Despite apparent turmoil Turkey moves on
Turks are a lugubrious people. Admitting to anything good happening to them seems innately painful. The Turk mournfully lamenting “What is to become of this country?” while tipping back his glass of raki, the national firewater, is a long standing caricature figure in this country.
But are Turks really like this? Time has proved that fatalism and fear of change are not in fact the central characteristics of Turks. Turks have always been open to revolutionary changes, especially if these enhance their material well-being.
While there are those who claim Turkey is not a European country, it is perhaps much more correct to say, given its adaptability to the modern world, that it is not your typical Middle Eastern country despite its Islamic population.
In the meantime, while it is good that Middle Eastern dictators are being toppled, attempts to replace them with regimes based on democracy and human rights are proving more difficult than assumed. This is why Turkey is looked on increasingly by Western policy-planners as a country that has the potential to help stabilize the region.
Not all Arabs are “enamored” with the so called “Turkish model,” of development, of course, especially where this entails the concept of “secularism.” The fact, however, whether Islamists in the Middle East like it or not, is that without some of the major trappings of the Turkish political and economic “model,” it is very unlikely that the countries of the “Arab Spring” will attain the desired stability.
So there is a kind of “inevitability” to the Turkish model, which for all the complaining Turks do about it, has in fact been good for them in the final analysis. Of course any outsider looking at developments in Turkey would be forgiven for asking how such a Turkey can be a model for anyone.
Domestically the country gives the impression of being in such a state of political, legal and social turmoil that it is a surprise anyone would look on it as a positive model for anything.
The Kurdish problem continues to cause serious social unrest; journalists and former generals are in prison accused with trying to topple the government by illegal means; meanwhile, in another bizarre episode, an attempt is being made to investigate the head of the country’s intelligence services on the grounds that he and members of his organization helped Kurdish separatist terrorism.
As if this was not enough, not a day goes by without this or that group out on the streets protesting something or other, with violent scenes ensuing in many cases as demonstrators and riot police clash. None of this gives the impression of a stable country that is expected to show the way to others. If anything it looks as if the political and social system is collapsing, not developing.
And yet it is not. The country continues with its development process, despite seemingly insurmountable odds, and what is assumed to be a lugubrious and fatalistic society. And this is what Western policy-planners are looking at in the final analysis.
Like I have said before in this column, the good and the bad come together in Turkey. Of course no one can afford to be naïve. The picture is far from totally rosy and there is much that progressive, democratic and secular forces have to be vigilant against. But it is what is left behind on aggregate after each round of infighting and heated debating in the country that counts.
Looked at from this perspective, the prospects for Turkey today appear better than they have even been in the past. Despite this we will complain as Turks. It is, after all, our national pastime.