Today, there are two main issues ahead of Turkey. One is “regime change” after Erdoğan loses the next election. “If and when” one might add by way of precaution. The other issue is a question rather: Whomever comes to power after Erdoğan, will there be radical change in Turkey’s foreign policy? An outside observer is free and welcome to ponder whether the two issues are interrelated or not, as well.
One also can display without further ado an arsenal of much used notions such as: despotism, nepotism, kleptocracy, corruption, lack of rule of law and of freedom of expression etc. Then Turkey’s story stops appearing to be one of a kind. Is Turkey really unique? That is the way we are taught. For that matter, all countries are unique for their citizens.
Yet, it is also true that the Republic of Turkey is the (or “one of the”) successor state(s) of the Ottoman Empire. Anatolia is a peninsula in the Mediterranean. Turkey has an almost exclusively Muslim population but is a secular republic as per its constitution. Turkey is in the Middle East too but not only a Middle Eastern country. Turkey is a NATO ally, a founding member of the CoE and the OSCE and an EU candidate country.
At the same time whatever happened in Turkey, overt or covert military coups, state security apparatus’ involvement in torture, kidnappings, political killings, drug smuggling, money laundering etc. and much more happened and happens elsewhere in the world too. Populist leaders’ successfully managed to manipulate the DNA of the democratic processes elsewhere too. Governments owned and muzzled free media successfully elsewhere too. Oppression has many faces and Turkey is but one of the scenes where its curtain is lifted many years ago.
The next government and the next president’s first and foremost order of business will be to revert back to a sort of a parliamentarian system. There is no other common ground for the opposition beyond this item on the agenda. It is also true that the next administration will discover almost a failed state and even to deliver a pep talk will seem out of place. It is perhaps similar to a situation where the surgeon cuts open the body of the patient and finding the patient in terminal phase of illness stitches back the chest just to announce the gloomy news to relatives afterwards.
All that and even more is true but it is also true that a country is not a human being. We cannot close shop and move elsewhere in the neighbourhood around the next corner. Unless we give up all hope in politics and meaningful change in policies we need to keep faith in change of leadership. There are ossified in time conflicts like the Kurdish, Cyprus, Armenian genocide, EU membership issues and more –as the fragile economy. There are also constants as in above enumerated international commitments and the geographical position on the world map.
Politics and diplomacy is all about dealing with all these adverse conditions and find an acceptable optimal meeting point. Till today in our republican history order trumped freedom. Leadership meant hanging behind our bedroom doors ever lengthier and detailed regulations about how the citizens should get on with their lives. Everybody was in cahoots with everybody else just to keep their seats in power circles. Notions like pluralism, accountability, agency, transparency appeared like stars from a different universe.
Now the time is about lifting open the flood gates. Now is the time to face who we really are and were. A healthy blood circulation is the key to save the organism. We can no longer keep smoking, enjoying junk food, stay idle, getting fat and hope that a miraculous medical doctor will save our lives for us. As US President Lincoln said in Gettysburg, democracy is the “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
At the turn of the millennium economic bankruptcy and a major earthquake had shaken the “state” to the ground and brought AKP many landslide electoral victories in their aftermath. Now it appears that Erdoğan and the islamo-nationalist governments did not restore order but even further demolished the ruins that were left behind. But the clock moves forward. The children who are born at the time of Erdoğan’s first electoral victory will cast their ballots in the next elections in 2023.
As I tried to indicate in last week's column, another and quite unexpected “black swan” appeared in the horizon. The underworld figure Sedat Peker’s revelatory videos uploaded from his self-imposed Dubai exile are reminiscent of a doomsayer’s premonitions for that matter. Drawing millions* of citizens to their computer screens, these videos now get listed by the IMDB. Peker openly says that he is neither a Messiah nor a saviour and he claims that those who call for a clean community are the biggest liars of all.
As a teenager comic book aficionado I remember reading the opening lines of each “Conan the Barbarian” album and falling into reveries: “Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jewelled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet." With or without Peker, Turkey stands at a definitive turning point of its history. Although not known for my optimism, I tend or wish to believe that we will not blow it this time around.
AKP and Erdoğan’s motto was “new Turkey”. That turned out to be a worst caricature of the old. New Turkey after Erdoğan will have an at least more rational foreign policy. The Republic of Turkey is not as yet a fully failed state. Talking about “a shining city on a hill” would be presumptuous. Yet to give up all hope on Turkish secular republican experiment is to me as unrealistic as well. Turkey has a place in history and in geography. Once the rebuilding will start in earnest, a recalibrated foreign policy must and will ensue.
*Episode 7: 5.6 million viewers in 10 hours on Sunday –yesterday.