Kemal Gürüz and Turkish democracy

Kemal Gürüz and Turkish democracy

I just did something I have never done before. I have been coming to Turkey for more than two decades. I lost count of the number of my visits after forty. I do know that my visits have consumed three passports.

I have worked with schools and universities. I have worked with a number of ministries and ministers, especially including ministers of national education, from Avni Akyol through Metin Bostancıoğlu. I have worked closely with the great universities of Turkey, and one of the highlights of my career has been in working with the outstanding faculty and students at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, where I was a visiting member of the faculty for nearly two years. I have traveled and met with people from all across the nation, from Çeşme to Oremli, and from Bartin to Mersin. I am grateful for my friends, who are really family to me, and have come to feel sometimes more at home in Turkey than I do in my own native United States.

But until today, I had never taken a public stand on an issue before the Turkish nation. It is a principle of mine. Despite my love for the nation, and despite my sincere appreciation for all things Turkish, I recognize that at the end of the day, I am an American. My friends are Turks. It is no more appropriate for me to take on issues internal to Turkish society as my own than it is for a Turk to come to the United States and criticize President Obama’s approach to healthcare. I am an analyst and avid follower of Turkish politics, for sure, but never an actor. That is something my friends need to do.

Until today: Today something is forcing me to cross my own standard of behavior. It is so egregious, I cannot remain silent. Today, I signed and forwarded a petition on behalf of Professor Dr. Kemal Gürüz, who has been imprisoned without charge, evidence, or justification. He has been imprisoned for alleged involvement with the Feb. 28, 1997 “post-modern coup.” As I was in Turkey on Feb. 28, 1997, I remember it well. As a democrat, I was appalled at the military’s intervention in civil society. I saw the act as a serious setback to those stirrings of democracy in the nation, perhaps the most fundamental goal of Atatürk’s revolution. Although I did not regard Necmettin Erbakan’s time as prime minister as particularly good for Turkey, his party won a plurality of votes according to the rules of the game at the time, and if they were to be turned out of office, it was the job of the Turkish people to do so, not the Turkish military. That is how democracy works.

For similar reasons, I am encouraged by a large measure of the success of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). The AKP government was elected by the Turkish people and, significantly for this discussion, has served to solidify democratic institutions in Turkey in important ways. Indeed, the AKP has created electoral mechanisms sufficient to potentially be defeated at the polls. This is huge as far as Turkey’s democratic future is concerned. However -- and it is a rather large “however” -- they have not controlled their impulse to define a political opponent as a political enemy. They are betraying their presumed democratic values by attempting to stifle dissent, silence opposition, and use the law as a political tool, instead of preserving it as the neutral arbiter of justice that a democracy requires. A democracy of any sort does not jail writers, intellectuals, and academics for the “crime” of being writers, academics, and intellectuals. A democracy does not detain political opponents for no reason other than their political opposition.

For this reason, I have signed and passed on a petition that demands justice for Kemal Gürüz. He must either be informed of the charges against him and allowed to defend himself, or he must be released. I say this not as an American aiming to lecture Turks as to how to conduct their affairs, but rather as a human being reaching out to other human beings in the name of decency and justice, goals that we all share regardless of nationality. I call upon the Turkish government to live up to its democratic words and urge the Turkish people to demand that their government embrace all of the requirements of a modern democratic society.

Kemal Gürüz must be freed immediately!

*Gary M. Grossman is an associate professor at Arizona State University. The above article represents his personal views.