I am sure that the very title I chose for this article will enrage some of my readers. Why on earth would one be grateful to a dictator? Indeed, that is a legitimate question. My answer is that I am grateful to Erdogan, currently the president of Turkey, because he has made me a better human being.
I was born and raised in Germany to a Turkish immigrant family. At home, my family told me stories about the glorious and flawless history of the Turkish people, superior to others in every way. The heroic Turkish War of Independence in the 1920s, waged against the great occupying European Allies, was narrated to me by family members, through their tears of patriotic fervor. At every official meeting of the Turkish community, our national anthem was sung with the utmost pride.
At the time, I believed that I was related to a special group of people, the Turks, who throughout history endured oppression, envy and greed at the hands of other powers. Our enemies were all around us, yet we remained standing. We Turkish people were always able to defeat them with God’s help, and establish the most beautiful country on earth, the Republic of Turkey.
Conveniently, I chose not to believe in the narratives told by minorities, such as the Kurds, Armenians, Greeks, and Jews, regarding their suffering under Turkish rule. I allowed myself to be blind to that which might contradict my idealized image of the homeland.
For decades, Kurds were regarded in Turkey as a lesser Turkish tribe, “mountain Turks,” who were expected to assimilate into the larger Turkish identity, completely forgoing their Kurdish heritage, language, music, and culture. Whenever Kurds spoke up for social justice and equality, they were labeled as “separatist terrorists” and either jailed, deported or massacred. In today’s Turkey, representatives and members of Amnesty International, the pro-Kurdish political party HDP, the Gulen Movement, and other human rights groups, have been arrested, charged with collaboration with “an armed terrorist organization” that Erdogan argues tried to overthrow the Turkish government. Clearly, Erdogan has found that calling people “terrorists” effectively neutralizes them in society; it enables him to completely socially isolate them, and to justify all forms of violence against them.
So, how did Erdogan make me a better person?
Erdogan’s brutality raised my awareness of Turkey’s flaws, and my ability to be critical of Turkish history. It caused me to question nationalistic narratives that I previously accepted as facts. If many Turks are now conveniently unaware of (or unwilling to see) the human price of Erdogan’s rise to power, I see clearly now that all of those notions of Turkish superiority I used to believe in were just part of a grand, nation-building myth. The price of that “beautiful” myth was to deny the pain and oppression of Turkey’s ethnic and religious minorities. I can no longer pay that price; my own blinders have been ripped off by these events.
Erdogan helped me realize that it is incredibly important to listen to individuals and groups who feel neglected, humiliated and oppressed. I have realized that only through facing my mistakes and false perceptions, can I sleep in peace.
He also made me understand how important it is to live by a set of universal values, and not for my own material interests. When you are loyal to your values you will always be a person who can be trusted.
Therefore, I thank you, Mr. President Erdogan.
"The Armenian Mirror-Spectator," November 2, 2017