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GÜVEN SAK > Growing pains in Turkey

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Turkey is a country in flux. My personal history happens to cover all the major parts of my country’s transformation. I was born in the western part of Turkey in 1961. The first industrial zone of the country was also established in that same in year in Bursa, my hometown. Industrialization started with industrial zones and Bursa was one of the leading cities outside of Istanbul and İzmir. At the time, Ankara was a city of civil servants only. Only a year had passed since the city had seen its first coup d’etat. Turkey was just a sleepy agrarian country.

In the years after my birth, private sector-based industrialization started to sprawl across Anatolia. The army really got into the swing of coup d’etats. So I consider myself as having seen it all. I may be wrong, but that is my feeling nowadays as I follow one anti-democratic measure after another from the government. The rule of law has always been problematic in Turkey, but this seems to be a period where we have more at stake, as today’s Turkey is more developed and richer. We have more to lose than ever before. When I was born, we only had “our chains to lose,” so to speak. I do not just want to underline our historically high current account deficits that need to be financed at all costs. This time it is definitely different.

When my friends outside the country ask me what is happening in Turkey nowadays, I still tend to tell them that it is all growing pains. I consider today’s events as a continuation of the past. In Turkey, it may not feel like something as normal as getting more mature over time, but that is what it is. When you are the one experiencing it, the process feels horrible with no end in sight. I still remember the years of the 1980 coup. It was like living in a horror movie, especially if you were a university student at the time, like I was. Despite all the costs, so much has changed for the good in the last five decades. It is definitely like the opening chapter of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.” It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, it is the age of wisdom, it is the age of foolishness, it is the epoch of belief, it is the epoch of incredulity, it is the season of light, it is the season of darkness, it is the spring of hope, it is the winter of despair. Just look at recent developments.

Today, it is once again the best of times. The prime minister has offered his condolences over the loss of lives over the 1915 Armenian massacres. You may discuss the nuances, you may not like the tone of his voice; none of it changes the fact that a Turkish prime minister talked about “our shared pain” for the first time. Now, add this to the football diplomacy process of Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Turkish President Serzh Sargsyan. All of them are steps in the right direction. Gül and Sargsyan’s diplomacy was the first crack in the wall. Now that same crack is becoming wider and wider. So far, so good. Does that mean that Turkey has finally come to terms with its long and proud history? Not yet.

Does that mean that Turkey is finally at peace with its own geography? Not yet. But we are one step closer. That means that it is possible for a growing number of civil institutions to focus on the issue. Now that talking about the issue no longer requires heroes, it is time for ordinary citizens to take part in the discussion. Without a doubt, Prime Minister Erdoğan’s remark has truly democratized the discussion on Ottoman Armenians. 

I bear in mind that this is also still the worst of times, but today let me focus on only the good side.

May/10/2014

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