Turkey should embrace democracy to keep up as a nation

Turkey should embrace democracy to keep up as a nation

The question recently rooted in the back of my mind as our parent newspaper, daily Hürriyet, launched a series of interviews with prominent figures from Turkish society to rediscover the shared values of the Turkish people, who have long been suffering from political, social and ethnic divisions. 

Doğan Holding chair Begümhan Doğan Faralyalı, in her introduction for the project titled “Let’s walk to the Future Together,” drew attention to the fact that the Turkish society nearly came to a point where it forgot all of its common values and interests as a result of enduring polarization.

As she underlined, the starting point of this project suggests that we, as the Turkish people, have more commonalities than differences but we are yet to rediscover them, especially in the aftermath of the July 15 failed coup attempt. What happened on that night bitterly taught the whole nation the vital importance of being one and united, as well as keeping around the great values of democracy and universally-accepted norms. 

The resurfacing of commonalities that make up a nation and paying full respect to ethnic, cultural, religious and political differences are the only ways for a country to strengthen its democratic fundamentals against all kinds of internal and external challenges. 

Given these deep divisions amongst the Turkish people and political polarization that paralyzed the entire political system from addressing the country’s fundamental problems, one would not be wrong in asserting that today’s Turkey is much more vulnerable to these challenges because of its own weaknesses. And the source of these weaknesses derives from the fact that we are quickly losing our ability to act like a united nation. 

Today’s picture of Turkey portrays us as rather pessimist; an Islamic-rooted government is in a big struggle against a powerful Islamist network controlled by a cleric, Fethullah Gülen, whose insiders in the Turkish military attempted to overthrow the democratically-elected government on July 15. 

Meanwhile outside our borders, nearly the entire world has come together to degrade and defeat the radical jihadist groups which long ago identified Turkey as one of their primary targets. In Europe, ultranationalist political groups are gaining more power every day and boosting Islamophobia. That has impacts on both Turks living abroad and rising anti-Western feelings inside the country. 

Another very dramatic line of division is ethnicity, which has turned into unending heavy clashes between Turkish security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The collapse of political talks to resolve the Kurdish question and the resumption of violence that nearly turned the country into a bloodbath were the reasons for the recently refueled ethnic tension in the country. This tension helps both Turkish and Kurdish nationalists further sharpen their language at the expense of planting more seeds of hate among their respective younger generations. 

Apart from these identities, Turkey’s seculars with mostly social democratic leanings are concerned about losing their living space and becoming psychologically distant from the rest of society. In their eyes, the fight between different Islamist groups for power was just more evidence of Turkey’s quickening Islamization process.   

Many of those in this group want to see Turkey enjoying first-class democracy as a member of the European Union, a country in full peace, comfort and prosperity. However, current political trends are far from helping Turkey reach that point in the foreseeable future. And that’s why the number of Turkish people, especially among the youth, seeking a better future abroad is constantly rising.   

Despite all this pessimism, there is still a chance for Turkey to reverse the flow of history. Although at risk, the political and social unity provided in the aftermath of coup attempt could still be used as the new basis of a social contract to embrace all different walks of life. And the only basis is democracy. 

To this end, the great portion of responsibility lies on the shoulders of the government and all political parties. The government should be careful to keep this unity around the very notion of a democratic Turkey and refrain from using its authority granted by the state of emergency to weaken it. Meanwhile, political parties should continue to make constructive opposition while denouncing all sorts of terrorism. 

After all, we are a nation, aren’t we?