that Kerem sees throughout the last Turkish century: that between the state’s politics of modernisation and the reality of human life on the ground. At page 39, he also suggests that this “reality of human life” in Turkey has manifested itself historically through an “internal demand for change”.
This is exactly what I think that books like ANGRY NATION should give more attention to. While being obviously busy with the unmasking of the deep, or guardian state as source of all evil, the text does not offer a coherent history, even if brief, of the people’s demand for change in this country. This is a problem that most historians of modernity seem not to have comprehended: there is too much accusative cry about the horrors associated with nation-states in the twentieth century, but little if any “history of resistance” to them.
I would be very happy if I could produce one day a political history of the resistance of non-national, non-state, non-majority, human life in modern Romania, or Turkey. I can already hear those voices lost in the dust of a history preoccupied, as Fernand Braudel warned about more than thirty years ago, too much with heroes and grand discourses of states and too little with lower but infinitely more human talk of life per se. My first contribution to this project has already been made: the dissertation I am close to present abroad contains the pieces making possible a coherent starting point. The year to come will offer me the opportunity to explore and refine the immense material I have managed to gather. So, the answer to the question posed by the radio interviewers indicated above is quite simple: the book is being prepared; however, it may not be eventually about Turkey, or Romania, but about people living in countries called Turkey, or Romania. I would also be the happiest if at least some of our students come to understand the importance of thinking history in terms other than those taught in “national” educational systems. Eugen Weber has opened this “Pandora’s box” decades ago when showing, in PEASANTS INTO FRENCHMEN (1976), how a nation is literally made through public education. We can at least talk then about possibilities of life beyond, if not post, the modern national spaces and time of this world.
Dragos C. Mateescu, 18 July 2011, Izmir
via A NEW BOOK ON TURKEY: “TURKEY SINCE 1989: ANGRY NATION” « IREU IZMIR.