President of Multicultural Mosaic Foundation’s opinion piece in the Armenian Mirror-Spectator:
Why I Am Grateful to Erdogan, the Dictator of Turkey
November 2nd, 2017
I am sure that the very title I chose for this article will enrage some of my readers. Why on earth would one be grateful to a dictator? Indeed, that is a legitimate question. My answer is that I am grateful to Erdogan, currently the president of Turkey, because he has made me a better human being.
I was born and raised in Germany to a Turkish immigrant family. At home, my family told me stories about the glorious and flawless history of the Turkish people, superior to others in every way. The heroic Turkish War of Independence in the 1920s, waged against the great occupying European Allies, was narrated to me by family members, through their tears of patriotic fervor. At every official meeting of the Turkish community, our national anthem was sung with the utmost pride.
At the time, I believed that I was related to a special group of people, the Turks, who throughout history endured oppression, envy and greed at the hands of other powers. Our enemies were all around us, yet we remained standing. We Turkish people were always able to defeat them with God’s help, and establish the most beautiful country on earth, the Republic of Turkey.
Conveniently, I chose not to believe in the narratives told by minorities, such as the Kurds, Armenians, Greeks, and Jews, regarding their suffering under Turkish rule. I allowed myself to be blind to that which might contradict my idealized image of the homeland.
When I beheld Erdogan rising to power in 2002, I believed I was witnessing the glorious embodiment and manifestation of the collective Turkish people, in his rule. Then an underdog, and a victim of discrimination and bigotry against religious people, Erdogan defeated the powerful political secular elites who had long ruled Turkey while oppressing the pious, along with ethnic and religious minorities. He did this with the support and the trust of the majority of the Turkish people who showed up to vote.
For people like me, that believe, as he did, in freedom of religion in the public realm, his success appeared like a beautiful romantic dream, similar to the stories my family told to me about the successes of the Turkish people.
A few years later, I woke up sweating and violently trembling from this dream. “Humble” Erdogan had transformed into a populist, oppressive and brutal dictator, even while presenting himself as one of the masses, a victim of “powerful forces,” despite the fact that his successful quest for increasing authority has made him the most powerful man in Turkey for decades.
This power corrupted Erdogan, and his fear of losing power has made him paranoid. This has resulted in his frequent use of violence and oppression to crush dissent. At times, he has blocked Twitter and Facebook. He has thrown hundreds of journalists in jail, and taken over media outlets. Today, he has arrested over 50 thousand people, and according to Amnesty International, torture and abuse are rampant in Turkish jails.
This power-poisoning made me think and question all those stories that I had learned about my Turkish heritage.
I started listening and reading about the stories that Kurds, Armenians, and other minorities in Turkey have told. I was flabbergasted to learn that, in fact, there are many parallels between what happened to them, and what is happening today to many innocent people in Turkey that have been fired, detained, or jailed by Erdogan.
I now recognize that hundreds of thousands of Armenians, including women and children were massacred, displaced or deported in 1915. The Armenians’ crime was merely being Armenian. Today, Erdogan, a man who claims to be a righteous Muslim, ordered the arrest of thousands of journalists, academics, public servants, teachers, business people, women, and children. Yes, you have not read wrong, almost 700 children (some are babies) are currently being raised in Turkish prisons, held there because of the “crimes” of their mothers. Human rights violations, torture, abductions and displacements, now are a part and parcel of everyday life. The crime of many of those affected is simply being related to a person who does not share the same worldview as Erdogan.
For decades, Kurds were regarded in Turkey as a lesser Turkish tribe, “mountain Turks,” who were expected to assimilate into the larger Turkish identity, completely forgoing their Kurdish heritage, language, music, and culture. Whenever Kurds spoke up for social justice and equality, they were labeled as “separatist terrorists” and either jailed, deported or massacred. In today’s Turkey, representatives and members of Amnesty International, the pro-Kurdish political party HDP, the Gulen Movement, and other human rights groups, have been arrested, charged with collaboration with “an armed terrorist organization” that Erdogan argues tried to overthrow the Turkish government. Clearly, Erdogan has found that calling people “terrorists” effectively neutralizes them in society; it enables him to completely socially isolate them, and to justify all forms of violence against them.
So, how did Erdogan make me a better person?
Erdogan’s brutality raised my awareness of Turkey’s flaws, and my ability to be critical of Turkish history. It caused me to question nationalistic narratives that I previously accepted as facts. If many Turks are now conveniently unaware of (or unwilling to see) the human price of Erdogan’s rise to power, I see clearly now that all of those notions of Turkish superiority I used to believe in were just part of a grand, nation-building myth. The price of that “beautiful” myth was to deny the pain and oppression of Turkey’s ethnic and religious minorities. I can no longer pay that price; my own blinders have been ripped off by these events.
Erdogan helped me realize that it is incredibly important to listen to individuals and groups who feel neglected, humiliated and oppressed. I have realized that only through facing my mistakes and false perceptions, can I sleep in peace.
He also made me understand how important it is to live by a set of universal values, and not for my own material interests. When you are loyal to your values you will always be a person who can be trusted.
Therefore, I thank you, Mr. President Erdogan.
(Ismail Akbulut is board president of a Colorado-based non-profit, Multicultural Mosaic Foundation (Twitter @IsmailDenver))
The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, November 2, 2017, URL: https://mirrorspectator.com/2017/11/02/grateful-erdogan-dictator-turkey/