2019 will be the year of Turkey confronting the past: the end of amnesia
2018 was a year of enforced amnesia for Turkey.
Amnesia works great for authoritarian regimes. Loss of memory erodes social capital, leaving the public space completely susceptible to political manipulation and polarisation. However, this act of silencing comes at a particularly high cost as authoritarian regimes need to finance the silence with an increase in purchasing power per household with cheaper access to everyday consumer products. Turkey’s economy stumbled through political and economic uncertainty; the free fall of the Turkish Lira against foreign currencies; rising cost of tolerating the credit card debts of average middle income Turks threaten the once stable oppressive Erdoğan regime.
Turkey’s modern political culture is built on collective amnesia largely designed and imposed by the political authorities. Governments have whitewashed a long history of losses, defeats and massacres to cultivate a certain sense of self-confidence among the citizens. As such, Turks are taught to forget and move on from a very early age for a manifest destiny of neo-Ottoman greatness. Along the way minorities, opposition figures, radicals are kicked off board, whatever memories remain - fresh and old - are so conveniently swept under the rug, even by those who may have been victims of the oppressive regime. Yet there comes a point after which it’s no longer easy to simply forget.
Let’s take the month of January as an example; in this month alone Turkey lost three of its most dedicated journalists, Metin Goktepe in 1996, Hrant Dink in 2007 and Uğur Mumcu in 1993.
How about the Roboski massacre that took place in new year’s eve in 2011 when 34 Kurdish civilians were massacred by drones?
There was a monument in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır when a mother raised her arms raised in the sky pleading with the heavens asking her children. The government appointed mayor to Diyarbakır ordered the removal of the monument 2017.
More recently, the group ‘Saturday Mothers,’ who used to gather in Galatasaray square in Taksim to demand answers on their missing children, were banned from their 24-year long public appearance.
In 2015, ISIS carried out one of the most gruesome bomb attacks in Turkish history killing at least 109 civilians gathered in front of the Ankara Central Train Station, demanding a return to the peace process with the Kurds. The makeshift monument commemorating the dead was forcefully removed on the third anniversary of the attack.
There is also the case of Sivas massacre, where 38 intellectuals were burned to death in an hotel in July of 1993, surrounded by throngs of Islamists chanting death slogans. The hotel has not been allowed to serve as a museum. Annual commemorations take place under heavy pressure by security forces.
Or one of the most forgotten genocidal attempts of Turkish history, the “Maras incidents” of 1978, where between 19-26 of December close to 200 Alevi citizens were down by neo-fascist Grey Wolves, has been completely erased from the collective memory as if never happened.
Obviously it’s not a joyous ordeal to remember tragic affairs of the past, yet it’s almost a necessity in a country like Turkey where persistence of an oppressive regime solely rests on the denial of remembrance. As the country moves forward into full-blown authoritarianism in 2019 and is most likely bracing for an economic free fall after the local elections in March, these memories will be more important for those among the opposition seeking an alternative narrative to that of the Erdoğan regime, which is constantly propagated by the government controlled mainstream media.
Sooner or later, as the public support for the regime wanes, a new genuine political order will emerge, however, the viability of the new political order will depend entirely on its inclusivity of memories as part of a new democratic discourse.