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The Absurdity of Turkey’s Oaths

[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News, with readers' comments] Yesterday, the Turkish Parliament had its first meeting after the elections on June 12 and hundreds of new members took their seats for the first time. A few of the elected were unable to come, because of the judicial blocks on their way, and a few dozen others boycotted the Parliament to protest this “intervention against the national will.” You can read the details of this much-unneeded crisis in the news. My take is short and simple: A way must be found to welcome all elected deputies to the Parliament. The suspects under arrest should be set free by their courts, whereas a legal solution must be invented for Hatip Dicle, the only convict. But meanwhile, Mr. Dicle’s party, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, must join the Parliament to help find a solution, instead of boycotting it. For honor and integrity Today I want to probe something else, though: the oath that every member of the Turkish Parliament has to take on assuming office. This text, which was read out loud by hundreds of MPs yesterday, is imposed by the Constitution, and reads as follows: ”I swear upon my honor and integrity, before the great Turkish Nation, to safeguard the existence and independence of the state, the indivisible integrity of the Country and the Nation, and the absolute sovereignty of the Nation; to remain loyal to the supremacy of law, to the democratic and secular Republic, and to Atatürk’s principles and reforms; not to deviate from the ideal according to which everyone is entitled to enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms under peace and prosperity in society, national solidarity and justice, and loyalty to the Constitution.” Now, I don’t know how this sounds to you, but it sounds quite problematic to many, including me. First, look at the very term “the great Turkish Nation” in the very first sentence of the oath. Personally speaking, I am a Turk and the concept of a “Turkish nation” sounds just fine for me. But a considerable part of Turkey’s Kurds have long objected to that term, and argued that they can be a part of the “nation of Turkey,” but not “the Turkish nation.” In their view, the latter is like making Iraq’s parliamentarians swear “before the great Arab Nation,” whereas, of course, not all Iraqis are Arabs. Then there is the clause which forces every member of Parliament to serve “the indivisible integrity of the Country and the Nation.” Personally, I again have no problem with the idea, but others might be able to disagree. There are people who believe that a Turkey divided into two, or more parts, as a “federation” will be much nicer. There are even some “separatists,” both on the Turkish and Kurdish sides, who believe that Turks and Kurds must just get divorced and have their own countries. I think these are very bad ideas, but unless promoted violently, they should have their place under the sun. ‘Atatürk’s principles’ Then comes the worst imposition of the oath: that every member of the parliament should remain loyal to “Atatürk’s principles and reforms.” Well, if that is a must, why then do we have various political parties? We would all gather at “Atatürk’s party,” the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP. Personally speaking, I clearly object to some of the “principles and reforms” of Atatürk, such as the bloody “Hat Revolution,” by which the trimmed hat was made compulsory, or the “Language Revolution,” by which the rich Ottoman language was “purified” and much impoverished. If I happen to join the Parliament one day, I would probably get inspired by the “principles” of other figures, such as John Locke, Edmund Burke or Ibn Khaldun, which all proposed limited governments, not tyrannical ones. The obvious truth is that we have an authoritarian constitution that imposes the ideology of its makers (the junta of 1980) on the elected members of the nation. In fact, such oaths are everywhere in Turkey, even in primary schools, where little kids are made to recite every morning that “they will relentlessly walk on Atatürk’s path.” I believe that such cold ceremonies reflect not just the authoritarianism, but also the absurdity of our establishment. For you need both to believe that you can indoctrinate a whole nation by making them, and their representatives, recite the words that they don’t believe.
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