Book review: Turkey - The Insane and the Melancholy by Ece Temelkuran

JP O’ Malley speaks with Turkish writer Ece Temelkuran about the increasing dangers in Turkish society.

According to the consensus of biased foreign policy think-tank experts in Washington, Turkey was supposed to be the beacon of hope for Muslim countries across the Middle East.

It would join the EU, eventually, modernise in accordance with western values while dipping one foot in Middle Eastern affairs occasionally.

“Turkey was supposed to be this European-westernised country”, says the the 43-year-old Istanbul based journalist and author, Ece Temelkuran, sitting across from me in a London cafe.

“Geographically, it’s in a very interesting place: connecting east and west. We were always told by the founders of the republic to turn our heads to the west and just lean on back to east.

"But that plan didn’t really work out. And now the AKP (The Justice and Development Party) government is telling us turn our heads back west and direct our lives towards east,” says Temelkuran.

“It’s like living on a bridge: But [you’re supposed to] cross a bridge. So our lives [in Turkey] have been in constant confusion in this regard,” says Temelkuran.

Turkey is taking an authoritarian-Islamist approach to public life. It’s worth giving a brief historical overview to see why this may be the case.

Since its foundation as a nation state in 1923 — following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War — Turkey became a modern secular republic under the guidance of president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In 1938 Ataturk died. However, he established a single- party regime that lasted almost without interruption until 1945.

Disregarding the first multi-party election that took place in 1946 — which wasn’t very democratic at all — Turkey’s first democratic election took place in 1950: the Democratic Party that was elected, however, soon became a right wing centre of authority.

During the 1950s, Turkey became a member of Nato, and it occupied a dangerous stage in which the Cold War intensified.

Political instability has been the dominant narrative in the country ever since. Political coups followed: in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997. And then there was another coup last July.

“This is the second coup in my lifetime in Turkey,” says Temelkuran.

“The [military] bombarded the parliament. Ordinary people were going against the soldiers and the army. This was unthinkable, since the army is the most trusted and sacred institution since the founding of the republic,” she says.

With over 2.1 million followers on Twitter, Temelkuran is one of the most recognised journalists in the world on the social media site .The radical writer, intellectual, poet, and novelist, has in recent years become a prominent critic of the Turkish government: which is increasingly attempting to roll back democratic accountability; creating instead a more religious, authoritarian, and neo-liberal state.

Temelkuran’s latest book, The Insane and the Melancholy, was first published in Turkey in 2015 and translated into English last autumn. In meandering, poetic, lyrical, and deeply humane prose, it documents Turkey’s current radical political transformation to a global audience: drawing on music, poetry, photographs, stories, history, the media, and everyday conversations from Turkish society.

In 2012 Temelkuran was sacked as a journalist from Habertürk, a Turkish daily, for her investigation of the Roboski massacre where 34 people (17 of them children) were killed in a Turkish airstrike near the Turkish-Iraqi border in December 2011. It is largely thought to have been a state crime against the Kurdish community.

In recent months, the Erdogan administration has stepped up its campaign of shutting out any form of opposition, jailing MPs and journalists who refuse to co-operate with its conservative authoritarian-Islamist world view.

Erdogan has also removed more than 100,000 soldiers, judges, civil servants and teachers from their posts in an attempt to silence any opposition in the country. There was even talk of banishing all liberal and secular academics from the country.

“Turkey is changing in a dramatic way. It’s going to get even more complicated because of the regional problems as well. As long as Syria and other conflicts in the region continue, Turkey will not be a very peaceful country,” she says.

The current AKP government have a political project they call ‘the New Turkey’. In reality Temelkuran says, this simply means a more conservative, Islamic, and obedient country. “But actually, there is an elected government in Turkey, supported by the majority of the people,” she says.

As secular values gradually disappear across Turkey — and with the rise of this new Islamist revolution that has the backing of most of the electorate — Temelkuran says the country has practically declared a war on women, too. She cites a 1,400 % rise in the killings of females in Turkey over the last seven years.

“One can read the situation here, keeping in mind that there is an Islamisation of the society going on,” says Temelkuran.

“Also, when the sense of law and justice are damaged in a country, the ones who are most vulnerable are always the first victims of the violence: which are women and children.

“Therefore, oppression and violence comes into our daily lives. Ideology changes. It gets into the very personal sphere of your life, changing the value system of intimate relationships. Violence against women is the outcome of this massive change,” she says.

As a country that shares a boarder with Syria, Turkey presently hosts 2.7 million Syrian refugees, the highest in the world. Half of the Syrian refugees in Turkey are under 18. Temelkuran says the global refugee crisis that deepens as the war rages on is a cataclysmic tragedy: both for the Middle East and the wider world.

She focuses especially on the fact that human dignity is lost for all involved.

“The pandora’s box is open and they cannot close it. Even if the peace does come back, all these places and people are ruined. What you are seeing is almost this sweeping motion of people with their broken dignities, from south to north.

“Even if they are alive, they are like the living dead. It’s as if the whole world is looking at the Middle East and thinking: well if they survive that’s okay. It’s like they are not human beings,” she says.

And what about her own safety? As a radical journalist who continually speaks out against a government that attempts to jail members of the press, does she feel in danger?

“I would rather not think about it,” she says.

Turkey: The Insane and the Melancholy

Ece Temelkuran

Zed Books, €14.99


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