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Pride and shame, like guilt, are defined as “self-con­scious emo­tions”, imply­ing a real ques­tion of eval­u­a­tion rel­a­tive to one’s self. They can­not be expe­ri­enced any oth­er way than through suc­cess and fail­ures, actions and words and not from ran­dom and uncho­sen facts. One can be proud or ashamed, or feel guilty for what one has done or expressed.

As this is a mat­ter of self-eval­u­a­tion, one is pass­ing judg­ment on the per­son one was yes­ter­day, in the light of who one is today and this, although we are con­stant­ly in motion for­ward, toward the one we will become… The per­son con­tin­ues on the road of becom­ing up until the final breath. All of us are the fruit of the road travelled.

Yet, each per­son is defined by what she or he is, the man­ner of being, act­ing and express­ing the self. His or her belong­ing to a soci­ety, a sys­tem of thought, obvi­ous­ly shapes the being and the shame, the pride and the guilt are pre­cise­ly locat­ed there, at the heart of the being. These emo­tions are not a “group” matter.

If I men­tion all this, it isn’t in order to prac­tice side­walk psy­chol­o­gy or phi­los­o­phy. I am far from being a specialist…But I am writ­ing this arti­cle because I am under­go­ing a com­plete per­son­al reflec­tion hav­ing, I admit, reached the point of feel­ing a cer­tain shame when using the words “I am Turkish”.

Dur­ing new encoun­ters, pre­sen­ta­tions, hand salu­ta­tions (Covid imposed), smiles… in those first moments, my name hav­ing hard­ly been pro­nounced and along with my accent and my slight­ly exot­ic takes on French, the ques­tion pops up: “Of what ori­gin are you?” the more polite ones ask.

I noticed that for a long time, I have been answer­ing “I come from Turkey” and not “I am Turk­ish”.

Because, when speak­ing that sec­ond sen­tence, I get the impres­sion of the nation­al­ist slo­gan “hap­py is he who calls him­self Turk­ish” attach­ing like a sub­lim­i­nal wag­on to the rest of my sen­tence. As if I was claim­ing my nation­al­i­ty and feel­ing a cer­tain pride in it…Of course, most of my inter­locu­tors are thou­sands of kilo­me­ters removed from such a thought. But per­son­al­ly, I feel deeply embar­rassed because I am not claim­ing any­thing what­so­ev­er, I am not imply­ing any nation­al­ism and I cer­tain­ly do not expe­ri­ence any kind of pride. If there was any pride involved, it would be in the fact that I know the Turk­ish lan­guage, that I know the cul­ture of the lands on which I grew up and that I’ve man­aged to main­tain, despite the years spent far away, a strong affec­tion for friends and rel­a­tives who are still in Turkey.

Is it not a ran­dom event that I was born in a Turk­ish fam­i­ly in Istan­bul? It could per­fect­ly have hap­pened some­where else…

What hap­pened after I was born in Turkey? I had to grow up, learn, open my eyes, under­stand, unlearn and relearn and, in sum­ma­ry, become the per­son I am now, still in the process of becoming…

Can one be proud of a coun­try one did not choose as a place of birth? Of one’s “nation­al­i­ty”? As a sim­ple exam­ple, how can one claim with that feel­ing of belong­ing that “mine is the most beau­ti­ful coun­try of them all”, with­out even hav­ing left one’s town to see any­thing else? This pseu­do “pride”, infused, main­tained, encour­aged, var­nished with majes­tic glo­ries, vic­to­ri­ous praise, tri­umphant splen­dors, trans­lates on the dai­ly lev­el into a lack of obser­va­tion, a lack of log­i­cal com­pre­hen­sion, the absence of impar­tial and crit­i­cal judg­ment. The whole then being poured into a kind of caul­dron in which con­stant­ly boil along fear, nega­tion and the desire to anni­hi­late every­thing that is con­sid­ered oth­er than “us”, and proud to be this way… Is there any use in remind­ing that one of the most bind­ing ingre­di­ents con­sists of pop­ulist intru­men­tal­iza­tion of religions?

This xeno­pho­bic, racist, sex­ist, species-cen­tered mix­ture over­flow­ing from the caul­dron with its sick “pride”, exhibits itself in aggres­sive, vio­lent words and actions com­mit­ted with dread­ful self-arro­gance, from a pedestal on which its authors place them­selves to look down on the world of those they despise… They are the most legit­i­mate, the proud­est, the most respectable (and, in their eyes the most respect­ed) in the world. And, obvi­ous­ly, the strongest too…

This embed­ded nation­al­ist pride, this chau­vin­ism, appears in oth­er coun­tries struck by the same ill­ness all over the world, but let’s turn our eyes toward Turkey for a sin­gle example…

As was the case in pre­vi­ous years about AIDS, nowa­days, we find the same dis­course with the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic: “Noth­ing can hap­pen to us, we are Turk­ish”. “Why? Are you made of steel, of con­crete?” Mamie Eyan would ask. It’s the same men­tal­i­ty that points the fin­ger to miniskirts on women as the cause for an earth­quake, the LGBTIQ+ as set­ting off floods…

All this review under a lead­en sky, is in order to answer the sim­ple ques­tion: “What is your origin?”

Am I right not to allow myself the answer “I am Turk­ish”? After all, this is real­i­ty, isn’t it? And I know full well that I am not the only one to wrack my con­science over it. Because, you see, luck­i­ly there are many of us who do not drink this potion in the ser­vice of “fab­ri­cat­ing ene­mies”, many of us in oppo­si­tion and defend­ing human and polit­i­cal caus­es, the legit­i­ma­cy of peo­ples, women, gen­der iden­ti­ties, animals…For this rea­son, we are con­sid­ered as “trai­tors” by Turks who are “proud to be Turkish”. 

At the same time, I must say that it also hap­pens – ahtough rarely, lucik­ly – that an offer of sol­i­dar­i­ty is not be greet­ed very “warm­ly”. It is demo­ti­vat­ing and human­ly hurt­ful to be con­sid­ered by those direct­ly con­cerned by caus­es as an “ille­git­i­mate intrud­er” because not belong­ing direct­ly to that part of the pub­lic being sup­port­ed. And this rais­es a question.

When defend­ing the cause of ani­mals, do you need to be a cow? Jok­ing aside, we live in an upside down world in which sol­i­dar­i­ty, the strug­gle must be as encom­pass­ing as pos­si­ble, at a time when there is talk of the impor­tance of con­verg­ing, of the inter­con­nect­ed­ness of the strug­gles. There exist red lines not to cross, true enough, but is there real­ly a need to com­part­men­tal­ize in such a rough and stu­pid way? Because that would mean that a man can­not con­tribute to wom­en’s strug­gles, a het­ero­sex­u­al can­not sup­port the caus­es of LGBTIQ+, that a Turk can­not be in sol­i­dar­i­ty with anoth­er oppressed people…

Each group, com­mu­ni­ty, soci­ety, peo­ple, would be con­demned to defend­ing itself alone? What a sad con­cept of sol­i­dar­i­ty only for one’s self…

Do not think I am speak­ing for noth­ing, in the abstract. This type of vision exists, as a minor­i­ty, luck­i­ly. There was a time when I was pub­licly accused “for the fact of being Turk­ish”, of being “ille­git­i­mate” in defend­ing the Kur­dish cause and that any con­tri­bu­tion I might make could only be for oppor­tunis­tic, ori­en­tal­ist rea­sons, I will spare you the oth­er qualifiers.

As a Turk who does not share the polit­i­cal posi­tions oth­ers expect, I am some­times “a trai­tor”, and at the oth­er end of a scale just as nation­al­is­tic, I am “an oppor­tunis­tic white colo­nial­ist”.

But I did not write this arti­cle in order to com­plain. Because, in fact it is the same exclu­sive nation­al­ism ani­mat­ing both sides and the stu­pid­i­ty it con­veys deserves to be questioned.

So, am I “proud to have become French?”

In the same way, I can­not stand wrap­ping myself in a flag over here, nor march­ing under it, even for legit­i­mate caus­es. And yet, I speak the lan­guage and live in a dual cul­ture. The unfin­ished decol­o­niza­tions here in France and the accom­pa­ny­ing racism I find as repug­nant as the Turk­ish repressed ones, the geno­cides and ongo­ing mas­sacres against the Kurds. In both cas­es, nation­al­ism stands in the mid­dle of the road.

So, I belong to the com­mu­ni­ty of women and men and the legit­i­mate and just caus­es they defend, even if I was born some­where and live some­where. My lands are those that stain my hands.

And I know I am not the only one liv­ing an iden­ti­ty while refus­ing iden­ti­ty-based notions.


Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Naz Oke
REDACTION | Journaliste 
Chat de gout­tière sans fron­tières. Jour­nal­isme à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mar­mara. Archi­tec­ture à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mimar Sinan, Istanbul.