“These Crazy Turks” and our broken national pride

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					Turgut Ozakman’s novel Su Cilgin Turkler (These Crazy Turks) has been a best seller
in Turkey for nearly a year. It has gone through more than 212 reprints so far, totaling
more than 500,000 copies, thereby establishing a very solid record especially by
Turkish standards. The novel is about the Turkish War of Independence and,
according             to            a           Milliyet         news               item, has been in large quantities
by a number of Turkish universities. According to the same source, the Turkish
military is a mass purchaser as well. Ozakman’s book’s success is meaningful in a
number of ways – especially in understanding how most Turkish people perceive
themselves and their relationship with the rest of the world.

“These Crazy Turks” and Our Broken National Pride

By Ayşe Hür, Radikal İki, 28 August 2005

The emotional outbreak caused by the book These Crazy Turks must be one of the
most important social psychological events ın Turkey in the last few months. The book
has been reprınted 38 times, and who knows how many times illegal copies were
made. It has caused a sensation amongst certain groups rangıng from the leader of the
CHP (Republican People‟s Party) to Devlet Bahceli, the head of MHP (Nationalist
Action Party that focuses on the ethnic superiority of Turks) to Server Tanilli (a
prominent intellectual paralyzed as a result of a political assault committed by ultra
right terrorists in the 1970‟s).

The Ankara Chamber of Commerce has been most generous, distributiong the book
for free on the 82nd anniversary of the Lausanne Treaty. The prominent Kemalist
writer Attila Ilhan used the occasion to compliment the book by stating it “honors the
pride of the Turkish people which has had enough with the undelivered promises of
the West in the last 20 to 30 years” thereby also indirectly commenting on our
supposedly 200 years of problematic relations with the West. The leader of the
CHP seemed to have forgotten that his party actually wants to enter the EU when he
recommended the book to all his party by stating that “There are people today who
also say the same thing as in those days, people who think our hope lies there [in the
West]. But some people have to stand up and say our hope does not lie there, that it is
a bog out there.” By so doing, he has given us yet another lovely example of his
somehow schizophrenic mentality.

Even Ilhan Selcuk (the chief writer of Cumhuriyet, the legendary leftist journal of the
country) who had once upon a time claimed to his opponents that “the country is not
cucumber that we can just split in two” -- thus proving he was not beaten by the 85
year old Sevres Syndrome -- has declared (why ever?) that this was the book he had
been waiting for for the last eighty years. The fact that the Turkish Military Chief of
Staff has spoken about the possibility of using the book as part of the military
curriculum has probably increased even more the trust of the nationalist population in
the book. After reading the book, many are reported to have said “I was tearfully
proud”, “so glad to be born Turkish” and “not scared of the country‟s future anymore.”
Actually, the book is so impressive for the average reader because of its subject and
accessible writing style. In a country where people do not really enjoy to read, it is not
at all surprising that a book the size of a brick that runs about 700 pages competes for
top sales with Kavgam (Mein Kampf) by Hitler that has also had phenomenal sales.
(A small side note: on an internet site called, a Turkish youth has
said that if he/she were stranded on a desert island, the three books he/she would take
would be “Kavgam (Mein Kampf), Su Cilgin Turkler (These Crazy Turks), Bir
Maniniz Yoksa Annemler Size Gelecek (My Mom Will Stop By If You Are At

What is hard, however, is to understand why and how the feelings evoked by the
author of the book Turgut Ozakman with his frequent sentences such as “our broken
national pride in front of the whole World”, “to cure the feelings of steady humiliation
brought on by the West”, “to salvage the wounds of the Turkish people injured by the
enemies” etc. are taking over the country in such large waves. Just when I was
wondering as to why mature people certain of their own self-worth would feel the need
to attribute these qualities to themselves and to their country, as to why they were not
ashamed of being perceived as a person who would only be viewed as either someone
„miserable‟ or „a loser‟ in the West, I think that Dr. Erol Goka put his finger on it and
solved my puzzle when he stated “When big nations need to protect their identity or
when their identity has recently been under fire, they create a tale of common victory
or a chosen trauma. The fact that the book These Crazy Turks is so popular points to
the fact that the Turkish people read this book because their national identities need to
be mended.”(Aksam, 8 August 2005)

I did not know that the creator of these ideas, namely Vamik Volkan and Norman
Itzkowitz, had separated nations into big and small ones; one could conjecture that
these adjectives were added on by Dr. Erol Goka to further reach to the people he
praises. If this is indeed the case, will what occur next follow Volkan and Itzkowitz‟s
predictions, that is, in the case of trauma, will “[t]he group undoubtedly pass over
these feelings of hurt and shame from generation to generation; after one trauma
reaches another specific chosen trauma, the historical facts relating to the first will lose
their importance?” Or, in the case of success, “once a chosen victory becomes a
group‟s main identity, [is] it hard to give it up?” And if these are indeed what have
happened in our history, has the clearly hurt Turgut Ozakman been able, when
addressing a group that was also hurt, to adhere to the historical facts? Or did he begin
to create „chosen victories‟ under the weight the holy task of the salvaging of hurt

I think that feeling trapped under the weight of its massive history and viewing its
location within it as a place it certainly does not deserve to be located at seem to be
typical characteristics of all Turkish people. Our inability to accept that we no longer
have our old [imperial] importance internationally and our insistence on thinking that
in a paranoid manner that everyone outside Turkey (especially Europeans) are against
us and are out to get us make me think that we have not been able to develop a healthy
national identity. Both the reason as well as the manifestation of such a depressing
state is the loss of one‟s grip on reality. The forced transition from an Ottoman Empire
spread over three continents to a Turkish Republic stuck in tiny Anatolia is not
something many Turkish people have still accepted or digested. Every time these
people look back at their history, they see traps, betrayals, wars, destruction,
banishments and massacres. As to the reasons for these, it is not very easy to break the
mold for the very cliché and not totally correct answers that we have been taught at our
schools for years. For instance, we are the children of a generation who believe that we
were forced to enter World War One because two German dreadnoughts named Yavuz
and Midilli bombed the Russian ports of Sivastopol and Odessa; that we lost the war
only because the Germans and the Bulgarians did so.

Our generation handles the Sevres Treaty as a monster, the emerald born from
Lausanne Treaty‟s ashes as the nest of Phoenix; and we are not aware of the Mudros
armistice treaty at all. Had we been aware of all these things, our outlook on the world
today would have been much different. For instance, why and with what hopes did we
join The First World War? For example, do we know that the Germans had broken the
1878 Berlin Pact and allowed the Austria-Hungarian Empire to overtake
Bosnia Herzegovina? Or that we had been looking for support from England just
before that? Do we know that on May 1914, Enver Pasha asked Russia to be an ally
but was refused; that he went to Paris in July, but returned, instead of an alliance, with
lots of medals? That even the Ottomans and Kaiser Wilhelm II who was the architect
of the eventual alliance that was established often changed their minds; that German
foreign affairs bureaucrats believed the “Ottomans are not ready for a war like this
one” and felt sorry for the money wasted on them, that Germany waited for the war to
start before deigning to become allies with us?

Did anyone tell us that even though the Union and Progress governments had
borrowed 46 million from other countries between the years of 1908-1904, it only had
92 thousand gold pieces in its treasury just before the war and it was because of this,
that is, for 5 million marks and help from Germany that we had no choice but to join
the war? That during the war, apart from the victories at the Dardanelles and Kut‟ul
Amara, we had no other significant successes? Or that Enver Pasha moved a big
segment of the Ottoman military forces from the Iraqi Front to Transcaucasia to fulfill
his dreams of an ethnically Turkish Turan land, but lost even in spite of this? Without
going into more questions about the rest of Turkish history that have not been asked, I
want to return to the book by Ozakman. My contention here is that his book was not
written, as he and many others argue, to celebrate the victories of Turkish Nationalist
Struggle; I would argue instead that the main, but hidden reason for the writing of this
book is to mourn for the Turkish losses of The First World War.

Yet the reason of the book was not to establish the historical facts about the war either.
There is no need to go into detail here, but we all know that in history a lot of states
emerged, rose, crumbled, beat others out or were beaten. The things that happened to
the Ottoman Empire also happened to the Austro-Hungarian, Spanish, Italian, French
and the British Empires. The power struggles that occur between these states do not
necessarily imply that the people of the victorious countries look down upon or do not
respect the people of the defeated ones. The ensuing feeling of humiliation often
emerges instead when some greedy, insufficient and ineffective leaders try to hide
their own failures through the systematic creation of a national trauma. But
unfortunately this feeling of being stranded and marginalized at one corner of the
world that is purposefully pumped, this emotion that that there is nowhere else to retire
to, this belief that our national pride has been hurt in a premeditated fashion lead
nations to big barbarisms.

Yet, what we have been discussing thanks to Ozakman‟s book is the following. In an
interview with the Aksam newspaper, Turgut Ozakman makes the following
observation about the Armenian forced deportation of 1915-16: “Turks have their
faults as well. I am not ashamed of these. Just like there are no sinless people, there are
also no nations without sins. Just as much of the West is barbaric so are we." It is not
hard to guess why Ozakman so readily accepts this 'little sin' (!) by once again blaming
the West and not at all mentioning how the Turks wrestled at that time with the
feelings of being stranded, trapped, only to turn into the perpetrators of one of the
biggest crimes in world history.

The Chosen Traumas

I do not know if I need to remind everyone that the reason for the popularity of
fascism in Italy and Spain was also due to this feeling of being degraded. But the most
frightening yet instructive example for us in history is what our once allies the
Germans have gone through. Both Germany and the Ottoman Empire had to develop
very quickly as they found their national identity; they were late-modernizers and paid
for this dearly. Both countries went through a phase when they focused on their ethnic
roots, were supported by the military, had liberalism, and developed a hatred against
the West. In the end, both countries ended up with a “chosen trauma” par
excellence! For instance, the Turks regarded the Sevres and the Germans the
Versailles treaties not [as it really was] as the consequences of a war which they
themselves had started to either take over the world or at least benefit from it, but
rather as the biggest punishment unjustly delivered on their national pride. Ever since
the 1920‟s, Germany has put all its energy into saving itself from the tutelage that the
Versailles had brought. Finally, “the humuliated Germans” following Adolf Hitler,
managed to cause 60 million people to die and spoiled this big and old continent.

The Germans were only able to save both themselves and the world from this trauma
by managing to look critically at their past and by apologizing for their mistakes. The
Germans do not boast about their “glorious history” any longer, but do so instead
about their accomplishments today. Unlike the Germans, we Turks seemed to have
managed to partially get rid of ourselves of our trauma through the feeling of victory
we acquired from the Nationalist Struggle and the Lausanne Treaty that led to the
establishment of the Turkish Republic at the beginning of the 20th century; this in turn
enabled us to stay away from the Second World War. I said „partial‟ riddance because
we never were able to face our past mistakes fully nor did we properly grieve for our
past sufferings. Unable to create an economic miracle like Germany, upon being faced
with difficulties, we always found it much easier to hide behind our “glorious history”.

But pyschology argues that “the states of feeling grandiose and inferior are two faces
of the same coin.” And we have been unfortunately witnessing the perspicacity of this
statement every day. On the one side, we claim “we must resist the EU and retreat
behind our national borders as we did against the imperialist countries of Europe in the
past,” on the other we argue “the EU has to accept us, because we are the key for
appeasement for the Clash of Civilizations.” Some say “we should improve our
relations with Iran and Syria and not care about what the will of the US,” while the
same people would also have no compunction to argue “we should not only reconcile
ourselves to being a part of the Big Middle East Project of the US, but undertake the
leadership of the entire Muslim World”. The people who are parochial enough “to
propose a solution to the Kurdish problem in the East by eliminating the entire Kurdish
leadership” are interestingly the same ones who are as grandiose as to dream about a
Turkic world (the Turan country) that stretches from the Adriatic to the Chinese Sea.
All this is fine, but how many times must history remind the Crazy Turks that such
emotional „ebbs and tides,‟ such schizophrenic splits cost dearly to their own nation
and state?


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