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Heviya Auerbach:
The Dialogue and Liberties of Civilizations

Contributions to the II. International Conference "EU,Turkey & the Kurds", Bruxelles - Kurdish writer Mehmed Uzun presents jewish exiles Erich Auerbach and Walter Benjamin to the conference participants.

by Mehmed Uzun

Everybody seems to be looking at the topic from their own perspective when it comes to question of the Turkey, European Union and the Kurds. I would like to look at this topic in terms of dialogues and freedoms.

It is possible to provide over thousands of examples corresponding to liberties and dialogues of civilizations. However I, being a writer will provide a different example. I am now working an a novel. The name of this novel, which I am writing in Kurdish, is Heviya Auerbach in Kurdish. In other words, Auerbachs Hope, in reference to Erich Auerbach, the writer of one of western literature's most important works, Mimesis.

Born in 1892 Berlin, the linguist and literary historian Auerbach, a German Jew, was forced into exile when the Nazis came into power. In 1935 the Nazis amended a racist law called "Zum Schutz des deutschen Blutes" in order to 'protect the German blood'. Consequently, Auerbach who was teaching at the time as a professor in linguistic and literacy was sacked forrn his teaching post in Marburg University. Due to ever vocal and aggressive intent of the Nazis he fled to Istanbul, Turkey in order to save his life.

During this time in the Republic of Turkey, the founder of the republic and its absolute guardian, Chief Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was in the process of westernizing the country. Because of these efforts, in Istanbul, Dar-ül Fünun an education centre used during the Ottoman era was shut down and in its place founded was the Istanbul University.

Many Jewish academics who fled from Nazis found themselves working within his newly formed university.

With aid from his close friends who he met in Germany Auerbach and his family was able to settle in Turkey as a political refugee and begin working as a professor of East Philology in Istanbul University. Like other political refugees, Auerbach was obliged to sign a formal government document; while residing in Turkey, it was made clear that he was not allowed to involve himself in politics and was barred from commenting an politics. He could not criticize the politics of Turkish state. Auerbach stayed in Turkey until 1946, and then moved to USA where he carried an with his academic work until his death in 1957.

My novel is principally about Auerbachs life in Istanbul. This is indeed a highly interesting one; excluded from a political life, viewing everything from far, like a spectator; a life living in a tight knit community of fellow emigrants sharing social, cultural and intellectual relationships of a typical exile life. I also lived in exile for many years. Therefore I understand that for the life of an exile, the things that carry importance are anxiety, skepticism, susceptibility and observations. They compare everything to their country of exile and always analyze their life as an exile. How can I carry on with life? How can I free myself from being a forgotten nobody? Who am I? What do I have? What is the difference between my life as an exile here and the citizens of this country? Do we have similar or shared experiences? These sorts of questions are plentiful, they are questions which never escape from the mind of intellectual who lives in exile.

We know from his letters to his friends that the recluse Auerbach was preoccupied with his books and files in his home in Bebek in the Bosporus. Around him were Ottoman Kings, Sultans, Viziers and Palaces, mansions, beach homes, Mosques and Minarets which would read calls to prayers belonging to Sultanahmet and King, differing codes and practices, struggling to understand discussions, old steel merchants shouting their trade in Turkish and Ottoman, Turkish baths, fishermen, the deep loneliness. Auerbach was always reminded of these. On top of the worries such as anxiety, skepticism, susceptibility and observations from these learning's, Auerbach wrote an indispensable novel in western literature called Mimesis.

Full of sadness, yearning, pain and loneliness in his life as an exile and although he faced many obstacles with persistence and patience, Auerbach was able to devote himself and his life to his writing, which would then build the foundation of East and West relations.

For those interested in understanding western civilization it is imperative to read the book Mimesis which was produced in the heart of the eastern civilizations that is Istanbul.

So why do I refer to Auerbach? My plight is completely opposite to that of Auerbach's. I am of Eastern origin from a Muslim family whose ancestors trace back to Mesopotamia. I am product of Aegean, Anatolian and Mediterranean cultures. In 1997 I fled from Turkey and emigrated to West and settled as a political refugee in Sweden. Like Auerbach I also lived the life of exile, I was intellectual trying to stay alive and establish a path for myself. I became literacy writer. Meeting the west, living in the west and writing modern Kurdish novels enabled me to pursue a life for myself. I would have always viewed things through an eastern culture and my writing would not have been as successful as it is if I had not met the west.

The meeting point of all cultures, religions, languages, civilizations is between the east and west. Don't we recall dialogues of languages, religions, civilizations and cultures when we talk about civilization, history of man and deep root of world literature? If there was no dialogue between us, would we be able to comment an civilization, the history of man and world literature? In my opinion, from the civilization of man until the present day, all the richness and heritage is a product of the dialogue among us. To get acquainted, to encounter, to meet, to observe, to compare and to be together is always productive, efficient and fruitful. If I was to comment an the history of literacy in world literature, the Gilgamesh Saga and Homers Epic Poems are examples of the product of this meeting of civilizations.

Obviously between the west and the east, the Christians, the Muslims and Hebrew world, there have been great and bloody wars, disasters and confrontations. However with regards to humanity, universally everything is accelerating because of the integration of civilizations and cultures. This is applicable to all religions, cultures and languages as they recognize, rneet each other and share sources with each other as has happened in religious texts.

I would prefer looking at European Union, Turkey and the Kurdish question from this angle. There is no need to deceive ourselves with regards to Turkey, although there are a number of' special similarities. Turkey is not a western country. Turkey's established values, its cultural heritage, past, history, societal memory and other such things are very different from western world. It is difficult to say that the republic of Turkey has provided any advancement for civilization, but Turkey as a country belongs to both the Islamic and Ottoman civilizations. However, in the Islamic world, Turkey is the closest country to the west.

The establishment of a positive relationship between the European Union and Turkey and gradual course of becoming a respected member is the norm of historical human dialogue. The differences between the civilizations which are coming together should be seen ultimately as part of the whole.

The union of such different is exciting, as such a dialogue will create great opportunities that humanity cannot imagine and it will enrich and strengthen our human heritage. It will rid us of our mutual prejudices, lessen conflicts that arise from bad customs and practices and increase the mutual human values.

I feel that the European Union-Turkey project will be a great chance for both sides. The European Union however, needs to prove and show that it is not a wealthy Christian club, but is a modern, democratic project. Turkey must also prove that it has capacity, maturity and mentality to join such a civil, modern and democratic dialogue.

3. However there is serious problem facing such a dialogue, this is the character of the regime in Turkey. There is a truth, which is circled around but never declared. This truth is that the Turkish regime is militarist and ultra nationalistic. All criticism and compliments aside, those are the fundemental chracters of the state since the establishment of the Turkish Republic.

On this note, I must refer back to Auerbach. On 3rd January 1937, Auerbach wrote a long letter from Istanbul talking about his thoughts and observations of current affairs to his friend Walter Benjamin who lived in exile in Paris. Within this letter in one section Auerbach describes the regime as a "fanatical nationalism which is always turning back an Islamic culture, an imaginary Turkish fundamentalism observing Europe with abhorrence and admiration and at the same taking the path of European civilization to shoot them with their own arm. The result is a nationalism which had breached its limit and which result in the destruction of its character".

No other person can provide such an honest analysis of the chaotic structure of the Turkish regime. The regime was in the past like this and continues to be so today. Unlike in Europe, there has never been a powerful aristocracy in Turkey (even during Ottoman Empire)which would defend the continuity of historical heritage with a European style Bourgeoisie or liberal social movement or a democratic civil bureaucracy. There have always been two dominant powers in Turkey; the Ottoman dynasty and the Armed Forces. Once the Ottoman dynasty which was removed, there remained only one major power, the Armed Forces, Pasha's and the Generals. The Republic was formed by them, and in all areas the true power remained with them. The leaders of the Republic were with the Army and their control remains intact to this day. Whenever someone has tried to loosen the control of the Army through politics or the society, they were brought back into line through hardship and violence. Three Army Junta's have occurred where as always the army carried out stiff surveillance and inspection of civilians, Prime Ministers, ministers and intellectuals, who were sometimes executed. Presidents, Prime Ministers and dissenters were exiled to other regions, hundreds of thousands of people were detained and the laws were always amended according to Army's will.

The Turkish Armed Force's missions, position and how it expresses itself does not compare with other European countries. In the western world, the Army is always a government instrument, a component of state bureaucracy, a tool of the democratically elected, parliament, president or the ministers, which is government controlled. However the Situation in Turkey differs; an paper it is like any in the Western world but not in reality. In reality the Army is higher than any elected institution. In Turkey the Army view itself as the guardian, the protector and regulator of the state, the people and the national sovereignty of the state. Under this principle, the concluding last words always remain with others instead of the rightly elected people who never regain any political respect. As a result of this their political ideas and proposals are never carried out to their wants or wishes. For example the Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan recently surprised the masses and carried out a very positive political rise by visiting the biggest Kurdish city of Diyarbakir. In this visit, like a true statesmen he admitted that a solution to the Kurdish problem must be found and acknowledged that the past governments did many wrongs but promised that his administration would find a solution to this longstanding problem. On this matter, the first reaction came fron the Army; everyone should only preach the generally sanctioned politics. Following Erdogan's visit to Diyarbakir, violent confrontational fighting erupted all over Turkey and more so in the Kurdish regions. In conclusion the excitement generated by the Diyarbakir and the speeches made by the Prime Minister were suddenly made insignificant.

The Army has its own political doctrine and it is compulsory for everyone to abide by their chosen politics. The political opinion of the Armed Forces is militarist in order make the Army the dominant power. For this reason the political language of regime is not one that is democratic but rather a militaristic and ultra nationalistic regime.

The basic rules of governing the lives of people revolve around the principles of aggression from enemies (internal and external), defence, the nation and citizens.

The spirit of this Single-minded system is governed by Ultra nationalism. Since its beginning an excessively violent nationalism, official views, thoughts and feelings have taken hold. With Auerbach's terms Turkey is not in peace with its history, it has an unbalanced nationalism that has no roots. For it to exist it is a necessity to stay alive and active towards the enemy, it should always resort to violence and national vigilance. If the hazards from internal and external forces cease to exist the Array will generate a bogus threat for it to endure. To generate new threats, the roles given to Kurds, Armenians and Greeks are that of internal enemies and its neighbor's external enemies.

As I have mentioned official views of Kurds in Turkey are one of deep hatred, and their phobia of Kurds is evident; ultra Turkish nationalism is nurtured by their abhorrence of Kurds.

Europe knows too well the devastation that Ultra nationalism and militarism causes as it has experienced them the past 100 years.

In spite of everything, it is proven that Turkey's mind-boggling political stance an the Kurds has been a pure failure. The problem of the Kurds has always remained the Achilles heel for Turkey. While the Kurdish problem in Turkey remains unresolved in a civilized and democratic manner, it is evident that it will remain frail, unequal and anti-democratic.

It is evident that it is a major problem for Turkey to give the Kurds unrestricted rights. What must be done is the question. Although it might seem like a paradox, in my view, the European Union must do two things:

The European Union must never desert Turkey; should not eliminate its Support an the democratic powers in Turkey, and the Kurdish nationals. If the European Union betrays the democratic struggles, rights and freedoms in Turkey then it would be betraying the basic core principles of what the European Union exists for. The forefront of the European Unions agenda with Turkey should be to always be in dialogue, always promote the path to a more democratic Turkey and to achieve the position of a civilized partner within the organization.

Therefore its relationship with Turkey should not work in an opportunist fashion and Linder no circumstances as I have mentioned turn a blind eye to the two cancers that is militarism and Ultra nationalism. In my view the European Project is not about the development of the industries and laicism but combines the progress of civilization, democracy and free will. If the West stands only for secularism and technical development, then we could See the face of colonialism, racism and fascism once again. But my understanding of Western civilization is its splendid rights, freedoms, equality, brotherhood and its focus an humanism. You do not achieve civilization through bombs, blades and tanks, but through equality, the freedom of the citizen and the mechanisms which provide rights. With this the European Union should not betray the relationship with Turkey and should not view the individual, absolute tyrant that is the Army in a favourable way.

For these reasons the European Union and Turkey should continue to convene, for the European Union to save Turkey from tumbling into the murky world beyond its borders, to not accept the current condition of Turkey, to move hand in hand to help Turkey achieve a country which is governed by the rule of law, democracy, and humanity through open dialogue.

Civilization is freedom, democratic dialogue required for future civilizations. 23-09-2005

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