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Special Report
Last Updated: 07/04/2007
The Rise of Ordinary Fascism and Intolerance in Turkey

Proud of its secularity and multi-cultural social structure the Republic of Turkey celebrated its 83rd anniversary on 29 October 2006. Not long after this celebration, the assassination of an Armenian-Turkish journalist, Hirant Dink, by a 17-years-old student opened Pandora’s Box in which social hatreds and intolerance were locked for years.


Since its independence the disagreements over the number of Armenians killed in 1915 by Ottoman Empire have put strain on Turkey’s relations with Armenia. Due to the constant manipulations of Armenian Diaspora, eventually international community have turned against Turkey and put pressure on Turkish governments to recognise the 1915 events as ‘genocide’. Particularly the French Parliament’s vote to make the denial of the Armenian Genocide a crime and the US Senate’s proposal to recognize the Armenian Genocide caused frustration among Turkish nationalist groups. Even though Turkish nationalist groups have always chosen ethnically Armenian Turkish citizens as targets of their frustration, they had rarely used violent attacks and/or murders as a means to show their resentment towards Armenian-Turkish citizens until this incident.


The results of police investigation exposed the scope of rising fascist-nationalist social networks among young men aged 16 to 20. Dink’s teenager assassin was from Trabzon where an Orthodox clergyman was assassinated in 2006 by another teenager schoolboy. Both assassins pointed out the local sport clubs and the proud big brothers who solicit them for the murders. Unfortunately, Dink’s assassination was not being the last of its kind. Just a few months after Hirant Dink’s assassination, three protestant missioners were stabbed by a group of young men who have also ties with Trabzon. All these incidents were indications of the rise of ordinary fascism and intolerance among young generation of Turkish society towards the other religions and ethnicities.


Another sensitive issue for the Turkish nationalists is the Kurdish separatism. The restart of Kurdish separatist groups’ attacks after a temporary pause following the capture of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan and the possibility of the recognition of an independent Kurdish State in the Northern Iraq have caused irritations among Turkish nationalist circles. The Kurdish militant groups’ attacks, the increasing number of casualties in Turkish troops’ infighting against Kurdish guerrilla and the scenes from the Turkish soldiers’ funerals have provoked the feelings against Kurds. Moreover, the appearance of the maps that show the majority of south eastern Anatolia as part of Kurdistan and the growing international sympathy towards the Kurdish minority of Turkey has paved the way to the awaken of the ghosts of early 1920s, so-called Sevres Syndrome, a Turkish preoccupation with renewed attempts by the great powers to remake the Middle East to Turkey’s disadvantage.


In a very short time the websites and publications harshly criticising the Kurdish movement and praising Turkish military’s fight against Kurdish guerrilla groups have popped up. All these developments have negatively affected the Turkish public’s perceptions towards Kurds. The Turkish public’s growing resentment towards Kurdish-Turkish people has reflected itself in knee-jerk reaction against anything Kurdish not just against Kurdish guerrilla movements: the social segregation of Kurdish people from society, the negative/evil connotations attached to Kurdish minority and the growing anti-Kurdish discourse. The public image of Kurds is often identified with being ‘traitor’ or ‘selling their Turkish identity’. Nowadays, it is quite disturbing to hear that even the educated professional sects of Turkish society expressing their readiness to fight against Kurds if they attempt to steal Turkish land. Within this context, backing by the majority of public support the Turkish military has continued its fight against Kurdish militants and even has had attempted military intervention into the Northern Iraq in order to wipe Kurdish guerrilla bases in the region. 


The last issue that illustrate the levels of intolerance is the rising tension between secular and religious sections of the Turkish society. The ongoing politicisation of ‘headscarf issue’ accompanied by the election of a party with a religious background has caused the rise of suspicions that the secular character of the Turkish political system could be changed by inserting greater Islamic content into Turkish society.  The recent crisis was prompted by the failed attempt of the Turkish parliament to elect a new president, Abdullah Gul, the current foreign minister. The candidacy of Gul caused controversies because his wife wears a headscarf. For the secularists, who insist on banning the headscarf on the premises of public institutions, Gul and his wife would insult the long-standing secular tradition.


In the past, despite the Kemalist secularization campaign which displayed elements of Jacobin intolerance, large parts of Turkish society remained traditional and become a natural constituency for the ruling party. After the election of the so-called ‘Islamist Party’ the conservative Muslim section of society have felt free to show up in public places.  Yet, the integration of traditional Muslim women into everyday society has been challenged, as these women have faced abrasive glimpses and nasty connotations like ‘bug’ and ‘cockroach’. On the other hand, the secular women without headscarf have increasingly felt insecure about the future of their lives as free secular Turks. The recent controversy over the municipal ban on outdoor swimming suit commercials and the outdoor commercials of a headscarf firm with the slogan of ‘Covering is Beautiful’ clearly reflects the growing polarisation and intolerance between the secular and conservative segments of the Turkish society.


In order to demonstrate their objection to the Islamisation of the secular Turkey millions of secular Turks protested in major cities of Turkey. During the demonstrations throw ‘no to Shari'a,1 no to a military coup’ slogans. This statement captures the secularist dilemma: they want a secular democracy, rejecting military intervention, but they are also reluctant to accept the verdict of the voters if it leads to greater political influence of Islamist circles.


As a result of the political successes of the AKP and the uncertainty concerning its long-range political goals on the one hand, and the anti-clerical rigidity of most secularists on the other hand, Turkey is in the middle of a political crisis. The ruling party recently called for the elections to prevent a military coup. The elections are seen as a critical test for both sides of the polarised society. However, it is not certain that the result of election will be enough to solve the social crisis and deeply rooted hatreds and intolerance among Turkish people. As a Turkish academician it is quite disturbing to witness the gradual tendency towards ordinary fascism of crowds who are ready to do any harm to others in order to protect their own social survival. A social conciliation among the different segments of the Turkish society is urgently needed. Otherwise, Turkey is going towards social disintegration blindfold.

1Islamic law
Bezen Balamir Coskun is a PhD candidate at Loughborough University, Department of Politics, International Relations and European Studies. She is currently working on the analysis of securitisation/desecuritisation processes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.