Optimistic, after all
Regardless of how firmly the neo-Ottomanists believe they have consolidated themselves at the helm of the Turkish Republic, on the 91st anniversary of its establishment, the Republic is as firmly embraced by the republican, secular and progressive segments of society as ever.
The anniversary of the republic will be celebrated with fireworks at the glamorous Bosphorus Bridge connecting Europe with Asia, grand ceremonies by the Turkish public throughout the country, in northern Cyprus and at Turkey’s foreign missions. Hopefully the leaders of the country will join these celebrations with contributions other than inaugurating an imperial palace for the republican president who aspires to become an absolute ruler. Is it overoptimistic to believe that perhaps this year celebrations will be absent of police using tear gas, spraying water cannons or indiscriminately beating up Turks gathered to mark this landmark day in the history of Turkish statehood? Obviously, the state’s security forces must try to establish security in the country, go after thieves or the terrorists dreaming of carving out a micro-nationalist state, rather than turning a celebration of the republic into some sort of a criminal act to be punished.
Compared to just a few years back, there are more than enough reasons to believe that a natural corrective force is in way, while there are sufficiently strong hints that more might be in the store.
Today, we no longer have hundreds of convicted separatists on hunger strikes in prisons, nor do we have hundreds of patriots, Kemalists, journalists, intellectuals, soldiers banished to concentration camp-like prisons. But we are celebrating this historic anniversary with fire going on all around the eastern borders of the country and almost 2 million refugees strangling the country's resources and creating an unprecedented domestic security threat. Worse, the atmosphere of fear has reached such dimensions that the Press for Freedom project of the Association of Journalists reports that a leading female journalist was so inured as to having her papers censored that she deleted her article on the headscarf introduced at schools and deleted it from its website.
Shall we be pessimistic? At least the governors of major Turkish cities, including the capital of Ankara, did not prohibit this year's Republic Day celebrations, as they did in 2012, for example, citing security concerns. Indeed, even at that time the public brushed aside all such bans and marked this important day anyway. The passing of time and accumulated experience perhaps helped the country’s rulers and top executives learn that rather than banning such festivities, it is their duty to take adequate measures and ensure the security of the public.
Unfortunately, the 91st anniversary will be celebrated today with the inauguration, in the republic’s capital, of an imperial palace built for the new president on a piece of land that the founding President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk gave to the state on the condition that it would remain as part of the Atatürk Forest Farm (AOÇ). The name of that farm – whatever is left of it – has even been changed by an officious mayor anyhow.
Anyway, farms and such things are trivial. What matters is the real heritage of the founding father of the republic. Atatürk had said the creation of the republic was his greatest achievement. The republic was built on three fundamental principles, which unfortunately were not always held above everything else: Secularism, the supremacy of law and, of course, the supremacy of the national will.
A fourth element that would make Turkey into a democracy, but that was not so present in the founding period and the existence of which is still questionable, was freedom of thought. Secularism is getting a new and perhaps wider, more inclusive interpretation. The supremacy of law has unfortunately become the supremacy of the wishes and aspirations of the absolute leader and his political clan. The national will has been turned into an understanding to support majoritarian rule. The already problematic freedom of thought, on the other hand, has been devastated.
The "Ak Sarays" and such imperial aspirations, the "zeroed" slush funds, and the looted land and resources, are not the only losses of the nation and the republic. But in full confidence of a brighter future on the solid foundations of the republic, such retreats can only be temporary. We ought to be proud of our republic and have confidence in its future. After all, even Süleyman the Magnificent could not rule for ever. There is a morning after every night; or, as is often said, the darkest moment of the night is just before dawn.