Vamık D. Volkan, M.D., DLFAPA, FACPsa.

Özler Aykan
Real Politik: Potential Solution to Ethnic Identity Problems in Turkey!
Özler Aykan:                            It is evident that you have devoted the majority of your professional life to political psychology. From your observations, can you say that political psychology has reached its deserved place in scientific arena, and is it being used in its real sense around the world?
Vamık Volkan:                        Psychology always is used in international relationships in attempts to get the upper hand in negotiations and in manipulating masses for political gains. By “political psychology” I assume that you are referring to in depth studies for finding out psychological causes of international conflicts and for developing psychologically informed strategies to remove obstacles to peaceful co-existence. Wherever there are chronic conflicts among large groups, such as ethnic, national or religious groups, a need to examine psychological obstacles against finding peaceful solutions arises. In 1979, then Egyptian President Enver Sadat went to Israel and gave a talk at the Knesset. In his speech he stated that 70% of the problems between Arabs and Israelis is psychological. This event became a symbolic starting point in the development of political psychology as I described above and as a scientific branch.
                                                The establishment of the International Society of Political Psychology over 20 years ago was another factor in the development of political psychology. However, there is no single theoretical and practical approach in this field. We need to evolve a large-group psychology in its own right. After many experiences in various trouble spots in the world during the last 30 years I am one of the persons trying to do this. Some universities in different countries and some governments have developed interest in focusing on political psychology. It will take some more time for political psychology to reach its full potential as a factor in the world affairs.   
Ö.A.:                                        Bearing in mind your efforts in Turkey, both at the academic level and at the ministrial or presidential level, how do you think the political psychology is being grasped by those involved?
V.V.:                                        Last year I had a private lunch with the Turkish President Abdullah Gül and two months ago I was a guest of Interior Minister Beşir Atalay. I found both of them genuinely interested in finding peaceful ways to the so-called Kurdish problem in Turkey. Obviously,  economic, political, legal, and other factors will be considered in any new attempt to deal with this issue. I was glad to note that both of them are also aware of a need to look into the psychology of large-group identity issues. Last month Lord John Alderdice (the former head of the Northern Ireland who earlier played a significant role in stopping terrorism in Northern Ireland and who is a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst like myself) and I co-chaired an international meeting in Belfast where large-group conflicts in Northern Ireland and Turkey were compared. After this meeting I forwarded our findings to Minister Beşir Atalay. With his encouragement we hope to offer more suggestions concerning political psychology to ease large-group identity tensions in Turkey. Lord Alderdice and I are planning another international gathering of experts after some months, this time in Turkey.  
Ö.A.:                                      The Cyprus Conflict has been on international arena for a long time, both officially and unofficially. With your Cypriot Turkish hat off, do you think that first of all the conflict is being well understood from a psychopolitical point of view and secondly, treated accordingly?  
V.V.:                                      For decades, I have observed that official efforts to find a solution for the “Cyprus Problem,” in general, have followed the tradition of Realpolitik. Some foreign peacemakers shared an illusion of creating a “Cypriot nation” without understanding the cultures and histories of the two ethnic groups on the island. This did not work. 
Ö.A.:                                      What would be your resolution as regard to this conflict, and within this context could you please expand on your "cheese with holes" theory?  
V.V.:                                      In 1963, the Cypriot Turks were pushed to live in enclaves for 11 years surrounded by their enemies within 3% of the island. In 1974, the Turkish Military forces came to the island and divided it into a northern Turkish and a southern Greek section. The major shared massive trauma for the Cypriot Turks was living in enclaves under subhuman conditions. The major shared massive trauma for the Greeks was the Turkish Military’s division of the island. When representatives of both sides come together for dialogues, in general, they do not even hear each other’s statements about their specific traumas. Since Turks and Greeks on the island lived in separate locations since early 1960s, Turks and Greeks living in Cyprus whose ages are under 50 or at least 45 years have had no relationships. Both sides hold on their own ethnic identities and histories. I believe that the pre-1960s, Cyprus is gone forever. After shared massive traumas and major historical events new societal/political adjustments take place.
                                              A border was established between Greece and the Ottoman Empire after the Greek War of Independence in 1820-1830. A new border came to  existence after the World War I between Greece and Turkey. At that time Cyprus was under the British rule. Now, in a sense, the Ottoman Empire is coming to an end in Cyprus and a new border between the Turks and the Greeks in general  is taking place. For me, the most realistic and psychologically speaking necessary solution is to maintain the existing division on the island, while working on making Cypriot Turks and Cypriot Greeks to become good and respectful neighbors. I came up with the idea of  “Swiss cheese border solution.” To have a border between the two sides will help both sides to maintain and protect their large-group identities and feel safe. But having “holes” in this border will allow them to work together on political and social issues together.
Ö.A.:                                      Is there a psyhoanalysis sofa for the Cyprus conflict to your opinion? Do you really believe that this conflict will ever be resolved?
V.V.:                                      As far as I know no serious and long-lasting psychopolitical approach has been applied in finding agreements between the two parties. If the present talks between the leaders of both sides will go nowhere I suspect that the EU and the USA, will have no choice but to support a workable situation based on the “Swiss cheese border” principle.
Ö.A.:                                     I have been acquainted with Cyprus since my childhood, first lived there as a small child due to my fathers duty during 1974 war, and subseqently visited the island as a working journalist or as an ordinary person. I have observed a certain disorientation in terms of extreme religious practices, ignorant educational tools, gambling and alchohol centered life-style, dirtyness in streets, air pollution in cities,  and in particular use of drugs amongst youngsters. As a Cypriot living in the USA, but who only plants flowers in his native country, what are your feelings about my observations?
V.V.:                                   Cypriot Turks who lived in enclaves for 11 within the 3% of the island were massively traumatized. After 1974, the world recognized Cypriot Greeks as regular persons belonging to the world. Since the northern part of the island was not recognized  as a legitimate political entity (except by Turkey) Cypriot Turks have continued to live in an “invisible enclave.”
                                            In the revised edition of my book which will be publish by Oa Publishing, Cyprus: War and Adaptation, which was published only recently, I describe the psychological effects of  living in an “invisible enclave,” being considered as a second class persons and developing identity confusion. The negative observations that you mention above have a great deal to do with the Cypriot Turks feeling humiliated and helpless anger. They are turning the anger inward. Cypriot Turks have been most secular persons among the Muslims in general. Naturally, new religious influences that are coming from the mainland Turkey also are perceived as an attack to their identities. But, there are also good things in Northern Cyprus. In spite of their being unrecognized by others in the world (except Turkey) they have maintained democratic and secular principles.


Ö.A.:                                   This is a personal question but, do you ever share your views with Mr. Mehmet Ali Talat?
V.V.:                                    I had meetings with the President. But, we never discussed political issues in depth.


Ö.A.:                                  In your busy daily schedules occupied with attending conferences, writing books, giving lectures, participating interviews as well as continuing academical research, do you have any spare time left for yourself, and if so, how do you spend it? 
V.V.:                                   I love to be with my grandchildren and listen to Mozart.
Ö.A.:                                  I thank you for allocating your valuable time for this interview.
V.V.:                                  I thank you too. 


Copyright © Vamık D. Volkan and Özler Aykan 2007.
All rights reserved. 
Policies & Info / Accessibility / Sitemap / RSS / JSON
 Webmaster: Oa Publishing Co. 
Editor: Özler AYKAN
Last modified on: May 28, 2012