Good signs, bad signs
Not a month has passed since the beginning of mass anti-government protests that have shaken Turkey. The dust is mostly settled and both sides of the tension seem relatively calmer. Yet, on the biggest question — where the government will head now — there are both good and bad signs.
Let’s start with the latter. One of the worst outcomes of the whole Gezi Park crisis, in my view, is the rebirth of anti-Western nationalism among conservatives. This, of course, is perfectly illustrated by the extravagant conspiracy theory promoted by the government and some its supporters: the anti-government protests were, in fact, the work of foreign governments and their spies who want to destabilize Turkey for their malicious interests. I am not sure how many of them really believe in this, but, apparently, a worrying number of them do. How such a mindset will be able to continue with Turkey’s EU process, and its general alliance with the West, is a curious question.
The other bad sign is the tendency to initiate a witch-hunt on the protestors. One should grant that some protestors really were violent, as they tried to storm the Prime Minister’s office and burnt public buildings, and it is justified for the police to investigate such criminals. However, some recent steps, such as the government’s demand for the lists of public servants who joined the protests from public offices are quite concerning. The government has to understand that while vandalism is a crime, peaceful protests, which were the dominant theme in Gezi Park, are perfectly legitimate and no one can be accused for joining them.
These are signs that are bad enough. But, luckily, there are a few good ones too.
The first and most notable of them is the revival of the “Alevi opening.” This was a liberal effort by the government to solve the troubles of Alevis, Turkey’s most significant non-Sunni minority, but it was frozen for the past two years due to lack of consensus. But this week, Justice and Development Party (AKP) MP Hasan Fehmi Kinay announced that it would go full swing, recognizing Alevi places of worship and giving Alevi clerics the same support that the Sunni ones get. He added the Alevis would not feel themselves as “the other” anymore.
Now, this is very relevant to the Gezi Park protests, for it is no secret that “the Alevi youth” has been one of the major, and perhaps one of the most agitated, groups on the streets. This shows that the government recognizes the social reality that it is facing and is trying to diffuse the tensions that it has created over the past few years.
There are also good signs I personally got from some figures who are close to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan. One of them told me that “the presidential system project is over,” which means that one of the major concerns about Erdoğan — that he is heading to a one-man-system — will be removed from the picture. The same source added that Erdoğan would most probably become a president in 2014 with the current (largely symbolic) powers of that post, while President Abdullah Gül, whose moderating and reconciling tone has been proven repeatedly, will return to the AKP to run for the next prime ministry.
All this shows to me that, while the political paranoia exposed by conspiracy theories is truly concerning, there are also reasons to hope for a restoration of reason and reasonableness. Call me cautiously optimistic.