Engaging Turkey

Engaging Turkey

Turkey’s pretense of being a Western(ized), secular country has long been challenged as being “superimposed.” I, for one, have always been a critic of the “radical Westernization project” of the Republican regime, since it could only be enforced by authoritarian politics. It led to the suppression of not only religious freedoms and the closure of Islamist parties, but also of basic freedoms, like the ban on headscarves in universities before finally culminating with the so-called 1997 post-modern coup. 

Still, the pretense and idea was not negative ipso facto, as it could have also worked as a positive force. If the Republicans had not been eager to pretend that Turkey would soon become part of the Western world, they would not have imposed the principle of secularism and women’s rights, for instance. The problem was the failure of the Republican project to adjust the dominant ambitions and pretensions to democratic ways. 

After the 1997 coup, Islamists branded themselves as “conservative democrats” when they founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Their pretense of being eager for the democratization of Turkey has this time been challenged as “hypocrisy.” Unfortunately, it has emerged that their pretense only led to cheating the system, rather than enforcing democratization.

Nonetheless, I think that pretense and even hypocrisy could be a positive force, unless they fail to learn from their experience. At the outset, perhaps Islamists were not true democrats and only used the democratic argument to achieve some sort of Islamic state and society. Nevertheless, they were able to learn the value of democracy as they achieved a lot by using democratic ways and by speaking the language of democracy.

In this sense, hypocrisy was able to work in a positive way.

 Now, we are only left with one final chance: the governing party’s pretense of being a Western ally and valuing the country’s EU candidacy. It can easily be challenged as insincere and opportunistic. We all know that it is not only the Islamists but also all nationalists and right-wingers who are ever and over-skeptical concerning the Western world and its values. Under various circumstances, the present government circles have not hesitated to define their allies as plotters and even enemies of Turkey. Nevertheless, it is the last chance; unless they come to their senses and realize the ramifications of losing Turkey’s old partners and friends, this country will be totally doomed. It is also true of dissent in Turkey; if the current government does not maintain at least minimal relations with the democratic world, Turkey will become more closed, single-minded and repressive. Under such circumstances, even the worst agreement with the EU should be welcomed; likewise, U.S. President Barack Obama’s meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should not be resented but celebrated. Similarly, the best choice for democratic countries is the “politics of engaging Turkey” rather than alienating it if they wish to help Turkey overcome its difficulties. That is why our dissident friends should stop criticizing Western leaders for not being tough enough in their criticism of the democracy deficit in Turkey, since it is much better to take our government’s pretense seriously. What do you think would happen if they stopped pretending?

Does anybody know any country whose leader or president has been labelled a dictator – resulting in the country being expelled from the international community – marching toward a bright future? So why are some of us hoping that if Erdoğan and his government loses all credit in the international arena, it will open the way to democracy and freedom? The recent history of our region proves otherwise. That is not to say that we have to refrain from being critical of the present authoritarian rule – absolutely not! I only suggest that we have to take the democratic struggle seriously and try to succeed in finding a way out rather than “expecting our country to collapse in order to get end authoritarianism.”