Inconvenient Truths about ‘New Turkey’
It may sound odd but, we have to admit that the recent picture of Turkey is shocking, but not surprising! Now it is time (or is it too late?) to talk about the inconvenient truths about the so-called “New Turkey.”
For so long, it was assumed that Turkey was on the right path of democratization and that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in power, eliminated the military hegemony. It is true that AKP’s coming to power after the 2002 elections was a sort of democratic revolution. Since then, the AKP managed to alter the role of the military in civil politics and could eliminate the rigidly secularist official ideology. Nevertheless, this was the limit of “democratization” by AKP politics since the goal of the AKP was not to change the authoritarian political system but to eliminate the secularist authorities and centers of power. Then it was a sheer takeover of power from secularists to conservatives, full stop!
The last attempt of the previous status quo was the closure case of AKP in 2008, and fortunately it failed. Since then, the story is all about monopolization of power in the hands of the AKP. Nonetheless, it turned to be inconvenient to talk about the rise of a new sort of authoritarianism in Turkey, despite all evidences. The basic mistake was to only focus on Kemalism, as the only source of authoritarian political tradition in Turkey. It is assumed that if the Kemalist establishment was removed Turkey would end up with full fledged democratization despite the fact that the AKP has always been a proud representative of conservative authoritarianism.
First of all, most observers of politics based their analysis on the wishful thinking that economic and political pragmatism of moderate Islamists (not only in Turkey but in all Muslim societies) would lead democratization and turned blind eye to illiberal shortcomings of social and political vision of the conservatives. Then, the neo-Ottomanism of AKP was thought to be an asset in regional politics and an antidote against Kemalist nationalism and many observers failed to recognize that neo-Ottomanism was an “irredentist version of Turkish nationalism.”
In fact, one only needs to read the political speeches and newspapers of AKP politicians and supporters to realize the defects of conservatives’ political discourse and general vision concerning liberal-democratic society and polity. The political discourse of AKP conservatism has been increasingly, illiberal, narrow-minded, xenophobic and conspiratorial and even sectarian, especially in the last four years.
For instance, it was not the first time that the AKP discourse turned out to be sectarian after the prime minister and his deputy accused the opposition CHP leader of supporting Assad in Syria because of his sectarian affiliation in August 2012. Long before, the AKP presented its judicial reform in 2010, as a fight against Alawi domination in the judiciary.
This, then, is not the first time that Turkey has been at odds with the EU and especially with Germany nowadays, Erdoğan accused German NGOs of targeting Turkey’s unity, as early as October 2011.
It was the most explicit expression of conspiracy-mindedness when the prime minister and his party accused the Western conspirators, media and their collaborators for the Gezi revolt, but it was not the first time. It is a national sport to play with conspiracy theories for all odds, and the conservative circles are much more experienced in this sport than their Kemalist counterparts. After all, the conservative reading of the history of modernism, in Turkey and elsewhere, is totally based on a belief in a grand “Jewish conspiracy.” Let alone overcoming this mindset, as late as April 2012 even some “liberal minds” were toying with conspiratorialism, when it was suggested that the February 29 coup had an Israeli connection.
Finally, unless Turkey starts to question and overcome its conservative authoritarian political tradition as well as Kemalism’s legacy, there will be no prospect for democratization. The Gezi revolt showed the shortcomings of the new version of authoritarianism in the name of “New Turkey,” now it is time to challenge it.