PhD Student, Intercultural Communication, Howard University
M.S., Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University
On Sunday, April 15, before his constituents in Tekirdağ, Erdoğan claimed that “Turkey is no longer a country where whoever gets up early in the morning can deliver a coup d’état” – referring to the recent court cases against ex-military members who interfered in politics. This is most certainly worth noting and celebrating. Turkey is definitely a safer place without people with guns and with near-endless authority trying to save us from ourselves. We know from past experiences that a coup brings destruction on many levels – be it declining economy, mercilessly tortured and killed people, curbed freedom of expression, increased social violence against the perceived other and almost a boundless climb in political authority. While Erdoğan’s point is well taken, there is a bitter truth staring Turkey directly in the face: There is no need for a coup d’état to take place in order for those terrible traumas to happen. The mindset the coup d’état established on Sept. 12, 1980, very unfortunately, is still in full power. Let me demonstrate by just a few examples that happened as recent as last week.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, for instance, on April 11 made an interesting statement. In a conference themed Process of Democratization and the New Constitution, at Istanbul Aydın University, Arınç stated that Kurdish was not suited for educational purposes. He said that he “needed to be enlightened and satisfied” about a language that is only spoken in such a small part of the world that it can be enough to express everything that can be expressed in the world. While every linguist knows that language offers limitless capability for freedom and expression and it is only limited by social structures which surrounds the use of language, Arınç either did not ask a linguist about the relationship between language and freedom, or such an answer is quite unsatisfactory. That being said, no language ever expresses everything in the world. All languages adopt vocabularies from other languages and evolve. Construction of a language is a social process in which people who use that language are empowered by their ability of expression. Arınç, however, with his elaborately stated “doubts” impose the very same limit on freedom on a society that coup imposed based on their ethnicity. This is, in fact, the very manifestation of coup-speak.
Moreover, Arınç made another statement on April 13 regarding education, which almost verbatim quoted the vocabulary of the generals who made the 1980 coup d’état. He said, word by word, that the “Future of Turkey depends on education. If we give good education, there won’t be any anarchists. No one will be at each others’ throats.” While education is important without a doubt, Arınç uses the word “anarchist” to refer to a certain group. The word “anarchist” is a famous word used mainly by nationalists and tutelage supporters in reference to leftist and mainly non-religious students. Arınç’s education project, therefore, is to breed “good citizens” in factories who are eager and obedient consumers, as well as customers, of state propaganda. This sort of an education “policy” was the first business of the coup after 1980. Turkey is still suffering from the memorization-based education system which crushes thought, curiosity and critical thinking.
We can also hear the very same coup-speak in court cases against people with different opinions, ethnicities or ideologies. On April 12, brave prosecutors opened a new court case against world famous pianist Fazıl Say due to his tweets in which he counted the seconds of call for prayer and he claimed that he was an atheist. Allegations against him suggest that he provoked the public into animosity and insulted religious values. By his mere tweet regarding his beliefs, or lack thereof, he not only insulted “the public” (I do love when such an ambiguous and over-arching signifier is used), but he also offended the state – which claims to be a secular state. Similarly, on the very same day actually, other brave prosecutors sued Leyla Zana, a symbolic name in the Kurdish political movement. Due to her various speeches, according to prosecutors, she deserves to spend 55 years in jail.
These cases are perfect manifestations of coup-speak. While Erdoğan repeatedly claims that he somehow established democracy in Turkey, some are still holding back from jumping onto the bandwagon – and their arguments aren’t entirely ill-founded. The fact that Turkish-Sunni Muslim identity is still imposed on those who don’t want it and the fact that we can witness first hand examples of policy-makers still carrying the mindset of a coup d’état do raise questions regarding the truthfulness or sincerity of such claims. It is definitely impossible to bring about social change without changing the language around the issues that are being subject to change. Erdoğan, his close circle and every part of the establishment are still using the coup-speak, moreover, they are enforcing it. The first order of business for Erdoğan should be challenging such a mindset, especially among his immediate circle – not suggesting contradictions between what he says and what he attempts to accomplish.
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