Why did a question asked on a game show broadcast on Turkish national television channel ATV have such an impact on Turkey's collective social conscience? Why did it cause our minds and hearts to tremble so deeply? Why were we so moved, why were some of us reduced to tears, why did hearts ache?
The question was, "If there was an airport in Istanbul in 1819, for which cities would the "international" terminal be used to travel?" The answers listed are "Athens, Sarajevo, Sofia," "Damascus, Jerusalem, Cairo," and "Baghdad, Amman, Medina."
We were there, from Danube to Persia, Jerusalem to Medina
None of these were the correct answer. Travelers would have had to use the "domestic" terminal to go to all of these cities. We would have been traveling to these cities like we would to Konya, Trabzon, İzmir, Edirne, Diyarbakır, and Erzurum.
These cities were central cities during the Ottoman era. They were the ancient cities of our geography. They were cities that built the region, made history, bred and raised empires. And while these cities existed, there was an essence of "us."
"We" were there, from the Danube to the Persian Gulf, from the Caucasus to the Red Sea, from Jerusalem and Medina to Baghdad and Damascus. That "us" was the Balkans, we were Mesopotamia, we were Anatolia, we were the Indian Ocean, and we were the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.
We were Turk, we were Arab, we were Kurd. We were trying to remain "us"
We were Turk, we were Arab, we were Kurd, we were Caucasian or Bosniaks, we were Albanian or Persian. But we were "us."
While that idea of "us" existed, we were the center of the world, we were the earth's main axis, we were the source of power and wealth, we were shaping the global power domain. After 1819, we put up great struggles to defend, protect and keep together all these cities, a region. What we tried to protect and keep together was not those cities only. We were trying to protect what was "us," we were trying to remain "us."
Our memory, hearts and cities fell apart
And after we lost that identity of "us", we lost these cities too. Not only these cities, we also lost each other. While we were making history for centuries, we were suddenly pushed to the margins of history. Our region fell apart, our cities fell apart, and our hearts fell apart. Most importantly, our memory collapsed, we became blind and forgetful.
When Iraq was invaded in 2003, when we received news of massacre in the city of Kut, none of us other than a few remembered Kut al-Amara. We did not remember as the hundreds of thousands-strong Western army was building up in the heart of Mesopotamia, as Baghdad, one of Islam's ancient cities, was being divided in to pieces with high walls, as people who lived together for centuries were slaughtering one another. Whereas that Baghdad was home to how many empires. We failed to find anything in our memories beyond 90 years back.
What was the Turkish soldier who wrote the following words trying to tell us?
'Don't pray after us.
Revenge, oh revenge!'
As Israel was bombing Gaza, as it was committing massacre after massacre, as it was annihilating a nation in broad daylight, we poured to the streets crying out "Gaza." We carried Palestinian flags; those resisting with slingshots were out heroes. But we did not remember the Gaza wars in 1917.
Once again, we failed to wake up to beyond 90 years back. What were the first, second and third Gaza wars, we did not turn to look. Our memory was not enough to know which villages Israel bombed.
Whereas, even the British archives contain memories of the Turkish soldiers who died in the Gaza wars - that is where we were learning from. We failed to understand what the Turkish soldier, who came all the way here from Anatolia to protect Jerusalem meant in his pocket note that read, "Do not pray after us. Revenge, oh revenge!"
The Balkan and Caucasus tragedies…Because we were a nation that didn't 'cry'
We did not remember the tragedies experienced by the millions of people that flocked from the Balkans to Anatolia, the massacres and slaughters, the martyrdom of hundreds of thousands of people, that genocide - we chose to forget about it. We did not tell anybody about the dramas of those who came from the Caucasus and sought shelter in Anatolia.
We did not remember or learn the memories of our children who went from Anatolia to Yemen, knowing they will never return again, even while the Yemen war is ongoing today. We did not, could not pass it on to present generations.
Because we were a nation that "did not know how to cry." We would not beg, we would not be weak, we would not make concessions to our pride, we would not ask anyone for help, and we would never bow down.
We were a great ideal spanning the Pacific and Atlantic
We listened to the touching folk songs that came from the coast of the Danube, from Yemen, and the Caucasus. We listened to the sounds of mourning that arose from Anatolia. We remained silent with relentless patience. We knew to keep quiet and wait.
Because we were a great ideal that spread from the coasts of the Great Ocean, from the coasts of the Indian Ocean to the coasts of the Atlantic.
We were aware that it was cities that made history, not states. We were aware that cities did not forget pain, that they would take revenge one day.
We sought refuge in Anatolia and kept quiet all through the 20th century. Our memories were wiped out and we still remained silent. We kept quiet knowing that one day these lands will awaken again.
Because this was the third great awakening, third great rise
We kept quiet believing that a new revival would come after World War I, just as it was revived again after the Crusade Wars, after the Seljuks, after the Mongolian Invasion.
Now, our memories have come alive, our tongue is untied, our emotions are free, and our faith has gained strength. We remembered Medina, Sarajevo and Baghdad all over again. We remembered what homeland and region are, where our ancient cities are. We have been revived.
If today, a "language of Turkey" is gaining strength throughout the entire region from the Pacific coasts to the Atlantic Ocean, it is due to the revival of this memory and the summoning of history to the present moment. This great ideal is not nationalism in the strict sense. It is the fight for "us," not "me."
This is why were moved, but that 'tongue' now speaks as one
This is the fight Turkey is putting up. This is the reason behind the attacks on Turkey from the West, East, our region, and within. This is why our minds, hearts and thoughts have been revived. This is a great historic showdown. The collapse a century ago was a historical turning point. Similarly, the rise today is also a turning point in history.
The rediscovery of this awareness, the activation of the memory, the reconstruction of this identity is the reason why our people were so shaken, both emotionally and mentally, by the answers of that question. This "language" is much stronger than all political discourses. And that tongue now speaks as one. The impact of that question asked on a television program revealed the entire mechanisms behind the current political and social trends. This in itself is the new rise.