Erdoğan’s ‘democratization package’

Erdoğan’s ‘democratization package’

Is the “democratization package” that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan announced this Monday a revolution for Turkish democracy? Well, not exactly. But it still is a helpful step forward.

First, significant reforms for Kurds, Turkey’s largest and most restless minority, have been introduced. Private schools will have the right to give education in the Kurdish language, (elective Kurdish language classes were already made available by the government last year). Kurdish names will not be banned by Turkish authorities with the silly reason that letters such as q, w and x are not a part of the Turkish alphabet. Authentic Kurdish names of villages that have been forcibly replaced by artificial Turkish ones will be returned to their originals, based on applications to the Interior Ministry. And the nationalist oath that every school child is forced to take, which begins with the proclamation, “I am a Turk!” will be abandoned. 

With all this, the Erdoğan government is removing almost all remnants of Turkey’s 80-year-old policy of enforced assimilation of the Kurds. This full appreciation of the Kurdish identity is really a major difference between the “old Turkey” of the Kemalists, and the “new Turkey” that Erdoğan claims to be building.

But does this make Kurdish nationalists happy? Well, not much. Right after the announcement of the package, speakers for the pro-Kurdish (more precisely, pro-PKK) Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), criticized it. Their main point is that the government has not introduced public schools with the Kurdish curriculum, which they see as a “human right.” (I, however, don’t think that governments have the duty to give education in every language that is demanded from them.) They also pointed out that there is no reform regarding the anti-terrorism law.

The real issue, however, is that the BDP has to dismiss and ridicule everything the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) does for the Kurds, because the AKP is their main competitor. (The Kurdish vote in Turkey goes either to the BDP or the AKP, the latter probably being slightly higher.) Secondly, the image of the Kurds as an oppressed people is the party’s main fuel, which it does not wish to lose.

On a few other issues, the package also brought important acts of liberalization. Women who wear the Islamic headscarf will be able to work in public jobs, ending a discrimination they have suffered from since the beginning of the republic. Erdoğan’s offers for decreasing the electoral threshold are also good, and promise better representation in Parliament.

There are two major issues on which the package has been disappointing, though. The first one is the Alevi issue. The only good news for Alevis is the symbolic naming of a university after their spiritual hero, Hacı Bektaş Veli, a medieval Sufi saint. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ has just said they would launch a “separate package” for Alevis, and we will see what that will bring. 

The other disappointment is that no reform has taken place to re-open the Halki Seminary of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The reason, it is said, is that Greece refuses to make any progress on opening a mosque in Athens. In other words, the already senseless principle of “reciprocity” between Turkey and Greece still works in the most senseless way: They oppress their Turks, we, in return, oppress our Greeks.