After our worst year ever

After our worst year ever

Before writing this piece, I looked back at my archives and checked what I had written in the final days of 2014 and 2015. It turned out that I was not happy with those previous years either. “After Turkey’s horrible year,” reads the title of my Dec. 30, 2014 column. “After yet another horrible year,” reads the title of my Dec. 30, 2015 column. 

Clearly I was not happy with Turkey’s situation back in those days. Now, alas, I would love to have those days back, as 2016 has overshadowed everything else I have ever seen in my life as “annus horribilis.” I can easily name it “the worst year ever.” 

Government supporters might be surprised – even angry – in the face of such judgment. 2016 has actually been great, they can assert, as evidenced in the triumph of the “national will” against a bloody military coup attempt, various terror attacks, and endless conspiracies. 

I would not totally disagree with them. It was indeed great that Turkey averted a brutal military coup attempt on the night of July 15. The common people indeed wrote a story of heroism by resisting the tanks and guns with their bodies. Some of them indeed became “martyrs” that we should always honor. 

However, I also wish that no one had been martyred. As life is always preferable to death. I also wish Turkey had not come to the brink of such a disaster at the hands of the covert Gülenist network within the state and whoever allied with it. I wish the Turkish Republic had not become such a dark alley of ambitious ghosts in the first place.

What’s more, the failed coup initiated a brutally authoritarian era in Turkish. It was, in fact, legitimate for the government to declare a state of emergency and go after the putchists, as I argued in the early weeks. But “the putchists” rapidly turned into a huge category of people, as over 60,000 people found themselves in jail. 

This huge number included the naive members or sympathizers of the Gülen cult who probably had little idea about the group’s darker side, which is covered in deep secrecy. It included low-raking soldiers who had no choice other than obeying their officers on that bloody night, without knowing what they were getting involved in. It also included hundreds of writers or academics, who found themselves as coup suspects merely for being government critics. 

Meanwhile, terrorism skyrocketed. Both the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) began hitting Turkey’s cities. They had totally different ideologies and ambitions, but it was easy for the ever-conspiratorial Turkish political culture to see all this as a coordinated plot against the nation. The state flexed its muscles and responded to the PKK not only through counter-terrorism, but also by criminalizing its “political wing.” In other words, it reverted to “old Turkey” hawkishness, trashing hopes for a political solution.

As a result, thousands of people lost their lives and tens of thousands lost their freedom. Whether we call them terrorists, heroes, or martyrs, they all have families who weep for them. It is a colossal human tragedy. 

And you know what is the worst? There is no guarantee that the future will be any better. There is no assurance that all this will prove to be a temporary crisis rather than the new normal. 

So, all we are left with is the hope — an unsubstantiated, if not unrealistic hope — that the future will be somehow better. After all, faith really can help change things, if only to help us cope with things the way they are. In that faith, I wish you all a happy, safe and sane 2017.