Date posted: June 20, 2013
The statement made by Fethullah Gülen regarding the choice of the name Yavuz Sultan Selim for the third bridge over the Bosporus that is to be built by the government will certainly enrich the ongoing debate about this issue and will lead to a reconsideration of using this name.
The sensitivities of the Islamic segment while evaluating Ottoman history as well as its different understanding of history is probably the reason why this segment failed to discuss the choice of the name Yavus Sultan Selim. In addition, the fact that Yavuz Sultan Selim was chosen with the consensus of the president, the prime minister and the parliament speaker, prevented objections against the name from being voiced loudly.
If this name had been just the choice of the government, it is likely that we would have seen a larger number of objections.
Certainly, when the top state leaders decided on the name Yavuz Sultan Selim, they didn’t think of taking a look at the incidents that were experienced 500 years ago.
But a historical era named after Yavuz, we should admit, is etched in the memory of Turkey’s Alevi citizens as a period of trauma. They believe that Yavuz massacred 40,000 of Anatolia’s Alevis. There are those who don’t agree; there are historians who say that such a massacre never took place. And the discussion goes on. But it is hard to say that having these different approaches to history is working.
If a certain group of people in society has managed to carry the memory that 500 years ago they were subjected to a massacre during a certain period in history, this means there is a problem to consider. And it is unfortunately not possible to resolve the problem simply by producing an alternative understanding of history.
It is not difficult to understand how it is that this is not possible; one needs only to take a look at the negative reactions of Alevis over the choice of the name Yavuz Sultan Selim for the third bridge. Both President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan must be aware of these reactions, since both of them have since made statements saying that the names of figures who are respected by Alevis could be given to other projects. The prime minister said universities in Dersim (Tunceli) and Nevşehir could be named for Pir Sultan Abdal and Hacı Bektaş Veli. A similar statement was also made by the president.
But I don’t know whether this will help eliminate Alevi reaction. Pir Sultan Abdal and Hacı Bektaş Veli were not warriors; they worked to elevate love for mankind. Their views and their lives not only influenced Alevis but other belief groups in Anatolia, as well. As Gülen said it, they managed to establish “bridges of the heart between people.” Those people did not fight with anybody, they did not wage war on anybody and they did not kill anybody.
But Yavuz Sultan Selim was an Ottoman Sultan. He is a historical figure who took part in wars and conquest. What is worse, Alevis think Yavuz massacred their ancestors. Right or wrong, they think and believe it is so. There is no benefit in attempting to prove the inaccuracy of such statements. So, though the prime minister and the president made the statements with good intentions, they are very likely to be interpreted in the opposite way.
In response to the proffered exchange of accepting Yavuz for other places to be named after Pir Sultan Abdal and Hacı Bektaşı Veli, Alevis might well respond by pointing out that while that is well and good, Pir Sultan Abdal and Hacı Bektaş Veli did not kill anybody. What will happen then? Who can give a persuasive argument as to why they should accept this deal? At this point, Gülen’s statement is the best answer. The government can back down from naming the bridge for Yavuz Sultan Selim.
Why? In order not to damage the bridge of hearts.
As Gülen put it, there are individuals who establish bridges of hearts between believers of different religions, such as Yesevi, Mevlana and Yunus Emre.
Gezi Park has become an experience full of lessons to learn for both the government and the opposition.
Source: Today’s Zaman, 20 June 2013