The last past eight years taught me a lot. I became a different person. Why? Let’s start from the beginning a little. To understand how much I have changed, it is important to know the environment I was raised.
I am originally from Turkey, a country where many people think their race is Turkish, but the truth is most likely otherwise. I was born and raised there. The city I lived was smaller compared to other cities like Istanbul and Ankara. Now when I looked at back those days, we used to live with different races. We had Georgian, Kurdish, and possibly Greek-origin neighbours. But they were all considering themselves as Turkish. We were taught the idea that what matters is being Turkish via our education system. I don’t think these people from different backgrounds lost their identities. In reality, Turk is a race but was imposed as a common identity like American. Right or wrong, everyone almost accepted it. We knew they were from diverse backgrounds, but I don’t think we enjoyed that difference consciously. It was natural to us. I don’t believe we were racist, even though constant impositions from the nationalist government for years. There are of course racist people in Turkey, especially the nationalist oligarchic elites controlling the government forces.
When you look at the history, such nationalist currents started happening after the World War 1 after the Ottomans collapsed. In fact, what collapsed the Ottomans were the nationalist military forces. But, it is another story to talk about. Sometimes I think whether these elites were really racist or just using the racism to maintain their wealthy lives styles. I am more inclined towards the second assumption, though.
The history classes were about full of wars and how great the Turkish nation was. Interesting enough, all those proudly explained great times were lived in the Ottoman era, and Ottomans were not even pure Turkish. It was ruled by Ottoman family, and Ottomans was not a race. The mothers of some of the greatest leaders in Ottoman era were from other races. People were living normal lives without attention to the racial differences much because the race was not a concern in an empire which consists of many races, religions, and cultures. Perhaps, what matters most was religion and culture, but as long as you are ruled by sane people, the religious and cultural differences do not become an issue much. So the education system was imposing we are a great nation, and Turks had no friends but Turks. Other countries are always in a plan to rip us off. A typical method of a party state when they want to control the people. There were even sayings like “A Turk is worth the world”. Wow! For many, such pompous words were so dreamy; they didn’t want to wake up from their sleep. There are some many words can be said about the education system, but I think you got the point.
I was not a racist, but I had some unfortunate traces of years of propaganda and misinformation about the other countries, races, and cultures. Perhaps, the primary reason why I was not affected much is because I was born in a rightist and religious family and these people didn’t like the nationalist state powers. My religion was clearly against the racism. So all the sugar-coated words from the state’s education system didn’t seem to affect them until the right parties seized the control of the government for the last 12 years. And now Turkey is witnessing yet another power-corrupted politicians from the different background but have the similar ideas. For the nationalists, it was to gather all the Turks from the world under one leadership; now the Islamists try to gather all Muslims under the leadership of the current president of Turkey. Well, they both utterly failed so bad. It seems that only the actors have changed, but the mentality is the pretty much the same.
Media and Propaganda
It is true that perhaps the majority of Turkish people, especially during last 11 years, consider other western countries, but not their people, as enemies, because of the manipulations through the constant propaganda of the state-owned media organs. Turkish people, unfortunately, became victims of the Nationalist and Islamist extremism. Here, I think that I need to clarify something: Islamism is a politicized version of the religion Islam. Muslims are normal and sane people, but Islamists are not that normal because of their political motivations by simply using the religion as their vehicle to gain the power and wealth.
I honestly do not remember old days where media propaganda against other countries was as much bad as the last 12 years, though. So perhaps, I was lucky to live in another country during this radical propaganda era. There are so many things that can be told, but let’s keep this short.
What matters for Turkey: Race or Country?
For years, the top control had been nationalist. They thought the Turkish race is the best race. This mindset was formed towards the end of the Ottoman era. It was possible that the war left irrecoverable damages not just physically but mentally. Those times made Turkey a more closed country. I honestly don’t believe that the majority of people were in the same mindset as the state-controlling oligarchs. Because of that, the nationalists possibly knew that to control these people, they made the education system impose their identity ideals onto the new generations. I am sure that changing the alphabet to Latin helped tremendously imposing their high ideals.
But, it was not just about racism. The oligarchs also imposed the holiness of the state. Everyone could be sacrificed for the sake of the country. Individuals didn’t matter, but what matters is the state. Any country regardless how cruel it is always better than no state. Once you idealized the state, then any speculations about the threats against your loved state can stir people nerves. The state knew this and always used it against the people to keep the control for years. And it is still one of the best weapons they have when they think they are at the edge of losing their power.
So, what matters for the majority of people in Turkey, unlike the nationalists, was not the race, but the state. The leftists and rightists have been brainwashed for years, and now they cannot think otherwise, except those who lived in other countries. And this is where my story begins. It is still possible to see people living abroad but still have the ignorant nationalist mindset. I guess, for some, it is really hard to change.
The military was always a powerful actor to keep the nationalist identity of the state. Any party, acting against the favor of the nationalist mindset even a little bit, was either shut down or threatened publicly or behind the doors by the military forces. If it was the ruling party, then a coup was staged to bring Turkey back to its nationalist roots.
You could see people marching in the streets and asking the Military to act against any movements with divergent thoughts against the nationalist stance of Turkey.
In the picture below, people are marching with posters saying, roughly translated, “Military, do your job!”, meaning that “Threaten the government and stage coup if necessary.”.
Have I done anything to help Turkish people?
Yes, I have. But, unless you take people and show them other countries, the established ideas and thoughts are hard to break. There are perhaps many thoughts that I have that I would not want to share even with my family back there. But, what I know is that we were born free, the world is our home, and in this crazy world, your natural birth rights are not given but taken while respecting everyone else’s rights. What’s stronger is not might but right. For a better world, let’s keep it that way.
Who am I?
Perhaps, the most important question we should all ask “Who am I?” in this race and a border-driven world. I asked this issue when I first moved to the USA. And today, the answer is “I am human… Like everyone else…”. Borders and countries are in our minds. We define them, we control them, and we enforce them. I am sure you have heard these words many times. But, I have seen different sides of the world. I do not have borders. I will have to follow the borders enforced, but in my brain, I am like everyone else. In fact, I am enjoying experiencing our differences. Because I do not want to live in a boring world where everyone is the same, thinking the same, living the same, talking the same, wearing the same…
After my first arrival in the USA. I was walking with my mother. We were clearly different than the majority look. Different… Different was scary, right? A lady, jogging, while passing by us, said “Hi!”. Well, it was totally surprising to me. I said “Hi” with a quieter tone. She was not the only person said “Hi” to us on that day. I was a fresh graduate out of college when I was experiencing all these.
After all these years, I have seen many things. I have worked with many people. I became a citizen. I am not saying that everything has been perfect. Like in many other countries, there are narrow-minded racist ignorant individuals in the USA too but not as many as the media shows.
Race does not define me!
Realistically, it cannot. I probably inherited many traits from various races. But it also does not define me mentally. How can it? Seriously, what do you expect to gain from racism? I would understand that if you could go along with your race so right, then you many want to keep it that way by being a racist. But, many people can not even get along with their family members, how come racism will bring you any good except for hatred and war?
Who would you fight for?
Whoever is innocent. I would fight for innocent people, not for corrupt politicians, commanders, or countries. If Turkey started killing innocent people regardless their race, religion, or culture; I would be against them, and I don’t accept people’s excuses such as “I didn’t know, I was just following orders..”. It is your responsibility to know who is innocent, and who is the oppressor.
I have changed a lot. I have seen so much. I am grateful for all the good and bad experiences I have had over the years. Every one of them taught me a lesson. And my journey will continue to becoming a better person. Being bad is easy, but what requires a character and strength is being good. And it is sad seeing people choosing the easy path.
I am working with people who believe that we can all live together. Are you with me?