A pull effect for nationalists is a push effect for democrats in Turkey

A pull effect for nationalists is a push effect for democrats in Turkey

I first met the journalist Kadri Gürsel more than 20 years ago. But I got to know him better after I moved to Istanbul from Ankara in 2005, when I began to see him more frequently. Each time we met, developments in Turkey had taken a worse turn than they were in our previous meetings. I kept arguing that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s policies were not sustainable, and there would be a limit to democratic backpedaling because Turkey remained anchored to the European Union. Most of all, I had faith in Turkey’s own democratic forces.

 “I am always optimistic,” I told him. 

Kadri, however, was always pessimistic. He never made fun of my optimism, but did accuse me of being naive and delusional.

Each time we met, developments seemed to justify his pessimism, not my optimism. On one of our last encounters, I could not find much of an argument to substantiate my optimism. I simply told him: “I have to remain optimistic, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to find the strength to keep fighting.”

In response he rightly said: “I am pessimistic but I continue to fight, which is much more difficult than fighting while remaining optimistic.”

The news of Kadri’s recent detention, and that of his colleagues at daily Cumhuriyet, dashed to pieces whatever little optimism was left in me.

I confess that I no longer harbor any optimism for this country in the short or medium term. I came to this point some time ago, I just could not confess it. But I finally faced this reality when a diplomat leaving Turkey for another country asked me to find just one positive thing about the near future. I could not. The diplomat told me that he had met a dozen people who could not find a single positive thing about the near future. 

I guess he did not meet anybody representing the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) constituency. I cannot argue that all Erdoğan’s opponents are people who have genuinely internalized a democratic culture. But there is still a sizable block among those opponents who want to see the consolidation of democracy at universal standards. 

Every time the AKP moves to woo the constituency of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in order to secure its desired presidential system, it has a push effect for Turkey’s real democrats. Such moves kill two birds with one stone: The aim is to inflict shock and fear, as well as a sense of helplessness and desperation among Turkey’s democrats.

When AKP Istanbul deputy Abdurrahim Boynukalın led a crowd that stoned Hürriyet’s office in Istanbul in September 2015, he yelled: “They will get the hell out of here after the Nov. 1 election.”

I can never forget what he said. What’s more, then Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who takes pride for having an academic background, was not ashamed to go to election rallies alongside Boynukalın, as if he was supportive of his resort to violence. 

This is what the AKP elites want. They want the best and the brightest and the democrats to fall into desperation and leave the country. Why? Because they fear them. Because they know that they cannot reach completely arbitrary rule as long as Turkey’s democrats stand strong. 

Instead of fearing these democrats, they should actually cherish them, because everybody needs democracy and the rule of law. There may come a day when the AKP rulers may also be in need of the rule of law. If they ever did face any injustices, they can be sure that Kadri Gürsel will be the first to criticize it.