Ultimate homogenization

16th-century historians observe that after Emperor Selim II took over the caliphate and conquered the Middle East, the Christian-Muslim equilibrium in the Ottoman Empire shifted towards Islam. The trend was intensified towards the end of the 17th century following the loss of Hungary and the de facto end of conquests in the Balkans with dense Christian populations.

With the beginning of 19th century and to start with the Greek independence followed by the creation of nation-States the Ottoman Empire ended up by losing all its Balkan territories at the end of Balkan Wars in 1912-1913. Nation building caused a compulsory emigration of the Muslim Ottoman citizens of Balkans to Anatolia. Similarly, the Russian pressure and violence in the Caucasus forced a significant portion of the Muslim populations to immigrate to Anatolia.

Despite distorting the demographic balance of Anatolia, these population movements did still not equate to homogenization by way of forced assimilation and acculturation. The Ottoman Empire, unlike the French and British, did not interfere with the religion, language or race of its citizens. But the Empire's posture was starting to change towards the end of the 19th century.

The Balkan émigrés radicalized by the Balkan Wars and the Muslim refugees from the Caucasus played a significant role in the Armenian Genocide of 1915. On the one hand, these new inhabitants of Anatolia were trying to curry favor with their new government; on the other hand, they were taking revenge for their recent misfortunes.

When Turkish nation, the last one to emerge from the Ottoman Empire had to be invented its unique common denominator has inevitably been Islam, the unique commonality for the majority of its citizens.  

Non-Muslims were thus automatically excluded from the newly formed national entity.   “Religious cleansing” reaches its zenith through genocides, pogroms, forced population exchanges and the destruction of religious/cultural assets (churches, monasteries, schools, cemeteries, town names) the country over time.  In numbers, the Anatolian population 16 million in 1913, goes down to 13 million in 1923, the 3 million variance being the non-Muslims who have been massacred and/or exiled. Today Turkey, compared to the neighboring sizeable states, is the most uniformly Muslim country in the region.  

On the other hand, the homogenization of the population and demographic engineering of the local communities goes hand in hand. Since the middle of the 19th century, most of the Ottoman Empire’s forced settlement and resettlement efforts have targeted the Kurds and the Anatolian nomads.

By 1923, the newly established Turkish Republic is a relatively “manageable" nation-State. The only remaining headaches, the Kurdish revolts and the Dersim “rebellion” are suppressed by utter violence. By 1940s, Turkey is a classless, uniform nation, except perhaps for a few fussing socialists.

We are in the newest and final stage of this bloody saga. Political Islam in Turkey, with its raïs Erdoğan and its vast constituency, has declared somewhat a jihad against all people who dare to be different. The unwavering support of the masses is what makes the demographic engineering different than the past Turkification efforts: At least half of the Turkish population is eager to be homogenized through Sunni Islam!

Regime’s actions of the last five years all strive to re-invent the Turkishness as a uniform Sunni Turkish identity and to purge all incompatible and dissenting elements away from the public sphere, if not away from the country.

Alevis, “odd” Kurds, intellectuals, scientists, workers who refuse “slavery”, journalists who want to report, environmentalists, cultural advocates, women who do not comply with regime's definition of women, those who seek justice, people with different gender identities, independent thinking Sunnis ... All of these citizens are at odds with New Turkey’s homogeneous mankind. Obviously, the purge requires a lot of work, but one should not underestimate the public support behind it.

First, the regime is systematically replacing the odd citizens in the public sphere with the “good” Turks. Isolated and deported, odd citizens are replaced by the regime’s obedient servants whether they are capable of not!

Secondly, the regime is undergoing an in-depth demographic engineering in the Kurdish provinces. It’s settling obedient Kurds and Syrians in the new settlements it builds in the war-torn Kurdish towns. It’s gentrifying, nationalizing and seizing the properties of the odd Kurds.

Thirdly, the regime is instrumentalizing the Syrian refugees, most of who cannot go back to Syria and become the very object of voluntary assimilation. Just like the Balkan and Caucasian refugees who hundred years ago played an essential role in the purge of the non-Muslims from Anatolia, the 3.5 million Sunni Syrian refugees would voluntarily and gladly play that role in replacing odd Turks. Moreover, the regime will even have its own “Special Organization” (Teşkilât-ı Mahsusa) when the jihadists groups concentrated in Idlib province in Syria would sooner or later leave Syria and move to Turkey.  

Fourth, Arab nationals who bought property in Turkey due to various opaque agreements between their countries and Turkey would become the new natives.

Fifth, and perhaps the worst, new generations molded by the Diyanet, the education system and now the military are on the making to achieve the ultimate homogenization.  


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.