Turkey is missing another chance to change

Turkey is missing another chance to change

I tried to explain the difficulties that Turkey has faced since the July 15 coup attempt and criticized Europeans for their negative attitudes toward Turkey during the European Forum in Alpbach last week. In fact, all speakers from Turkey and Europe shared similar approaches and the mood in the panel was very positive in the discussion on “Turkey between Regional Aspirations and Challenges.” Nevertheless, when I came back, I found out that Turkey is moving more in another direction.

As I tried to explain that there is a new consensus, at least between secularists and conservatives, the opening ceremony for the new judicial year turned into a political crisis among President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his governing party and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). The opposition leader protested the ceremony since the event took place in the new Presidential Palace (which is curiously being called the “campus” by the president and his party). The CHP leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, argued that it violated the principle of judicial independence and then criticized the judges who looked subservient to the president during the ceremony. The president responded with the criticism that the opposition had violated “the spirit of unity” which was reflected in the Yenikapı rally on Aug. 7. Now, it seems clearer that the so-called “consensual politics” are being perceived and manipulated by Erdoğan and his party as political domination in the name of “unity” and “the spirit of Yenikapı.”

As I tried to argue that the Kurdish issue was being discussed in Europe regardless of the mistakes of the Kurdish political body and of the problems with the escalation of armed attacks, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım denounced the possibility of any solution by stating that “there is no such thing as a solution. It is over, the Kurds lost their chance.” Besides, more journalists are being arrested for supporting Kurdish politics. 

By the way, I have to note that the banned Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem is the semi-official voice of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and defends Kurdish attacks as “revolutionary war” and that some Turkish journalists and writers support it in the name of “freedom of expression” even though even Timothy Gordon Ash could find it controversial. Nonetheless, everybody knows that some of those journalists and writers who have been arrested have nothing to do with terrorism and that the arrests are more a signal of the growing politics of deterrence and fear.

Finally, as I replied to the criticisms on the widening purge on the opposition, I said I was against any kind of purge, even if it only targets Gülenists or those who have some sort of real or imagined affiliation with the group. I then explained that, so far, “the witch hunt” has only targeted those who are accused of belong to the Gülenist group. Indeed, new decrees by the power of law were enforced to expand the numbers of those who lost their civil service jobs to 50,000. As we discussed that, the government defended the state of emergency by drawing comparisons with France, given that Turkey also faced great peril with the coup attempt. 

Although France failed the test of freedoms by banning the burkini for a few weeks, nobody in France attempted to use the state of emergency to rule the country by decrees which do not have “legal power” but “power beyond law.” Turkey faces a new danger of being ruled by decrees which would replace the rule of law as the government will not need a political consensus anymore because it can rule by decree.

Going back to the Alpbach panel discussion, the final word was that Turkey needs its friends and allies’ empathy and encouragement to chart a course in a democratic direction after facing a great threat to its democracy. Also, Turkey’s friends and allies should engage with Ankara rather than alienating it, but we should also note that nobody can help those who cannot help themselves. 

The terrible coup attempt could turn out to be a chance for a new beginning that Turkey badly needs, but it seems that we are on the verge of missing another chance.