Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer!
Compared to its European neighbours, Turkey was late becoming a nation state, only emerging from the multi-ethnic and multi-religious Ottoman Empire in 1923.
The nation is a concept created by people who believe they share a common history, language, and culture. It is a fictional institution that must constantly be renewed and reinforced. Just like organised sports, it is a narrative supported with flags and chants.
The core characteristic of the nation state is dependence on mutual agreement; in other words, the nation is a popular vote that is renewed every day.
As the Ottoman Empire declined at the end of the 19th century, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) was established on the premise that movements such as Ottomanism and Islamism were not viable, but Turkism was. Inheriting the legacy of the CUP, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his Republican People’s Party (CHP) established the Republic of Turkey and limited its pan-Turkism to encompass only Anatolia.
The Turkification, or homogenisation, of Anatolia began with the CUP. Armenians and Greeks made it clear in the daily plebiscite that they would not support becoming a part of the Turkish nation. Armenians were cleared out through genocide, and Greeks through forced migration and population exchange.
The only other major ethnic group left behind was the Kurds.
The nation-state system of governance that emerged with the collapse of feudalism was an absolute monarchy. Feudalism was dependent on feudal lords, but this new system of governance did not have a class on which to rely, because the bourgeoisie was preoccupied with earning money and stayed away from the state. For the bourgeoisie to become the dominant class of the state, the age of imperialism would have to emerge.
Faced with this tableau, rulers themselves created that class upon which the state would rely: the bureaucracy. With its mechanism for tax collection, its education system to strengthen the idea of the nation, and its army to protect its borders, the civil and military bureaucracy was a structure built above class. As such, the state committed itself to embarking on a gigantic project.
This structure was above class and independent of society. Its only role was protecting and developing the nation state, and being the sole representative of the nation as a whole.
Turkey, in its early years, created such a model. It called itself a republic due to the requirements of the era, but in essence it was an absolute monarchy.
It created a parliament with no real impact and a bureaucracy hovering above society and social class because there was no bourgeois to support the state.
This model fortified itself by adopting its single-party structure from Lenin, and its later racist character from Mussolini.
One of the main goals of this model was creating a bourgeois class like the ones that existed in the West, and the other was assimilating Kurds, using violence to eliminate those who resisted.
Although Kurds were Muslim and happened to share common values with Turks, they were ultimately a separate folk with their own language, culture, and history.
Moreover, their devotion to the caliphate and fondness for their freedom put them at odds with the founding goals of the Turkish state. Even more importantly, the new republic did not keep the promise it had made during the War of Independence that Turks and Kurds had fought against the victors of World War One, when Turks had committed to a state model founded on equal rights.
These tensions resulted in the Sheikh Said revolt of 1925, and the Dersim massacre of 1937. What followed were tribunals, martial law, and the 1925 Law on Maintaining Order.
When it became clear that Kurds would never vote ‘yes’ in this daily plebiscite of Turkishness, the state was obliged to govern the Kurdish region with an iron fist.
With the emergence of the Kurdish national movement, the anxiety of the state and those who lead it increased. European Union membership talks and the increasingly close relationship with the West further heightened this discomfort. After all, the only way to force a people who refuse to agree to live together with a common culture is to exert pressure through absolute rule and tyranny.
The EU model privileged local governance, and the equality of all peoples. As a result, the EU became a threat. Eventually, the government put the peace process on hold and returned to the founding model: Oppression and lawlessness.
Oppressive and cruel regimes have a fundamental problem, which is that they do not only destroy the values and institutions of the region and people they oppress, but also the values and institutions of the regime itself.
The circumvention of law in Turkey occurred as a result of the coalition between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the bureaucracy. One of them was avoiding the consequences of their corruption, and the other the consequences of the unlawful acts they had committed in the region.
As a result, Erdoğan did not have to answer for the corruption allegations brought against him in December 2013, nor for the highly suspect results of recent elections he has won. Similarly, the bureaucracy was able to withstand trial for human rights violations in the region. The concept of crime and punishment has disappeared entirely.
The disappearance of the rule of law was not limited to these issues. Not only those who took up arms for the state, but also everyone close to the regime and the bureaucracy gained immunity before the judiciary.
This immunity even extended to the restaurateur who burned a customer in his establishment, and the son of a judge who drove into pedestrians. All institutions became vulnerable to bribery and clientelism.
Similarly, the parliament that was meant to represent the will of the Kurdish people was neutered. What has taken its place is a model of absolute governance with pervasive security and intelligence services, unfettered use of technology, and arbitrary lawlessness that surpasses the despotic era of Sultan Abdülhamit II in the late 19th century.
It would be appropriate to call this the era of the suspension of the republic. It was inconceivable that the economy would stay afloat in an environment where the rule of law, individual security, and property rights were crumbling. The economy is now in a shambles, and it clearly headed towards further erosion.
The results of this will manifest as the destruction of not only Erdoğan’s base of support, but also the social foundation of the entire country.
In short, Turkey is paying the price for blindly adhering to the nation-state model, and it will continue to do so. Refusing to transition to a Western-style democracy or accepting Kurds as equal citizens will only lead to war, lawlessness, and rampant corruption.
What is critical is the lack of a bourgeois class that can recognise this impasse and hold sway over the state. Since Atatürk’s CHP is the founding father of this model, holding out hope from that party is in vain.
Turkey will continue with its ‘one state, one nation, one homeland,’ slogan, inspired by Hitler’s ‘Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer,’ until it hits a brick wall, but it will pay a heavy price for this choice.