Those who think of the U.S. as a morass of jingoistic display could gain some perspective by visiting Turkey. At the top, a banner of Ataturk adorns a building in commemoration of the Ottoman victory in Gallipoli in World War I (1915). At bottom, at the ferry landing in Büyükada, Ataturk appears in a more Soviet style, above a plaque that reads: “How sweet it is to be a Turk.”
In 2005 the authorities jailed three young teenagers for burning the Turkish flag in Mersin. A wave of nationalist sentiment followed this incident. Flags appeared everywhere, including in the corner of TV screens on many channels. From the Financial Times:
A policeman who intervened to rescue the flag from the children was praised as a hero and was reportedly awarded a bonus equivalent to 24 times his monthly salary…. The general staff [of the armed forces] said the burning of the flag by “so-called citizens” was tantamount to treason and added: “The Turkish armed forces, like their forefathers, are ready to shed their last drop of blood to protect the country and its flag.”
My colleague recalls an angry pro-flag rally making its way up Istiklal, during which he and a friend, both Americans, were handed little Turkish flags and had no idea how to react — join the demo, insincerely? Discreetly pocket the flags? Throw them away?
That said, Kurdish nationalism of the PKK variety can be just as unlovely, as is clear from this AP dispatch of April 2, less than a week after my departure:
A group of men stopped a passenger bus and tossed gasoline bombs at it, sending the vehicle careening into pedestrians and killing three in Turkey’s largest city on Sunday as pro-Kurdish riots continued to spread. […] In the attack in Istanbul’s Bagcilar district, the driver reversed his flaming vehicle onto a sidewalk after the bombing, running down a group of people nearby, police said. At least two of those killed were elderly women, and police said they suspected Kurdish militants were behind the attack…. Private NTV television said men had gathered around after the attack and shouted slogans for an outlawed Kurdish separatist group that is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.
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