June 3, 2013
After the harsh shift in the peaceful manifestations in Taksim Square against the construction of a commercial mall and the bloody outcome, both sides have lost control in every possible respect. International media rushed to depict the image of a suppresive and under-developed “democracy” in Turkey with a political regime that infringes human rights and the right to manifest. Social media took the tally and all the world has been witnessing the outrage of Turkish people and the condemned reaction of the police and the government. I regret to say but it is not that easy to interpret what is really going in Turkey. It is a much more complicated situation and it is at least irresponsible to rush out and use pompous words and news headlines to describe the so-called “dictatorship” of Erdogan’s regime.
First of all, it seems that international media do not care about understanding in depth the fundamentals of the Turkish society. Turkey has a predominantly conservative society, in great part illiterate (i.e. especially in the older generations and in specific regions in the Southeast and Northeast), pious and strongly Muslim, with certain perceptions over the relationship between the secular state and religion. The pro-western Turks are a considerably small (i.e. in terms of population), but strong minority, mainly a young generation and professionally successful mid-aged that have been highly-educated in Turkish, European, and US institutions, with a well-designed mindset about what is the role of Turkey in Middle East, Europe, and the world. From this social and educational range there is a part with growing concerns over the co-habitation between development and environmental protection in the urban field, as well as a part that has been politically radicalized against obsolete, outdated, and strongly conservative policies of AKP over social behavior in public spaces (e.g. prohibition of kisses in the metro; prohibition of alcohol consumption between 10pm until 6am), the increasing influence of religion in daily life, the censored media. All these justified reactions have been infiltrated by the educated, open-minded, politically radical, and cosmopolite Turks that can no more accept their society to be drifting and looking alike a common Muslim society of the Middle East.
Second, Erdogan’s robust politics in the international field is also crystallized domestically. The fact that he did not cancel his trip to Morocco proves his belief to his wider plan and the strong devotion to his policy, no matter what the circumstances are. Briefly, let us all recall who is the politician Erdogan: a person that has been Mayor of Istanbul, linking his political future with this city; a person that has been prisoned for ambiguous reasons and has then established his ruling party (i.e. AKP); a person that accomodated the demands of the IMF and the demand for national sovereignty and economic independence in Turkey, by deciding to push away the delegation and fulfilling the obligations just only recently; a person that has strongly fought against the military apparatus of his country which has been deeply involved in political instability (i.e. domestic and regional) for the past 50 years; a person that endeavored for the first time in Turkey to uproot and unveil scandals in the judicial corps; a person that had the courage to extinguish (i.e. for the moment) the paramilitary groups that were always pending for provoking the casus belli in the Aegean Sea. After all, Erdogan has achieved to upgrade Turkey as the pivotal state of Middle East, being considered as a model state for the region in terms of accommodating the fundamentals of a secular state and the role of religion, while accomplishing to balance between supporting the Palestinian cause and nourishing stable relations with Israel -i.e. despite frequent escalations. Erdogan was also the first Turkish politician who had the courage to deny the crossing and hosting of NATO troops in its territory during the “War against Terrorism” and the attack on Iraq in 2003. Finally, he was the one who succeeded to assume the burden-sharing of regional security for the eastern flank of NATO and be an equal interlocutor in the G-20 summits. He finally brought sustainable growth and investments in Turkey, increasing in many regions the annual income, increasing production and exports, and achieving to control unemployment rates.
A hard way to balance
Overall, great successes marked the early years of his statesmanship, such as the waves of reforms, the opening of EU accession negotiations, the improvements for ethnic Kurds -incomparable to any other previous Turkish government-, the strong economic expansion. Yet, the Kurdish issue remains unresolved, the relationship with EU remains stagnant, the Cyprus issue falls into arrears.
In this respect, Erdogan’s legacy is also inextricably interwoven with a conservative downturn in Turkish society. The role of religion in daily life and the restrictions attached has long turned to be really oppressive for a considerable part of the population, mainly leaving in the urban areas of Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya, Izmir, and Boursa. The growing vulgarity of his speech, the constant divergence from the respect over human and political rights, the growing censorship over the freedom of expression and the freedom of speech and, of course, an increasing imposition of political absolutism have lowered his popularity significantly.
After this short evaluation of his deeds, we need to stress out that many issues for which Erdogan is being accused have been even worse in the past for Turkey, let alone the fact that some of them cannot be dealt unilaterally. For instance: The resolution of the Cyprus issue cannot be that easily reached, especially due to the fact that any alternative solution towards a final resolution in the island was never promoted nor discussed or pursued in international level. The Annan Plan was something of a kind, but even with this proposal nobody could reach a compromise. The Cyprus issue remains unresolved and there is obviously a mutual exchange agreed that balances the instability observed in the Kurdish areas inside the Turkish territory with the superficial calmness observed in the island. The Kurdish issue has much wider perspectives that exceed Turkey’s authorization and are deemed to remain extremely complex as long as there is no definite resolution regarding the establishment of Kurdistan that would engulf territories from Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.
Regarding the political absolutism of Erdogan and the AKP, it is widely said that during the ruling of the Republicans, the Turkish society was more free, felt more detached from religion and persecution, and the secular prerogatives of the state were better served. This is partly true as political stability was never that strongly established before Erdogan’s rising in power. No coups d’état, no colonies, no frequent and deep turbulences and crises in the Aegean during Erdogan’s era.
In addition to that, Erdogan has purposedly decided to turn Turkey towards Middle East, assuming a more prominent role for his country. The conundrums of the area and the huge stakes for stability and national security have consequently turned Turkey towards conservatism. Unfortunately for him, and even more for the Turkish society the merits of democracy has been crippled. The growing criticism has to be a big lesson for Erdogan and his party if he wants to remain in power. He needs to be much more reluctant in social demands, along with his re-affirmed devotion to erase the appalling “wrongdoings” of the past (i.e. Armenian genocide; Cyprus issue; persecution of political refugees inside and outside Turkey).
To conclude with, there is another question for Turkey’s political future: if elections were to held today, I believe Erdogan would be re-elected. And this belief stems from the fact that the Republican Party or any other one contesting AKP’s policy are absent with no alternative speech. This is additionally one of the fundamental factors behind Erdogan’s absolutism that scarcely sees the light in the public discourse, both in Turkey and abroad.Dimitris Rapidis