Saturday, July 14, 2007

Racist Treaty of Lausanne

In May 1919, Atatürk began the nationalist revolution in Anatolia, organizing resistance to the peace settlement imposed on Turkey by the Allies. This was particularly focused on resisting Greek attempts to seize Smyrna and its hinterland. After the propagandized war in Gallipoli (a "friendly war") and the resulting Turk victory, the British Empire, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania, and the "Serbo-Croat-Slovene" states signed the peace settlement in the Treaty of Lausanne which principally redefined Turkey's borders.

There is a common misunderstanding about the treaty. It's called a "racist" treaty because it does not mention in the Protection of Minorities section anything about Kurds or Armenians. However, the language of the treaty makes clear it applies to "all inhabitants of Turkey without distinction of birth, nationality, language, race or religion". Non-muslims will enjoy "full freedoms" and equal political and civil rights as Muslims Turks. Yet this is a symptom of a much greater problem, a persistent problem within Turkish political language and political culture. It often sounds very progressive but on the contrary it has a very unforgiving application. For example, Articles 26 through 31 of the Turkish Constitution are mildly liberal with respect to media and press rights. (Except for the Orwellian clause in 31 stating that organizations may not hold meetings exceeding their own scope and aims.) In general it sounds supportive of a free press, yet it is taboo to write on sensitive topics such as the Armenian genocide, for which several editors and activists have been assassinated, at least one as part of a military action. There are many restrictions in the penal code which outline unlawful criticism of the Turkish government, which sounds nothing like the Freedom of Thought and Opinion promised in Article 25.

Al-Farabi, the 13th century Turkish philosopher, argued that democratic societies fail because they lack a guiding group, or principle. He said it was the philosopher's duty to establish a "virtuous" society by healing the souls of the people, establishing justice and guiding them towards "true happiness". This can be interpreted in the same way Plato meant for a guardian class to watch over the city, or further interpreted to be a modern-day Platonic nation with the military of Turkish society as a guardian-class whose duty it is to protect the souls of the people. My argument is simple. Such a guardian class undermines the notion of rule of law and the importance of constitutions and contracts in civil society. If written laws can be dismissed or overridden by militarists, then democracy is clearly failing, and the guiding group takes control as a statist vanguard. Farabi's proto-Turkish approach is not pan-Islamism, but it is Platonic-statism. And therefore the political culture it gives rise to unsurprisingly double-speaks about what its written principles are, and what its practical ethics in the political sphere are.

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