Sunday, September 26, 2010

Waking up to a freer country on September 13

As I said hello to you, our country took a very critical, precious step toward a brighter future. We cannot thank our country and our people enough. Our people lent support to amendments that will send the Constitution of the military coup of Sept. 12 to the dustbin of history and that directly targeted constitutional provisions that made up the backbone of the tutelary system set in place by the coup. Moreover, they did not let fear-mongering deceive them. And as I, like many of you, was going to the Beşiktaş courthouse on the morning of Sept. 13 to file an official complaint against the perpetrators of the 1980 coup, I felt in all of my cells that I had woken up to a freer country.
Actually, the people of Turkey have always acted with common sense at every turning point. Despite the military junta’s heavy pressure -- particularly on the Justice Party (AP) of Ragıp Gümüşpala, which tended to say “no” to the Constitution of 1961 imposed by the National Unity Committee (MBK) -- the referendum ended with a 35 percent “no” vote. Later, the Süleyman Demirel-led AP achieved an overwhelming victory against the military junta by securing 53 percent of the national vote in the 1965 general elections.

The Constitution of 1982 was a full-fledged show of tyranny with ballots placed in transparent envelopes and the state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation’s (TRT) broadcasts deliberately targeting naysayers. “Yes” votes reached 91 percent -- the natural result of the extraordinary oppression. Yet, the public chose not Turgut Sunalp [who founded the Nationalist Democracy Party (MDP)] or Calp Pashas [who established the left-leaning People’s Party (HP)] as openly directed by the military, but Turgut Özal’s Motherland Party (ANAP), which promised normalization and the return of civilian authority, garnering 45 percent in the first free elections in 1983.

Likewise, the post-modern coup of Feb. 28, 1997 was questioned and punished, as the victims of the coup were the winners of the 2002 elections. Carrying the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to power with 34 percent, the voters also slapped the e-memorandum of April 27 by giving 47 percent to the AK Party in the elections of July 22, 2007. Moreover, the referendum that made it possible for Abdullah Gül to be elected president should not be forgotten. As a response to the Constitutional Court’s 367 decision, the “yes” votes in the referendum held on Oct. 21, 2007 amounted to 70 percent.

This is the result of the natural human tendency to side with the good and fair. People obviously look for what is good for themselves and find it with perfect marksmanship. This wisdom of the general public is driven by their tendency to make correct decisions for themselves, for their children and for the future.

Let us now analyze the referendum results.

It is clear that the two political parties waging a “no” campaign, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), failed to persuade voters to lend support to their cause. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu not only failed to cast his vote but did not show up on referendum day. When he finally held a press conference to assess the results, he talked about how they ruined democracy and how they tried hard to get people to say “no.” Kılıçdaroğlu really did his best, but he failed to convince people as it was a matter not of performance but of content and justifiability. Naysayers did not have convincing or justifiable arguments.


Indeed, the only weapon in the arsenal of the “no” campaigners was fear. In other words, they opted for pumping fear into voters to secure their votes. They suggested that if the referendum ended in “yes,” Shariah would quickly enter Turkey from the common border with Iran and merge with collaborators inside to deal the final blow. They said the AK Party had a secret agenda and that Erdoğan had been assigned as a major agent of the Greater Middle East Project. The country would lose all of the achievements of the secular Kemalist republic and return to the dark ages.

This bias, or even hatred, seemingly targeting the AK Party and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could have only one explanation, though this is not openly voiced: Islamophobia. Secularists favored a marginal and unreal representation of religion that would put fear into the hearts of people by characterizing Islam as a bloodthirsty, uncompromising, unreasonable, unscientific and cartoonish religion that is the enemy of the modern. This characterization had served to give legitimacy to the “secular, modern, contemporary” Kemalist Turkey. The Müslüm Gündüz-Fadime Şahin scenarios, masterminded by Ergenekon members in the run-up to the post-modern coup of Feb. 28 were nothing but simulations designed for this purpose.

However, the emergence of an assertive middle class eager to integrate with the world and that is at peace with itself (compared to the neurotic and depressive Kemalists) and it coming to power with the reformist AK Party angered pro-tutelage groups to distraction. They rushed to design and implement the Blonde Girl (Sarıkız), Moonlight (Ayışığı) and Sea Sparkle (Yakamoz) coup attempts and when these failed to achieve their ends, the Council of State attack, the murder of priest Andrea Santoro, the murder of dear Hrant Dink and the slaughter of Christians in Malatya followed. Their plan was to put the blame for these crimes against humanity on Muslims, thereby creating political instability and eventually getting rid of the AK Party. But fortunately, this plan, too, failed.

Of course, these explanations are not sufficient to show the whole picture. Not all naysayer “citizens” are equally driven by these fear-instilling campaigns. This is also a class conflict between the “people” and “citizens” as well as between “blacks” and “whites.” The happy minority -- born and raised in the womb of the republic’s “acceptable citizen” project, voluntary supporters of the Jacobin interventions and entitled to become the bourgeois and capital group of the republic -- is not willing to abandon its privileges or share them with the “people.” And those who have not gained these privileges yet but consider themselves part of this class from a sociocultural perspective do not want millions of “blacks” to join. In fact, they all know that the AK Party has no agenda to turn the country into Iran and that this fear is completely fake.

Thus, we can depict the Sept. 12 referendum as a milestone in the elimination of the unfair competition created by the state between “blacks” and “whites.” Its impact may not be felt immediately, but its gradual effects will be on a much larger scale than initially thought. Politics will be rearranged and sit on a more realistic ground. With this hard blow dealt to the tutelary system, not only the CHP as the party of the whites but also the AK Party will have passed an important threshold. If Erdoğan translates this into a new enthusiasm for democratization -- by immediately starting work on a new, civilian constitution -- the AK Party will continue to shape the country as a reformist party for many years to come. This is because the AK Party now has no excuse for not acting with regard to the new constitution, the EU membership, the Kurdish issue, the Armenian issue and other initiatives. Of course, the most complicated and critical of these is the Kurdish issue.

In this regard, the speech Prime Minister Erdoğan gave after the referendum results were announced is refreshing. After leading his party to its seventh victorious trip to the ballot box since 1994, Erdoğan chose to use a humble and embracing language. He said that the “yes,” “no,” and “boycott” camps won and apologized for his harsh words during the referendum campaign. The 16-point difference between the “yes” and “no” votes implies that the people lend strong support to change despite the opposition parties’ efforts to portray the referendum as a vote of confidence for the AK Party.

The biggest loser in the referendum is the MHP, and its leader Devlet Bahçeli got a very strong warning from his voters. The fact that the “yes” votes were higher in 10 provinces where the MHP’s mayors are in office, including Bahçeli’s hometown of Osmaniye, means that the party was penalized by its voters for siding with the pro-tutelage parties.

In short, we have taken yet another bold step from fears to realities, from oppression to civilian politics, and from tutelage to democracy. May this benefit our country and people.

Todays Zaman, 17 September 2010, Friday

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