JOOST LAGENDİJK I could not keep my eyes off the television screen Sunday. The celebrations on Victory Day were impressive. Eighty-seven years ago Mustafa Kemal Atatürk won the decisive battle that ended the Turkish War of Independence and paved the way for the founding of the modern Turkish Republic.
Listening to the poems that were read and the declarations made it seemed as if it all happened yesterday. That is the good thing about these kinds of events. They make people aware of the past and the sacrifices that were made to create the country and to establish peace. Each European country has its own days to remember important events in its history. The end of a war or the birth of a nation. It is an essential element in shaping a collective national memory. It makes sense for citizens to share some basic knowledge about the history of the country they belong to.
In order to remember those basics, most European countries don’t ask the army to show how powerful it is. Only France comes close to demonstrating its military might each year on its National Day, July 14. In most countries these kinds of celebrations have a strong civil character. The fact that the military was involved in the past does not give them a key role nowadays. It is one of the peculiarities of Turkey that the army played a crucial role 87 years ago and still occupies center stage during the celebrations of today.
But after some time last Sunday I started feeling uneasy. It was not only victory that was celebrated here. There was another sentiment that was promoted as well. It was impossible to escape the feeling that the dangers that were overcome 87 years ago were still there. It was stressed in a subtle way and underlined indirectly during all those hours of remembering 1922. The message was: We won then but we have to be vigilant today because the Turkish nation is still under threat. Our enemies are still there, ready to hit us as they did back then. All of a sudden I realized this was not only history being remembered. This was also history being reshaped. Or am I being over sensitive here?
Fortunately MHP leader Devlet Bahceli helped me out. In his statement on Victory Day he was very clear: “Even though the aims of those who wanted to destroy the Turkish nation yesterday are so similar to the aims of those who want to damage fraternal ties among our nation, everyone must know that such treacherous attempts will not prove successful.”
It is this chronic cultivation of fear and suspicion that makes it so difficult for Turkey to break with the past when that is necessary to solve long-standing problems. There is a direct link between the subtle message of eternal threat that was broadcasted on Victory Day and the accusations of treason leveled by Bahceli at the government. The surprise is not that Bahceli accuses Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of giving in to the demands of foreign powers when trying to find a solution to the Kurdish problem. That rhetoric is part and parcel of nationalist policies everywhere. Till last Sunday I was surprised that these incredible allegations go down so well with a large part of the population. Since Victory Day I understand better. If each year every Turk gets the message that the same old enemies are still out there with the same evil plans to destroy Turkey it should not come as a surprise that many give credit to politicians who try to capitalize on those fears.
* Mr. Joost Lagendijk is a columnist for the daily Radikal and a senior advisor for the Istanbul Policy Center.