The lovers and haters of Erdoğan
Turkey’s political scene has often been toxic, and there have always been deeply resentful political camps engaged in bitter fights. The polarization of the past two years, however, is arguably unprecedented. Thank God, it is not violent, as was the case in the 1970s, when “leftists” and “rightists” shot each other on the streets, or the 1990s, when security forces and Kurdish separatists engaged in a “low-intensity civil war.” But this polarization is still no less intense in terms of the mutual hatred of the opposing political camps.
At the core of this polarization, there is really a single individual: President Tayyip Erdoğan. Part of the nation loves him passionately, whereas another part hates him, again passionately. His “New Turkey” makes the first part feel secure, happy and cheerful, while making the second part insecure, unhappy and resentful.
This social scene is nicely represented in the media. Most newspaper columnists and TV commentators can be put into two broad categories: The lovers of Erdoğan and the haters of Erdoğan. Even when they are writing on seemingly unrelated issues, such as the minute details of the economy or foreign policy, their subtext is either the greatness or the poverty of Erdoğan’s policies.
That is why both sides are actually increasingly boring. Take the pro-Erdoğan commentators, for example. There are more than a hundred of them. (About a dozen each in the seven staunchly pro-Erdoğan papers, and several others even in the “secular mainstream.”) I hardly read them anymore, because I know that in every single thing they write or say, they will be basically telling me how amazing Erdoğan is and how evil his enemies are.
Even if these people say something remotely critical about “the government,” this will be carefully worded to make sure that Erdoğan is not disturbed. (Government ministers, advisors, and bureaucrats can be criticized, but Erdoğan is beyond the pale.) When there is a gross wrongdoing by “the Chief,” as his supporters call him, these columnists will either try to rationalize it or totally dismiss it.
Mind you, the haters of Erdoğan can be similarly boring. This is because whatever the issue is, they will take the anti-Erdoğan position, criticizing if not condemning everything he does. If there is any objective success of “the dictator,” as they call him, they will either try to recast it as a failure or totally dismiss it.
To be sure, there are still some objective voices remaining, but there aren’t too many. Moreover, they are increasingly less popular, as they fail to satisfy the zeal of both opposing camps. They are sometimes accused of being spineless, wishy-washy, and even cowards.
Personally speaking, I am trying to be one of those objective voices, and I try to be issue-based. I am highly critical of Erdoğan’s authoritarianism, nepotism, hubris and the way he demonizes his opponents. But I support his “peace process” with Kurdish separatists. Regarding Syria, I support his amenity to the refugees and his opposition to the tyranny of Bashar al-Assad. But I also criticize his recklessness about the extremists within the opposition, which ultimately evolved into the notorious ISIL.
How Turkey will get out of this mad polarization and restore reason is unclear. In the past, when we Turks got so mad, the army would come, kill and torture some of us, and open a new page. Now we have to open the new page ourselves. I don’t know a better way than to try to help preserve reason, regardless of how unpopular it might be.