Ayşenur Değer: Friendship, Apology and Forgiveness in Politics (Bilgi University, Istanbul)

Friendship, apology or forgiveness are not one of the first concepts that comes to mind when talking about politics.

Reflexively, people tend to think about ‘’messy games’’, ‘’complex relations’’ and political actors that mind their own ‘’interests’’. It is one of the most widespread images of politics in Turkish society that politics is a ‘’dirty’’ business. On the one hand, images like this does not necessarily reflect truths about politics. On the other hand, they may reflect some parts of various realities related to practical politics.

Moving to a more theoretical perspective, there is no doubt that power plays an essential role in modern political theories. Machiavelli who is one of the most important early modern figures in the discipline, identifies politics as an art of how to gain, use and sustain power. When coming to Weber, politics is a rivalry to control state and to obtain monopoly of legitimate use of violence. This is the mainstream definition of politics today.

How to think about the concept of friendship, apology and forgiveness in the realm of politics then? How to understand its meaning, role and significance in this realm?

Professor Mahallati’s lecture that I have enjoyed a lot, made me think about these basic questions. I think they are extremely important.

Firstly, it was interesting to learn that there is a huge literature on ethics of war while there are much lesser literature on friendship and forgiveness. (Maybe that is why friendship or forgiveness are not the first concept that come to our minds when thinking about politics.) Is it because moral values are irrelevant in politics? Or do they simply not matter? I do not think so. However, it is a valid question of to what extend is morality relevant to the matters of national interest.

Secondly, I found it clever to use forgiveness as a method to overcome the anxiety that ‘’irreversibility of past and unpredictability of the future’’ brings. Forgiveness opens a space to overcome the results of this dual paradigm.

The lecture made me think more about the role of ‘’apology’ in both domestic politics and international relations. There is one recent example of apology that is unique in the Turkish political history. On 23rd of 2014, presidency of the Turkey announced a condolence message in the name of -back then- Prime Minister Erdogan, to the Armenian community about the 1915 incidents. It was such unique in the sense that it was the first announcement that was directly to the Armenians and it expressed its ‘’condolence’’ to the people who have died and suffered.

Although no kind of apology gives an ‘’undo’’ button to the person, nation or state who apologizes, I think it is really important for the living people who caries heavy historical memories. To apologize means to recognize first the suffering of people, suffering that the apologizing party is responsible for. State apologies can bring nations closer, remove psychological barriers between them and can help people to overcome their prejudices towards a nation or a group of people.