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  • The Transformation of Turkey: Redefining State and Society from the Ottoman Empire to the Modern Era, and: Angry Nation: Turkey since 1989
  • Metin Heper (bio)
The Transformation of Turkey: Redefining State and Society from the Ottoman Empire to the Modern Era, by Fatma Müge Göçek. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2011. 320 pages. £59.60.
Angry Nation: Turkey since 1989, by Kerem Öktem. London and New York: Zed Books, 2011. 176 pages. $72.95 cloth; $26.95 paper.

In The Transformation of Turkey: Redefining State and Society from the Ottoman Empire to the Modern Era, Fatma Müge Göçek takes up the legacy of the Ottoman past for the Republican Turkey. Göçek attributes almost all of the “tensions” in post- 1989 Turkey to that particular historical legacy. According to her, the tensions in Republican Turkey have lingered because the legacy in question has been “silenced.” That is, “the collective violence, prejudice, and discrimination that … was part and parcel of the … past” have been conveniently ignored and, instead, the focus has been on “former glories and virtues” (p. 37). In the process Turkey’s relations with the countries hostile to it could never be normalized. It is suggested that the Turkish state and society should “successfully negotiate the heretofore unacknowledged collective violence embedded in the past” and so overcome “the past collective trauma” that they suffer from. In the author’s opinion, acting in this manner, the tensions in Republican Turkey would have come to an end.

Göçek perceives the “Sèvres syndrome” as the source of the collective trauma she talks about. By collective trauma she has in mind those “individuals, groups and institutions in Turkey who interpret all public interactions — domestic and foreign — through a framework of fear and anxiety over the possible annihilation, abandonment, and betrayal of the Turkish state by the West” (p. 99). Gökçek argues that the Turkish Republican elite in general and the Turkish military in particular concocted the Sèvres syndrome as a paradigm for the purpose of maintaining their “political power and control over the social and economic resources of the state” (p. 100).

While taking up what she sees as several consequences of the so-called Sèvres syndrome, the author, 1) by resort to contemporary Turkish-Armenian literature, attempts to provide an account of the so-called sufferance and marginalization that the Armenians have experienced during and after the periods of troubles, 2) proposes that the common past of the Armenians and the Turks should be reconstructed so that both groups would be aware of what they have shared all along (common experiences, memories, lifestyles, and every-day practices) in order to engage “in a joint act of mourning for the loss of the many sensessly torn from their common homeland” (p. 216), and 3) narrates the case of the “just Turks” who had made efforts to save the lives of Armenians at the expense of their own.

Not unlike Göçek, in his book, Angry Nation: Turkey since 1989, Kerem Öktem, too, finds a single guilty party for the problems of Turkish political life today, in this case, “the heritage of the Committee of Union and Progress … a political mindset shaped by existential choice between ‘survival or annihilation’ and ‘independence or slavery,’ [which] is still [in 2011] present” (p. 54). Öktem argues that, accordingly, Turkey has come to have a “guardian state,” that is “the army, the judiciary, bureaucracy and [End Page 377] their representatives in politics;” he depicts that state as a “fascist” state, which manufactures “plots” in order to act “against its very own people” (pp. 14, 57).

According to Öktem, one such plot was the September 6–7, 1955 “pogroms,” which according to the author, created the conditions for the military intervention of 1960 (pp. 44–45). Another was the July 2, 1993 Sivas incidents in which a “mob of many thousands” had set fire to a hotel, resulting in the deaths of 35 Alevis and atheists. This incident is taken by Öktem also as a “conspiracy of the guardian state and its strategy to govern by turning neighbors into enemies” (pp. 96–100). According to...


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pp. 377-379
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