It is hard to foresee the Turkey of 2023

It is hard to foresee the Turkey of 2023

I will begin this piece with an honest confession: As a Turkey observer, I failed in the first decade of this century to foresee the second decade. By the year 2010, I was very optimistic about “New Turkey,” believing it was on the road to becoming a liberal democracy. By 2016, however, we are, at best, a very illiberal democracy. In fact, with the notable and important exception of free elections, there is very little reason left today to count Turkey among the democracies of the world. Other criteria, such as rule of law, separation of powers, independent judiciary, freedom of speech and a free press, are sinking rapidly.

Why did this major decline take place? Well, naturally the largest blame goes for those who rule Turkey today. But let me tell you, they are not the only ones who are responsible. Their “enemies within” also are.

The bureaucratic wing of the Gülen Movement, which is now a victim of a vicious witch-hunt, is also responsible by really building a sort of a “parallel state,” both making the government extremely paranoid and also giving it perfect leverage to dominate every institution it wants. The former elites, the secular Kemalists, are also responsible for oppressing the religious conservatives for decades, only to nurture the yearning for vengeance that now targets them. The Kurdish nationalists, on which some naïve, liberal-lefty hopes were mistakenly placed, are also responsible, by never abandoning terrorism as a weapon and thus deepening the nation’s sense of besiegement. 

In other words, we failed as a nation. We failed to build a civilized county in which everyone feels safe, secure and dignified. Our narrow-minded communitarianism and our self-righteous arrogance did not allow us to build a social contract based on respectful coexistence (to be fair, the only consolation may be that we are not only ones failing to do that, just look at the America of Donald Trump).

For worse, from this national failure, there emerged a growingly scary Leviathan. The ruling ideology today is not only “authoritarian,” to use political science terminology, but also “totalitarian.” It envisions a supreme leader who is not just the embodiment of the nation, but who also mobilizes the nation against “enemies within.” It envisions a state which will restructure society from top-to-bottom, from media to business, from “the youth” to the family. And it relies on a historical narrative of glory and treason, of building a new world order and being stabbed in the back.

Now, please note that I referred to “the ruling ideology,” not the system. For the current system that Turkey has, a parliamentary democracy largely adapted to European standards, does not fit into this ideology. That is why the ideology, which has crystallized since late 2013, has been pushing and bending the system, while passionately calling for a new one called “the presidential system.”

Where will this ambition take Turkey in the years ahead? How far will it go till 2023, the centennial of the republic? How much will it suffocate the “enemies within”? How much will it escalate the conflict with Kurdish separatists? These are very serious questions for which I really have no good answers. I just learned to be more cautious than optimistic, given the failure of my optimism of the past decade. 

NOTE: For a new book I am working on, I will be off till the end of April. Hope to see you in May.