1741) Baskin Oran: An Academic Unwillingly Turned Politician

 This content mirrored from TurkishArmenians  Site © Click For Larger Image ”My candidacy for the Parliament is because of an intellectual responsibility, nothing else,” . . says Professor Baskin Oran, a well-known academic whose “minority report” fueled heated discussions in Turkey.

Oran says he does not consider himself a “politician” even though he is running for Parliament as an independent candidate from Istanbul. “I am just a university professor -- I’ve never done anything else. Even when I am writing columns for newspapers, I have the same mentality. I am not a member of any party and I don’t have any intention of becoming one. The thing called ‘party discipline’ is against my nature,” he says, adding that he is proud of his candidacy.

As the scheduled elections approach, the intellectual leftists of Turkey discuss the idea of independent candidate. Oran is one of those who lent his support to this idea.

“When I heard about the idea I said, ‘This is the salvation.’ But later they called and told me: ‘There is a full consensus on your candidacy; we have consulted as many as 6,500 people. Please accept it or we will be in an unfortunate position,’” Oran says of the beginning of his candidacy. “I was very surprised, scared, honored and accepted -- all in that order,” he remarks. Oran was initially to be supported by the Democratic Society Party (DTP), which decided to enter the elections through independent candidates in order to pass the 10 percent election threshold. However, the DTP later decided to support its own chairman in Istanbul. When questioned about the issue, Oran says one can only ask the DTP.

“My candidacy was declared on Friday. The DTP said on Saturday that they would support me. We set our sails not because a certain party or group will support us but because we think there must be a model like this. There is no book on it, and we will learn by doing. Of course, if any group or party does support us we will be happy. Later there was another candidate from the DTP, but I will not comment on that. They owe an explanation to the leftist public opinion. The administration of the DTP has to explain themselves and do what is necessary. This is my hope and belief, not a Utopian expectation. We will just continue in the direction of our ideas,” Oran says.

Oran was the chairman of a sub-committee of the Prime Ministry’s Advisory Board on Human Rights. While in that position, he prepared a controversial report which suggested that the foundations of the population must be based on Türkiyelilik -- the idea of belonging to Turkey. The DTP suggests that the Kurds must be recognized as one of the “founding elements” of Turkey in addition to Turks. Oran is strongly opposed to this idea. While explaining Türkiyelilik, Oran says that it is like being English and British. Here Türkiyelilik corresponds to being British. “Some claim that Türkiyelilik is an artificial term. But eventually, everybody has to meet there. The support of the DTP for me is a concrete example of it. But of course, people have some difficulty in changing the beliefs they have held unquestioningly. It is normal to have zigzags, and I think the DTP will elaborate on that. I am categorically denying being a founding element though I am a LAHASUMUT (an acronym he uses to say that he is ‘secular, Hanefi, Sunni, Muslim and Turkish’). I am a proper Turk, but I do not accept that I am a founding element. If a group says ‘I am the founder,’ this means that other groups are secondary. Let’s say, beside Turks we get Kurds, too. What then of the Circassian people who fought the independence war? What about non-Muslims who have helped the economy stand and who were in Anatolia before we came? This corrupted system has taken root in our minds in such a way that we have the weak weakening others, the excluded excluding others. But our intention is something else. Turks should defend Kurds, Alevis should defend women’s rights and women should defend homosexuals. This is what we call the ‘consciousness of the public,’ and we are trying to ensure the representation of this ‘consciousness’ in Parliament. Unfortunately, the weak and excluded also have unquestioned beliefs, and this must be changed. For example, Alevis say that only Alevis should be candidates. If an Alevi defends just another Alevi, or if a Kurd defends just another Kurd, then this is shame. Everybody should defend everybody.”

Oran thinks that one of those excluded groups is Muslim women. “Muslim women cannot be defended by Islamists who instead do great damage to them for at least two reasons. First, they want girls attending university to be allowed to wear a headscarf. They also want university lecturers to be allowed to wear a headscarf. But there is a basic distinction between the people who receive services and the people who provide services. Those receiving services should never be forced to clothe themselves in a certain way -- they can wear miniskirts or headscarves. When we argue that something belongs throughout the public sphere (thus forcing everybody be clothed a certain way), then we even deny women in scarves the ability to walk in the street or enter a post office to buy stamps. They are not consistent as they did not make this distinction. Moreover, they are inconsistent with respect to girls who wear miniskirts. They even try to tell me how I should dress. Nobody will allow other people to tell them what they should wear. For this reason, they do harm to girls who wear a headscarf by fueling reactions. These girls can only be defended by people like me, not by Islam-ists. For this reason, they are against Muslim women.”

Another thing that Oran categorically rejects is violence. He thinks that the attempted lynching of people in Sakarya who were wearing T-shirts with photos of Ahmet Kaya (a late singer who angered nationalists in his later years for emphasizing his Kurdish background) is an example of excluded ones trying to exclude others. “Look what those ones who tried to lynch the others are wearing? Are they economically and socially in a good position? This is something inside people, this trying to legitimate yourself by excluding others. Unfortunately, it is manipulated by some parties trying to benefit from rising nationalist and racist sentiments. Some parties and retired people feel like squeezed lemons because of others who change the category. Thus, they try to gain popularity in the name of saving the country.” When it comes to conspiracy theories like those suggesting there will not be elections because Turkey will enter northern Iraq or that there might be a civil war in Turkey very soon Oran, as a scientist, prefers to look at the bright side. For him, “yes, we have a tendency to exaggerate, but this means we care about our country.”

“We are not alone in fearing. There are fears even in the most prosperous countries of the world. We have the Sèvres paranoia and they have Islamophobia. Is there any reason for them to be scared? On Sept. 1, this phobia was showered among them. Our case is not worse than theirs. We also have a tendency to discuss what will happen to this country when we’ve had two glasses of alcohol,” he says.

Oran thinks the real problem is that the basic structure of the economy is changing. “We are passing from national capitalism to international capitalism. Because of this, everything is changing -- our moral understanding, traditions, ideologies and everything. I can live with little money, so my salary is enough for me. But there are many people whose salaries are not enough, and they are living below the poverty line. When economic concerns are added to identity concerns, it of course becomes uncontrollable. Actually, in this country, the ones who are different are subject to humiliation. If they were wearing a Beatles T-shirt and not an Ahmet Kaya one, they could be lynched as well. If the people have awareness of this, they are not trapped,” he says.

Oran emphasizes the fact that Turkey’s debt is billions of dollars, but there are still “songs of a fully independent Turkey and ideas like being against the European Union.”

“To describe the European Union as imperialism implies accepting American imperialism. The countries that were established after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire have managed to survive by maintaining a balance among regional powers and the Turkish Republic is such a country. Turkey has tried to survive by establishing a balance between the UK and Russia, between the Soviet Union and the US. This balance was disrupted with the collapse of the Soviet Union. China is seeking salvation by entering the World Trade Organization (WTO), Russia is seeking salvation by entering the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The only option for Turkey is to do what even Atatürk occasionally did -- establish a balance between the West and the East both during and after the War of Independence.”

Oran also believes that days of rapid change bring an increase in individual terror. “The masses tend to acquire temperaments that fascists are seeking. Because of these reactions, you can observe authoritarian desires in the middle class, as in the case of Germany during the inter-war period. “Since we don’t have a mandrake’s magic wand, we cannot suddenly increase the income of the people. The only thing we can do is ensure representation in Parliament for these disadvantaged and excluded people, thereby enhancing their self-confidence,” he says. Oran says that they refuse violence irrespective of anyone who might endorse it. “We are against violence, from A to Z. We advocate the freedom of expression. For this reason, we defend the rights of the disadvantaged people. If you throw a person out of the system, you make him a guerrilla and then you try to bring him back,” he observes.

For Oran, the way of making people aware of traps is to say something from Parliament. “When you protest from the corner of Galatasaray High School in Istanbul, nobody listens to you. But if you say it from the Parliament, they will,” he says.

The professor says that since they don’t have a party, organization or money, the election campaign will depend on friends. “Our friends are doing all of the planning in Istanbul. We will naturally make use of the Internet. We will give out our bank account numbers, and there will be several categories for those who want to make any contribution. Our election office in Beyoglu has begun operations. The young people from the ‘Say No to Racism and Nationalism’ movement painted it overnight. The furniture has already arrived; we have ordered four phone lines and are expecting them soon. Moreover, a fan has given us a two-story building in Galata. This is the way things are working,” he explains.

Oran thinks that after the elections there is a possibility that independents could be the key: “There will be an unofficial solidarity between the independent deputies. Also, there will be some people in the other parties who will be ready to cooperate. They will start to establish dialogue between the parties and this will bring all closer to those who are excluded or oppressed.” Once there are independent deputies in the Parliament, Oran thinks that masses will support them and organize more efficiently. “The masses who support me or other independent candidates will continue to exist. Their reactions will become more institutionalized, and they will carry reactions and complaints to deputies, who will then convey them to the relevant authorities. This is an utterly theoretical model, but it can be implemented. The committees will not disintegrate but will be more specialized. There will be constitution committees, public relations committees, municipalities committees and more,” he says.

Oran thinks that the recent republican rallies can be explained by referring to Marxist theory. More than “defending secularism,” he thinks they are based on class structure. “Yes, there is a fear, and those loosely attired women have gone to those rallies in order to overcome that fear. The intention of the organizers of those rallies was to increase this fear. We belittle the women with headscarves who sit next to us or jog. The capital which we call “Anatolian capital” or “town capital” wants recognition. The established elites -- the Kemalists -- are not ready to share power, and they try to gain popular support through the non-readiness. However, their guns are loaded by the Islamists who make small girls in green attire say religious chants on April 23, who open a prayer room in Bagcilar High School and who ban alcohol at certain receptions.”

When he was reminded that his “thoughtful style” is more suitable for a professor than a politician and candidate, Oran does not oppose this. “I became a research assistant in 1969, and I have been working as a teacher since then. I have that didactic style which is observable in all teachers. It is hard to overcome this style. However, with help from my wife, I have been able to calm myself before TV cameras and soften my voice during phone interviews. She not only places my clothes on my bed every morning but also acts as my closest adviser. I have increased her burden by accepting this candidacy, as we were planning a smooth transition after my retirement. I have lessons to give and, though I have left the university, I can maintain my lessons thanks to my faculty. Now, this poor girl [his wife] is worried about the future. We are no longer young people, and we cannot keep up an intensive working pace. I don’t how I can calm her.”


‘Do Not Sing In Kurdish, Leave The Stage’
Turkish Professor Baskin Oran asked "Why does the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) exist?" during a TV program last Tuesday. He then answered the question that he posed by reading an excerpt from a brief story that appeared in daily Radikal's May 28 issue.

"Do not sing in Kurdish, leave the stage," was the headline of the quoted story in the Radikal. According to the story, during a festival held on Agri Mountain near Igdir in eastern Turkey, Igdir Deputy Governor Mithat Gözen gave orders to Çoban Ali (shepherd Ali) to leave the stage because he started singing a Kurdish song.

Recalling that incident during the NTV program, Professor Oran said "This is the reason why the PKK exists." He of course meant that policies like the ones the Igdir deputy governor has been pursuing do not help to reduce the PKK terror threat, but on the contrary only increase it.

The example he cited might seem a simple one, but behind this incident in Igdir lies a bigger problem of treating individuals badly, embarrassing them and above all depriving them of their ability to even singing a song in their mother tongue.

Here we are not talking about a constitutional violation or legally enforcing Turkish as the only acceptable language. Rather we are considering the right of citizens to enjoy speaking their mother tongue among themselves, even to sing in their language.

Unfortunately we have not learned to act like a great state free from fears of a possible division in the country. On the contrary, small incidents like the one that occurred recently in Igdir have piled up and the Kurdish issue has for many decades now been an explosive one.

This incident reminded me of an experience of my own, which I went through almost two decades ago, that has proven how the narrow minded approach in my country has not changed in centuries.

It was in the mid-1980s when I was a journalist covering the visit of the foreign ambassadors in Ankara to the Southeast for the first time, accompanied by then Foreign Minister Vahit Halefoglu.

The main purpose of the visit was to allow the foreign ambassadors to see for themselves the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP). The tour was taking place amid heavy criticism related to the project.

Some Western ambassadors were criticizing GAP as not being aimed at addressing the poverty problems of the region's poor, but rather the interests of their landlords. Iraq and Syria, meanwhile, were complaining that GAP was preventing the flow of water from both the Euphrates and Tigris into their territories.

More than two decades after this visit, it is hard to say that GAP fully met the purpose of helping the region's people to prosper.

Nevertheless, let me share with you my experience. On the way to Mount Nemrut near the Adiyaman township in a minibus with the Tunisian ambassador, the driver of our bus was stopped by the driver of another minibus coming from the opposite direction, who started speaking in a language that none of us understood except the driver.

Strangely enough our driver was not responding to anything said in this language. After this brief pause we continued our way to Mount Nemrut.

In an attempt to soften a slight tension that had developed inside the bus, the Tunisian ambassador jokingly said "I know the driver speaks Arabic."

In fact, as all of us in the minibus guessed, the driver coming from the opposition direction was speaking in Kurdish. Apparently due to fear, our driver did not respond to his remarks, and I never did learn what he said.

Today we are in the year 2007 and in the 22 years that have passed since that experience with the Kurdish language, things do not seem to have changed.

Our decision makers should think not just twice, but several or even thousands of times about the reasons why we have not made any inch of progress in addressing our Kurdish problem and are still losing our loved ones to PKK terrorism.

When addressing the economic problems of the country in general and the Southeast in particular, Turkey lost another opportunity in 1999 when the US handed over to Turkey PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan -- now serving a life sentence in a Marmara island jail.

Benefiting from the calm atmosphere that emerged in the Southeast, the coalition government of the time should have used this golden opportunity to launch an economic and social mobilization for the region encouraging the private sector to invest there. But engulfed in serious allegations of graft and bad governance, it missed this chance to heal the wounds of the people in the region.

In 2005 Prime Minister and Justice and Development Party (AK Party) leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan identified the problem of the Southeast as a Kurdish problem, amid expectations that he would unveil an economic plan. This also did not happen.

Instead nowadays we are again talking about a military incursion into northern Iraq to crush the PKK terrorists. As one Western diplomat once told me, incursion will only have a short-lived effect though it may satisfy the ultra-nationalist sentiments of the people.

In the long term, though, such an incursion, staged without the support of the US or the Iraqi Kurds, will have irreparable repercussions for the country's fragile economy as well as Turkey's image.

We all know that there are those in Turkey who really do not care about where the country's national interest lies, but at the end of the day short-term gains have not done any good to the country. So we have to rethink the issue, concentrating on solutions to the Kurdish problem within Turkey.

Lale Sariibrahimoglu loglu@todayszaman.com

A Profile Of Turkey’s Coming Elections: Baskin Oran
“Those who define themselves as Kemalist today in Turkey do not seek to reach the Western standards as Ataturk tried to. They are only trying to spread fear to the public in order to stand against the new dynamics.”

Turkey is going through a very tough period, which is very hard for foreigners to comprehend, even for me. Many citizens in Turkey are having a hard time finding a party that supports democratic rights, the rule of law and social democracy in the way it is perceived in the West.
Out of this mess, real social democrat circles including various NGOs and political parties, have decided to follow a method in order to make their way to the Turkish Parliament by avoiding the 10% threshold of the Turkish Electoral System. The movement came up after an article that appeared in the Turkish daily Radikal by Prof. Ahmet Insel and Prof. Dr. Seyfettin Gursel, two academics from Galatasaray University in Turkey.

Despite not being very organised, they have decided to go to the polls as Independent candidates and avoid the threshold, which is only valid for political parties. The pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party recently decided to follow a similar pattern for the same reason. Professor Baskin Oran is one of the independent social democrat candidates in the country, with very unusual proposals for Turkey’s future compared to today’s statist social democrats of today’s Turkey.

Left-right confusion
The policies and rhetoric of the right and the left are totally confusing, giving mixed signals in Turkey nowadays.
The only mainstream left party with significant potential supports the dominancy of communism-like state institutions’ and does not hold back from trying to affect a crucial judicial verdict with harsh threat-like statements before the judgment was made. Let alone being nationalistic, the Republican Turkish Party acts like a deeply elitist and ‘statist’ party that hardly cares about the nation’s opinion on any issue. Therefore, they seem to be in the same line with the extreme nationalistic parties.
On the other hand, the Islamic-rooted government and democrats seem to be getting along very well as Turkey advances in the EU process maintaining the talks on the way to the bloc.
Stuck between unsatisfactory political blocks in Turkey, some social democrats who put human rights and rule of law at the centre of their ideologies have decided to run as Independents.

A brilliant intellectual
Professor Baskin Oran is an academic from Ankara University, which is famous for its Political Sciences Faculty, one of the two faculties with this name in Turkey, specialising in this area. His research areas are very diverse, yet the main ones are International Relations and Foreign Policy.
In an interview that recently appeared in the Radikal newspaper, Oran defines his political stance on the way to elections with the following extracts:

- I see myself as the spokesperson of all the isolated, suppressed, scorned, insecure and silenced people in Turkey.
- I do not want the state to intervene in everything about people’s personal life. I do not want people to be dismissed from society due to their sex or views. I seek freedom of speech in my country apart from examples such as insulting and hatred spreading statements or underage porn. In short, I desire the EU law to be valid in Turkey.

- In underdeveloped countries the inner dynamics are usually indolent. Therefore, revolutions are externally triggered. The Kemalist revolution has been totally triggered by external influences.

- Mustafa Kemal Ataturk made a very important revolution in the country, basically by translating – but not adapting; by purely copying – the laws of Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland and Belgium into Turkish. He did the first top-down revolution by changing the law in the country. What the EU law is doing today corresponds to the same logic.

- Democracy can only be imported, not exported. It order to import it, there should be good importers in a country, who would be the domestic intellectuals.

- Those who define themselves as Kemalist today in Turkey have nothing to do with the trend. They do not seek to reach the Western standards as Ataturk tried to. All they are trying to do is to maintain the status quo. They are trying to spread fear to the public in order to stand against the new dynamics.

Umut Uras
Copyright by Cyprus Observer


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