The need for Turkey’s reform

The need for Turkey’s reform

Turkey is coming under increased pressure from European partners to make a return to, irrespective of what it’s called, the “peace process,” the “Kurdish opening” or “to strive for national togetherness” - whatever that means. A Turkey with a “constant hypertensive relationship” with a portion of its own population cannot for obvious reasons be an example of tranquility, peace and stability for its neighboring trauma-striven nations.

Now the parliamentary elections are over. Turkey and the EU are back at some degree of normalization in the troubled accession process. There are talks - of course depending on developments in Cyprus - to open at least two more chapters. Has the time not come for Turkey to rehash with some magical touch the Kurdish opening?

The opening of the chapters pertaining to financial and economic policies, as well as those on granting Turks visa-free circulation in the European Union and the one on enhancing the freedom of expression sphere in Turkey, might produce radical improvements in the climate not only between Ankara and the Western club of democracies, but the domestic climate here as well. One might think, indeed, that even if these chapters are not officially opened - due to the Cyprus factor or something else - just starting the preparation to open them will influence the situation in the country. Would that not have a positive impact on the problems pertaining to the perception of human rights and liberties, including of course the right to expression, in this country? Right, we may turn a blind eye to Greek Cypriots yelling from Nicosia that any effort to re-energize Turkish-EU relations must past through Turkey fulfilling its commitments pertaining to Cyprus. Yet, Cyprus is an EU member and even if it is a tiny nuance compared to Germany, France, Britain and other heavyweights of the bloc, one state is one vote, and Cyprus as a member has a veto right. On the other hand, the overall interests of the union may compel Greek Cypriots to take a step back and give up their perennial “problem-maker” status for a while.

Even that will not help much. Like most parts of the world Turkey marked Human Rights Day, with a ban on the commemoration of the 103 victims who perished in a “mysterious” Oct. 10 blast in the heart of Ankara. Why were the people prevented from commemorating their beloved ones? Was it because the government was scared some fingers might point to the state as a probable culprit of the carnage? Even if the state and the government could not be accused of complicity in that bloodshed, is it not the right of the people to complain of “official ignorance” in both the development of the tragedy as well as in the failure to capture the culprits and bring them to justice?

The Ankara blast was just one example of a gross violation of the fundamental human right: The right to live. What happened at Suruç? Who killed all those people? What happened at the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) rally in southeastern Diyarbakır? Who killed all those people? Arresting a lone assailant cannot be an answer. Such incidents cannot be staged by one or two persons alone. That is what the government should look at when it talks of “organized gang activity” rather than pointing at journalists or academics who dare to criticize it or the almighty sultan of the grotesque palace.

Getting 3 billion euros from the EU and fending off Turkish borders to stop the refugee influx into Europe was a positive result of the last EU-Turkey Summit. No one is, of course, paying Turkey cash at the moment. Probably no one will pay a penny to Turkey and instead spend that amount to finance schooling and accommodation, as well as create employment opportunities for Syrian refugees. In exchange Turkey’s neo-Ottomanist Islamist ruling clan might benefit a bit from some positive remarks coming from the EU and some lax on visa policies. The problem, however, is how to integrate these people into Turkish society. On that, the government has not yet made a decision. Will these people stay here forever as “guests” or will they become Turkish citizens one day? Is Turkey prepared to embrace some three million new citizens tomorrow? If not, is there any plan for what to do with these people tomorrow, as the Syria crisis is not going to end any time soon and the refugees will continue coming in in tens of thousands?

Irrespective of which end this issue is handled from, it is difficult. Turkey itself must go through a mindset revolution and recognize, for example, the right to live for all of its citizens throughout the country. Şırnak and Istanbul are both parts of Turkey and throughout the country the same laws should apply without discrimination. Only after the right to live is respected in full might it become important and indeed relevant to think about how to improve other rights, including that of expression.