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Writer Aytav says ‘Ali should throw the ball to Hagop´ before it´s too late
1.       tunci
7149 posts
 09 May 2011 Mon 01:03 am

Writer Aytav says ‘Ali should throw the ball to Hagop´ before it´s too late


                                              Erkam Tufan Aytav


A writer who has questioned how being “the other” is and what it means in Turkey in his recent book has told Today´s Zaman for Monday Talk that the society has been victimized by the republican state ideology that idealized a “Muslim Hanefi secular Turk,” but that this doesn´t have to be that way forever.

“Hrant Dink had formulated that very well: Ali should throw the ball to Hagop. It´s time; indeed, the time is past. We should say enough is enough. Ali has been playing ball only with other Ali´s; but when he starts to play with Hagop, there will be a better game because there will be a better team. We will solve the problem when we realize this,” said Erkam Tufan Aytav, who wrote the book “Being Other in Turkey” (“Türkiye´de Öteki Olmak&rdquo based on his interviews with eight people who are members of Turkey´s different communities that have been singled out as “others” for a long time.

“But education alone is not enough. Media has an important role in hate speech, which should be considered a crime against humanity, should be eliminated in the media and from publications that lean toward the left or the right because they all use it,” he added.

In Aytav’s categories of “others” are Turkey’s Jews, Greeks, women who wear headscarves, Armenians, Syriacs, Kurds, Alevis and Roma. His book consists of interviews with writer Mario Levi, Işık University engineering faculty dean Yorgo Stefanopulos, Taraf daily columnist Hilal Kaplan, İstanbul Bilgi University sociology professor Arus Yumul, Syriac Catholic Community board of directors head Zeki Basatemir, activist and writer Altan Tan, historian and writer Reha Çamuroğlu and İstanbul Roma Association head Aydın Elbasan.

Answering our questions, Aytav informs us about being “the other” as he considers himself one of the “others” even though he says he once belonged to a “happy minority.”

Ömer Laçiner wrote in the foreword that as far as he knows, this is the first book that directly addresses the Turkish Muslim majority. Is that right?

This is unfortunately right as far as I can see, even though I haven’t made a through research of the whole literature created for that population.

Has addressing that community been your goal?

Yes. I’ve especially chosen a publishing house that is geared toward a population with Islamic sensitivities. Indeed there is only a small and “happy” minority in Turkey. The rest, probably about 98-99 percent of the population, even though they are the majority in the numerical sense, are all “others.” Those “others” are pushed out by the system; however, they themselves see each other as “others” when they are categorized, let’s say, as Alevis, Kurds, Armenians, Roma, etc. Interestingly, they see and label each other through the eyes of the system. This viewpoint creates problems in society.

What kind of problems?

As much as Kemalists and strict secularists tend to create unified types -- Muslim Hanefi Turks – and see the rest as “others,” Muslim Hanefi Turks tend to view people who are different from them as “others,” whether those “others” are Armenians, Alevis, Kurds or Roma. However, I am hopeful that people who have Islamic sensitivities – unfortunately, not the Kemalists or strict secularists -- might be a locomotive for a democratic and pluralist Turkey because they are the ones who demand more democracy as they’ve become more integrated with the world. Still, there is an issue: how they view the “other.” They have to face up to the fact that they also view people who are different from the majority as the “other.” They have to change that view and empathize. Even though I target a wide majority of the population to read and learn from the book, I hope conservative Muslim Turks will read the book carefully in order to speed up the democratic development of Turkey.

‘Younger Muslim Turks more democratic’

Were you worried that conservative Muslims would not react very positively to the ideas in your book?

I was worried in the beginning, but I’ve been proven wrong. I’ve realized that I’ve not known conservative Muslim Turks that well. In particular, the younger generation is more open and democratic in that regard; they are more pro-freedom. I’ve not received any negative reactions from people who have Islamic sensitivities; on the contrary, I’ve been praised. I think this is because the book is concerned with human feelings, our conscience. When people listen to how “others” have been made “others,” how much they suffered, they feel empathy.

For example?

Think about two young people, one Muslim and one Armenian or Greek – both are Turkish citizens who study in the same schools throughout their basic education years. There comes a time for them to make choices for what they are going to do in the future, what they are going to choose as professions. The Armenian or the Greek youth knows that he or she can’t choose certain professions, like a military career, a career in the police force, a career in public service, an occupation like being a governor. Don’t we feel bad for that young person because she or he can’t pursue her or his dreams? Their dreams are hindered. This is a crime against humanity.

What do you think about the establishment of the republic with a certain ideology?

The establishment of the republic occurred following major wars and tragedies. I am from İzmir, and what has been etched in my memory since my childhood is that some Greeks from İzmir had welcomed the Greeks who were going to occupy the city. This tragedy has been passed down through the generations in each year’s Sept. 9 celebrations [liberation of İzmir from Greek occupation] in İzmir. At the same time, with the establishment of the republic, Anatolia has been Islamized as it had never been before. Non-Muslims have been mostly expelled. However, it has been wrong to present the case even today as if all non-Muslims in Turkey have been traitors. The official republican ideology with their hands in the media and education has been doing this; the hands of the media have been especially dirty in this regard. We don’t need to do that anymore. I’d like to point out that the United States government started treating all Muslims as “terrorists” following Sept. 11 when the number of deaths had no comparison to the number of deaths in the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the War of Independence. Even though we should not approve such discriminatory practices following such tragedies, we have to understand the circumstances that have created the paranoia.

‘Either be assimilated or leave’

You indicate in your book that the policies of the republic have created some “crypto” people, be they Armenians or Greeks.

Yes. This is the result of the dictated policies: Either be assimilated or leave, just like what former President Süleyman Demirel had said when he told women who wear headscarves to go to Saudi Arabia. This is the language of the system: Love it or leave it. If you don’t want to leave or if you cannot leave, what you will have to do is to become isolated, to hide, to change your name and to be silent about your “other” identity. You never say you are Alevi, Armenian or Kurd or that you belong to a sect. So all of Turkey becomes a masked ball.

In recent years, there have been more and more people who have been revealing their “other” identities.

Definitely. In some intelligence documents, there are worrisome statements about the number of people who are becoming Christians. Indeed, these are people who have been Christians, but they had not revealed their identities until recently. Armenian Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan had told me that as society has been becoming more democratic, those people have been demanding that they be baptized.

It seems like the people who carry the “other” identity in a way have common concerns in Turkey. They are usually told by their parents to keep that identity to themselves.

They are trying to protect their children. Crypto Armenians or Alevis exist. This is normal in such a society that has made discrimination a state policy for a long time.

You get into the relations of Alevis with the republican system. You think the Stockholm Syndrome explanation falls too short to explain it.

It is not fair to Alevis to explain their relations with the system only in the framework of the Stockholm Syndrome. First of all, there is a deep distrust both by Alevis toward Sunni Muslims and by Sunni Muslims toward Alevis. And Alevis are afraid of new Kerbelas. They prefer secular Kemalists to pious Sunni Muslims. It is correct that the fire at the Madımak Hotel occurred as a result of a provocation, but it is not enough of an explanation. Sunni Muslims should questions themselves more: Why are they prone to provocation?

All ‘others’ have mutual problems

The issue of distrust is a problem that we see in people’s, in all others’ relations with the rest of the society, right?

That’s right, and the republican system has played a major role to deepen that distrust. If all “others” come together and talk about their problems, they will see that their problems are usually mutual and related to freedom of expression and belief and basic human rights; they all stem from the system of the state.

A lot of people you interviewed indicated that education is the best remedy to bring down walls before people and to eliminate prejudices.

Hrant Dink had formulated that very well: Ali should throw the ball to Hagop. It’s time; indeed, the time is past, we should say enough is enough. Ali has been playing ball only with other Ali’s; but when he starts to play with Hagop, there will be a better game because there will be a better team. We will solve the problem when we realize this. But education alone is not enough. The media has an important role in hate speech; it should be considered a crime against humanity, should be eliminated from the media, from publications that lean toward the left or the right because they all use it.

And the school textbooks…

If we had learned Alevism as well as Islam as Sunni Muslims learned their own beliefs, we would probably have been different people. There have been hundreds of thousands of Hagops in Anatolia, there are still some. There are Yorgos. They are not “foreigners,” they are from here.

Your interviewees also indicate that there is more openness in the society since the 1990s.

Starting with the Özal [former prime minister and President Turgut Özal] years, society has been breaking out of its shell. In more recent years, with the AK Party [ruling Justice and Development Party] government, we have seen some improvements with several initiatives, be it the Alevi initiative or the Kurdish initiative, even though these are not enough. Indeed, a political party that bases its policies on the concept of equal citizenship rights cannot yet be a winner in a society that still sees “others” almost as equal to “enemies within.” No political party would be able to derive courage from that kind of a society. Unfortunately, a liberal party that would point out the concept of equal citizenship would receive very few votes.

In your foreword in the book, you say that Turkey’s “others” alternate between feelings of having hope and hopelessness.

There is a big hope because there is some change signaling that the status quo is not going to be permanent. Turkey’s accession process to the European Union also backs those hopes. In addition, Fethullah Gülen’s contacts with Turkey’s “others” influenced how the majority of people in the society views “others;” think about Gülen’s meetings with Armenian and Greek patriarchs in Turkey, in addition to his meetings with the Jewish religious leader. Such relations led to a new thinking in society. Other opinion leaders should show the same courage. Also “others” should open themselves up and interrelate with the rest of the society even though there is a “fear factor.” A woman who wears a headscarf should question the official nationalist presentation of the Kurdish issue as much as an Armenian should struggle for the rights of women who wear headscarves.



Ekrem Tufan Aytav’s story: From ‘happy minority’ to ‘the other’

What is the story of Erkam Tufan Aytav? You started out as someone from the “happy minority” but have since become included in the group of “others.” How come?

 I am from a Sunni Turk family who identifies with a secular lifestyle. I was never in conflict with the republican system from the beginning up to my university years. I grew up with the “ugly” images of “Islamist” in my mind created by the Gırgır humor weekly. I didn’t known what an Alevi was until my best friend told me years after we had first met in middle school. Kurdish, same story, why do they fight? What do they want? We live together, happily and merrily. I’ve known Armenians because they were our neighbors in İstanbul, but they moved out of the country. Even one of my best friends from the Armenians never told me why they were leaving. I’ve seen the “skittishness of a dove” that Hrant Dink had mentioned in those Armenian families. I always remember the jokes of Turkish children for our Armenian friends; they’d say “Atatürk should have sent you away, too” or “Armenian offspring.” During my university years, I was in contact with people with Islamic sensitivities; I’ve met Fethullah Gülen, whose ideas have changed a lot in my life. Until that time, I was living as a “happy minority.” Then I became the “other.” This was my luck.

You see being “the other” as an opportunity.

It has added a lot to my life. Otherwise, I’d probably never have had a chance to establish the kinds of dialogues that I am able to do now. I am still learning. For example, Roma people; I’d never imagined that they wouldn’t be accepted to public office or as civil servants. How would they be singled out? Not all dark-colored people are Roma. I’ve learned that the state knows from the records of where they live. Yorgo Stefanopulos said the same thing -- they were complaining that the state doesn’t know them, but indeed the state knows them all too well.



Erkam Tufan Aytav

Born in İzmir and completed his education in İstanbul, Aytav describes himself as one of the “others” since he is a follower of Fethullah Gülen’s ideas. After being involved in freelance journalism in the past, he served in 1998-2008 as the general secretary of the Diyalog Avrasya Platform. He also was the chief editor of the Da magazine. He is currently the general secretary of the Journalists and Writers Association Medialog Platform. He produces radio programs on Burç FM and writes column at haber7.com. He is the writer of the recent book “Being Other in Turkey” (“Türkiye’de Öteki Olmak&rdquo published by Mavi Ufuklar

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