If I had one way to describe this year, it would be “bittersweet.” Both for myself personally and my “oyster,” Europe — my residence, my roots and if I dare say, my area of expertise — it was a bittersweet year.
Just like Europe, I struggled to find a way out of some difficulties, and just like Europe, I partly succeeded.
But at least we both tried, Europe and I. There were always new ideas and the belief in change, despite the “populistic” and “old guard” obstacles.
We both tried, and just trying is the key to success sometimes. One day, the door just unlocks.
Was the year bittersweet for Turkey?
In fact, the bitterness is so prevalent that one finds it difficult to emphasize the “sweet” part. According to data from a local independent news site that tracks cases of media professionals, “Expression Interrupted,” at least 113 journalists are in jail as of December 29. Last year at the same time, Expression Interrupted reported the following: “As of the last day of 2018, at least 161 journalists and media workers are in prison in Turkey, either in pre-trial detention or serving a sentence.”
If anything, I think the “sweetest” side of Turkey was the budding climate crisis activism among the youth and children. As I have written previously, on March 15, the kids and youth of Turkey participating in the Fridays for Future strikes made their debut in series of activism-raising events on the climate crisis. Fridays for Future participants in Turkey have been immersed in climate activism beyond the Friday school boycotts: They toured their respective cities and around Turkey, visited political and economic power hubs like the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and business circles, organized demonstrations in which thousands of people participated, and engaged in activities with other striking kids and youth around the world. The climate strikers and activists of Turkey are indeed the “hopeful side” of the story.
Both personally and professionally, the birth of Duvar English was one of the rare “sweet” episodes of 2019. There is not much possibility left to continue with journalism in Turkey, so the birth and survival of such “breathing spaces” is a gift in itself. My personal perception is that the rest is laden with “politics as usual,” even though there were indeed changes on the political front in Turkey. Since the summer of 2019, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu has been in a constant race with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for being the “most popular politician” of Turkey; this is the first time Erdoğan has had a close political competitor when it comes to popularity in the past 15 years.
Having participated in several field studies and focus group studies that surveyed the diverse political groups of Turkey throughout 2019, I can confidently say that the yearning for political change is very strong. Even when focusing on the most conservative, nationalist and/or fanatically Justice and Development Party-supporting groups, it is impossible not to see that the people of Turkey crave change. They are pessimistic about their current state and the future, and feel anxiety because there is a huge discrepancy between their dreams and reality: in other words, where they desire Turkey to be and the level where the country actually is.
The grim and dismal psychology that has descended over Turkey, especially due to economic grievances and unemployment, lies in stark contrast to the atmosphere of neighboring Greece, the life of which I’ve been a part of for the past three years. I personally see that day by day, psychologically, Greece is leaving “crisis mode” — just as Turkey sinks into a depressive one. Sadly and ironically, Turkey and Greece are worlds apart, although the countries and their peoples couldn’t ask for a better time for potential solidarity and cooperation. My personal observation in Greece is that people are actually getting increasingly nervous about the possibility of an open conflict with Turkey, or in less politically correct terms, a war.
I was startled recently when a Greek physician friend told me in a serious manner that they are bracing for war with Turkey. She was not joking. And she is not alone.
When in Greece, after friendly exchanges everyone I met, whether causally or in-depth, asked me the same question: “How about Libya?”
And I reply back, “How about Libya?”
Simply because I do not know.
Ankara’s involvement with the war in Libya may not be on the top of the agenda in Turkey, but it is dominating the media, politics, and the peoples’ psyche on the other side of the Aegean. Recent figures I have come across from polls in Turkey indicate that around 50 percent do not support sending troops to Libya and only around 30 do; the rest have no idea.
This was not the case with military operations into Syria: people in Turkey actually believed that a “safe zone” might become a “solution to the Syrian refugee question.”
Syrians of Turkey — this is how we must actually perceive them — have become such a psychotic dilemma for Turkish people that I am afraid that it will be well into the 2020s when people will stop talking about Syria-Turkey and will face its biggest discrimination issue thus far.
Back to bitterness:
One of Greece’s foremost dailies, Kathimerini, reported the following on December 19:
“Sixty percent of Greeks are concerned about a recent spike in tensions between Athens and Ankara, amid a barrage of Turkish transgressions in the region and the recent signing of a maritime zone deal between Turkey and Libya, according to a new opinion poll carried out by Pulse for Skai.
Concern about Turkish aggression is particularly high among supporters of the Movement for Change (KINAL), with 75 percent saying they are worried, followed by 68 percent of conservative New Democracy voters and 53 percent of leftist SYRIZA supporters.
According to the same poll, ND has consolidated its lead over SYRIZA with a 13 percentage point difference.”
While I am more optimistic about Europe in general, I am less optimistic about Turkey and Greece as we slowly step into 2020. Why did we lose the positive spirits that were so vibrant, with such diligent efforts by politicians like Yorgos Papandreou and Ismail Cem in the last 30 years?
There could have been a way forward, and there might still be: just after he was born, New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis was taken in as a refugee by Turkey before his family found shelter in France in the late 1960s.
Who knows — maybe the second decade of the 2000s will be a time in which we discover the inner and hidden powers of remedy. As Greece and Turkey, we have had enough of trouble, karma, and conflict. And if there is a will, there is a way.