After yet another horrible year

After yet another horrible year

This is the last day to 2015, at least according to the Gregorian calendar most of us use. On such a day, one wants to feel happy, upbeat and cheerful. Yet, as a political writer, I also have to be realistic. Hence I need to say something that may not cheer you up: 2015 has been a horrible year for Turkey, and there is little reason to think that 2016 will be any better.

Actually, we are having a series of horrible years. That is why, exactly a year ago, in this very column, I had written a piece titled, “After Turkey’s horrible year.” In it, I argued:

“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.”

Nothing has gone any better in this scene over the past 365 days. Moreover a new problem, a very big one, joined the scene: The re-ignited war between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the state. The “peace process” between the two, which had kept Turkey peaceful since 2012, unfortunately failed last summer, and the age-old conflict surged again. As a result, certain locations in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast have lately become the setting of a mini civil war. More than a hundred civilians have lost their lives, apparently in crossfire between the PKK’s urban fighters and Turkey’s security forces. 

Where is Turkey heading with all this - a re-escalated war with the PKK, an authoritarian regime, a deeply polarized society? Well, for the next year, I can see two main options: One bad option, and another worse option. 

The bad option is that this might be the new normal. We can just keep on living with low standards of democracy, high levels of political hatred and medium level political violence stemming from the terrorism of the PKK and counter-terrorism of the state. Yet, meanwhile, life can go on as usual in much of Turkey, and we can still praise God for being a safe and stable nation in a dangerous neighborhood.  

The worse option is that thing can get worse. The authoritarianism of the government (in fact, more precisely, the presidency) can only deepen, as the push for the “presidential system” can polarize the society only more and bring more pressure on the non-pro-president media. This can lead to social reactions, mass protests and, in return, a more heavy-handed government. 

Meanwhile, the state can put on the old authoritarian gloves to deal with the “Kurdish problem,” such as banning the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) from politics and/or imprisoning its key politicians such as Selahattin Demirtaş (Demirtaş’s failure to oppose PKK terrorism is a big moral failure for himself which he will pay for by losing votes, but it will be only a disaster if the masters of Ankara exploit this to put him in jail. That will be the worst of “Old Turkey” coming to life, which will make the conflict with the PKK only worse). 

I, naturally, hope for the bad option to come true; that at least this is the new normal for Turkey for now. I even hope for a better future in the medium term, when Turkey gets out of the current dire straits and learns something from it. Yet for 2016, I can only tell you that we will be lucky if it turns out to be just like 2015.