One Year After

One Year After

Since the bloody coup attempt of July 15, are we a better nation? Are we more unified? Have the dangers and pitfalls in governance decreased?

The short answer may be YES but a longer version needs to be MAYBE. Turkish people and hundreds of good soldiers suppressed the coup attempt, which cost them their lives, but to be true to their memories a lot needs to be done. Re-building the state can be a good start.

Sabancı University’s Istanbul Policy Center recently launched a series of reports about the changes Turkey has to embrace post July 15. Dr. Pınar Akpınar is a young academic who oversaw the study that encapsulated issues ranging from foreign policy to military, the Kurdish issue to conflict resolution. “The state could seek avenues into collaborating with and opening more room for non-state actors in addressing Turkey’s problems” said Dr. Akpinar “Especially on breaking the deadlock on foreign policy and using soft power”.

“Now that the Justice March is completed peacefully and commemorations of July 15 are over, it is time to take a count. More than 150,000 civil servants have been dismissed from the government. The AK (Justice and Development) Party and the president have openly taken the chance to wipe up the government bureaucracy with a wide-scale purge, yet acted very shy about replacing these positions with qualified people.

The AK Party heavyweights’ definition of merit may fit the universal criteria of “being able, educated and loyal” anymore. You can be an engineering graduate from Harvard applying for a job at ASELSAN, for example, but if you have not gone through Imam Hatip High School, or no one has seen you going to the Friday prayer once, chances are it’s next to impossible you’ll be hired for a government position in Turkey these days. This was the way Iran lost its brainpower after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Indeed, this was the criteria during the AK Party-Gülenist coalition heydays in the government.
According to the Istanbul Policy Center’s recent report titled “State, Institutions and Reform in Turkey after July 15” written by Bülent Aras, the AK Party’s latest attempts to create a “loyalist bureaucracy” may be a bigger challenge. 

“An even more overarching question would be, ‘what are the defining ethos and performance criteria in the bureaucracy?’ In practice, partisanship has brought nothing but nepotism, favoritism, and clientelism in the public administration, which had been partly offset by the institutional setup of the Republican era. To exemplify, the university and high school exams had been one of the most egalitarian outlets that enabled lower and middle-class citizens to seek vertical mobility in Turkey,” wrote Aras.

“In fact, the AK Party and conservative elites are products of this egalitarian aspect of the Republic, which presented an option to balance against bureaucratic exclusivity—either in terms of social roots or ideology—in Republican institutions.”

Can Erdoğan build bridges between the pious and secular sections in the society and re-create a more dynamic state bureaucracy after all these traumas? One year is a long time if you want to change things. Nevertheless, it may be too short from now on.