Losing my country

Losing my country

For long, Western governments and even liberal democrats turned a blind eye to Turkey’s slide into authoritarianism as long as Turkey’s politics suited Western interests and clichés. Many dismissed the critics of authoritarian politics as whims of the “members of an alienated secular elite who had lost their privileges." They were never concerned with the injustices of the purge that was dubbed the Ergenekon trials in the name of “ending military hegemony over civilian politics.” 

It was true even for the mismanagement of Kurdish policies; I remember a left-wing EU parliamentarian I met at a Kurdish conference in Brussels who almost defended the Turkish government’s reluctance to investigate the affair when 34 civilians were bombed by a military jet in Roboski. Besides, all Western governments encouraged Turkey to get involved in the Syrian war and to help the so-called “moderate opposition.” The main opposition group, the Free Syrian Army, was founded in Turkey with Western knowledge and support. Beforehand, the Turkish government policy of neo-Ottomanism and an aspiring regional leadership was given immense credit, mostly due to the effort to counter-balance Iran’s increasing power in the Middle East. Moreover, Turkey was promoted as a model country for the invention of “Muslim democracy.”

At the time, secularism/secularist was a curse word which was supposedly at odds with democracy. Many books and articles were published in the first decade of the 2000s, claiming that secularism was not an authentic value for Muslim societies, that secularist politics had no social legitimacy and that the West should choose “necessary engagement” with moderate Islamists. I defined this discourse as “democracy bon pour l’Orient,” only to be snubbed by native and foreign liberal democrats. Only after the rift between Western and the Turkish government’s policies on Syria and the whole Middle East grew and both started to become skeptical of each other did Turkey start to be portrayed as a more authoritarian country. Nevertheless, this time things turned upside down and went to the other extreme, especially after the July 15 coup attempt. This time, Western friends and allies chose to turn a blind eye to the danger that Turkey faced that night and even after, instead adopting almost conspiratorial views on perhaps a “pseudo coup” rather than expressing real concern and giving swift support to civilian politics. 

Regardless of whether there is still a great risk of further authoritarianism as a response to the coup attempt, the first Western reaction should have been positive engagement with the civilian politicians of the government and the opposition to encourage Turkey to channel its politics in a democratic direction. Instead, Western governments and the media confined its coverage of Turkey to Turkey-bashing. 

As I have written before, we know what happens when Western politics and public opinion are shaped by blind curses against authoritarian-nationalist leaders and regimes in countries like ours. First of all, the negative Western reactions lead to the rise of domestic anti-Westernism, extreme nationalism and further authoritarianism before creating further polarization and tension inside and isolation from the international community outside. Finally they become a self-fulfilling prophecy that results in “failed” or rapidly failing states. Even the arch opponents of the worst authoritarian regimes and leaders expressed nostalgia even for Saddam’s Iraq, an adviser to the Bush administration’s Kanan Malik being one. 

I do not want to lose my country, which may lead to similar turmoil, not just because of its rulers’ mismanagement of the crises but also because of the whims of Western policies.