By Shane Eric-Eugene Hensinger
Master's candidate in International Security
Josef Korbel School of International Studies
Editor's note: Cemil Boyraz is a visiting scholar from Turkey now studying at the
Josef Korbel School of International Studies.
How are you enjoying your time in Denver?
I've had a lot of help from various professors and students and am learning the transportation system so it's been good. I've been working on my Ph.D. thesis. My campus is very much different than DU, but as the weather gets better I think it will get better.
Let's jump right into the discussion on issues impacting Turkey. I recently re-read Ataturk's biography and was thinking about the idea of what it means to be a Turk. As Turkey moves toward EU membership, how is this idea of ethnicity and nationalism going to change, if it does?
We should talk about the foundational principles of the Turkish Republic, which was based on ethnic Turks and which excluded any minority, including Greeks. During the independence struggle it was not desirable to exclude non-Turks and ship them back to Greece, this was very bad for the Turkish economy because many of those sent to Greece were shopkeepers and businessmen, so excluding them was very bad for Turkey. They may not have been assimilated, but they were integrated. I've heard many stories from Greeks who shared their memories and they never said anything bad about Turkey or the Turkish people.
This process continued in the 1940s with the imposition of the wealth tax on non-Muslims in Turkey, which was part of the process and caused large problems in the Turkish economy.
Unfortunately this is part of the founding process of many states. This state policy -- discrimination against Muslim minorities (Alevis) and ethnic/religious minorities (Jews, Greeks, Armenians) -- has been bad for Turkey.
Now we have a discourse on these issues in Turkey, but it is more of a pragmatic discussion than a substantive discussion. Much of what the current party (AKP) is saying today is very different than what they were saying in the 1990s.
Something that confuses me is this issue of "reciprocal treatment" of shared minorities between Greece and Turkey or Turkey and other countries. Greece doesn't allow the ethnic Turkish population in Thrace to do one thing and that means Turkey doesn't allow the Greeks in Istanbul to do another -- but human rights aren't reciprocal -- they're universal. What is your take on this?
Tough question. But on the Turkish side nobody cares about human rights, nobody approaches the issue in human-rights terms. The government concern is that they will demand land and money, just like the Armenians did. They approach the situation in those terms, in nationalistic terms. Maybe the European Union accession process will force the government to do that -- to approach it from a non-nationalist viewpoint.
Since 1980s the government has said it cares about Turks living outside Turkish borders but they don't -- they're not honest. They only remember them during elections.
Tell me a bit about your thesis and your previous work.
I'm working on international-relations theory centering around international political economy. I have also published some works on the Theories of Democracy, Political Parties and Electoral System in Turkey and, finally, Political Islam in Turkey as well. My Ph.D. thesis' title is Globalization, Nationalism and Working-Class Movement: The Case of Privatization in Turkey.
And your background?
I am Circassion and ethnic Turk, but also Alevi.