Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Why Turkey doesn't have its own Fourth of July

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on July 6, 2009-
-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 6 Temmuz 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

Why Turkey doesn't have its own Fourth of JulyAmerica celebrated its Independence Day on Saturday, the Fourth of July, in the usual way, with families taking the day off to get together with friends and grill hot dogs and hamburgers at picnics and barbecues.

In the evening, everyone watched big fireworks displays or set off their own, attended concerts, wished each other "Happy Fourth of July" and once again remembered their country's founders and foundations. Independence Day is truly a celebrated event held dear by Americans.

In the mid-1700s, the 13 colonies that made up part of England's empire in the New World were finding it difficult to be ruled by an English king who lived on the other side of the ocean. After a series of actions against King George III, the colony of Virginia took the first step toward independence by voting to set up a committee to represent the colonies. On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress debated, and then signed, what has come to be known as "The Declaration of Independence.

"The Declaration of Independence set the moral foundations of the American Revolution. It said every individual possessed basic rights, including the pursuit of happiness, which became the pillar of these rights. Of course, it is also painfully true that these fundamental rights were not recognized for the black citizens of this new country until only a few decades ago.

Since I came to live in America at the beginning of the current decade, each Fourth of July has made me ask myself questions about the difference between this holiday and the way Turks celebrate our national holidays, especially our Independence Day or the Aug. 30 Victory Day that marks the extraordinary triumph of brave Turkish soldiers over invading forces. For some reason, Turkish people do not seem to care much about the importance of that day. The Turkish Victory Day celebrations consist more of military parades and other "military-only" events, rather than being a celebration that must be cherished by all the people of Turkey. I why our people do not celebrate their "Independence Day" as people in many other countries do. Until I graduated from university, I lived in Turkey, first as a religious child and then as a young man. I did not care about Victory Day at all, even though I knew it commemorated a life-and-death war in which our grandparents pushed all the enemies out of the country to establish the nation in which the people of Turkey live today. Though I knew all this, something always nagged at me. We never said "Happy Victory Day" or "Happy Independence Day" to each other. And what is worse, we made fun of anyone who did. After years of pondering and talking with many Turkish and Turkish-American friends, I came to the conclusion that there are many reasons that prevent us from being conscious of and celebrating such holidays wholeheartedly in our country. These are significant issues that go to the heart of many problems that Turkey is currently going through.

First, it can be argued that our new Republic, in its early years, could not, for a variety of reasons, make life easy for the majority of its people in many ways. The new Turkish state was also not able to prepare the groundwork for its citizens to pursue their happiness as they expected. Though when one compares the young Turkish Republic with its contemporaries, taking the then-existing conditions into consideration, Turkey was faring okay. For example, most of the Western states did not even have a vision of equals, much less appropriately established watchdog institutions or other foundations of a modern liberal democracy. Turkey also achieved universal suffrage earlier than most countries in the West. I know some of the root causes of my dislike, which I partly described above. For instance, it is true that our ruling elite mismanaged the country for a long time and offended a segment of the people of Turkey. Even the closest confidant of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Falih Rifki Atay, wrote in his book "Cankaya" that the worse thing the country could do was to make its founder into a god. Yet we have done just that.Atatürk was the last person who would have wanted to be seen as a god. He was with his people, drinking and living among them. He had good days and bad days. He divorced his wife and had other personal problems too. He was a man. But he was a great man. He had faults and made mistakes, but what he did for Turkey was a remarkable achievement for his time. He brought secularism, admittedly a drastic variety. But it was much better than kings' rules or emperors' dictates.

All I want to say is: Why is it that we do not celebrate our Victory Day like Americans do theirs? Victory Day does not have much to do with personalities. It is about our grandparents who bravely sacrificed their lives for a better future. Why can we not celebrate their courage?

The answer is, no, we cannot, because some of us have problems not only with part of the country's foundations, but with all of them. It seems that angry, smart, young writers, who most of the time are powerful enough to convince me on many issues with their diligent and articulate arguments, which I respect, have an undiminished anger toward this Republic, which they seem to dislike passionately. Especially some writers of the younger generation, whether they write in conservative papers or not, seem to make every possible argument to try and prove that Turkey's past is a terrible one, and that its founders are akin to North Korean leaders and other dictators.

Why do these liberal, supposedly unbiased, intellectual writers seem never to remember any of the good things that this country has been able to achieve? Today's intellectuals go so far to prove how bad the Turkish state is in a reactionary fashion that they seem to get lost in their own arguments. They seem to forget that they are the intellectuals of this country and that they have a mission to tell and teach youngsters not only one-sided truths, but many-sided ones as well. By not doing this, they continually fail to lead and to teach. Many times, only emotions are reflected in their writings, primarily disgust with everything about Turkey. This scares many; it most certainly scares me. With this attitude, they torpedo the foundations of the Republic and make youth dislike everything about their pasts.

If this attitude continues, nobody will come together to sit and talk. Because it seems that neither side is concerned with talking and finding common ground, instead perusing the old books and settling ancient scores. Today, people who complain about gangs and "deep states" actually create their own ones, just like the other side did. Everybody knows the dynamics of Turkey are changing profoundly, but the change certainly is not going to be easy.

I will return to these changing dynamics on many more occasions. But for now, I would like to leave on one note: If we want to preserve this Republic, the people of Turkey must first start to examine their own mistakes and then go from there. Their religions and honest thoughts actually tell them to do just that. We need to obey them, at least this one time.

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