Indentity Crises and Political Instability in Turkey

Article excerpt

"Political changes need to be publicly negotiated, not imposed on society. Only a national consensus based on a new social contract--not force---can take the country beyond its self-generated conflicts, isolation and authoritarianism."

The first military coup of the Republican regime that took place May 1960 marked a series of military interventions that exposed the failure of Turkey's hegemonic political system to satisfy the majority of its citizens. Many Turks felt alienated from the Western-oriented, secular regime that, ironically, ignored Western values of legality and freedom and was unable to deliver the material wealth promised by modernization and economic development. The benefits of democracy, rule of law and secularism became less convincing as the quality and integrity of the regime that had defined and enshrined these national principles declined. Moreover, with historical identities diluted and modern ones not yet crystallized, identity, crises in both traditional and modern sectors were inevitable.

In addition, the political elite has been unable to meet the needs and expectations of the nation whose hopes they have raised. Equality, respect or dignity, freedom, welfare, opportunities to improve social standing through education and an available job market remain on the whole unkept promises. People continue to face oppression, rampant inequality, unveiled corruption, prevailing poverty and ignorance.

The crisis of identity, experienced by Turkey's citizens parallels the crisis of Turkey's hegemonic state. Understanding the roots of Turkey's identity, crisis helps explain the problems confronted by the hegemonic state, and the ensuing political instability. This articles thus first introduces the concept of identity, theory, and then uses this theory to examine Turkey's current and historical political events. The final section of the article builds upon this knowledge and analyzes contemporary problems caused by this identity, conflict.

GENERAL identity, AND POLITICAL THEORY

The Hegemonic Model

No culture or identity, is resistant to change. Identities are primarily formed when groups of individuals in a society develop a dialectical relationship between "us" and "them." This dialectical relationship is an objective historical one and embodies a changing social construct. Multiple identities emerge out of contact between individuals and groups and, as these contacts proliferate and accumulate, cultures and identities change and new historical epochs are marked.

Individuals have several levels of identity,. For example, a resident of Istanbul might be a descendant of the Byzantine Empire, an ethnic Greek or Armenian whose family lived through centuries of Ottoman rule and is now a citizen of the Republic of Turkey. He or she may be Christian or Muslim or Western-oriented, with aspirations to be a member of the European Union rather than a member of a Middle Eastern polity.

While multiple identities are a normal historical and social phenomenon, authoritarian politics oppose a pluralist understanding of social reality In hegemonic polities, where the state apparatus controls all spheres of life, the "normal" interaction of social groups, ideas, opinions and cultures is forbidden.(1) This political engineering obliterates or obfuscates socio-cultural differences and has been used by many states in the early phases of nation-building. However, when such political manipulation continues in the later stages of governance, it has a dramatic impact on society. It creates a fixed, national identity, which the state attempts to protect from outside influences.

This theory of governance stems from the Jacobin tradition of the French Revolution and is also inherent in a corporatist system, where the state indirectly or directly maintains control over the social sphere and tries to shape society in concentric circles around the state. …