The 2013 reform package
Turkey is a country whose democracy is still in the process of maturing. Although Turkey has made great progress in terms of human rights and democratic standards compared to the last century, it is still faced with two main issues.
The first is the Kurdish issue and the continued existence of the still-armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey has already taken most of the democratization steps necessary to resolve the Kurdish issue. In other words, looking at all anti-democratic regulations practiced “only in relation” to the Kurdish issue. Turkey spent the 20th century denying the existence of the Kurdish people and the Kurdish language.
The official denial of recognition of the Kurdish people, which began with the establishment of the republic, began to crumble only after the AK Party came to power, with an hour-long Kurdish broadcast on national television for the first time in history on June 9, 2004. In the last decade, almost all of these direct steps toward democratization related “solely to the Kurdish issue” were followed by important reforms. One issue related to the Kurdish problem alone was the right to mother-tongue education, namely Kurdish. The first step in resolving this issue was taken with the new reform package the prime minister announced, which allows private schools to educate children in Kurdish.
With this development, Turkey has only one problem to face, which is, in fact, the most important issue related to the Kurdish question – the PKK’s continued existence as an armed organization. The PKK problem, as well as some demands of the Kurdish political movement, constitutes fields of political problems that are outside the Kurdish question. The resolution of problems in these fields is related to the extent and method of democratization of the Kurdish political movement and Turkish politics.
The second major problem Turkey still has to face is in the field of the state-religion relationship. Turkey, defined as a laicist state, has, since its foundation, formed problematic relationships with religion and religious groups. One group that was particularly vulnerable to the vicissitudes of this relationship was Muslim women. Women who wore the headscarf have been excluded from the public sphere and the business world for years via the enforcement of a discriminatory ban. These women were prevented both from holding jobs in public offices, including the universities, and from making careers in the private business world. Another area of contestation in the context of state-religion relations is the demands raised by the Alevis. The new reform package does not present any provisions on this issue. One major issue in the Alevi demands for recognition is the problematic question of places of worship. The law that banished the Alevis’ place of worship was the law on Islamic lodges and monasteries included in the early Republic’s law. This law has to be abolished. Ironically, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) has rejected the abolishment of the law.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeated several times that this reform package would provide relief on a limited number of issues. He also added that new reform packages would follow this. Nevertheless, for any democratization package to be effective at a structural level at this point, the articles in the Constitution that are the remnants of the 1980 coup need to be expunged. The number of seats Erdoğan holds in Parliament is enough for this to happen. A new Constitution can only become possible with the support and cooperation of the opposition.