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Welcome to Turkey's Desert of the Real

The Turkish people have been drowned in kitsch. With uncertain election results, reality has returned

Finally the season of madness has ended in Turkey. Last Sunday, when Turks and Kurds went to polls, the air seemed to be cleared of politics. For half a day the streets were silent; people seemed to occupy a purgatory space where their destiny was far from certain; all the campaign vans of political parties had disappeared and there were no party banners or flags in sight. What a relief! Alas, everyone knew our political detox was destined to be temporary. And it was.

Over the last three months we have witnessed an unrelenting war between two discourses which can best be described by the word kitsch. According to the pre-government line, Turkey was under attack from seven climes, by a Jewish-led lobby of financiers who wanted to destroy our economy, prosperity and unity. In the Kings Place offices of The Guardian heinous plans were made by British editors with bad teeth in order to stop Turkey's rise to world leadership. In numerous cities of the US, young followers of a disgusting cult named Occupy Wall Street were using telekinesis to penetrate into the minds of Turkey's well-behaving, sensible youth. Bacon-eating, gay marriage supporting Kurds were deceiving their electorate, in an effort to make their homo/commy candidates enter the parliament. The West v. the East, the National Mind v. the International Conspiracy, Us v. Them! And there was one strong man to stop these terrible things from happening and put an end to this endless attack on the Turk and Turkey. If only we gave him all the executive powers he was asking from us, we would be safe.

The other, anti-government discourse was equally, if not more, kitsch. It began by telling us how Turkey was a land of hope and honey in 1930s when it was run by French speaking Turkish soldiers with a modernising agenda. It was one party rule, oh yes, but we had responsible, well-educated men who decided on our behalf so there was little to worry about. They had led us into light and prosperity: they bombed Kurdish villages populated by backward renegades, turned mosques into barns, cleansed the Turkish language from its ugly Persian and Arabic roots and criminalised traditional garments so that we would no longer be allowed to dress and speak as we used to. It was, you see, a great revolution: we were saved from ourselves. Sadly and scandalously, this project was destroyed by brainless conservatives who now ruled the country. Those people were supporters not only of the Islamic State but also of violence and hatred and ignorance. Their bearded and veiled members were destroying the great Turkish-nationalist system built in 1930s by the one party government. Their acceptance of the existence of Kurds was a betrayal to this great republic's ideals. Like their predecessors (the liberal prime minister of 1950s, Adnan Menderes, being the best example) they would be sent to the gallows once the western-looking carriers of the torch of enlightenment came to power. Islamofascism v. Enlightenment, Islamofascism v. Reason, Us v. Them! Only when prisons were filled with conservatives would we be safe.

In Turkey people have often made wise decisions in the polls and punished such meaningless discourses. They voted the single party regime out in 1950 and never forgave those who hanged a prime minister they had elected with their votes. In 1983 they voted overwhelmingly for the liberal ANAP which represented all the dirty values (religion, entrepreneurship, ethnicity) that have been banned in the 1980 coup by mighty generals who fantasised about building an Apollonian nation of strong men and women who spent all their time shopping. In 2002 people punished their previous ruling parties so harshly that all three rightwing parties who were in power prior to the elections couldn't make it to the parliament. They were destroyed just like that.

On Sunday, too, people showed their distaste for nonsense. They punished the kitsch discourses served to them daily from campaign vans and a mass media which has almost lost all its credibility. The bombastic, mythical discourse used by politicians is so out of touch with reality and people's daily concerns that they have lost their power to inspire and excite. People like trains and metros and hospitals and social security and stability; they have always voted for party who provided those. Sunday's elections seemed to be not about such concrete things but a number of incomprehensible abstractions. Remember the "Ottoman-style barracks that would serve as a shopping mall" (what?!) planned to be built in Gezi Park? Similarly ambiguous projects ("Centre Turkey", "Turkish-style Presidency", etc) were offered to people, and refused. 

How can we explain the meta-turn political campaigns took over the last weeks, when the main subject of speeches became the New York Times and The Economist, as if anyone in the electorate cared one bit for what was written in the op-ed pages of foreign newspapers? The opposition parties were similarly intolerant of the media that did not support them. One party secretary promised to confiscate all newspapers supporting the government in their first day in office. Another took to the podium with copies of those papers, threw them to the ground one by one and called them "rags". Attacking media in Turkey is the last refuge of politicians who run out of meaningful things to say.

Turkey's political madness is one we have long struggled to reach. For decades the country was ruled single-handedly by strong men (often in uniforms) who purportedly knew what was best for us. Things have now changed. In what is named the New Turkey (post-military tutelage, post-modern, post-nationalist) the possibilities for novelty seem endless.

Once the results were announced (the ruling party lost around ten per cent of its vote, at 40.9 per cent; the main opposition failed to get new votes and was stuck at 25 per cent; a new left-wing party, HDP, got a shocking 13.1 per cent in its first elections) the madness returned albeit in a different form. The kitsch discourses were now in the freezer: it was now time for political bargaining between parties none of which are able to form a single party government.

Everyone will now have to eat their hats: the tone of their discourse will need to be lowered, the vicious enemies they have so passionately produced with their rhetoric will now be their friends. The season of discursive kitsch is about to be replaced by one of cold reason and political calculations.

Kaya Genç is a novelist and essayist from Istanbul. L'Avventura (Macera), his first novel, was published in 2008. He has a PhD in English literature. He is currently working on his second novel. He blogs at

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