‘If we can’t solve the problems, the problems will dissolve us’

‘If we can’t solve the problems, the problems will dissolve us’

The quote in the title belongs to Tuncay Özilhan, one of Turkey’s leading industrialists and the chair of the Turkish Industry and Business Association’s (TÜSİAD) High Advisory Council. He said the words during an opening speech at the council in Istanbul on May 12. Özilhan was talking about the need to find a solution to rising terrorism without narrowing freedoms, the escalating polarization in society which is becoming systemic and the need to remove efforts to draft a new Turkish constitution from that context.

He said he wanted to be optimistic but another quote from him showed he had concerns about that. “The only place to ensure social reconciliation is parliament, but we observe that parliament is being drawn into problems.” He elaborated that an opposition party (implying the Nationalist Movement Party - MHP) is going through a leadership struggle, another one (implying the Republican People’s Party - CHP) is stuck with the parliamentary immunities debate, while the ruling party (the Justice and Development Party - AK Parti) has been trying to manage a major system shift process as the country has to cope with a major terrorism problem.

The process that Özilhan was talking about is President Tayyip Erdoğan’s target of shifting Turkey’s parliamentary system to a strong presidential one through a constitutional change. The pressure from within the AK Parti on Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu that resulted in his decision to step down on May 5 has been a turning point on that front. Now Erdoğan is the sole actor on the government front amid all the accompanying implications on domestic and foreign policy. Since Davutoğlu’s decision, Erdoğan has taken the steering wheel openly and told the European Union that it was not possible for Turkey to change its anti-terror law amid a major fight against both the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). On May 11, the military revealed huge losses for the two organizations since July 2015 when both of the organizations started to hit Turkey as a consequence of the civil war in Syria, which has a 910-kilometer border with Turkey. In total, nearly 4,600 PKK and 1,300 ISIL militants have been killed.

Cansen Başaran-Symes, the chairwoman of TÜSİAD, also touched upon the need to eliminate terrorism, giving full support to the fight provided that it does not result in a narrowing of rights and freedoms. Calling on political parties to unite against terrorism within democratic rules, she also criticized the EU for not showing the necessary empathy with Turkey in the middle of such a fight against terrorism and for dragging its feet about the implementation of a visa-free travel deal with Turkey. The visa-free travel scheme is part of the immigration deal between Turkey and the EU and according to Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, it is not likely to be approved in the parliament as it is. 

Turkish EU Minister Volkan Bozkır said Turkey was not going to change its anti-terror law at this time because of the visa deal and Erdoğan said it should be the EU that revises its anti-terror approach if it is sincere in the fight. Erdoğan said Turkey could live without visa-free travel as has the case so far, but the EU may not be that comfortable with the migration problems.

Özilhan’s quote about Turkey’s need to solve its problems before the problems dissolve Turkish society is an alarming voice in the bigger picture. It should be taken as an alrming voice for the decision makers in the EU as well, since whatever happens in and around Turkey has seriously started to affect the EU.