In the Nation of Turkey

One of the (several) long-running political disputes in Turkey has to do with the continuing refusal of the Peace and Democracy Party (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi, or BDP) to take their oath of office and join Parliament. The BDP, widely described as a pro-Kurdish party, had refused to take the oath because six elected deputies were arrested for their involvement in the Kurdish Communities Union trial. As of yesterday, however, the party decided to rejoin Parliament.

What I found interesting was a recent op-ed in the English-language edition of Zaman. In it, Markar Esayan describes the story of one deputy, Leyla Zana. Elected in 1991 as a deputy from Diyarbakır, she stated in Kurdish, "I am taking this oath for the brotherhood of the Turkish and Kurdish peoples." Uproar followed.

Fast forward to 2011. When Zana rose to speak this time, her words were different. As Esayan writes:
Two days ago, Leyla Zana again took the stage to take her oath, and she ended her oath by saying, “I solemnly take this oath on my honor before the nation of Turkey,” rather than “I solemnly take this oath on my honor before the Turkish nation.” This was a slip of tongue, but if this humane reflex had taken place a decade ago, Leyla Zana could have faced lengthy jail time for her honest mistake. Turkey has been changing: We need to recognize this, and should not resist this reality.
 It reminded me of something that Aslı Bali had once mentioned in a talk following the referendum on constitutional changes in 2010. While the reforms were not perfect, she noted, they did hold out the promise of a national identity defined in civic rather than ethnic terms. I wonder if Zana's slip of the tongue - to say "the nation of Turkey" rather than "the Turkish nation" - signals something similar.

Update: This report in Radikal quotes Zana in Turkish as having said "Türkiye milleti" instead of "Türk milleti," although another section of the print copy from October 2nd paraphrases her as having said "Türkiye halkı" instead of "Türk halkı." I'm fairly certain the language of the oath is millet - but it raises interesting issues for translation if the oath actually uses halk.


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