Prime Minister Erdoğan’s statement that it is inappropriate that female and male university students share housing and that the government intends to take action to prevent this, and his subsequent statement that there is “legitimate” and “illegitimate” lives ignited a lively discussion. According to one interpretation, Erdoğan’s purpose is to keep his conservative base mobilized. However, several commentators also made the point that Erdogan was in fact addressing a genuine concern among the ascendant, conservative middle class whose children have become acquainted with a liberal life style that is shocking for the generation of their parents. Yet some of the sympathetic commentators who made this point nonetheless urged the AKP to adapt to the change that Turkey is undergoing. Meanwhile, a columnist in the conservative, pro-AKP daily Yeni Şafak on the contrary argued that Islam must be the point of reference for democracy in a Muslim nation like Turkey, and that individuals must relinquish some freedoms that the majority in a Muslim nation finds unacceptable. The speech that Erdoğan gave in Diyarbakır in which he for the first time used the word Kurdistan was met with enthusiasm in the mainstream media.
The electrifying speech that CHP deputy Şafak Pavey delivered on the day that female deputies wearing the Islamic headscarf for the first time took their seats in the Turkish parliament was praised by several commentators. Hasan Cemal wrote that Pavey, while expressing her concern over the future of secularism in Turkey nonetheless did not question the right to wear the headscarf; that, Cemal wrote, demonstrated how the CHP should argue in order to broaden its electoral appeal and become an alternative to govern Turkey. The way that CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu handled the issue, avoiding to create the crisis over the entrance of the headscarf in parliament that the AKP was expecting it would do, has similarly been praised by liberal commentators. As the Turkish republic celebrated its 90th anniversary on October 29, the defeat of the Kemalist project of social engineering at the hands of conservatism was held up as an instructive lesson that shows that the AKP’s project of social engineering does not stand a chance to succeed, either. Yetvart Danzikyan in Agos pointed out that Turkey is in the grip of two faces of modernization: the authoritarian, cultural modernization that was engineered by the cadres of the republic and the religious/capitalist tradition of the right that devastates nature in the name of “civilization” and development.
The polarization in Turkey and the lack of democratic progress remains a major concern for many commentators. The decision, announced by the minister of education, that the private test-prep classes are going to be shut down, was taken as evidence that the AKP government is now openly targeting the movement of Fethullah Gülen. Ekrem Dumanlı, writing in the daily Zaman, warned that the decision, if implemented, will open deep wounds between the movement and the ruling party that will “take decades to heal.” Taner Akçam, writing in the daily Taraf, drew a historical parallel with the failed Ottoman reform process in the nineteenth century and the lack of democratic progress today, pointing out that the idea of the “dominant nation” still remains a point of reference, which guarantees that no equality will be instituted between Turks and Kurds and between Sunnis and Alevis.
The democratization package that Prime Minister Erdoğan unveiled on September 30 was welcomed as a “revolution” by conservative and liberal supporters of the government. Commentators who are critical took the opposing view, decrying the package as totally unsatisfying, and warning that reforms that only cater to the conservative base of the ruling party, leaving the grievances of others – Kurds, Alevis and urban secularists – unaddressed, are invariably going to create new tensions. There were also many commentators who took the middle position; these agreed that the package is indeed flawed, but defended that it nonetheless represents a step in the right direction. The point was made that the lack of a strong, democratic opposition leaves all democratization initiatives to the discretion of the Justice and Development Part (AKP).
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.