The crises and paradoxes of Turkey
It seems that my country has lost its way like never before. We are experiencing crises stemming from the undeclared end of the old republican regime and the undeclared rise of “The New Republic.”
In fact, the idea of a new republic was also our dream, as left-leaning democrats, we had been critical of the status quo ante for its authoritarian ways and had been craving a more democratic regime. The old regime could not survive the challenge of new demands from a considerable segment of society, namely conservatives and Kurds. The Kemalist nation-state project, which was based on a rigid understanding of secularism and national unity, was doomed to fail at some point. The challenge was to replace it with a more democratic republic, but the democratic dream failed, too, since the removal of the status quo ante left a vacuum that was filled with the rising power of right-wing nationalism and Islamism or Islamist nationalism.
Now, the idea of the new republic is based firmly on conservative authoritarianism and Turkish nationalism, but the transition to the new order is far from smooth and consensual. Last week, the editors and journalists of daily Cumhuriyet (The Republic) – one of the last bastions of dissent – were detained, with nine arrested on accusations of aiding Gülenist and Kurdish terrorism. Concomitantly, Kurdish politicians including the leader of the main Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and the mayor of Diyarbakır were removed from office and arrested. This is the worst scenario for “solving the Kurdish problem” and echoes the so-called “Sri Lankan model” which is doomed to deepen the problem and endangers the prospects of social peace and political compromise.
All and all, the country has been under emergency rule since the July 15 coup attempt and harsh decrees with the power of law are being announced every day to tighten the grip of the current government. In fact, Turkey is now a de facto and peculiar kind of presidential system and only the power of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan counts. In fact, the so-called new republic is no more than a new regime which is defined by the personal cult of President Erdoğan. His supporters see him not only as the embodiment of the national will, but also the incarnation of a historical and religious mission. Accordingly, the definition of the friend and enemy of the nation is determined by the acceptance or denial of his will. It is not a matter of judicial independence and separation of power anymore, since laws are being enforced according to this new definition of crime and punishment, while the political power is being legitimized along the lines of defending the decisions of the national leader or weakening him.
It is true that there is no strong democratic opposition which can hinder the authoritarian tilt and that it was the old regime which failed to enforce democratic institutions and public opinion. Nevertheless, it is also because Turkey so far has not been totally authoritarian and has been a moderate middle-class society that those who oppose the current path find themselves unable to respond to the intensified political pressure. Rather than something to be critical of, it is fortunate that people do not easily fill the streets to protest and demonstrate, since it is no longer possible to express opposition without risking life and arrest. Democratic dissent can only respond to political pressures in democratic ways, and it is the most significant aspect of a law-abiding and reasonable society to not be provoked and resort to unruly ways which could lead to civil war.
It is a paradox that democrats cannot defend themselves in a non- democratic political atmosphere and that reasonable and sane dissent cannot cope with militant politics. In a similar fashion, it is a middle-class society that is mindful about not risking life and security in the name of political opposition, but the absence of any willful opposition inevitably leads to a threat against the life and security of the entire country.