Pinar Selek is a Turkish sociologist known for her studies about the vulnerable communities and the minorities, especially the Kurds. In the past 21 years she has been prosecutedÂ by the Turkish authorities in connection to an explosion that took place in Istanbul in 1998, attributed to the PKK. Acquitted of all charges on three occasions, her most recent acquittal sentenced her to life in prison. She left Turkey 10 years ago on a voluntary exile and is currently based in Nice, France. She has been recently awarded at the Festival of Mediterranean Culture of Cosenza
Pinar Selek, you have just been awarded with the prize for the Mediterranean culture. What does it mean to you being Mediterranean?
I never believed in borders or in national States. On the contrary, I identify myself as a citizen of the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean is a region of coexistance between different languages and religions despite the wars, the deportations, the massacres and the new rise of fascism that we are experiencing today. I consider this coexistance as a form of resistance. I still remember my childhood in Turkey when we used to resist to the military coups singing âBella ciaoâ, thus showing how the sea does not represent a fence between the people living on different costs. Today I live in exile in Nice, which is on the other side of the Mediterranean, despite that I can experience how life there is smiliar to the Turkish life. This is what I consider my nation: our shared lifestyle, our shared natural products, the warm-heartedness that unifies us all.
If you don’t believe in national States then you might not believe in borders. What do you think about those European political parties willing to reject the migrants?
The worldwide rise of neofascists and neocon movements is the consequence of the internationalization of capitalism which is taking place with the globalization. In the past few centuries the national States were ruling the world, while nowadays their power has often been replaced by the one of the multinational companies, some of them exploiting the resources of many countries worldwide. Migration is the only way that people have to escape from exploitation, therefore those parties asking to close the borders and to impede the free movement of migrants are accomplices for the suffering of the exploited people. Therefore I consider it a duty to fight against fascists and neocon.
In Turkey you have been enjailed for your activism and you are currently still prosecuted for it. At what point is your process?
My process is a kafkaesque story. I have been on trial for the last 21 years, I have been processed and acquitted several times, despite that I have been enjailed and tortured without any convictions. Today the prosecutors are still insisting and the next court should be decisive, but nothing is sure. I am not thinking of what could happen tomorrow, I am just thinking day after day.
Would you go back to Turkey in case of absolution?
I would like to. I am missing Turkey a lot. I miss the caffes, the atmosphere, my friends and relatives, I consider this as my identity. I like my current life in Nice, where I work at the university and where I keep on with my feminist fight. Despite that I will keep on my struggle to go back to Turkey. It is a matter of justice. Once back in Tukey I won’t forget my experiences abroad. When I first left the country I was feeling in exile, now I feel simply as a nomad that belongs to more countries.
How do you consider the current political situation in Turkey?
I see the rise of a very strong feminist Turkish movement. Turks love alcohol, raki is the national drink, therefore I consider itâs unpossible for islamism to take over the control of the country. However we are seeing now also the rise of a new middle classe sharing interests and ideas of Qatar, thus being able to influence many people as well as important part of the press. It is therefore very important to show international solidarity to the victims of this rising oppression and to those people fighting against it. We don’t need to stand up just against islamists but against all the forms of integralism, thus being islamist, Christian or fascist. We don’t want the Mediterranean to be a graveyard, we want it to be a shining garden.
The last Turkish elections sawÂ the lack of consensus of Erdogan and of the Ak Party. Is it the start of a possible decline?
The decline already started when the world began to see what is happening in Turkey and when the international public opinion started to protest against it. However many people in the West have just a superficial comprehension of what is happening inside the country. It is wrong to consider Erdogan as the source of what is going on today. He is just the product of an older authoritarian system that we need to fight.
What are you talking about?
The origin of the problems dates back to 1916, after the genocide of the Armenians. The creation of Turkey, a State that had never existed before, required the rise of nationalism and the establishment of a system based on fear and oppression, on positivist ideas and on social darwinism.
Everything was highly militarized. After the Armenians, the massacres continued against the Greeks and the Kurds. This situation never really developed till today. The history of the Turkish State is full of military coups.
Most of these coups aimed to defend the country by the growing popularity of the islamists. Do you believe that political Islam can coexist with a liberal democracy?
The rise of political Islam in Turkey has to be understood togehtehr with the rise ofÂ neoliberalism and neoconservativism wordlwide. The engine of this process in Turkey are some members of the Muslim middle class that organized themselves in Islamic transnational fraternities such as the Muslim Brotherhood. These fraternities are economic organizations using religion as a tool to get their goals and often linked to foreign States like Qatar. Over time some of them created a common political front led by Erdogan that officially aimed to import neoliberalism and neoconservativism in Turkey in a way compatible with Islam. The first thing they did once in power was to liberalize the economy, thus generating the support of many Western countries. They couldn’t see that the rise of neoliberalism was leading to the rise of neoislamism.
European Western democracies are based on neoliberalism. Do we have then to expect a growth of islamism in Europe as well?
The growth of islamism as well as of criminality is linked to the growth ofÂ neoliberal and neofascist policies. The neoliberal ideology asks for the distruction of the welfare state and for the limitation of social rights which are the base of a democratic system. The less rights there are the more opportunity will criminality have to exploit poor people. In addition the criminalization of the mobility of the people implemented by fascist policies is deteriorating the situation. In Nice I work with many migrant women that are forced to become prostitutes exploited by organized crimes since they have no documents or opportunities.
And what about the growth of islamism?
I recently did a research about the old Turkish migrants based in Strassbourg, where I work at the local university. Almost none of these people goes to retirement homes, while many of them get helps from the local mosques. This is happening also with youngsters and children. In this moment of reduction of the welfare state the islamic associations understand the needs of these people. The weaker is the welfare state the stronger they will get.