Turkey’s ‘feel-good’ moment
Every country needs its “feel-good” moments, and this year’s Republic Day was such a moment for Turkey. This is good coming as it does after months of political tensions at home that have revealed the deep social and political divisions within the country.
Tensions continue as a result of these divisions but the nation still got a chance to reflect on other things momentarily. What was particularly pleasing was that everyone celebrated the occasion even if they did so according to their own political and social inclinations.
The Presidential Ball held every year on this day was also telling in this respect. Contrary to what has happened in previous years, no one boycotted the ball or was forbidden from attending it for one political reason or another. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) was there, as was the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) which many MHP supporters consider to be a treacherously separatist party.
The main opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP) also opted not to be a spoiler this year and refrained from boycotting the ball in the name of upholding Turkish secularism against attempts by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to erode it.
No one was bothered, in other words, that there were women with Islamic headscarves in attendance. Kemalist nationalists have made an issue out of this in the past. Similarly, no one was bothered that alcohol was being served for those who desired.
These may sound like silly points to make but those who know Turkey know how such issues can turn into major problems in this country. It was not strange, therefore, to see President Abdullah Gül beaming with satisfaction.
The inauguration of the massive Marmaray project linking two continents by a tunnel
60 meters under the Bosphorus, thus realizing a 150-year-old dream, was one of the high points of this year’s Republic Day festivities, of course. It showed what can be achieved by Turkey when it puts its imagination, determination and resources to work.
But celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the republic, a truly massive project that has been through more than one trial-by-fire and is still being tested in many ways, also represents an achievement which was no doubt the dream of the founding fathers.
The concluding spectacular light and music show in Istanbul, which included a massive firework display with the Bosphorus Bridge as the centerpiece, on the other hand, was equal to the best the world has seen.
With the centenary of the republic a decade away, Turkey revealed itself once more, despite all its problems, to be a country that has not only achieved much, but one that also has the potential to develop even more.
Whatever cynical Europeans may make of all this, those in the Middle East who are trying to pull their countries out of the morass of political, economic and social backwardness no doubt noted the occasion with a mixture of longing and satisfaction.
This year’s Republic Day celebrations in Turkey, more than any previous one, pointed to what a predominantly Islamic society can achieve if it gets its priorities right. Now, however, the party is over and it is the “day after” when we have to face up to what Turkey has not achieved yet.
There is still a long way to go to establish the “advanced democracy” Prime Minister Erdogan talks about. Despite impressive growth rates economic inequalities continue.
The Gezi Park protests, on the other hand, revealed a youth with modern expectations which have to be met and can not be suppressed with police brutality.
Meanwhile the Kurdish and Alevi problems continue to fester and it is clear that until these are solved true peace will not come to Turkey. Turkey’s “feel-good moment” should therefore not blind us to the things that have yet to be done.
But the confidence and promise this moment reflected should not be minimized either. Turkey remains an ongoing project and there is still much work to be done.