When a Kurd becomes nostalgic about past governments
If the “old Turkey” is identified with the period that precedes the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), when the country was governed by mainstream parties on the center-right and center-left of the political spectrum under military-judicial tutelage, then veteran Kurdish politician Hasip Kaplan would be neither a fan of that period nor of those parties.
The Kurds were the biggest victims of the shortcomings of Turkish democracy in the 1990s. Naturally, they became the biggest winners of the comprehensive reform process that began in 1999, the year when Turkey was accepted as a candidate to join the European Union.
With the initiative of the coalition government in power at the time, the 1982 constitution prepared under military rule was amended extensively on Oct. 3, 2001 by the Turkish parliament. This was the most comprehensive modification in the constitution since its inauguration.
Several harmonization packages were also introduced to amend legislation that was not in line with EU standards in several areas, including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and gender equality.
A new Civil Code, which entered into force on Jan. 1, 2002, brought significant changes in the areas of gender equality, protection of children and vulnerable persons and freedom of association.
The first harmonization package, which entered into force on Feb. 19, 2002, enacted a series of amendments to the Penal Code, the Anti-terror Law, the Law on the State Security Courts, and the Code of Criminal Procedure, within the context of expanding freedom of expression. It also reduced pre-trial detention periods and safeguarded provisions on the rights of prisoners.
In order to enhance the exercise of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, a second harmonization package was adopted and entered into force on April 9, 2002.
The third harmonization package, which entered into force on Aug. 9, 2002, abolished the death penalty, addressed the legal conditions pertaining to real estate held by community foundations, and allowed changes in provisions on education and broadcasting vis-à-vis cultural rights, etc.
I have copy-pasted most of the above information from the document called “Political reforms in Turkey,” prepared in 2007 by the then-Secretariat General for EU affairs.
All this was done during a period that is today demonized by the AKP. Obviously, it proved tremendously difficult to introduce these reforms, as the military and judicial elites of that period (which were the number-one enemies of the AKP) were resistant to democratic change. However, thanks to a handful of democratic-minded civil servants and a strong political will, a huge wave of momentum was caught to transform Turkey.
But the nation could not forgive the perpetrators of the 2001 economic crisis, and punished all three of the political parties that made up the coalition, which were unable to even pass the election threshold in the 2002 elections.
After winning the elections, the AKP continued the reform momentum. The constitution was amended again in 2004 and new harmonization packages were endorsed, enabling the AKP to be greatly appreciated, even admired, by European opinion leaders. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) became the main opposition, and under the leadership of Deniz Baykal it endorsed a line of objecting to anything that was introduced by the AKP.
“I don’t understand,” I was told once by a Turkish diplomat. “Reforms to improve the rights of non-Muslim minorities are introduced by a religious conservative party, which one would expect to be fundamentally against it. Yet they are resisted by the CHP, a supposedly social democratic party that should be fundamentally in favor of those reforms.”
These were the early days of the AKP’s rule. After a decade of the AKP in government, the roles seem to have changed again. The CHP, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and even the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which is usually security-focused, have joined hands to resist the homeland security package that is currently being discussed in parliament.
Nothing could be more illustrative than Kaplan’s interview in daily Hürriyet at showing the democratic backpedalling by a government that keeps talking about “advanced democracy.”
“If this package passes, emergency rule will come to all of Turkey. It will bring back what we had to live through in the 1990s,” Kaplan said.
He was asked: “But the government says these regulations also exist in EU countries?”
This is his reply: “This is not true. Seventeen important changes were introduced to the constitution during the period of the coalition government. All were about fundamental rights and freedoms.
Harmonization packages and a national program were adopted. Now, this government has eradicated all those gains and is continuing to eradicate them.”
When a Kurdish politician starts becoming slightly nostalgic about the past, there is not much left to say.