Quo Vadis, Turkey?

Quo Vadis, Turkey?

I was born just after World War II. 

With the Depression and the war behind us, the era of strongman regimes was over. It wasn’t just Mussolini, Hitler or Franco; Churchill was rejected at the polls. After Roosevelt, the United States imposed a two-term limit. The Soviets rejoiced at Stalin’s death. Mao had not yet become a monster. We   saw the end of colonialism and blatant imperialism. 

The Cold War was limited to a few proxy wars between the superpowers, and as in the case of Turkey and many Latin American countries, military coups when the balance of power between them was provoked. In education, health and workers’ rights, states became socially responsible. 

Turkey, too, which had a constitutional monarchy under the Ottomans, once more had a viable multi-party system.

What happened?

The demise of democracy is unnoticed amid the scandals, tragedies and wars in our daily lives. When the U.S. and the United Kingdom continue to wage wars against their people’s wishes, yet have the support of mainstream parties, something is more than “rotten in the state of Denmark.”

Those once looked upon as heroes for helping people escape from war zones are now condemned as smugglers by those who bombed their countries in the first place. That we’ve lost our sense of perspective and irony was evident recently when Cuba, subject to terrorism and assassination attempts against its president for decades, was removed from Washington’s list of countries supporting terrorism.  

In the so-called democracies, the executive has expanded at the expense of the judicial and the legislative.

The biggest trade pact in world history, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement (TTIP), which is expected to determine 40 percent of the world’s economy, is being negotiated in secret between 14 governments. It will allow multinationals to sue countries when their profitability margins are threatened. If not for WikiLeaks, the world would not have known. With the lack of public trust in governments and the post-enlightenment audacity declaring “God is dead!” religious fundamentalism and militancy is on the rise.

Enter Turkey.

It’s election time. People feel empowered. Every vote counts. But there’s also unspoken fear. The country has never been so close to war since a century ago when Enver Paşa, on a megalomaniacal quest, secretly negotiated with the kaiser and took the country into World War I.  

How Turkey got here history may never write. Without freedom of the press (Turkey ranks 154th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index), one just doesn’t know. 

But pointing the finger at one man masks the issue.

Here’s an example: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calls it his “mad project.” For him, this is not a case of megalomania. Embellished with a cocktail of neo-fundamentalist messages, he’s applauded for dreaming the impossible. The project is an airport and a canal to join the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. His oft-repeated vision is for his country to become a world power. Without questioning at what cost, we the people like that.  The airport is to be the world’s biggest. Many see a potential environmental disaster. Safety is a question because of unpredictable Black Sea winds, birds flying into engines and the instability of runways built on landfill.

I was at the site last week, although my way was barred by gendarmes. Locals are being forced to become the urban unemployed. Photography was forbidden.  

This is not the project of one man who got carried away with his power.

It could not have even begun without the banks who stand to pocket billions in profits from underwriting loans. Airplane manufacturers, airlines, insurance and oil companies, security firms and airport shopping arcades, all stand to benefit. Over half the land set aside is for speculators to build gated communities, shopping malls and business centers.

Is there a need for a new airport?  If the idea is to get us from point A to B in an efficient, environmentally friendly and comfortable way, the answer is no! 

Existing airports are more than enough to handle long-haul flights.

A bullet train from Istanbul to Berlin would take three hours, Paris an hour-and-a-half longer.   

An accountable government in a functioning democracy could not have gone ahead with this project. 

The election is June 7. 

What do I see happening?

More of the same.

But wait. 

In Turkey and elsewhere, the young are building what I call the New Silk Road.

In hunter-gatherer, agricultural and industrial societies, it was the adults who taught the young. For the first time in the history, the old are learning from the young.

You know them from Spain, Brazil, England, the U.S., Greece and as Gezi in Turkey. We had called the youth apolitical, self-indulgent and interested only in music, clothing and endless chatter over the internet. Yet they are the world’s first global citizens with a consciousness for our planet. They do not march in ideological footsteps. They have no leaders, no hierarchical structures, but come together as movements connecting both locally and globally. Instead of the grim face of the revolutionary, they have a sense of humor. Having cast aside their national and religious identities, they are creating a new world culture over the net and as international students.  Most important of all, they don’t want to fight. More and more nation-states have to resort to professional armies, mercenaries and cyber warfare to enforce their power against both enemies and, when push comes to shove, citizens. 

Quo vadis, Turkey?

Quo vadis, world?

You don’t have to wait and see.

It’s happening right before our eyes.

In the meantime, the job of the new parliament is to adopt a new constitution, also curtailing presidential powers, and then call for new and fair elections.