From ‘Happy is he who says I am a Turk’ to ‘Peace at home, peace in the world’

On Tuesday, March 26, the television news informed the audience that the writing beneath the statue of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Batman was changed. The statue had read “Happy is a man who can say I am a Turk.” Then, it was changed to “Peace at home, peace in the world.”

However, what makes this a significant event is not the change in the sayings themselves. Neither the city municipality nor the governorate, the representatives of the public authorities, accepts responsibility for this change. The incident requires great attention during this time of discussions about the settlement process with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to end terrorism.

Batman, a town that was formed in the late sixties after the discovery of oil in Raman province, was granted city status in 1990. It is situated between Diyarbakir, Mardin, Mus, Siirt and Bitlis. This young city is accustomed to being in the news. It is the birthplace of Hizbullah leader Huseyin Velioglu. It is the birthplace of PKK militant Masum Korkmaz. It was the battleground of PKK and Hizbullah. It was the site of the unidentified murder of Mehmet Sincar, a member of parliament. Batman also gained media attention for the women’s suicides due to various forms of oppression.

The formation of Batman is similar to the establishment of the United States of America in some respects. People from all over the world of differing races, religions, languages, occupations, backgrounds, expectations, likes and dislikes landed in the New World in order to form a new life for themselves. Those who were not satisfied with the feudal structure of the southeastern Anatolian region, many who did not have a piece of land of their own to cultivate, those who in search of a job in order to look after their families settled in Batman after the establishment of oil exploration, production, refinement and transportation facilities. This heterogeneous population was different from the old cities of the region such as Diyarbakir, Mardin and Åžanliurfa.

Batman is now a city famous for its commerce, trade and industry. It is famous for its tourism, as home to the ancient ruins of Hasankeyf. It is the birthplace of Minister of Fiscal Affairs Mehmet Åžimsek. It holds the capacity to raise other Mehmet Åžimseks, as it has raised many public servants, businessmen, academics and politicians that have contributed greatly to the economic and social life of Turkey. The city is primed to contribute even more with the success of the PKK settlement process.

The sensitivity of this hot button issue is again at the forefront with the change of expression beneath the statue of Ataturk in Batman. The saying that appeared to refer to an ethnicity to some (Happy is a man who can say I am a Turk) was placed by a phrase that seems to be more compatible with the current atmosphere (Peace at home, peace in the world). The fact that neither the municipality nor the governorate is taking responsibility for the change, most probably because of the possible reaction of the public, is not compatible with the attitude of the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has indicated that he will be bold with the settlement process, even it costs him his position as prime minister. This failure to claim responsibility seems to be a kind of deviation from the determined expressions of various state officials that are responsible for the pace and the path of the process.

This incident is a kind of test for the discussions about the process. All the actors in the process should stand firm and not step back if they are sincere in their expressions about the its success. All sectors of our society have been waiting for reconciliation for a long time, and it now may not be far away. The time is now; tomorrow may be too late. Now that there is a kind of social and political atmosphere that is determined to make real progress on the issue, this opportunity, which people have been waiting for should not be wasted. It is for the benefit of not only the atmosphere of today, but also for the benefit of future generations.

Turkey is a state that holds a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Turkey, now, is a country that can offer to make a loan to the International Monetary Fund, when it used to borrow funds at high rates. Turkey is an important and influential actor in the Middle East, Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia and Caucasus. Turkey has been a model country for many nations because of its modern democratic institutions and outlook. Turkey is a candidate country for the European Union whose officials have said that Europe would crawl to Turkey to invite into the union if Turkey chooses a different path. Turkey is a strategic ally of the United States. Turkey is an influential actor in the Arab world. Turkey is an important contributor to various peace-keeping and peace-making missions. All in all, Turkey is an important contributor to the peace in the world. In this context, Turkey should not lose the opportunity that is waiting to strengthen peace at home.