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    Are we going through the Sevres syndrome all over again?

    Güven Sak, PhD10 October 2015 - Okunma Sayısı: 1631

    Being in Turkey these days feels like a permanent déjà vu. And not in a good way. Turks once again have that feeling of being encircled by enemies and threats. They feel insecure. That feeling often is referred to as the “Sevres syndrome,” after the treaty that broke up and partitioned the Ottoman territories among European powers. Our Founding Fathers launched a war of independence to tear up that treaty, and that is how we are still here. But the anxiety that someone could come at any moment and take it all away never really dissipated. In the last few years it seemed like we might start outgrowing it, but now that Russian jets are buzzing over our heads, the Sevres syndrome may be back in full force.

    I was looking at the results of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMFUS)’s Turkish Perceptions Survey recently. Here is one question from the survey:

    “Some people think that Turkey should play an active role in the Middle East, Balkans, and Central Asia. Others argue that Turkey should first deal with its internal problems. Which opinion is closer to yours?”

    70% of more than 1000 respondents said that Turkey had to focus first on its internal problems. 10% of them did not have any opinion. That leaves only 20% who would like to see a more active Turkey in the neighborhood. Turks are fed up with foreign policy. They have reverted to their old stance of wanting to be left alone.

    Is this the Sevres Syndrome? Not exactly. The Sevres syndrome was born out of Turkish weakness in the 1920s. It is about the immense pain of an empire crumbling and the determination to build a future. Nobody knew at the time what kind of a country they would have to raise their kids in. That feeling of standing at the precipice of chaos mobilized Turks across the board, and eventually made them build something new: A modern state that would prevent anything even remotely similar to Sevres from ever happening again. The first thing that the state did was to focus on the internal problems of the country. This is where the current resemblance starts and ends, if you ask me. Turks are once again fed up with those little adventures in the neighborhood; they would like to see their leaders focus on the internal problems of the country.

    Yet we have to be realistic. The internal problems that GMFUS survey’s respondents would like Turkey to focus from now on are definitely not on the scale of the task our Founding Fathers faced in the 1920s. Their nation state project is a success. Islamists have already integrated to the political machine, now we are experiencing the growing pains of integrating Kurds as well. Transformative power of Ankara is well and operational. Just look at the life story of our latest source of national pride, Professor Aziz Sancar, one of three 2015 Nobel laurates in Chemistry. If anything, his life story attests to the transformative power of the Turkish Republic: Seventh child of eight to illiterate parents in a small province of Southeastern Anatolia, Sancar became the first Turkish member of the National Academy of Science in 2005. Now, he is our second Nobel laureate.

    So, let me tell you, there is no reason for the Sevres syndrome to arise from the dead. As were our Founding Fathers, I am also a believer in Turkey’s potential to achieve great things. We only have this total lack of leadership when compared to the 1920s making all the current tasks harder to cope with. Let’s see what the ballot box has to say about it.

    This commentary was published in Hürriyet Daily News on 10.10.2015