The desperate times of Turkey

The desperate times of Turkey

Sometimes, history seems as if it is all just a constant repetition of mistakes, based on human weaknesses. These are times of turmoil, uncertainty and despair. I was once almost “despised” by many when I first expressed my concerns about Turkey’s slide into “civil authoritarianism” at the end of 2009.  After all, at the time I was only skeptical about the so-called “democratization process,” when most of the democratic intellectuals thought the famous Ergenekon trials were a turning point for eliminating the authoritarian status quo and that democratization was on a safe path. Unfortunately, I turned out to be right; but apparently I was still very optimistic, because what has happened since then has been much worse than I could imagine. Now, I can only express my feeling of despair. Now, this is a country that suffers not only from grave political crises, but it is now a country of “divided hearts and minds.”

The latest expression of divide and enmity between different segments of society and politics was the funeral of a 15-year-old boy, who was wounded during the Gezi protests last July and eventually died on March 11. If death cannot unite, then nothing else can; and the death of a boy could not unite but in fact further divided Turkey. The most worrying thing is that it was PM Erdoğan who escalated tension and division. He not only refused to express his condolences, but also accused the dead boy and his family in front of thousands of his supporters at an election meeting. Furthermore, he defended the policeman who shot the boy, saying he could not have known the age of the protester he targeted, as if deliberately targeting protesters could be a legitimate police action. On top of everything, Erdoğan also accused the opposition over the death of the young man who was killed on the night of the March 12 funeral by an extreme and dubious leftist group. Worse, he also once again reminded of the suffering in Syria, Palestine and Egypt and stated that the prayers of Syrians, Libyans, Egyptians were “enough” for him.

It is obvious that in the eyes of PM Erdoğan, all those who do not vote for him are just “trouble makers” who should be punished and suppressed by all means. Besides, the fact that those who were killed during the Gezi protests - including the 15-year-old boy who died recently - were all Alevis and his discourse can further provoke sectarian tensions does not bother Erdoğan. Likewise, he does not hesitate to hint that it is more important for him to get the support of pious Sunni Muslims who pray for him even beyond the borders of Turkey. Still, I am not inclined to define his politics purely in terms of Sunni Islamism, even if that is part of it. In fact, his politics is a curious mixture of power blindness and a feeling of failure. On the one hand, Erdoğan and his team have managed to accumulate enormous power that they could never have imagined having, but on the other hand they have not been able to cope with the challenges of governing Turkey. That is why, I think, the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) politics express not only arrogance and over-confidence, but also anger and disappointment. Erdoğan and his team are unable to comprehend the fact that Turkey is a far too complex society to be governed by majoritarian measures guided by “Islamo-nationalist populism.” (Although the “nationalist” aspect of the AKP’s populist ideology has so far been neglected, I have always suggested that so-called neo-Ottomanism is a version of Turkish nationalism).  

In fact, in all cases throughout history, authoritarianism has always been more an expression of weakness than of strength. As for conspiratorialism - which is the main component of authoritarian regimes - only those who cannot grasp the complexity of politics, society and history seek refuge in conspiracies, be they Islamist, nationalist or socialist versions of conspiratorialism and despotism.

That is why, at certain times, history seems to be an ever repeating expression of human weaknesses, with tragic results. Turkey is currently living such a moment of its history. More than anything else, it is a “desperate time” or a “time of despair.