Supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) talk proudly of a “New Turkey,” which they say has replaced the “Old Turkey.” They maintain that it is not possible for members of the Old Turkey to understand the New Turkey.
We know, of course, what the “Old Turkey” was. Although it set out with the lofty ideal of introducing “contemporary civilization” and modernity to the country, not everything it did was good. Its glaring shortcomings in democracy, human and minority rights, freedom of expression, social justice etc., and the military coups that killed democracy are, after all, what spawned the need for a new Turkey.
By the same token, if the value of a “modernity” project like membership of the EU had been properly understood over these past 50 years, and the opportunities that this provided had not been squandered as they were, again the need for a new Turkey would not have emerged.
Turkey would have been an active part of the political and economic processes in Europe
during that period, and the so called “New Turkey” would have emerged naturally over time. Needless to say, such an advanced Turkey would have also been a sought after as an international player, given its strategic place in a turbulent part of the world.
But none of these were permitted to happen. The predominantly right-wing governments of the post war period more often than not failed to understand where the world it was supposedly a part of was heading. They also failed to understand Turkey’s vast human potential that lay there wasted.
Given their obsessive fear of communism, carried to irrational levels in order to protect vested interests, they ensured that even the most basic of democratic rights and principles seen in the non-communist West were suppressed before they could take root.
In the end, Turkey spent the better part of these 50 years being looked on by the advanced world as a country that had failed to achieve full democracy and respect for human rights, where torture exists with impunity and where there is nothing to talk of in terms of the freedom of expression or press freedoms.
So we know what the “Old Turkey” and its shortcomings were. But it is not clear what AKP supporters mean when they refer to the “New Turkey.” Under normal circumstances, one would assume that this Turkey is “new” because it has overcome the sins and deficiencies of the old one.
So the New Turkey should have an advanced level of democracy, with maximum individual freedoms, full respect for human rights, a justice system that the citizenry trusts, unencumbered freedom of expression and press freedoms, maximum penalties for torture and mistreatment, and everything one would normally expect from that kind of democracy.
One would also have expected governments in such an advanced democracy not to try and cover up corruption allegations, and tamper with the judicial system to this end, to save their necks. Needless to say, such a Turkey would also have much respect internationally for having achieved all of this.
So, how much of all this has been achieved in order for Turkey to rightfully deserve the adjective “New” with a capital letter? If you ask AKP members, of course, much of the above has been achieved, while the rest is in the process of being achieved.
So much so that Prime Minister Erdogan even claims that the new draconian Internet law advances Turkish democracy. Meanwhile, members of the government claim that the unconstitutional steps they are taking to cover up the corruption charges are designed to protect democracy from villainous plotters.
For people who have the capacity to be objective, however, it is more than apparent that the “New Turkey” is in fact a place whose deficiencies in terms of everything that goes to make a “contemporary” and “modern” country are even worse than those in the “Old Turkey.”