Why we should be optimistic about Turkey’s future
“The difference between the East and West is Turkey. I do not know which one you subtract from which, but what I am sure of is the distance between the two is around Turkey.”
“Turkey was a bulimic, depressive young girl, who thought no outfit she wore fit her and thought she was obese when she looked in the mirror of the East, and thought her bones could be counted when she looked to the mirror of her West. For 20 years, she would eat until she choked and became fat, and then vomited for 20 years until her throat bled, and then start eating again.”
These words belong to a prominent 38-year-old Turkish novelist. They are taken from his 2013 novel called “More,” whose main character is the son of the leader of a gang that participates in human trafficking.
As is customary, we are again in a period where we are having heated debates about our country. We make analyses, projections, and speculations. At first sight, there is every reason to be pessimistic about the future of this country.
How can we be optimistic?
The short answer to that question is “Gezi.” What started as a protest to protect a park by a small group of environmentalist activists turned into mass demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s authoritarianism. The Gezi movement showed us that despite heavy censorship, people were aware of exactly what is going on in this country. In addition, they were not frightened or pushed back by the disproportionate use of force by the police.
Another short answer was provided to me by a prominent head hunter in Turkey. He simply said, “Every time I go on the metro I become optimistic, seeing all these young people, all with different outfits and outlooks.”
This is a country with one of the highest ratios of Facebook usage.
Erdoğan’s authoritarian methods were bound to explode one day, and they did. Now the question is: What will be the consequences?
It will definitely have consequences and it will definitely be costly for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The problem is that those who might think the consequences will be immediate might be mistaken. In contrast to those who think Turks are unaware of realities or are indifferent to corruption charges, I share the view of the prominent pollster Bekir Ağırdır – people are not ignorant or indifferent to wrongdoings. As Ağırdır says, if there are no radical changes in voting behavior, it is not the fault of the electorate, but rather that of the opposition parties. And so far, the opposition parties have failed to convince us they can do better. So, although under normal circumstances there are many reasons for some voters to quit the AKP, no one seems to be convinced that a huge electoral victory is awaiting the opposition.
Yet, even though the AKP will continue to remain an important actor in Turkish politics, it will not remain the same, nor will Erdoğan be able to slide further into authoritarianism.
Turkey is neither located in the midst of the Arabian Desert, nor is it located in the Latin American wild forests. On the contrary, its proximity to Europe and its candidacy for the European Union is one of the most important security valves this nation possess, whether people are aware of it or not.
True, we are passing through difficult times and it is also true that these difficult times won’t go away quickly. But Turkey’s journey toward liberal democracy is irreversible.