A monument of democracy

A monument of democracy

Whatever anyone says, Turkey’s ninth president Süleyman Demirel is a living monument of democracy, not only because he was born in a remote Anatolian village, received most of his education as a boarder with a state scholarship, and became a director general of a leading state concern at the age of 30. His becoming deputy prime minister at the age of 35 or becoming the prime minister under whose leadership Turkey lived its golden development years of around 7 percent growth in the 1960s and 1970s were of course important, but they are not enough either. Demirel is a monument of democracy because of his commitment to free thought, free society and a participatory democracy, as opposed to the "allegiance culture" that this nation has been dragged into for the past decade or so.

Fidelity or “Vefa” in Turkish is not just the name of a district of Istanbul, or at least it should not be so. Even at the worst times of his life, when he was barred from politics and confined to a remote military barracks or to his Güniz Sokak residence, Demirel remained committed to democracy, never surrendered, and always placed the interests of the nation above all other considerations. He remained a man of moderation.

Once, regarding serious protests against his government, he said, “Roads will not be torn down by walking on them." For some time, people considered that statement to mean that he was indifferent to the protests, unmoved by their demands, and never seriously considered what was raised by them. However, more than three decades later he found an opportunity to be understood - when some newcomers to politics chose instead to crush demonstrations, when any sort of criticism was considered a sign of rebellion to be crushed ruthlessly, or when critics were banished to a concentration camp-like special prison at Silivri. What Demirel was saying was this: In democracies, the right to demonstrate and the right to protest are fundamental rights that governments ought to respect.

When he was elected president in 1993, it was Demirel who told this writer and many other journalists that he would climb the stairs to the presidency as the president of the entire country, “Party leadership must be with the party leader; the Prime Ministry must be with the prime minister, and the presidency should be the president of the entire country and every citizen. As president, I am above party politics, at equal closeness to everyone.”

Why did he not say, “I am at equal distance from everyone"? Years later, in a private discussion he explained to me that as president he wanted to underline that he is “close” to everyone, not “distant.”

Was it because of this “closeness” that he wanted to establish to all segments of the society, or because the nation wanted a politician who did not have any children to be honored with such a title, that Demirel was honored with the “father” or “Baba” alias?

The “Baba” had a special day yesterday. A monumental man was honored with a monumental social complex built in his hometown of İslamköy in the province of Isparta. The complex hosts not only Demirel's future burial ground, but also a rare museum and library on Demirel's achievements, as well as on the story of the development of Turkish democracy.

From a small Anatolian village; from a village boy, a part-time shepherd to the seat of director general, prime minister, president and a political monument respected even by his political opponents…

May God give him many more healthy years and continue enlightening the search for democracy in this country, particularly in these difficult times when autocracy is gradually, but mercilessly, veiling the country…

With my respects to the last living great political leader of Turkey…