After Turkey's horrible year

After Turkey's horrible year

In Latin, they call it “annus horribilis.” In Turkey, we can pinpoint it as 2014. For this past year has really been a horrible one for Turkey. True; for most ordinary Turks, life went as normal, as restaurants, shopping malls or traffic jams functioned as they had before. But from a liberal political perspective, Turkey has gone downhill tremendously, with sharp declines in media freedom, independence of the judiciary, and simple civility. Hate speech almost became an official narrative, if not the national medium. 

As is often the case, this downward democratic spiral of Turkey did not happen without a reason. It happened due to a political war that few were expecting beforehand: the war between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) – or Tayyip Erdoğan – government and the Fethullah Gülen movement. Ironically, these were the very Islamic brothers that worked together for almost a decade to tame and subdue the secularist establishment. But once they won that war, it did not take them too long to grow suspicious of each other and soon engage in a jaw-dropping fight within the bureaucracy, intelligence, media and social media. 

Why did this war exactly begin? Ruşen Çakır, a secular journalist and an expert on Turkey’s Islamist movements, argues that they both trespassed on each other’s legitimate realms: The AKP wanted to dominate or transform civil society, whereas the Gülen movement wanted to dictate policies to the government by using its veiled power within the bureaucracy. The corruption investigations of Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, when four ministers and even Erdoğan’s son were blamed for corruption, was the atomic bomb that initiated an all-out war. The AKP blocked these investigations and condemned them as a “coup attempt” by the “parallel state” – a cadre of the Gülen movement that acts in the bureaucracy according to its own inner world.

In my view, this “parallel state” is a not myth. There is also no doubt that this network should be disestablished, and its alleged wrongdoings, especially during the witch-hunts against secularists, should be brought to justice. But the reality is also not as black-and-white as the AKP describes.

First, the “parallel state” was established not by the CIA or “Zionism,” as the AKP now claims, but the AKP itself, at a time when it needed an aggressive ally against secularist generals. Second, to say that the corruption investigation of last December was a work of the “parallel state” does not negate the clear evidence of corruption within the ruling party. Third, the current hate campaign against the whole Gülen Movement, from its media to schools to NGOs, is also witch-hunt that is likely to wrong many innocent people. 

All this means that we owe Turkey’s horrible year not just to one of the warring parties, but both of them. This is particularly sad for me, because I had put hopes in both of them, imagining that they would together help build a free, fair and pluralist Turkey. I even hoped that this would make the Turkish experience an “example” for other Muslim nations. Now I am rather thinking of the bitter lessons that should be drawn from the same experience. 

What is even worse is that there is not much sign of chance in sight. In fact, if current trends continue, 2015 may well be an even more horrible year for Turkey, as the hunt against the “parallel state” and all other alleged “traitors” could lead us into the mouth of an ever-more ruthless Leviathan.

We will see. For now, at least, relax for a day and enjoy your New Year’s party.