Wednesday, 13 March 2013

What the Columnists Say

Published in Roundup of Columnists

Turkish commentators in general remain cautiously optimistic about the prospects of the peace process between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).  The leak of the records of the talks between the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and a delegation from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) incensed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who scolded the daily Milliyet for having publicized the records.  However, there is not a widespread perception among the commentators in the media that the leak has actually damaged the peace process. While critics of the government hold that Erdoğan’s reaction once again shows his determination to silence the media, commentators who support the government make the case that the issue cannot be treated as a matter of press freedom, suggesting that the opponents of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) are doing their utmost to sabotage the peace process.


İsmet Berkan in Hürriyet observes that the recent meeting at the presidential palace between President Abdullah Gül and the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, is a harbinger of dire times for the peace process between the government and the PKK. It is important to note that Kılıçdaroğlu went to the president to complain about the process, and that he afterward declared that the foundation of the process is “illegal”. That means that the CHP has withdrawn its initial, albeit timid, support of the process. The CHP and MHP (The Nationalist Action Party) have apparently concluded that some of the demands of the PKK and BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) are going to be inserted into the new constitution and that furthermore the executive presidency (that Prime Minister Erdoğan desires) is going to be part of the new constitution subsequently to be put to popular vote. That is the nightmare of CHP and MHP.

Ertuğrul Özkök in Hürriyet comments on the predictions that Turkey stands to become a greater country, not only exerting more power in its neighborhood, but actually growing in territory, if it were to make peace with its Kurdish population. Those who claim that nurture Ottoman dreams; they envisage that Turkey would grow in territory, eventually encompassing Mosul and Kirkuk (in northern Iraq) and Kurdish-populated northern Syria. They see the Kurds in northern Iraq and Syria joining Turkey. To those who nurture such dreams, I would say that the result would in fact be the very opposite: Turkey would never be able to carry such a weight; such an expansion would inevitably give rise to more tensions internally and eventually result in making the country smaller. This country has already enough territory, population and problems in the Middle East. It does not need more of Mesopotamia.

Nilgün Cerrahoğlu in Cumhuriyet comments on the reactions to the publication in the daily Milliyet of the records of the talks between PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and the delegation from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) at the former’s prison island of İmralı. According to what has been reported in the press and cited on websites, and which has not been denied, the owner of Milliyet warned the editors of the daily that they should take care and adapt their editorial line to the fact that he would not hesitate to shut down the daily if Prime Minister Erdoğan were to order him to do so. The owners and editors of the newspapers once used to try to dissimulate and deny the pressures that were exerted on them by the political power; now, no such effort is made. The media barons don’t even pretend to be independent from the political power. On the contrary, it’s perfectly all right to openly exhibit closeness to the political power and demonstrate loyalty toward it. And what’s more, no one is surprised or thinks of this as a scandal. The Turkey that once aspired to be a part of the West, and which claimed to be – albeit a very imperfect one – a “Western democracy” has now internalized and legitimates an eastern feudalism that has been imposed on it by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “Islamic democracy”.

Etyen Mahçupyan in Zaman observes that the publication of the Imrali records has generated a discussion about the purpose of the leak and the source behind it. Everyone knows that if the AKP succeeds in solving the Kurdish issue and thus lays the basis of a democratic republic, it will not be possible to dislodge the party from power for many years to come. Thus, the two aims – to secure peace and consolidate the power of the AKP – feed each other. Conversely, there are those who want to make the Kurdish issue intractable just in order to finish off the AKP. The atmosphere of confidence between Öcalan and the government has rung alarm bells in many quarters. From that moment on, the peace process became a tool in the struggle against the AKP. It would not be realistic to assert that no such influence was behind the leak of the records. Unfortunately, this leak cannot be regarded as an exclusively journalistic matter. We have to state that a respectable journalism inspired by objectivity and ethics has never been a fact in Turkey. For that reason, we may very well condemn the prime minister’s interference when he called the owner Milliyet and expressed his dissatisfaction, but to do that by referring to the freedom of the press would be to fool ourselves. The prime minister is in the business of politics, and he will act accordingly as long as the media behaves like a political actor. The problem is that the newspapers’ aspiration to play a political role and to do business comes at a price, at the loss of freedom. But it is not the politician who is going to remedy this.  The freedom of the press requires that media owners have a free mind.

İhsan Dağı in Zaman asks if Turkey really has changed that much since the Kemalists lost power. Yesterday the state commanded society, and directed politics. But how free is politics and society toward the new state today? The old regime of tutelage was criticized not only by democrats but also by religious and conservative circles. However, as the ownership of the state has shifted hands, from the Kemalists to the conservatives, these latter have gradually ceased to be critical of the imposing role and presence of the state. Increasingly, the religious and conservative circles are abandoning their autonomous and distanced position toward to state and are becoming integrated with it. Now, many people would object that the fact that the conservatives are moving from the civilian domain, the society, to take possession of the official domain, the state, represents democratization, and that is indeed so. Yet what is important is how the conservatives who become integrated with the state perceive it: are they endeavoring to make the state civilian or are they themselves becoming its agents? As I see it, the conservative move into the state, the move of the periphery into the center, is reversing the balance of power between the state and the society to the benefit of the state. Even though it may seem paradoxical, the civilian domain has been rendered weaker by the victory of the periphery. The state still continues to be the main power, the overriding value. Indeed, the power of the new state to design and control the society has in fact increased, and the new state is determined to make of these powers. Those who were autonomous of the state yesterday have now become dependent on it. How many individuals, how many NGOs, how many companies enjoy freedom in this sense in Turkey today?  What determines the level of democracy in a country is the number of people who depend on the state. What do they number in Turkey today? The answer to that question will reveal our level of democracy.

© Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center, 2012. This article may be reprinted provided that the following sentence be included: "This article was first published in the Turkey Analyst (, a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center".

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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.


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