Burak Bekdil/Pluralism in Turkey: A Fairy Tale


Pluralism in Turkey: A Fairy Tale
Burak Bekdil/The Gatestone Institute
December 4, 2014
“We would view an insult or humiliation against an Alevi citizen or an adherent of any other religion as an insult against all of us, and won’t accept it.” The powerful line is from a speech by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Nov. 23. So nice. If only the reality were not worlds apart from the fairy tales Davutoglu keeps on telling.

Davutoglu’s Putin-Medvedev-style master, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is notorious for his Sunni supremacist (and anti-Alevi) views. During his election campaign in 2011, he reminded tens of thousands of party fans at rallies in seven different cities that his political rival and main opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, was an Alevi. “You know, he is an Alevi,” Erdogan told crowds in a cynical way while thousands booed “the Alevi Kilicdaroglu.” In that election, Erdogan’s votes in all seven cities rose from the previous election.

Only three weeks before Davutoglu’s speech, a professional German-Turkish footballer, Deniz Naki, announced that he decided to leave his club and Turkey following a religious and racist attack. Naki, who in the past was the victim of abuses and insults for being a Kurdish Alevi and carrying a tattoo revealing his faith, had been attacked by unknown assailants in Ankara and suffered minor injuries. “This is the first warning,” the assailants told him. The footballer said he now feared to go out alone in Ankara and had decided to leave Turkey for Germany.
An Alevi Muslim would feel safer in Germany than in Muslim Turkey! An Alevi Muslim feared going out alone in the Turkish capital, while Davutoglu speaks of “not accepting an insult or humiliation of an Alevi or an adherent of any other religion.”
Another incident that coincided with the “fairy tales from Davutoglu” and its aftermath reveal that the prime minister cannot be serious about his pro-pluralism rhetoric.

The (appointed, not elected) governor of Edirne, a Turkish city bordering continental Europe, said last week that he would not allow prayers at the city’s Great Synagogue, because Israeli security forces had attacked the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem — although Israeli police denied walking into the house of worship.

Governor Dursun Sahin said: “While those bandits (Israeli security forces) blow winds of war inside al-Aqsa and slay Muslims, we build their synagogues. I say this with a huge hatred inside me. We clean their [Jewish] graveyards, send their projects to boards. But the synagogue here will be registered only as a museum, and there will be no exhibitions inside it.”

The governor’s outward hate speech caused uproar among secular and liberal Turks. An opposition lawmaker from “the Alevi Kilicdaroglu’s” party demanded his immediate resignation or dismissal. Members of a pro-democracy group gathered in front of the Great Synagogue to protest Governor Sahin. Secular newspapers campaigned against him — while Islamist media defended his vengeful words.
Eventually, the government stepped back and assured that the synagogue would not lose its status as a house of worship. But would the governor resign? Would he be sacked? This author predicted that none of that would happen. Instead, the governor had probably scored good points to get a future promotion for the “huge hatred inside him.”

Governor Sahin launched a PR campaign to save (his and the government’s) face. He claimed that he was “misunderstood,” but he did not say how or why. His speech, in its entirety, had been made in front of cameras; so, no room for denial. His emphasis on his “huge hatred” was too explicit. He also claimed that the media had distorted his words, but he did not say which words had been distorted. And Sahin called Turkey’s Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva to offer an apology. An apology for what? For his “huge hatred?” No, for the “misunderstanding.”

Finally, a top government official came to his aid, trying to use his diplomatic skills. But not with the perfect skills, for the careful observer. In fact, the government’s defense line looked more innocent than the Governor Sahin’s “huge hatred,” but reflected a more problematic thinking. “The governor made a mistake. He spoke with his sentiments,” Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc defended Sahin. “I respect and appreciate him. Case closed.” A short statement with not-so-short messages.
First, the governor will not resign or be dismissed. Second, Arinc’s statement clearly implies tacit support for the governor. Third, and most importantly, representing the political authority, Deputy Prime Minister Arinc admitted, in a defensive way, that the governor had spoken “with his sentiments.” Worse, for Arinc the governor remains a man to respect and appreciate.
All that means the government sees no harm in keeping on duty a governor whose sentiments are full of ‘huge hatred’ for Turkish and other Jews.
Apparently, for Arinc (and probably for Davutoglu, too) the governor made a mistake; but that mistake was not to feel “huge hatred” for Jews; the mistake was to express that feeling in front of cameras and cause a mini-scandal.
**Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a columnist for the Turkish daily Hürriyet and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.