Dr Ozen Observations

From Saigon to Brussels – Burying Hate into History

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Fright Underground

See the fright on my face in the tunnels

I have not been able to sleep much since my visit to the Ci Chu tunnels. A few seconds after getting into the hot, humid and narrow underground tunnels I knew I was not going to cope well. My two Vietnamese friends were crawling in front of me and more tourists were behind me; this meant I could neither hurry out nor turn back. Despite my pounding heart and shortness of breath, I gave into my pride and kept quiet. Thoughts paraded through my mind – I could die at any moment! How hard it must have been during the war, with no lighting – and the tunnels had been enlarged for tourists. It was like been buried alive. Imagine running from imminent death, from enemy fire, or raining bombs. I wonder if the discomfort I was experiencing now could have frozen me into giving into death above ground had I been fighting with the Vietnamese back then. How did people put up with this for over 30 years, defending their freedom first against the French and then the Americans?

Ho Chi Minh City is actually a beautiful part of the world. It is warm, green and full of life. Everything is constantly on the move. Motorbikes dominate the roads, portraying a strong sense of individual liberty and confidence. The population is young, on average in their early twenties. A large variety of cafes and restaurants decorate the streets with elegant designs and emanate enticing aromas. You cannot ignore the signs of poverty, but this does not seem to have destroyed the social fabric. You feel part of one united community. The Vietnamese seem to be just digging their way out of poverty as a community, with a confidence, determination and patience that brought them victory in the Ci Chu tunnels, where they fought against the mightiest army and crushing cruelty. During this short visit, my admiration for the Vietnamese, strong individuals, with close-knit families and patriots, grew immensely.

Effects of agent orange

Chemicals sprayed over forests caused catastrophic natural damage and genetic disorders in many generations to follow.

I cried in Ho Chi Minh City. Twice. First during my visit to the War Museum, secondly at the Women’s Museum. Emotions took over as I made my way through the exhibition, looking at the Illustrations of the atrocities of war and its civilian victims. Tears started to involuntarily make tracks down my cheeks. I rubbed the tears off with the palm of my hand and kept telling myself, “Nobody should have to suffer like this.” Yet, history keeps repeating itself. We do not learn from the horrors of the past. Not even from the very recent past.

It is estimated that four million people were killed during the war. Americans lost about sixty thousand troops. Australians, New Zealanders, Koreans, Thais were all fighting alongside Americans; these people suffered casualties too. However, these deaths are incomparable to the price paid by Vietnamese, fighting a war against colonialism. They won the battle against the French, but that was immediately followed by war with the Americans for another twenty years. Colonists fought a proxy war, exploiting local grievances with the promise of power in the proxy colonial rule afterwards.

Who is fighting whom?

Chinese Nung soldiers interrogating a Vietcong

Many war crimes were committed during the Vietnam War. Atrocities committed by the Americans and Koreans are well documented. The two museums exhibit photographic evidence, provided by international journalists. I was surprised when I come across a torture scene perpetrated by the Chinese Nung soldiers. The Nung are a Vietnamese minority group of ethnic Chinese descent. I later learned that Nung soldiers were recruited and trained by the CIA; they were famous for their loyalty to US Special Forces and were the most feared fighters of the war. Here is a documentary showing how they were recruited [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59Bd9tjbZ7U] The Nung won the admiration of US soldiers, but lost everything else [nunglosteverything] They suffered heavy losses as well, and when Americans left, some managed to flee abroad, but the majority were not able to and were abandoned to their fate.

We witnessed the same pattern in the first Iraq war. America encouraged Kurds to rise up against Saddam, then they decided to pack up and leave. Americans relocated some of the Kurds who had been directly working for them on an island in the pacific but those left behind were left to the mercy of Saddam; this resulted in the Halabja massacre [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halabja_chemical_attack].

In times of conflict, religious and ethnic diversity can become a vulnerable area that is open to exploitation by the enemy. Some countries have tackled this risk with compulsory relocations. For example, the Kurdish population living in the Caucasus under Soviet rule was moved to Kazakhstan. Had Russia left this population in Caucasus, the Kurds could have allied with Germany during the Second World War, opened up another front in the war, carving a state for themselves. After dealing with its own weakness, Russia used Kurds to fight on their behalf, exporting its ideology to Turkey.

 Đền Thờ Vua Hùng

Hung Kings Temple, next to the botanic gardens.

On the way to Ci Chu tunnels when our tour guide was talking about the atrocities that Americans and their allies had committed, I heard a Korean boy behind me telling his girlfriend from the Sultanate of Brunei how thousands of Koreans tried to get out of compulsory military duty by applying as conscientious objectors and thus avoid fighting the Vietnamese. You cannot put collective blame an entire nation for the atrocities of the past. If it were not for the bravery of international journalists relating what had really happened and thousands of people marching against the war, the atrocities in Vietnam would have continued until the entire nation had been wiped out of existence. I felt sorry for the Korean boy, he must have felt guilty about what he was hearing. Then I felt guilty. My Vietnamese friends had told me, “It does not matter where you come from. If you are white you are referred to as American in Vietnam. There are 80 different ethnicities in Vietnam. Just as you are not able to tell the difference between us, it is difficult for us to differentiate between white people.”

My Vietnamese friends, Kim and Phung, called the tour guide to come over. He sat in the empty seat next to us. Phung objected to what he said. Kim asked him to change the tone of his narrative. They said, “We need to look to the future. We do not want to scare people away. We want them to come back, bring their friends and come here to do business and help our country to grow.” This made a great impact on the tour guide. On the way back he said, “The war ended forty years ago and we hope that it will never happen again. Neither in Vietnam, nor anywhere else in the world. Wars are the worst act of humanity. Wars destroy everything. We don’t want destruction. We want to build a future together. In order to create, we must eradicate hate and love each other.”

Mahinur Ozdemir

Youngest member of Brussels regional parliament

There is so much that can be brought to the Middle East from Vietnam. The region is a fountain of ideas and diversity. Innumerable religions, sects, ethnicities, ideologies and identities coexist here. Despite catalogues of treachery, betrayal and cruelty, the majority of the people do not take part in the power struggles. We should not allow indiscriminate hate to overcome love nor should we allow the wounds of the past to become chronic sources of conflict.

While in Ho Chi Minh City, I received shocking news from Brussels. Mahinur Ozdemir, a good friend and youngest member of Brussels regional parliament, had been expelled from her party CDH (Christian Democrat Party). She had been telling me for some time about the problems she was having with senior members of the party due to wearing a headscarf and her Muslim identity. Mahinur has a strong popular base in Brussels; this too was probably seen as a threat by career politicians in the party. The excuse that was used to expel Mahinur was based on what happened in the Ottoman Empire a century ago.

The Ottoman Empire was a mosaic of over 70 different nations administered like a federal kingdom; it stretched over three continents. Countries which had an eye on minerals and resources on vast Ottoman lands, countries that wanted to have access to the Mediterranean Sea, countries that wanted to control trade routes – all these wanted to carve up the Ottoman Empire and take pieces for themselves. They successfully exploited the nationalist sentiments of the Ottoman
citizens in their campaigns. The Ottomans lost much of their land in Europe to the uprisings in the Balkans. Russians orchestrated similar plans in the Caucasus with the Armenians. In 1914 Ottomans started to fight in the First World War; the allegiance forged between the Armenians and the Russians posed a great threat – Ottoman forces were already stretched in fighting on many fronts. In 1915, the Istanbul administration decided to relocate the Armenian population from the Caucasus to Syria.

Mount Ararat, highest mountain in Turkey.

Mount Ararat, highest mountain in Turkey.

Today there is a strong Armenian lobby which tries to have this process of relocation recognized as a genocide. Nobody denies that many Armenians died as a result of poor conditions and attacks from local vigilante. The Ottoman Empire collapsed after the First World War. The Turkish Republic, viewed by many as the heir to the Ottomans, does not accept that these events were a genocide mainly because the intention of the movement of the Armenians was not for killing them all. The Turkish government has opened its archives and invited Armenian representatives to come and examine them together more than once. This invitation has never been accepted. There is much that can be said about this sad episode of history. I will leave the rest for a specific article on the subject. Nevertheless, many people of Turkish and Kurdish heritage find it difficult to label these events as genocide. It is not easy for any person to classify your heritage into the same category as Nazis. However, the Armenian lobby has successfully passed laws through parliaments of many countries which bans questioning their version of history and effectively prevents the freedom to express any objections. Such enforcement through laws is an act of seeking revenge. Belgium is not one of these countries. Mahinur does not deny the hardship that Armenians suffered either. She only refusing to call it a genocide.

There is a large Armenian population still living in Turkey. Turkey and Armenia have common borders. Armenia’s route to connect with the rest of the world is through Turkey. Instead of raising walls of isolation, Turkey and Armenia should build bridges and focus on building a prosperous common future. It is important to recognise what happened in the history to heal wounds and ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated. However, history should not be used to aggravate animosity or justify revenge.

Unfortunately, in Mahinur’s case, this issue has been exploited for internal party political manoeuvring. If a Christian Democrat Party cannot give some space to a member who believes in Islam and defines her identity as Muslim, expressing her identity through her dress code, then they should drop the democrat from their name and call themselves the Christian Party.

more photos from can be found at
https://www.flickr.com/photos/126721982@N03/

Published originally on June 28, 2015 by Daily Sabah

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Written by Dr Ozen

July 7, 2015 at 12:52 am

Posted in Politics, Travel

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Why was I at the London Pride?

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London Pride 2013

LibDems at London Pride

No mum, do not worry I am not gay! I do apologise if this sounds offensive, I do not mean to be and I am not homophobic. I would not care what others think of my attending the London Pride March, but my mother is not a young woman anymore and I do not want to give her any unnecessary grief.

My mother is not a homophobic person either. She would actually be quite sympathetic due to her protective instincts. She knows how the society will bully you all your life. Nobody could bear the pain that their child would have to endure. This is also the reason why she wanted me to hide my racial identity. I remember that she kept reminding me for months, when I started school, that I should not tell anyone that I am Kurdish. She did not want us to be discriminated against and she was not motivated by protection of her cultural heritage but only by her desire for the happiness of her children.

My mother comes from a big family of seven siblings. My grandfather was a devout Muslim. He used to go to the mosque five times a day. I remember him either working in the garden, or reading the Quran. There is this prejudice that homophobia stems from religion. It is not true for the Turkish community. It is a widespread problem across all sections of the society including religious, non-religious and anti-religion people. Moreover, I do not know anybody religious who has bullied their gay neighbour or a feminine man. We did not have openly gay neighbours but there were feminine men and they were protected from mockery by people like my grandfather, who would tell us not to mock what God has created.

I also remember my aunt had a large cassette collection, majority of which were albums of Zeki Muren and Bulent Ersoy, the two openly gay singers in Turkey. My grandfather did not stop my aunt from listening them or buying their cassettes. He did not like their music because he prefered folk music himself, but I do not remember him making any comments about their sexuality. He would have told us off if we were to listen to anything sexually explicit, but fortunately neither Bulent nor Zeki have any embarrassing songs. They sing classical Turkish music.

It is ironic that at about the same time the Turkish state, which was under military coup control, had banned Bulent Ersoy from TV because he had a sex change operation. While the Turkish state, which is secular, showed no regard for personal liberty, the theocratic regime of Iran offers free sex change operations under the national health system.

These days Bulent Ersoy is like a hero for my family and I am sure many Turkish people share the same feelings. If my grandfather were still with us, he would have loved her too. My elders say, “Bulent may no longer have a male sex organ, but has more balls than all the man in Turkey.” This is because of the position she took in support of the government’s democratisation steps towards Kurds. When nobody dared to speak against the military and the Kemalist ideology she expressed her opinion on TV with no fear. I should draw your attention to the fact that this government is often referred to as Islamist hence you would think someone who is homosexual would see it as a threat to their lifestyle. But Bulent and the rest of the homosexual community had probably never before enjoyed the level of freedom that they had under this government. Cemil Ipekci, who is another influential gay public figure has often spoken in support of the government policies too.

I took part in the London Pride rally because my first principle in life is to stand up in solidarity against any form of oppression because I know how it feels to be oppressed. I know how terrible it is to not be able to express your identity openly.

You will ask me if it is in conflict with my belief. This is an irrelevant question. My values will affect how I live and how I feel, my beliefs are personal. Even if my beliefs were against it I would still fight for your right to live your life as you wish. I cannot enforce my rights and wrongs on someone who does not share the same beliefs. I am not an expert on religious texts so I will avoid such an analysis. However, I do want to make a couple of observations on the subject.

Firstly, we know that homosexuality is natural and not a socialized or traumatic reaction. So if both religion and homosexuality are from God, then they must be able to accommodate each other. I know that there are texts regarding this but interpretation should be done within the appropriate context. A literal interpretation would not be the correct approach. Religious texts are like dictionaries. Unless you see the word in a sentence, the definition alone often does not make sense.

Secondly, even if it was against my religion, I would like to remind you that practice of religion is a trial and error experience. You do something, then you repent, then do something else and repent until you have a clear conscience. While we benefit from the freedom of choice within this journey, we cannot deny the same to other people.

Let me reiterate, I am making these points for those who are curious about the thinking of the person with a religious conviction. If you do not believe in it, these are irrelevant. In that case the first principle applies and everybody has the right to live their life without fear of prosecution.

I did not suffer racial discrimination personally because nobody could tell my race. However, I witnessed other people being bullied because of their accents. One of my classmates had to change his school because it traumatized him mentally. However, this was probably the most innocent form of harassment of ‘the different’ in Turkey. I listened to much worse personal stories. I also saw religious discrimination. I saw girls turned away from school gates for wearing a headscarf. They were not allowed in any public space, hospitals, courts, schools.

My best friend at university was the first person I met there. We ended up in the same classes all the time due to our matching surnames. His sister was a PhD student at a different department so we used to bump into each other sometimes. She was a gifted architect who loved her profession and had a thirst for learning. However, she was having a difficult time because of wearing a headscarf.

At that time in Turkey, girls wearing headscarves and going to university was a new but rising phenomena. These young women were the first generation in their family to go to the university. They came from humble backgrounds. Usually their parents had to sacrifice all their lives in order to help their children to get a university degree. I think this was one of the motivating factors for her hard work. She wanted to make her parents proud in return for their sacrifices.

One day after the lectures my friend spotted his sister walking away from her faculty, she was crying her eyes out. He rushed to catch up with her and find out what had happened. His sister explained that when she met with her supervisor and she asked him to repeat something that he had just explained, he hit her on the head and told her that it was normal for her not to understand because she had two layers on her head. The supervisor was implying that the headscarf she was wearing was impairing her understanding.

I cannot forget the frustration we felt listening to her story.  This was just the beginning. The bullying and intimidation continued in all forms until a complete ban on headscarves was imposed in all universities throughout the country. Many girls were turned away from the university doors.

The elites of the country were not happy about these young girls going to the university. When I say elites do not picture in your mind the elite of the civilised world. They do not have the same values or principles. I meant in financial terms and for their status in the society. I should have said privileged instead which is a better term to identify them. They may have prestigious titles but in fact they are bigots. They are born into wealth and status, they go to good schools and they go abroad  but they do not interact with outside world to be influenced by their values. They cling to each other and remain insular. They end up racist, authoritarian, dogmatic and intolerant. Sadly they don’t realise they have primitive values, behaviours and attitudes instead they think they are modern. They do not read and think about what they read. And often what they read is scary. If some of the bestselling Turkish books were translated into English you would be worried about the intellectual capacity. Their mind is stuck at the first few years of the Turkish republic. They study it over and over, again and again until they are completely brainwashed. They end up becoming paranoid people who think all the people outside Turkey is their enemy and anyone else within Turkey is collaborators of the enemies.

The privileged class was not happy that these young girls from the ghettos of the cities, wearing headscarf and following their religion were increasingly going to universities. If this trend were to continue, their social status could be challenged. They did not have any problem with the mothers of these girls who came to their homes for cleaning to wear headscarves, because it was not a threat to their status. They could tolerate that. However it was intolerable that the cleaner’s daughter was demanding the same education in the same universities and she could end up having the same job as they had. So they banned headscarves, under the threat of a military coup.

If you live in a nice house, if you have a job that you enjoy, if you are able to go on holidays a few times a year and your children can go to good schools and you have a nice car and you have nice friends, then you do not need religion. Everything is sorted in your life. Religion is the survival tool for the poor people who are subjected to injustice and have little hope of changing their fate. Religion is actually an inhibitor that helps maintain stability. Without religion the world would have been a chaotic place. Marx did not identify the religion as the opium of masses in error.

When we assess people in other countries as friends or foes, we should not be judgemental. Let’s never forget, what may seem nice from far, can be very nasty when you have a closer look at, and what scares us may become less of a worry if we understand it. Those that we align ourselves with may have none of our values, and those that we distance ourselves from may be ready to embrace us. We should allow them time and a chance to improve their life.

Unless you have experienced prejudice, it is difficult to understand the damage it causes. And if someone has experienced prejudice themselves, they cannot allow that to happen to others. Therefore, when my friend asked me to support the London Pride March this year, I felt it was my responsibility to support my colleagues and all those who have not been allowed to express their identity with pride and dignity.

Written by Dr Ozen

July 29, 2013 at 1:56 am

Posted in Politics

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Egypt – Notes from Turkish Experience

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He was sitting next to me taking notes on his laptop. He asked me in what capacity I was there. I told him that I followed the emergence of democracy in the Middle East closely and I was devastated by the catastrophic end brought to the budding of democracy in Egypt. He looked puzzled. There were ‘journalists without frontiers’ who were concerned about the fate of the press workers in Egypt after the coup. There was an Irish lady who made a strong point against racism. And many more. We were there to find out what the experts had to say.

Turkey’s strong condemnation of the coup was mentioned. The public reaction to the coup in Turkey was like an avalanche. Anti coup hashtags were the top trenders for a week. There were demonstrations in all cities from Istanbul to Sirnak. The duty of any government is to channel out the message that it receives from its public. This view was shared by all four parties in the Turkish parliament and lead to a common declaration which is a rare act of unison.

The reaction from the UK was not similar. William Hague’s statement was better than EU’s but it was not close to what African Union demonstrated. This was yet another evidence of the need to change in the International bodies like United Nations, G8, etc. In its present form they do not give confidence to the world for protecting the core principles and values.

It is such a twist of fate to end up calling the people who lobbied for a coup, and defend the military as Liberal and the victims as Islamists. This is a deliberate labeling. It is an insult to the %51 of the country. A friend who used work for British diplomatic services posted a message yesterday. In the context of Gezi protests in Turkey and the coup in Egypt, he was saying something along the lines of, “Erdogan can convince the Islamists but not me.”  This is an insult to the %50 of the people who voted AKP in the last election and upto %70 support he received in referendums. The Turkish population is predominantly Muslim and Erdogan supporters may contain practicing people more but this does not make them Islamist. Coining such labels on religious people cannot be dismissed as innocent. Let’s admit that the word is automatically associated with terrorism. This labeling has worked very well in the West to contain the public reaction to the military coup in Egypt. However, let me remind you that the Egyptian army and the establishment of Mubarak era would have not let their grip on power slip away easily. If Egypt had a party with a different political alignment and a genuinely reformist agenda in government, the establishment would have stood against them too.

Turks feel very sorry for Egyptians because they experienced many military coups themselves. Through painful experience, they now know that it will not serve anybody but the perpetrators of this crime. The people will suffer the consequences. Well meaning young people who are in the frontlines now will one day regret the stance they took in this critical junction for their country. Dictatorships develop a corrupt establishment around themselves. This establishment will remain even if the dictators are toppled. When the establishment is faced with reforms, it does not matter from which side of the political spectrum, they will try every possible means in their hands to stop this. This is exactly what happened in Turkey. Successive governments from left and right were toppled when they challenged the establishment or refused to confirm. There is a famous Turkish quote, “If  communism is to come to this country, it will be brought by us.” This is the patronising attitude of the establishment. The first term of AKP government was a period of constant threat of coups and court cases to close the party. The headscarf of the president’s wife had to be approved by a public referendum.

Egyptian establishment denied an election to the people who could own up their democracy, instead that are enforced a coup upon. All military coups are dark eras in a country’s history. Moving forward from here, we cannot allow Egypt to slip into chaos. All parties who have influence in Egypt should urge them to restore the democracy back and restrain themselves from causing not remediable grievances.

I left a discussion at the Chatham House with these thoughts on my mind.

Written by Dr Ozen

July 12, 2013 at 1:17 pm

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Liberal Democrat Position on EU

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We live in an age of globalisation. It is not possible to live in isolation and succeed against the challenges of this age.

  • The financial world does not have national borders and the problems it is facing require global collaboration and action. Individual efforts from countries have not been enough.
  • Terrorism and organised crime such as human trafficking and paedophile networks operate across national boundaries. No country can tackle these crimes and feel safe in isolation.
  • Climate change, which is one of the biggest issues of our day, does not respect national borders. Only working together can we combat such challenges.
  • Through international collaboration, it is possible to build efficient infrastructures such as connected energy grids which utilise resources better, reduce waste and minimise damage to the environment.
  • Through collaboration with allies, it will be possible to reduce big military expenditures.
  • Working with our allies, together we can stand stronger against the rest of the world.

For all these reasons and more, Liberal Democrats believe the EU is important for the UK. UK’s EU membership is an instrument for boosting jobs and growth, delivering security, and tackling climate change. EU already plays a significant role in the welfare of citizens in the UK. Over 50% of British trade is with EU, and 3.5 million British jobs are dependent upon our trade within the EU which is equivalent to 10% of all British jobs. The UK receives £350bn a year in Foreign Direct Investment from other EU countries and in the last decade, over 600 companies have chosen to locate their European headquarters in the UK.

However, Liberal Democrats know the EU is far from perfect. We need to improve EU’s efficiency, transparency, flexibility and democratic accountability. Liberal Democrats don’t believe in one-size-fits-all solutions because we believe that individual people, families and their communities know best about the things that affect them. Hence decisions should be taken by them, not by distant politicians and bureaucrats in Westminster or Brussels. That is why we insist that Europe does not act when national, regional or local action is more effective.

The EU should concentrate on issues like tackling climate change, taking on cross border criminals and building economic prosperity – and not get involved when national or regional action would be more effective. We will work in EU to make sure that our core values remain in the centre of EU transformation as well as making it more transparent and accountable and reducing waste by avoiding inefficient practices such as having two separate European Parliament locations. These reforms will transform the EU to the benefit not only of Britons but of all EU citizens.

Britain’s Liberal Democrat MEPs play a leading role in the wider group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) which is the powerful third force in the Parliament, casting decisive votes in debates in European parliament.

Written by Dr Ozen

October 9, 2012 at 9:33 pm

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Do as you would be done by

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Erdogan

About a decade ago when Erdogan got first elected, the army, the media and the elite of the country were all united in attacking him and everything that he represented with a fierce campaign. They expressed their contempt in every possible way including treats of military coup. Erdogan was not perfect than and he has made many mistakes since. But he has also done many things that could not be imagined possible. What his critics still have not understood is that as long as their criticism is of tribal nature, it will not get them anywhere. Erdogan belongs to the largest tribe in Turkey which he has shown by coming out stronger than before from every election. If his critics could stop themselves from being spiteful, not only could he benefit from the criticism but also people would have not all united around him which makes him feel invincible. I would like to see Erdogan feel less powerful, be humble and open to criticism. This is only possible if his supporters do not feel like they are part of a tribal struggle and Erdogan does not feel like his critics are not just waging an ideological war against him.

Written by Dr Ozen

August 24, 2012 at 10:45 pm

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Preaching to the Converted

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Last week we had two prominent Turkish journalists visiting London. Ece Temelkuran is a staunch critic of the Turkish government and Ekrem Dumanli has probably voted for the ruling party since it was established a decade ago. They both gave lectures in SOAS. The crowd that they drew was impressive. The lecture theatres were both filled beyond their capacity. In the UK, we are used to see such crowds only at celebrity gigs. The audience of both gatherings were very young. This is an unusual interest in politics for UK standards. These are all positive points for the community of immigrants from Turkey.

However, it is essential to draw attention to a wasted opportunity. Neither, Ms Temelkuran nor Mr Dumanli needed to give these lectures. They both preached to the converted. If they could swap their audiences, it could have been much more productive for everybody. Both the speakers and the audiences had an easy ride. Speakers were asked questions complementing their speeches, audiences heard what they already believed in. Neither speakers nor the audiences were challenged to question their position. This is not useful for a society. Especially in politics, tribalism is detrimental. We should all question ourselves or at least be open to hear questions that challenge what we believe in order to avoid becoming dogmatic and loose touch with reality. Tribalism combined with segregation is a spiral downwards for decay in a society. Sooner or later it can cause irreversible damages for the community relations.

Once, an Indian colleague of mine asked me if I could tell where in Europe people are from by just looking at their face. I found this amusing. However, he could differentiate where in India someone is from by just looking at their face whereas I would have no idea. There are many communities in the UK. Just because they are from one country, sometimes we have the tendency to assume these communities are homogeneous. Through personal experiences in my neighbourhood, I have grown to learn that no matter how small a community is, they may have as many fractions as they had in the countries they originate from. Compared with the rest of the society, they would still have more in common with each other. The experience of immigrant life helps them realise this. However, we should not assume that they are homogeneous and try our best to be respectful to the sensitivities within the communities.

What can be done to promote better cohesion within and between communities? I believe the most urgent step would be beating the segregation. If we return to the example presented at the beginning, is there a way that could encourage people to have an intellectual debate without segregation? Changes in community can be achieved starting from the intellectuals. If Ms Temelkuran and Mr Dumanli could sit at the same table, presenting their point of view, the audience would have been a mixture too. It is impossible for either of the speakers to change their opinion about the government of Turkey. This is probably true for both of the audiences too. However, both sides should be able to empathise with each other. The society is made of both fractions. Neither of the opinions is the sole representative of the community. They should both accept the existence of the other and be happy to live with the reality that they will always disagree at least on this particular issue and possibly on many other issues too. In addition, the speakers should realise that some of the points they make are unfairly biased or even plainly wrong. The best way to see this is through having a grown up conversation with each other and hear the other opinion. These are very simple suggestions. But unfortunately, it is not straightforward to implement.

You may have other suggestions to help the society to understand each other better. I would be grateful if you could contribute to this through comments. I would like to conclude my words on a positive note. The organisers of both events had good intention to build strong community relations between the different fractions. On this occasion it did not came to a conclusion but these good intentions will come to fruition sooner or later. We are very lucky to have community leaders who put the progress of the community first, community leaders who risk their own personal gains to build a better future for all of us. I would like to personally thank them for their personal sacrifices towards this dream.

Written by Dr Ozen

June 3, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Mongol

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It has been a few years since I stopped going away in December. I used to take a break for the whole month. Then, I realised that the best place to live the Christmas and new-year atmosphere is London. In addition, taking shorter breaks in warmer seasons when you really need makes more sense. This year the pleasant weather was an added bonus. I admit, I was at home most of the time. Lazy! Eating, sleeping a lot and spending leisurely time with family and friends was great. I read most of the time. I am not going to tell you what I have read because if you are still reading this, I am sure you would be bored. You would overcome your curiosity, give up reading further, and never find out what I really wanted to say. Let me give you a brief introduction about what prompted me to write this blog entry so that I do not have to rely on you curiosity alone anymore. I watched a few movies during the christmas break. I want to share with you my thoughts about one of them, a historical epic about the rise of feared Mongol warrior Genghis Khan (imdb.com/title/tt0416044/).

I want to ask your opinion about it too. It is available on BBC IPlayer at bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b018l6wz/Mongol/. If you can, please do watch it before reading the rest of this blog. I am afraid I may spoil it for you by revealing the story.

OK, let me delve directly to my first point. Mongol is particularly interesting for Turkish people because the official Turkish history claims that the origins of the Turkish people is from Mongols. And conquests of Genghis Khan are glorified at schools to construct the national identity. I believe this is a flawed proposition. I am sure that genetically, people of Anatolia are more Greek than Mongol. When you think of the rivalry between Turkey and Greece, it is difficult to believe this but usually the rivalry between siblings is much tougher than rivalry among friends. I cannot think of anything very different between the people of Turkey and Greece. The way they pray to God is a bit different but the religions have evolved to be similar. There is more in common with Orthodox Christianity and Islam than Catholicism and Islam.Yes, they do have different languages too. However, even though the sounds are different the meaning is the same. Have you seen a Greek and Turk express their emotions? If you do not know either of the languages you would think that they are talking the same language. They are angry the same way, they are sad the same way, they are happy the same way. And do not forget the engineering that both languages had to go through during the establishment of nation states. Even two siblings will feel like strangers, after living away from each other for a long time. And unfortunately people sometimes have the most damaging disputes with the ones that they are closest to. Take for example what happened after the breakup of Yugoslavia. What is the difference between Croats, Serbs and Bosnians? They are catholic, orthodox and muslim respectively. That is all. Genetically or culturally they are not much different. But this fact didnot prevent the ethnic cleansing of one another. Going back to the point that I made in the beginning, the people of Anatolia are more Greek, Persian or Arab than Mongols.

Do not take me wrong. I am not advocating for all the identities to be melted into one pot. On the contrary, I would be happier to live in a society that contains a wide range of distinct and very strong identities. This would create so many opportunities to benefit from the life experiences of all different ways of life. Imagine, would you prefer to be playing in a football team of 11 strikers or a team made of the best goalkeeper, best defenders, best midfield players and strikers. I am sure you would all choose the second option. This variety not only makes an excellent team but also gives you a chance to take up the role that you suits you best. If the individual has choice it makes the society happier as a whole. Every footballer would not necessarily enjoy playing in a striker position.

Anyway, another point that needs to be emphasised is about the flawed idea of building national identity with stories that glorify people like Genghis Khan. Yes, the film was inspiring. It is a great achievement to start from being a slave to be the ruler of half of the world. However, the destruction he has caused is second to none. If he had never existed, civilisation could be at a completely different level today. When he conquered a place he massacred the people, destroyed all the libraries and infrastructure and all the accumulations of those civilizations were lost. Any chance of a progress was delayed for centuries. Yes, it is useful to study what creates people like Genghis Khan but why glorify him?

Going back to the movie, it was interesting to watch him survive a very difficult early life. It reminded me of Viktor Emil Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and the founder of logotherapy, which is a form of Existential Analysis. He said, “The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.” The survival of young Genghis Khan is a miracle and the only explanation for the source of his determination is love as Frankl explains. The story of his love for his wife is the main theme of the movie. The film also implies that he had a strong conviction in God. Another explanation to his survival can be his complete submission to God. In moments of complete desperation, submission to God would give comfort to anyone. The portrayal of Genghis Khan’s belief in the movie is similar to what is taught in Turkish schools.

The attention paid to the details of the movie are admirable. A lot of research must have gone into writing the script. According to the legend, the Turkish race was at the brink of extinction at one point. There was only one Turk left on earth. So s/he mated with a wolf. That is how the Turkish race survived. The significance of the wolf for Genghis Khan was very cleverly reflected in the movie.

I am afraid this has been a long review. If you have read this far, I am grateful! These are the thoughts that the movie brought to my mind. Please do share your thoughts with me too.

Written by Dr Ozen

May 21, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Posted in films

Tagged with ,