Turkey’s justice march: Democracy bouncing back?

Turkey’s justice march: Democracy bouncing back?

A couple of hours after main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu entered the provincial borders of Istanbul on July 7, with 40 kilometers left to go to reach his target, I was having lunch with a diverse group of people.

One of the main issues discussed at the table was Kılıçdaroğlu’s justice march, which started on June 15 in the capital Ankara, 450 km away from Istanbul, one day after CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu was sentenced to 25 years in jail for allegedly passing security related information to a newspaper.

We were discussing the words of Aydın Doğan, the founder of the Doğan Media Group, which owns daily Hürriyet, who had said in the morning that a peaceful conclusion of the march would be an “indication that our democracy may be maturing, serving the rising search for justice of everyone.”

In the middle of the lunch, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s words were being reported by the media. He was saying that no such action should take place again once the march is completed with a rally planned in Istanbul on June 9.

Yıldırım, like many other politicians at the beginning, did not believe the march would be completed or that many people would support it. In fact, he teased Kılıçdaroğlu by asking why he did not take the high-speed train instead.

Later on, both Yıldırım and President Tayyip Erdoğan even likened the justice march to the military coup attempt of July 15, 2016, saying its followers were effectively serving the same purpose. Those words did not intimidate the thousands of people, not only from the CHP, who joined the march. Despite a plot by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to attack the march, which was uncovered by the police, the crowd only increased as it approached Istanbul. 

The denouncing of ordinary people as terrorists and coup plotters for taking part in a peaceful march, even if they were not carrying any political symbols or slogans, did not find much of an echo, even within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti). In the end, before departing for the G20 summit in Hamburg, President Erdoğan said that if the march and the July 9 rally conclude peacefully there would be no intervention from the security forces.

If it is indeed completed in peace on July 9 on its 25th day, the justice march will break the record of Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March, both in terms of the number of days and the distance walked.

The march also seems to have promoted Kılıçdaroğlu from being the chairman of the CHP to its leader in the true sense of the word.

It has also shown that despite the April 16 referendum, which granted all executive power to President Erdoğan (despite the objections of almost half of the voters), there still remains a resilience in the name of pluralistic democracy in Turkey.