Friday, December 25, 2015

The Fairy Tale of Rights in Turkey

I will be teaching a course on law and society next semester. I have taught this type of a course back in the US, but this will be my first experience in Turkey. My advisor Michael McCann at UW used to teach this course by starting with Stuart Scheingold's 1974 book, The Politics of Rights. My thinking about law and the US is still very heavily influenced by this book. Scheingold initially focuses on the ideological appeal of the law: 'the myth of rights'. On page 17, he says: 'The myth of rights rests on a faith in the political efficacy and ethical sufficiency of law as a principle of government.' This widely shared myth then forms the basis of his analysis in explaining how it can provide opportunities for legal and political mobilization. I find all of this quite fascinating but what I am really interested in at the moment is the argument's Durkheimian undercurrent: The notion that this 'myth of rights' is widely shared by Americans. In Durkheim's language, the myth of rights would be a strong component of the collective consciousness that holds the American society intact. Let's put the empirical question - whether this is still (or was ever) an accurate assessment - aside. Now, to come back to my course next semester, and as a die-hard comparativist, I have always wondered how this particular argument would hold in Turkey: 1) The Scheingold question: Is there any basis for a myth of rights type of argument in Turkey? In other words, does the rights-bearing subject play at least a partial role in how individuals are imagined within the collectives consciousness(es) in Turkey? 2) The Durkheim question: Regardless of the question of law and rights, what is it that holds the society in Turkey intact? What has it been? What is it now? Is there such a common story anymore?

I am planning to think and write on this more. However, here is my brief take on these questions.

1) This is the type of question that my research is likely to pursue in the future, so no easy answers yet. However, from a comparative perspective, I can easily claim that the myth is more like a fairy tale in Turkey. Compared to a daily American context, you almost never hear the invocation of a rights-bearing subject here. Of course there is wide-spread formal and informal legal mobilization, but I daresay it is rather an example of mobilizing official tools that are external. These external tools may offer good opportunities for reaching our goals but they do not really shape our imaginations.

2) If not rights or law, then what shapes our consciousness? Well since this is their garden, I will let the cats offer some speculations. The Ottoman Empire consisted of different religious communities. I am not an Ottoman historian, but the fact that these communities co-existed side by side for centuries, implies an operational shared common set of understandings, norms and practices, (which were inevitably enforced by official violence).That legacy had been annihilated by the WWI and the establishment of the Republic. The non-Muslims had come to be perceived as the agents of European capitalists and enemies. They were purged and/or killed. Most of the remaining non-Muslims were eventually sent away through population exchanges. The state offered and imposed a non-apologetic tranformation that focused on westernization and Turkishness. This took place while the properties of the non-Muslims were being expropriated and redistributed. I am basically arguing that the new Republican collective consciousness was about forcefully becoming western and Turkish, all the while suppressing the historical guilt of killing and purging the non-Muslims. When that meta-story was finally challenged with AKP's cooptation of the Kemalist state in early 2000s, I am afraid we are now even bereft of that dirty story that somewhat connected us to each other in our guilt and ignorance. We have now become Durkheim's nightmare: A society still in the process of capitalist transformation with no common and accumulated story to connect us in these dire circumstances. Actually, the stories we have accumulated are pitting us against each other. We pretty much hate each other here now...

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Path to Civil War

Please do not read this if you do not want to see graphic pictures of violence.

It is Christmas time, but it is not merry here. We are on our path to a civil war. The Suruç massacre on July 20, and the Ankara massacre on October 10, propelled the PKK (or some groups tied to the PKK) to respond with attacks on security personnel in eastern Turkey. Moreover, in the past few months, a new type of resistance emerged: Ditches in urban centers. The goal, as it appears, is to block the access of state security forces in urban areas. This is supposedly in congruence with PKK's calls for 'democratic autonomy.' The official response has been declaring curfews enforced with snipers (yes, snipers); surrounding these towns and neighborhoods with armored vehicles and heavy artillery; and marching these units to demolish ditches and barricades. As you might imagine, many civilians were killed by explosions or by sniper fire. Let me underline this fact: Turkish citizens have been killed by the Turkish military's sniper fire. Thankfully, our state declared that it regrets such casualties...

First, let me state that I do not claim to see the complete picture yet. Are these ditches built by the guerillas (or terrorists, in official discourse), or are they built by the civilians? Or, maybe, is there an organic cooperation? I hesitate to reach conclusions at this point. But let me say this: If this is the implementation of a decision taken by the PKK command, I have no sympathy for it and I believe they are as responsible of these civilian deaths as the state.

Here are some pictures:

A 13 year old girl was shot dead and could not be buried because of the curfew at Cizre. Her family kept her in the deep freezer until the curfew was lifted.

The body of a dead PKK guerilla was mutilated and was pulled behind a police vehicle at Şırnak.

A 70 year old man was killed by sniper fire in Cizre. His body stayed out in the streets for three days until the curfew was lifted.

And these pictures are a few months old. New ones are coming in, as the conflict over the ditches spread into a number of urban centers. However, I want to talk about a different picture that I saw at earlier today:

This picture is from a house at Nusaybin and reflects my feelings on these recent events rather well. The photographer went into the yard and took the picture of the girl (who went outside) from inside. She is smiling at us, from the direction that the bullets came in. I just hope it was safe then, and has been so since. The fact that she is smiling is giving me hope that noone she loves was hurt. The fact that she is smiling is giving me hope that smiling is still possible there.

I appreciate that the photographer went inside and took these pictures, as I believe this is what we lack. We know what the state tells us: 'They are fighting the terrorists,' and 'they are in a legitimate fight to establish control in urban centers.' But, at what cost? Our own citizens are suffering under inhumane curfews and assaults. We need such journalism that goes 'inside,' and tells the story from there. And, of course, we need outlets that would carry those stories. Tough luck on that!

The only way to avoid a civil war in the (maybe not so) long run is to let the smiling face of this little girl pierce through our barriers, as those bullets did so to her house. And for that, we need to understand how war, funded by our money and votes, hurts fellow citizens inside those doors with bullet holes.