Weekend Roundup: Turkey’s ‘Two Souls’ Are Being Torn Apart

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The characters in Orhan Pamuk’s novels are complex, hybrid identities. They are neither purely Islamic traditionalists nor secular fundamentalists, but, as Turkey’s most celebrated writer and Nobel laureate has put it, of “two souls.” “To have two souls,” Pamuk once told me, “is a good thing. That is the way people really are. We have to understand that, just like a person, a country can have two souls.”

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s military-allied, authoritarian and Western-oriented modernization from above bolstered one aspect of that soul in the last century. Over the last 13 years, current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamic-based AKP has bolstered the other aspect through democratic modernization from below. In the process, political space has opened up not only to the influence of conservative rural Anatolia but also for other plural constituencies from Kurds to the gay community.

By trying to close that plural space now through increasingly autocratic tendencies — in the midst of the Syrian civil war spilling over its borders — Erdoğan has polarized the “two souls” of Turkey. For Pamuk, “to have democracy is precisely to have a dialogue between these two souls.” “I am worried,” he says, “because I know that in the end Erdoğan wants to govern alone at all costs. He does not want to share power.”

Writing from Ankara in the wake of the horrific terror attack, the Turkish-British journalist Alev Scott reviews Pamuk’s new novel, “A Strangeness in My Mind.” “This is not an intentionally political novel,” she notes, “but if there is a political message, this is it: Turkey needs to recognize its universals, not its differences.” Prominent Turkish novelist Elif Shafak says in an interview that the tensions over the civil war in Syria —> Read More