Interview with Dr. Andrew Mango: “Turkey’s Walk from 1923 to 2023: A Critique of the Past and Recent Political Challenges”
Probably, not that many non-Turkish scholars have been read, referred to, admired and criticized by the students of political science and history as well as the not-so-academic followers of politics in Turkey as much and intensely as Dr. Andrew Mango had. In his seminal 1999 book, ‘Atatürk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey’, he has transformed his competence in Turkish into a finely detailed and well-researched bibliography of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Mango, born in Istanbul and fluent in Turkish, has published numerous articles and three other books on Turkey (‘the Turks Today’-2004, ‘Turkey and the War on Terrorism’-2005 and ‘From the Sultan to Atatürk-Turkey’-2009). Andrew Mango has evaluated recent debates on Kemalism, current political issues in Turkey, Turkish foreign policy and the ‘democratic opening’ for Research Turkey.
A Short Summary of the Interview:
“By time, I became more of an outsider insider in Turkey, sharing the perspectives of a foreigner with a diplomatic passport and a fellow with a lot of Turkish friends.”
“Atatürk was not a Kemalist in today’s sense… Today’s Kemalists in Turkey are not as pragmatic as Atatürk was. They do not adequately follow the world.”
“AKP could be considered as a Kemalist political party in terms of pragmatism. It is not an Islamist party in many respects. Naming them culturally conservative would be more accurate.”
“Calling Atatürk a “dictator” is a way to insult him. Atatürk was not a dictator; dictators do not share their power. He shared the powers in his hand with many people and institutions.”
“The whole Ergenekon case was based on far-fetched allegations and some fabrications. Some of the military staff might make some plots among themselves while discussing politics but their bosses said no. No commander actually let the plans of his reports go further.”
“There is not an all-encompassing ‘deep state’ in Turkey, but there are and have been networks in Turkey. In the cases of Uğur Mumcu and Abdi İpekçi, there was a right wing, Turkish Islamic, nationalist network which organized these things. They were in the police, they were in the army, but they were never dominant in the army.”
“Turkey is much better off outside the EU. You do not need to be a member of EU in order to apply market regulations or human rights standards.”
“Armenian tragedy cannot be called ‘genocide’ or ‘a planned extermination’. Most of the documents provided are forged and there is no proof for most of the claims.”
“AKP’s “zero problem policy” is not actually new. It resembles very much to Ecevit and Cem’s ‘multi-dimensional foreign policy’.”
“Politicians that steer the Turkish Foreign Policy could not envisage the “Arab Spring”. They invested in wrong people and things did not work out anywhere for them. A foreign policy for public applause does not work.”
“Recent reform process did not improve Turkish judiciary, it made it worse. The new judiciary misuses laws and invents evidence.”
“Turkey’s Kurdish opening is very crucial and should be continued.”
The Full text of the Interview:
‘Being an outsider in Turkey and writing on Turkey’
First of all, thank you very much for accepting to give an interview for the Centre for Policy Analysis and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey). You are a very well-known and a notable non-Turkish scholar writing on Turkey. We want to start first about your books. You wrote many books and articles on Turkey. How did you decide to specialize on Turkey? What were your initial aims when you first decided to write on Turkey? Apart from being born in Istanbul, did you have any other motivations?
First of all, I found the country interesting. I tried to understand it first, and explain it afterwards. My impression was always that the country was not sufficiently well understood, explained and described; that descriptions of Turkey tended to be cliché-ridden. I read many books on Turkey, but, in those days, racist clichés were very common in Europe, and I saw many clichés about Turks and Turkey, most of which were absolute rubbish. I was born in Istanbul and went to Ankara very young to work at the British Embassy as a locally employed translator. In Ankara, I got to know Turkish friends and developed a totally new perspective in Turkey which I lacked in Istanbul where I met very few Turks socially. In Ankara, I met quite a lot of interesting people. I worked part of the time at the Anatolia Agency (Anadolu Ajansı), it was a great centre in those days of left-wing intellectuals. At the same time, I acquired a better knowledge of the Ottoman language and literature, Islam, and Sufi mysticism, which allowed me to understand Turkey from different perspectives. Then, I left Turkey to study at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and, at the same time, to work at the BBC. I gradually rose in BBC hierarchy and became head of the Turkish section. It made it easier for me to travel around Turkey and to meet Turkish politicians and opinion-leaders. As I gradually became known as a person knowledgeable on Turkey, I was commissioned to write books on the country. My first book, called simply Turkey, was a part of series entitled ‘New Nations and Countries’. A travel book followed, and then what was my most ambitious undertaking, a biography of Atatürk, and a sequel ‘The Turks Today’. In between, I wrote a short book called ‘Turkey’s New Challenge’ about Turkey’s place in the new world order. A book on Turkey’s sufferings from terrorism followed. Finally, I wrote a book on two treaties, Sèvres and Lausanne respectively. I expect this to be my last book. I now devote my time largely to reviewing books on Turkey for academic publications.
In those years, as a foreigner, were you feeling yourself in danger in Turkey? Were you feeling any threat?
As a boy, yes, in some minor way, but not in danger of life. I was at school at the time of the Wealth Tax (Varlık Vergisi). Later as a foreigner with a diplomatic passport, second class diplomatic passport, not first class one as a locally employed member of the British Embassy, I was in a privileged position. As I travelled more and more and more, and then had years of working with Turkish journalists in BBC, prominent Turkish journalists, Turkish intellectuals, and Turkish poets like Can Yücel. I became more of an outsider insider, sharing both perspectives.
‘Writing on Atatürk and Kemalism’
In your books, you wrote extensively on Turkey, on Atatürk and his era. Your publications are considered as very important sources to understand contemporary Turkey and especially different aspects of the personality of the founding leader, Atatürk. How and why did you specifically focus on Mustafa Kemal Atatürk?
The honest answer is I was commissioned. I thought about it, read about it and looked at many sources, most of them on printed Turkish sources, as my academic critics point out. No one, before me – this is a bit of a claim – had, compared the many memoirs on Atatürk, to see where they confirmed each other, and where they contradicted each other, in order to arrive at and the likely truth. By comparing, I get more or less, I hope, a realistic picture of what really happened.
Different groups have different perspectives and ideas on Atatürk in Turkey. It seems every political movement has its own version of ‘Atatürk’. In your books, you were one of the first scholars mentioning different aspects of Atatürk. I want to ask a provocative question, who was Atatürk in essence, and was Atatürk a ‘Kemalist’?
Atatürk was not a Kemalist in today’s sense. Kemalism to him meant being a part of universal civilization. He believed in a universal civilization. And he wanted Turkey to be part of that civilization, which meant that in the first place, it had to acquire existing knowledge and, in the second place, contribute to the discovery of new knowledge. Atatürk’s initial orientation, which we can call Kemalism, was right for that era, and contributed to development of Turkey to a great extent.
How do you define ‘Kemalism’? Was ‘Kemalism’ a term used in the era of Atatürk? Or was it invented later?
It was used in the era of Atatürk. There was a propaganda magazine published in French called La Turquie Kémaliste. Kemalism was defined basically as modernism. Mustafa Kemal was totally pragmatic. For instance, he implemented liberal economic policies in the 1920s, turned to statism in the 1930s after the 1929 world economic crisis, and, as a result, Turkey managed to survive the world economic crisis without suffering famine.
Is ‘Kemalism’ still affecting or ruling Turkey now?
Well, a particular interpretation of Kemalism…
What do you see as a problem in today’s Kemalism?
Today’s Kemalists in Turkey are not as pragmatic as Atatürk was. They do not follow the world. They do not coordinate their thought with what is happening in the outside world.
If you define ‘Kemalism’ as a very pragmatic movement, which is actually aiming to become more civilised, even today’s Justice and Development Party, AKP, puts the same aims in front of society. Just, rhetorically, can we consider them as ‘Kemalist’ as well?
Of course. AKP in lots of ways is a modern party like the Christian Democrats in Europe. The Christian Democrats in Europe are not the proponents of clerical regimes. AKP in lots of ways is not an Islamist party. They are cultural conservatives. Erdoǧan made a very brave speech in Egypt saying state secularism is the right answer. The state is secular, I am a Muslim. It is very modern. It is like an Italian Christian Democrat, a French Christian Democrat. However, cultural conservatism can be a bit of a drag for people who are not culturally conservative.
Another recent debate about Atatürk, prompted by a columnist in Turkey, was whether Atatürk was a dictator or not. What do you think? Was Atatürk a dictator?
The word ‘dictator’ is today used as an insult. Unlike most dictators, Atatürk had the characteristic tendency to share power. He delegated power to various people and institutions. He was a good commander, who knew how to delegate. Dictators don’t delegate.
As a think-tank established in the UK, we are wondering your ideas about the news on Turkey in foreign media today, universities or research organizations. How do you find the coverage on Turkey in non-Turkish media?
The media is improving but obviously could still do better. Unfortunately, very few reporters and commentators understand the strengths of modern Turkey. The old clichés are not yet dead, but they are gradually disappearing.
‘There is not an all-encompassing deep state in Turkey but there are networks’
We want to continue with questions on current political issues in Turkey. What do you think about the current arrests of journalists, military officials and academics, especially under the case of Ergenekon? They are all accused of terrorist activities in Turkey now.
It is a disaster, an absolute disaster. It is both dangerous and, wrong. However, the government’s promise to change the anti-terrorist legislation offers hope of improvement.
So these trials and movements are not exactly to challenge the deep state or to discover the deep state of Turkey?
No. That’s rubbish. Many people in Turkey, military staff, academics, journalists etc., discuss daily politics in terms of conspiracy theories. Some of the military staff might plot among themselves, discussing politics but their bosses said no. None of the heads of general staff allowed plots to go forward. Not Hilmi Özkök not Yaşar Büyükanıt, not İlker Başbuğ. None of them allowed the plotters to have their way. The whole Ergenekon case was based on far-fetched allegations and some fabricators.
So you think chief military officers were actually trying to stop the plotters?
The top officers controlled the lower ranks. Yes, there were a million plots, such as those referred to in the notes of Admiral Özden Örnek, but they were all fantasies.
Don’t you think Turkey has a deep state really? For instance, an organisation which has killed various people from Abdi İpekçi to Uğur Mumcu, and numerous innocent people?
No deep state, but there are and have been networks in Turkey. In the cases of Uğur Mumcu and Abdi İpekçi, there was a right wing, Turkish Islamic, nationalist network which organized these things. They were in the police, they were in the army, but they were never dominant in the army. The network managed to spring Mehmet Ali Ağca from prison and to hide traces of their killings. But they are not all encompassed by a ‘deep state’.
So instead of one dominant deep state facing all the civilian governments, there are different networks in the police or military?
Yes, and in civil society also.
What about the military interventions in Turkey? What do you think of them?
It is difficult to tell that the military interventions were done by some networks. They were too big organizations, and were probably necessary evils during their times.
Especially when you talk about the military interventions as a necessary evil, are you not afraid of being called a militarist, in Turkish “darbeci” which is currently a very popular accusation in Turkey that means to have a pro-coup mind-set?
I don’t mind…The point is I remember what Turkey was like before the military interventions of 1960 and 1980. The military prevented civil wars in Turkey, which occurred in other countries in those years. And it was always in support of consolidating parliamentary regime to which the country returned quickly following the coups. Those calling people ‘darbeci’ are darbeci themselves.
‘Turkey does not have to become an EU member’
Following all these issues, we want to ask you a popular discourse, for some, a wide-spread conspiracy theory, which never loses its popularity in Turkey as well as in many other developing countries. Do you think other countries play an influential role in Turkish politics today? For instance, in Turkey, a very famous phrase is ‘America is doing everything.’ Or a more specific one is all the recent developments, such as Ergenekon arrests, have been made by the approval and/or support of America as a punishment of the Iraq War?
I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. I think that obviously states try to manipulate each other and they are manipulating each other. United States administrations dealing with Turkey, want to use Turkey. Turkish administrations in dealing with United States want to use the United States. America exploits Turkey, Turkey exploits America. It obviously depends on how clever a government is. My impression is, at least you know my experience is that Turkish governments are pretty good at using other countries instead of being used by them which is Atatürk’s tradition.
When you compare Turkey with Western European countries, particularly the UK, what kind of differences or similarities do you see in terms of the way the politics is conducted? Does Turkey have a phenomenal problem about doing politics?
No. This is a very old-fashioned view. The fact is that Turkey is at a different stage of development. I think that just as some societies are backward compared with Turkey, so too Turkish society is in a way less developed than modern west European society. I think Turkey is developing fast. Don’t forget when the First World War ended, ninety per cent (90%) of Turkish population was illiterate. And people forget that. And one reason Turkey has not really advanced to the level of contemporary civilization is that it has had a population explosion.
What do you think about Turkey-EU relations? Is EU a very important benchmark or anchor for the progress of Turkey?
How do you evaluate the change in course of relationship between Turkey and the EU?
I think Turkey is much better off outside EU. But, accepting EU standards of market regulation, of political and human rights would be beneficial. But you do not need to be a member of EU or do exactly as the EU does things. The EU is a very important benchmark which is why I hope negotiations continue.
But you think Turkey can be better off without EU?
Although this is seen as an insult to Turkey and people will resent it, a privileged partnership is much more in Turkey’s interest than membership. The big problem is visas, the moment Turks can get visas more sensibly, more easily than the need for membership decreases.
‘Armenian genocide allegations are not realistic’
We also want to ask about the Armenian question. What do you think of the last decision of the French Senate, and the attempts to stipulate the denial a crime with legislation?
Armenian nationalists have always tried to stop contrary views. And they have been pretty successful in this. You cannot even find publishers for studies criticizing the Armenian allegations. There is only one, for instance, I know, the Utah University Press in the USA that publishes books critical of Armenian nationalist claims. In France, they wanted to take it one stage further and criminalise any objection to their argument. They are totally wrong to let parliaments decide on history. Fortunately, the French constitutional court has disallowed this attempt. There is in Turkey a considerable number of revisionist intellectuals like Baskin Oran who are ready to question Turkish nationalist prejudice. But there are, to the best of my knowledge, no revisionists among Armenian historians. Turkey has its own problems but they cannot be used to legitimize the Armenian argument. For instance, a lot of people were shocked by the latest verdict in the Hrant Dink case. The law criminalizing insults to Turkishness is a ridiculous law, an absurd law that needs to be abolished. That gives Armenian nationalists a handle in criticizing Turkey. The prosecution of Orhan Pamuk was another absolute absurdity.
Do you think the alleged Armenian genocide really happened?
It is a question of semantics. I agree with my teacher Bernard Lewis on this. There were certainly massacres. Tens of thousands of Armenians perished in the deportations. Most of them perished from starvation and disease. Quite a lot of them were murdered. But, was it a planned extermination? No. The survival of hundreds of thousands of Armenians is proof it was not a planned extermination. Right from the beginning, the Armenian campaign relied on forgeries, such as the Andonyan papers. There is no proof that Hitler asked rhetorically ‘Who today remembers the Armenians?’ This statement attributed to him was not accepted in the Nurnberg trials as a fact. The revisionist Turkish historian Taner Akçam quotes the allegation made in the trials of the Young Turk leaders in Istanbul during the Allied occupation that there were secret orders to exterminate the Armenians. There is no proof of secret orders. As I said, the survival of hundred thousand Armenians proves there were no secret orders. It was rather a case of ethnic cleansing. The question was whether the Armenians would cleanse the Turks or the Turks would cleanse the Armenians. As for the Armenian deportations, there are two parallels that come to mind: One is the deportations of Germans after the Second World War from Western Poland and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. The other parallel is with the deportation of Circassians from the Caucasus. Neither was genocide. But both made hundreds of thousands of victims. The number of casualties was huge. Germans were kicked out of their homes; Circasssians were kicked out of their homes. It was not genocide in the sense that the Nazis committed genocide when they decided to exterminate all Jews.
“There are serious fallacies in Turkish foreign policy”
Turkey’s Middle East policy is another hotly debated issue in the meantime. Turkey is trying to become a leader in the region. What do you think about this and the ‘Arab Spring’ in general?
The current policy is not new; it reminds me of Ecevit’s multi-dimensional foreign policy understanding. What he was saying was what we need is Arab money and Turkish enterprise: that will create prosperity. Arab money went instead into buying real estate in England and not to Ecevit’s Turkey. I remember Ismail Cem’s book saying we are proud of being both Asian and European. It’s the same sort of thing.
Do you mean ‘zero problem policy’ is not new?
No, Atatürk is really the originator of the policy of getting on with all the country’s neighbours. Unfortunately, the current policy has problems all around. Foreign policy needs professionals who follow events extremely closely. The politicians in charge of Turkish foreign policy did not foresee the Arab Spring. They invested in the wrong people. It went wrong everywhere. And their Israeli policy was again a totally unnecessary alienation of the Israelis. A foreign policy for public applause does not work. Now, the Netanyahu government has created an alliance with Greek Cypriots over natural gas. Turkish diplomacy building on the experience of Ottoman diplomacy had earlier been very successfully under all governments in Turkey.
So, according to you, what is the basic fault in Turkey’s recent foreign policy?
The basic fault is the assumption that Turkey has a special role in the Middle East and that it can benefit from that role. Turkey can benefit from any bilateral relationship that suits the other side as well. Iraq has become Turkey’s second largest market. 70 % of the Iraqi trade is with the Regional Kurdish government which for long time Turkey refused to recognise. Reality reasserts itself one way or the other. This strategic cooperation with Syria was a disaster: look at the situation today. Qaddafi was supported too long. Even in the case of the Egyptian President Mubarak, it was after two days’ hesitation that Turkey came out against Mubarak.
The PM Erdoğan received human rights award from Qaddafi. This must be another infelicity for the PM.
Unfortunately yes, he did. It is a mistake to think that the more countries a political leader visits, the more successful he is. A successful foreign policy requires good ambassadors who will send you accurate reports, allowing you to make use of every opportunity. Turkish foreign policy entered into a new phase with Özal who added economic advantage to the previous concentration on political advantage. However, Turkey has always had a very successful professional diplomatic service which built on the experience of the Ottoman Empire. This success is now in the balance.
‘Turkey’s judicial system requires significant reform’
What do you think about the final court decision about Hrant Dink? You know the court decided that the murder was just the crime of two young men.
It looks strange. The murder appears to have been the work of Trabzon-based mafia. To say that there is no mafia behind it is rubbish. Not the deep state. Not some huge indefinite organization. But rather a group of policemen, a network of like-minded violent adventurers.
Erdoğan says that the Turkish judiciary is now very developed and progressing. Do you agree with this?
Especially after the referendum? Has not it been developed to some extent?
No. I agree rather with Ali Babacan who said, “The first thing we need is the reform of judiciary in order to attract foreign investors”. Unless they trust the Turkish courts how can you attract investors? They have introduced international arbitration because they did not trust Turkish courts.
There is a change now. Do you think it is a positive change? A change in the judiciary…
Yes, it is being controlled by, infiltrated by supporters of the government. It was politicized before; it is politicized now, just politicized in a different direction. The old judicial establishment misused laws but did not invent evidence; the new judiciary misuses laws and invents evidence. That is a big problem.
‘Turkey should continue with the democratic opening process’
As a final question, you previously argued that there was no danger of political Islam in Turkey. On the other hand now Turkey has been dealing with various ethnic and minority discussions lately. Going backward and forward in terms of democratic opening policy, how do you see these democratic opening policies or minority policies today? For instance the Kurdish opening?
Absolutely right. Especially the Kurdish opening was very crucial, but it stopped short. Kurdish nationalism is a fact of life.
You previously said, it was not necessary at the beginning of the republic, it was not the right time but this is the right time now?
Yes, because there was no Kurdish civil society in those days. The new order being established in Turkey required the elimination of Kurdish tribal groups in the 1920s. Civil society emerged later through the detribalization of the Kurds. To learn how to live with Kurdish nationalism will be difficult, but Turkey needs to go further in the Kurdish opening. Turkey should establish trust, like the organic relationship with Iraqi Kurdistan, which Turgut Özal foresaw.
‘Polarisation in Turkey is not new, it was also experienced in the past’
How do you see the condition, the path of Turkey now? Because you can look to the progress of Turkey from 1923 to today. For instance, now AKP says the target is 2023. Will the country be more civilized and richer? Do you think the path of Turkey is a good path or not? I am asking this because, Turkish society is very polarized now. 50% says it is very good, 50% says it is very bad.
It was polarized in the 1950s, it was polarized in the 1970s.
It is not something new then?
Not new, no. I like this Turkish expression about a camel, “How can you expect my neck to be straight, when no other part of my body is straight.” There are many ups and downs on the road of Turkey’s development..
You also usually use the expression: ‘Biz bize benzeriz’.
Right. If you compare Turkey today with, Turkey in 1923, you will see the difference. I’ll end up saying ‘Look at the Middle East’. Their world is a world of functional people in dysfunctional societies. Take an Arab, take an Iranian, stick him in California, stick him in London, he performs as well as anybody else. An Iraqi woman architect such as Zaha Hadid would have no future in Iraq. But she shines in London. Turkey was a bit like this a long time ago. Good Turkish journalists I knew in the BBC would say to me ‘One cannot work in our country’. Now they can perform well in their own country. Turkish society is not dysfunctional in the sense that Arab society is dysfunctional. Turkey is in a much better state, it has much greater potential, and it is evolving. The path of evolution is not blocked.
You almost know 80 years of Turkey very well. Thank you very much for the interview.
I am thankful to you. It is good to see young academics, young scholars open to discuss every issue related to Turkey, and working hard to do something for Turkey. I wish you good luck.
© 2012 Research Turkey. All rights reserved. This publication cannot be printed, reproduced, or copied without referencing the original source.
Please cite this publication as follows:
Research Turkey (August, 2012), “Interview with Dr. Andrew Mango: Turkey’s Walk from 1923 to 2023: A Critique of Past and Recent Political Challenges’”, Vol. I, Issue 6, pp.6-15, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=1540)