We recently entered into another heated atmosphere of debate, this time over the latest student protests and how they were supressed by police.
The debates started to roll on when several students from the Student Collective protested the meeting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was having with university rectors at Dolmabahçe Palace and attempted to enter. They were prevented from doing so by the police. And at all once politics got immersed completely in it.
It later flared up further when the same group hurled eggs at Süheyl Batum of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Burhan Kuzu of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), who had been invited to deliver speeches on the Constitution at Ankara University. Batum was luckier.
Indeed, the aggressive group was ideologically closer to the CHP. However, Kuzu, a distinguished scholar and professor of constitutional law and a fair-minded politician, was the target of an egg-throwing attack that goes well beyond the right to protest. This angered Kuzu, who almost called students “brainless” and said that the dean must resign. Prime Minister Erdoğan lent support to Kuzu, saying that university management failed to take measures to prevent the attack.
Thus, we were forced, as usual, to depart from the very heart of the debate, or more correctly, we were brandished away from the essence of the debate to superficiality. Although we should be discussing the encounter between students and police officers, which ended up with a pregnant girl losing her baby, and how this encounter could happen in a civilized country, the topic was diverted to another dimension leading to Ergenekon, on the one hand, and to self-imposed boundaries of protest, on the other.
Indeed, we once again found ourselves in the harshness of having lost our habit of peaceful coexistence.
I frequently reiterate that Turkey has been witnessing a large-scale contention over power and ideology since 2002, when the AK Party stepped in as the single-party government. Sometimes we forget about the whole picture and are lost in the chemistry of the debate we are having at the moment. This is because much of the debate is shaped not according to the subject matter at hand, but as per the very sides to that subject matter.
Opposition stemming from hatred
It is crystal clear that there are some groups that harshly oppose, out of their hatred of the AK Party, whatever it says, does and represents. The AK Party has become the most successful and most impressive political party of the republican era. As it gets ready for its third term in office, the AK Party’s former foreign minister is now sitting in the highest post in the country along with his headscarved wife, and serving at the same time as commander-in-chief. For the Kemalists, the fact that such a person occupies Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s position while the second highest position -- that of prime minister -- is being occupied by a strong, successful and charismatic politician who asserts his Muslim identity and whose wife also wears a headscarf, and who is a former member of the National View (Milli Görüş) is the proper description of hell.
This is because they believe this country truly belongs only to them. They see these positions as stolen from them, i.e., the dominant nation. The Muslim masses -- with whom they never thought of sharing power or whom they would never allow to come close to power and who would give them a sense of nightmare when they saw them in the cities -- have emerged as a social, political and economic phenomenon, creating a trauma for them from which they are very unlikely to recover.
Accordingly, military coups, Ergenekon-type networks, the continuation of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorism, heavy economic crises, natural disasters such a big earthquakes that may destabilize the country, all sorts of killings, massacres, rebellions, etc., are miracles they anxiously wait for. For in this way they expect the AK Party will be neutralized and this “counter revolution” will end.
They can therefore not be expected to view recent fault lines such as Ergenekon, the judiciary, the coup plans, the constitutional amendments, etc., from the perspective of principles, universal law and human rights. What happens then? On the surface, they argued against the referendum package, held on Sept. 12, 2010, and many of the victims of the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup said “no” to the package, which sought to allow the trial of the perpetrators of that coup, but on the morning of Sept. 13, 2010, they rushed to the Sultanahmet Courthouse to file an official complaint against Kenan Evren, the chief of General Staff who overthrew the government during that coup, or they buy stability from the İstanbul Stock Exchange (İMKB), predicting the referendum outcome to be “yes” ahead of Sept. 12, and realize their profits on Sept. 13.
This may sound a contradiction to you or me, but it is certainly very consistent behavior for them.
But there is more. As seen in the latest incident, we actually do not discuss anything; we just pretend to do so. The content of these so-called debates is insignificant as the intention is to give the greatest damage to the other side.
It is essentially a war. The tools or weapons of war may be topically or terminologically harmonious with the subject matter we are debating at the moment, such as law, the judiciary, Ergenekon, coups, etc., but they do not go beyond being just the grounds or instruments for the ongoing war.
And this results in many contradictions.
This is actually a very understandable situation. Let me ask you: Who founded this country in the 1920s? The public or the Kemalists, who were supported by members of the pro-Community of Union and Progress (CUP)?
The public was of course not aware of what was going on and certainly did not have the power or authority to decide how things would be in the future. What happened actually was the continuation of the despotism of Abdülhamit II after changing shape. It was a change in name, not of regime. As a matter of fact, all former pro-CUP bureaucrats served the single-man status of one and indisputable leader, Mustafa Kemal, at the most critical positions across the “new” country. Let me give you an example: If the public had been asked in 1923, i.e., one year after the sultanate was abolished, “We intend to abolish the caliphate as well. What do you think?” What do you think their answer would have been?
Suppose -- I know it is unimaginable -- that a referendum had been held, asking the public approval for the hat or alphabet revolution. What would have been their reaction? How would their choice have been implemented?
So let us not deceive ourselves. The bitter truth is that this republic was founded on the imaginations, fancies and ambitions of a handful of people. But don’t worry about it, as this is how it often happens, particularly in the East. Later, the wrongs can be corrected by the long-living public.
This is what is happening in Turkey as well. Turkey is being re-established by the public. The public is affixing its seal on the state. I call it the process of “re-establishment.”
However, there is something that we must not ignore. We should not be entrapped by the convenience of crude generalizations. The last 85 years of the republic, haven’t they reshaped all of us? Haven’t they changed us in a positive or negative way? Is the public currently establishing what it would have done if it had been given a chance in 1923 or something suis generis, also shaped by the past 85 years?
The latter, of course. If we look at history by seeking the absolute good or evil there, we will certainly catch a disease from it. We must therefore be cool-headed and try to understand it calmly.
We are a generation made by this republic. This holds even if we feel ourselves to be “colored” or marginalized. These 85 years have made a significant impression on our identities as Muslims, Turks or Armenians, and on our lives and actions.
Kemalist neo-nationalists can in fact get over their arrogance of claiming that the country only belongs to them as well as their fear of being dethroned as a class. In doing so, they will see that this society has mixed and blended together, albeit through persecution or sorrows and tragedies, and that this has created an irrevocable value. You may call this the success of Kemalism or the public’s struggle for survival, but it is in the veins of all of us.
Is it not for this reason that the AK Party, the movement of volunteers, the Kurds and the Armenians are all organic structures unique to this country?
But our current problem is this: Until now, all other social groups had been forced to “adapt” to this process through oppression and engineering. Today it is the turn of the Kemalists, who used to see the country as belonging to them, to adapt to it as well. They are luckier in that they do not have to suffer the sorrows Muslims have suffered or pay the price Armenians have paid with the property tax or give the losses Kurds have given. But they do not want to be in harmony with the groups around them, which are eager to live with them in harmony.
Like spoiled kids, they obsessively seek to return to the conditions in place and concessions they had some 30 years ago.
Accordingly, debates are always fixed on their we-don’t-want-it attitude. Their mantra is the same despite its different manifestations.
Unfortunately, this process of adaptation has to be quicker. Turkey urgently needs a meaningful and up-to-date opposition. The lack of one gives the AK Party another burden: doing it all alone. The extreme reaction to the latest student activism is, I think, the result of exhaustion from this burden and of being treated unfairly all the time. As a matter of fact, as it heroically tries to solve the country’s huge problems, it is tirelessly defined as an evil group with a secret agenda and always feels the threat of being closed down. And the scandalous coup claims targeting the AK Party in documents the police seized during a recent search at a naval base in Gölcük confirm the party’s sense of being victimized. Furthermore, the opposition fails to adopt a democratic and principled attitude, but sticks to its motto of “The AK Party’s enemy is my friend.”
However, we cannot altogether abandon our responsibility by just pointing to the irresponsibility of our rivals. In my opinion, this is the real gauntlet the AK Party has to go through, and certainly the toughest of all previous ordeals. This is because when the coups, the tutelage and Ergenekon are all eliminated, what will remain is a group of people corresponding to some 25 percent of the nation. And we have to live together with them on equal terms and without inflicting on them the injustices they inflicted on us in the past -- and without falling into the same traps of being in governance.
For this reason, all of us, including Mr. Prime Minister, all members of the AK Party and all democrats, like us, who support the AK Party in principle, should be calm in the face of their harshness and crudeness, and stick to the universal pegs.
Only then will history stop recurring and we will begin to genuinely discuss and appreciate each other.
Todays Zaman, 14 December 2010, Tuesday