Türk Milli Kimliğinde Alarmizm ve Devlet-Toplum Etkileşimi: Hatay-Belen ÖrneğiAlaattin Oğuz
Modern milletler için kurumsal bir temel oluşturan etno-tarihsel ve kolektif geçmiş anlatıları aynı zamanda güçlü bir eylemsel bileşen olma işlevi görmektedir. Bu anlatıların oluşturduğu mekanizmalar, bir milletin geleneğinin özgünlüğünün doğrulanmasının ve daha geniş ölçekte anlam, norm ve değerler üretiminin imkanını sağlar. Kültür dışı düşünce ve davranış kalıplarını benimsemek, kişinin kendi ait olduğu gruptan yabancılaşmasının ve ahlaki çöküşünün bir işareti olarak görüldüğünden, ortak bir geçmişe bağlılık, grup olmanın temel bir gerekliliği olarak addedilir. Bu nedenle modern öncesi etnik tarih ve ortak hatıralar modern milletlerin mihenk taşı haline gelmiştir. İnsanların kültürel olarak kendi değerlerini korumak ve “dejenere” unsurları yok etmek için, yani bu iki cepheyi birbirinden keskince ayırmak için gösterdikleri çabaların basitçe öteki hakkında bir korku işareti olarak tanımlanması yeterli değildir. Dolayısıyla günümüzde milli kimliğin taşıyıcı özneleri yüksek düzeyde siyasi gerilim yaşadıklarında, kimliğe ve ona verilen ayrıcalıklara karşı duyarlılık düzeyleri artmakta ve yumuşak bir gerekçelendirmeyle sosyal uyuma vurgu yapmaktadırlar. Türk milliyetçiliğinin gündelik hayatta ve sosyal pratiklerdeki müteyakkız hali, milli kimlik anlatılarının doğallaşmasına yol açmakta, bu da döngüsel olarak tarihsel referanslarla bağlantıların inşa edilmesini kolaylaştırmaktadır.
Alarmism and State-Society Interplay in the Turkish National Identity: The Case of Belen, HatayAlaattin Oğuz
The narratives of a collective ethno-historical past form the institutional basis for modern nations and function as a powerful operational component. The mechanisms of these narratives validate the authenticity of a nation’s traditions and generate meaning, norms, and values on a larger scale. Adherence to a shared past is a fundamental requirement of being a group, as adopting non-cultural patterns of thought and behavior is ultimately considered a sign of alienation and moral degradation from one’s group. For this reason, pre-modern ethnic history and shared memories have become the cornerstone of modern nations. Defining people’s efforts to preserve their cultural values and to isolate the “degenerate” elements (i.e., sharply distinguishing local and foreign) as solely a sign of fear offers an incomplete perspective. Therefore, when the national subjects these days experience a high level of political tension, their sensitivity to their identity and the privileges given to it increases, and they emphasize social harmony as a flexible justification. The vigilance of Turkish nationalism in daily life and social practices has led to the naturalization of national identity narratives, and this has facilitated the cyclical construction of links with historical references.
This study focuses on coping mechanisms in an environment where subjects who claim a national identity are under threat. What coping strategies and mechanisms step in when the patterns of solidarity holding a nation together are in danger? This fundamental question requires one to consider the current and historical formation and reproduction processes of the Turkish national identity. To do this, the position of nationalist individuals is covered as a social group in the context of newly emerging political situations such as the Syrian refugee issue in Türkiye. This study focuses on the daily experiences of nationalist individuals who have been involved and decisive in restoring the national identity in the Belen district of Türkiye’s Hatay Province. The people who are focused on here have a solid motivation to attribute Turkishness as a supra-identity above all other ethnic identities in Türkiye, as evidenced by both the political election results in the region and the evaluations made through participant observations. National identity is positioned as a frame of reference running parallel to the political agenda in districts such as Belen with strong nationalist motivations. Experiencing high levels of political tension at the local level has increased the sensitivity toward the national identity and its privileges. Therefore, people place more emphasis on the importance of social cohesion. In this sense, the vigilance of Turkish nationalism has led to the naturalization of narratives regarding national identity for ordinary people in Turkish nationalist towns.
The study argues Turkish nationalism to strongly emphasize social harmony based on the narratives of history, values, and symbols and to oppose demands, even those coming from Muslim elements. Although Syrian refugees are not in a demanding position with regard to the national identity, Turkish nationalist individuals feel responsible and aspire to declare who is dominant in the region, as they view refugees as an unsettling element in comparison to the local Turkish residents. For example, Arabic signboards in Hatay are typically seen as a cultural variance, but now the neutral meaning has changed and transformed into a threat. National honor is the primary determining dynamic that led to this change in meaning.
The people of Belen, Hatay mostly choose to neutralize possible threats to their dominance through a variety of defense mechanisms. In this regard, they insist on three dynamics due to social cohesion’s focus on the permanence of national identity: a strong emphasis on self and their position as true owners of the area, a reference to collective memory (myth), and emphasis on maintaining the existing social stratification.
This study has adopted a thematic analytical method using qualitative research techniques. While participatory observations provide the opportunity to participate in daily life practices and combine various observations with a holistic perspective, context sensitivity has also allowed the researcher to analyze statements using theoretical concepts. In addition, sociocultural definitions are concerned with detailed field descriptions. These frameworks have enabled the researcher to penetrate the subjects’ perspectives, establish a theoretical connection, and decide how to reconsider relevant concepts to create a new framework within existing theories. The qualitative research methodology has been developed to address some of the deficiencies in quantitative research methods and focuses on field studies. Social phenomena differ from physical ones and cannot be explained by causal relationships or universal laws of nature. The qualitative methodology suggests appropriate techniques that help researchers access the meaning behind an object. Therefore, qualitative research tools are necessary for analyzing the subjects’ identities in the field. For example, in-depth interviews with younger and older generations are essential for revealing the feelings people of different ages have and for identifying temporal changes. Therefore, the qualitative method involves a type of social research that focuses on how people interpret and make sense of the world in which they live and their life experiences. This approach adheres to the interpretative paradigm, which argues that reality has no single meaning. Researchers should pay more attention to how people construct their existence in real life and give sense to their actions. Therefore, being in the field should involve a multidimensional scientific practice that engages in a reflexive relationship with the reality of the locale.
The primary data in this study consists of in-depth interviews, field notes, and participant observations. The prime criteria for participants to take part in the in-depth interview is that they are nationalist individuals who are encountered in the town’s public spaces. Nationalist individuals entail those who believe in the precedence and supremacy of the Turkish identity with an operational definition. This general definition is removed from electoral politics, because elections and party-oriented explanations make the nature of social actions in everyday life difficult to understand. Using this operational framework, those who fit the description were invited to partake in the interview in daily meetings and conversations. If no typology suitable to this prime criterion emerged in the daily discussions, the interview was still carried out to keep the public’s pulse using the participant observations and field descriptions. The study attempted to reach as many ethnic and social strata as possible in the field and conducted in-depth interviews with 13 people. The transcripts tracked the participants anonymously and censored any descriptions that might reveal the identity of an interviewee. The fieldwork was carried out in 2020, during which time the Syrian immigrations to Türkiye were a main agenda and shaped the main subjects in the discussions. Due to being an intense and controversial topic, the focus was on the changing political atmosphere, primarily with regard to social transformation. In this respect, the views of influential people in the region were critical. Therefore, the main focal points consisted of identity, threat perception, and relationship with the state.
When considering Belen, the political conjuncture in 2020 (the abandonment of the Democratic Opening Policy, formation of new political coalitions, and Syrian refugees) helped to consolidate the superiority of nationalism in daily life as a discourse. Two common conditions were witnessed in the field: mental fatigue/reluctance resulting from political divisions and strife, and the presence of refugees as a threat to national integrity. This included a nationalistic self-confidence and derived psychological support from the Democratic Opening policy. The objections to the Democratic Opening policy stemmed from the sensitivity toward protecting the achievements of the Turkish national identity that accompanies the discourse on national unity. Places such as Belen where nationalist sentiments run high maintained a sense of this threat. A high number of references was made to the “us versus them” distinction, historical events, and social cohesion for coping with the complications. In this context, the nationalists focused on Syrians and confirming their own national superiority. According to the individuals who were interviewed in the field, while Türkiye acts compassionately toward refugees and “other Muslim nations,” these elements should also respect Türkiye’s red lines. For nationalists, national honor must be defended at all costs. Confusion in the streets of Belen had caused concern about public visibility. While the local Turkish citizens do employ Syrian refugees in jobs that require mainly manual labor, they also complain about their presence, claiming cultural and national incompatibility. The nationalists possess an ideology based on anxiety about political domination and preservation of national culture. This argument is also economically visible because Syrians live in Belen’s Muhlisali District, one of the three prominent neighborhoods, and the relatively wealthy Belen residents had moved to more modern settlements in the town center.
The dominant majority nationalism often manifest itself in preserving the dominant national culture. For this reason, nationalism is defined as an ideological scheme that defends the legitimacy of this defensive action. The definition of national borders emerges as a cultural compromise when specific values, classifications, and meanings are agreed upon and are only visible through this custom. Nation states, however, ensure that this meaningful partnership is fortified with institutional closures. According to Wimmer (2004, p. 8–9), the institutional practice of this type of preservation consists of a multidimensional intervention encompassing democratic, legal, military, and social dimensions. Therefore, nationalizing social inclusion and exclusion principles depends on a successful compromise between the political elite and the other lower strata of society; it is not a top-down but rather a reflexive decision.
The globalist and multicultural trends that emerged in the 1990s led to tension between the Western powers and the dominant national identities and nation-states. The definition of nationality was also under the impact of a flexible and tentative framework rather than a structurally sound one. Dominant national identities tried to adapt claims of legitimacy to this new global challenge. The threat perceived in the eyes of dominant national identities has been strongly related to political ideology and the level of cultural integration. Tracing the connotations of this sentiment hints not only about the inner mechanism of the group but also about the group’s relationship with the current political agenda. Therefore, people’s efforts to protect their self-worth, pride, success, and inner integrity when feeling alarmed should not be considered independent of the daily political agenda.
The political agenda shapes the perceptions of threats and feeds the fear of foreign invasion and alienation from the intrinsic culture. Negative attitudes toward immigrants mostly concern fears about a generalized loss of social status and identity. The Democratic Opening policy and the Syrian refugee problem over the last decade in Türkiye are examples of the dynamism of the national protectionist and adaptive reflexes. These have mainly found themself concerned with softer concepts such as social cohesion. This smooth expression of cohesion or harmony is the insistence on the permanence of national identity and reconstruction of the legitimacy with the sense of identity, shared history, and social balance narratives. Resting upon the historical roots and domination of the area, national pride, and the sense of owning the area signify that vigilance about upholding national boundaries works very effectively. Recent examples of red-line cases in the public are the Democratic Opening policy, the Syrian migrations, and the July 15 coup attempt. Because nationalism equates each individual with one another and grants them dignity through collective consciousness, denying one’s identity is a sign of denying one’s pride. Attempts that are made toward this type of existence also involve crossing their red lines.
As a result, tense situations about national identity increase sensitivity toward national identity and its achievements. Nationalists strive to maintain current achievements by setting continuity mechanisms off in moments of crisis. Belen has had a cyclical reproduction of Turkish national identity between the locals and the political elite. This cyclicality is evident in the local’s reactions to issues such as the Democratic Opening policy and Syrian refugees.