This week, I’m in the Netherlands. Private stuff and some work appointments. And while I was getting ready to catch my flight Sunday afternoon, in Istanbul there was a huge demonstration going on. Tens of thousands of people gathered to remember the mass killings of Hodyali (committed by Armenian troops against Azeri’s in Nagorno Karabagh twenty years ago, read more about it here) and part of them started spreading filthy racist, nationalist and hateful poison (read more about the demonstration here). I couldn’t help thinking about Holland.
Coming to Turkey, a bit over five years ago, has put me in a constant turmoil of re-investigating my opinions. I have been flabbergasted and deeply shocked by the opinions that I have come across, rooted in nationalism. In Turkey, in general (I’ve met great exceptions!) the question is not whether somebody is nationalist or not: you can take that as a given, the question is to what extent somebody is nationalist. This stems from the fact that nationalism is institutionalized. For decades now, children are being taught that being Turkish is the greatest thing of all, that everybody in Turkey is a Turk, that foreigners are always out to weaken Turkey and that there are ‘internal enemies’ as well, like Armenians.
I grew up in a small city in the Netherlands, where nationalism was non-existent. The Dutch flag was hardly ever seen – only on Liberation Day and on Queen’s Day some people would display it – and there was no sense whatsoever of a feeling of Dutch supremacy. Children are not drilled about their (real or invented) national identity and we don’t learn the national anthem (or don’t bother to remember it if we do). Add to that the experience of the Second World War, during which my parents where born, and nationalism is labelled dangerous and out of the question.
Turkish nationalism has, like I said, shocked and flabbergasted me, butit also made me reconsider my own convictions. Could you also see nationalism as not a bad thing by definition? Was there a point in the theories I heard from nationalists of all persuasions? Discussing these things gave me sleepless nights, and taught me a whole lot about Turkey. And now, after more than five years, I feel I have come back to where I came from. However you look at it, nationalism is dangerous and potentially very destructive.
Turkey needs to get away from this institutionalized nationalism to become a country where everybody feels fully accepted as a citizen. The nationalist brainwash has to be replaced by a state of mind that sees richness in diversity. I feel Turkey is very slowly moving towards that, but Sunday’s demonstration also once again made it very clear how deeply ingrained nationalism can be. How hard it is to change a mind-set that has been forced upon people for decades.
That’s why it hurts me so much to see what is going on in my own country. While in Turkey slowly but surely it starts sinking in that the one-size-fits-all mentality can never work and that people’s identities need to be able to flourish, the Netherlands is developing in exactly the opposite direction. Politicians, not only the openly racist ones but also those of bigger, more traditional political parties, try to score easy points by being harsh on topics about ‘Dutch identity’. They want to force one ‘Dutch identity’, whatever that is, on everybody, erode differences, force people to be somebody they are not. They put foreigners in a bad light (or don’t fiercely protest when others do) and even suggest they are a ‘threat’ to Dutch values.
I find it sickening. Nationalism is potential death, destruction, hatred and violence: Turkey is a clear example of it. And what Turkey also makes clear, is that the essential road towards a multicultural society, where everybody is seen and valued for who he or she is, is very difficult. Dutch politicians seem to be unaware of that, or they just don’t care. I wish they would open their eyes and come back from their dangerous path. They really shouldn’t want to go where Turkey is coming from.