Several leading Turkish commentators warn that the confrontational response of the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the protests in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey has set the country on an extremely dangerous course. Columnists like Cengiz Çandar and Hasan Cemal, who have until recently been ardent supporters of Erdoğan, are voicing serious concern and are sharply critical of the prime minister. So are several prominent commentators in the media outlets of the vastly influential Fethullah Gülen movement. Hüseyin Gülerce in Zaman calls for the restitution of the broad coalition for democratization that had brought the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power. İhsan Dağı in Zaman has in a series of articles observed that Erdoğan has moved away from the center and that he is in danger of marginalizing himself politically.
The division between seculars and religious conservatives could once again clearly be observed in the comments in the Turkish press after the sentencing of pianist Fazıl Say. An Istanbul court convicted the world famous Turkish pianist of inciting hatred and offending Muslims in Twitter messages. Although Say was not sentenced to jail, secular-oriented commentators interpreted the case as the latest example of the growing, Islamic conservative intolerance in Turkey. Conservative commentators meanwhile showed little concern for the implications of the sentence for the freedom of expression; echoing the comment made by Deputy Prime minister Bülent Arınç that Say ought to apologize to “all Muslims”, the point was made that freedom of expression does not include the right to insult religious feelings and that Say should show respect for the pious.
The peace process between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) remain the single most important issue for the commentators in the Turkish press. The announcement of the names of the “wise people” who have been selected by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to inform the public about the peace process was in general greeted with satisfaction by the commentators in the mainstream media. The prevailing attitude continues to be that the process and the initiatives that are taken by the government to promote it deserve to be fully supported. However, Turkish nationalist commentators do not mince their words about the peace process, which they are describing and fiercely denouncing as an attack against the Turkish identity of the country.
Imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s call for a cease-fire and for the withdrawal of the PKK’s armed militants from Turkey has been more or less universally greeted as a historic step that heralds the advent of peace. Some commentators in the mainstream Turkish press nonetheless point out that the Turkish government will have to take steps that enhance the freedom of expression and organization in return, releasing Kurdish prisoners, and they raise the question how that is going to be accomplished “unseen”, without provoking a Turkish nationalist backlash. The observation is also made that Turkish-Kurdish polarization has in fact grown, with especially the Turks becoming more hostile toward the Kurds. And as prominent columnist Etyen Mahçupyan, writing in the daily Zaman, observed, the real historical challenge ahead for Turks and Kurds is going to be to learn to live together and lay the foundations of a common future.
The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It includes topical analysis, as well as a summary of the Turkish media debate.