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Wednesday, 25 September 2013

What The Columnists Say

Published in Roundup of Columnists

Several commentators in the Turkish press express deep concern over the direction of the country. They warn that what they describe as Prime Minister Erdoğan’s polarizing rhetoric and ideological militancy since the Gezi protests is deepening the fault lines in society, not least the sectarian fault line. Special attention is being paid by many commentators to the effects that Turkey’s pro-Sunni regime change policy in Syria is having on the cohesion of society. They point out that the fabric of society is fraying, as the minority Alevis are increasingly displaying signs of being dangerously estranged from the majority Sunnis and from what they perceive as a Sunni conservative state that discriminate against them.


Rober Koptaş in Agos writes that the message of the Gezi protests was that the AK Party needs to implement democratic reforms. If the ruling party desists and instead continues running the country in a way that divides and polarizes it, those who are discontented will question the AK Party rule and render the country ungovernable, notwithstanding its electoral strength. Yes, a very large portion of the people identifies with the AK Party; and yes, the party led by Erdoğan is for sure going to win clearly in the next election. If it does not splinter from within, the AK Party is going to govern the country for a long time to come. But these successes do not help Turkey come to peace with itself; they don’t contribute to societal balance and normalization. On the contrary, present polarizations are becoming deeper; violence and anger, both as acts and as discourse, are taking command over ever larger portions of the population. No society can long endure such a deep and hard climate of polarization. This is not a healthy state, and it is pregnant with violent eruptions. The prime minister has seen that increasing polarization is a successful tactic that rewards him with increased support, and he has been blinded by ambition. But all this societal tension makes the country ungovernable, no matter how much votes you receive. We are all going to pay a prize for this.



Ergün Babahan on the t24 news site writes that Prime Minister Erdoğan’s hostile rhetoric and behavior against those who don’t think, dress, consume and live like himself is causing a violent division of society. The democratization package that the AK Party is about to announce is not going to alter the emotional atmosphere of the society in Turkey. In a country where those who ask for free university education are sentenced to severe prison sentences, where the representatives of the Gezi Park protesters who met with the prime minister are interrogated by police, where not a single word of regret and sorrow has been offered about the youth who were killed and blinded at Gezi, it will do no good if you announce a democratization package every day. The country is divided in a way that we have not experienced since before the 1980 coup. The societal psychology is increasingly resembling that of the former Yugoslavia.  Each and every one is seeing the other as an enemy; seculars share less with conservatives, Alevis share less with Sunnis. We are fast approaching the summit of a mental division. A significant part of society does not trust the judiciary; the belief that the state institutions are partisan and that the police is the new military of the AK Party is widespread. In such an atmosphere, what does it matter if you announce reform packages that are not going to be implemented anyway? What matters is your language! What your language divides cannot be healed by reform packages.



İhsan Dağı in Zaman notes that a poll conducted by Metropoll in July revealed that 87 percent of the Alevis think they are being discrimated against. This is a very unsettling belief, a very high percentage. But what is even more unsettling is what the Sunnis think in this matter; 69 percent of the Sunnis are of the opinion that the Alevis are not subjected to any discrimation. The difference between the respective perceptions is a problem in itself. The Sunnis either do not know about and feel the other’s problems or do not care about what their neighbors are confronted with. It does not end there; while 76 percent of the Alevis say that they cannot freely express their beliefs, 70 percent of the Sunnis think that the Alevis can do that. This abyss of perceptions spells disaster. If we fail to bridge it by engaging in dialogue, if society does not evolve to the point of paying attention to and caring about the plight of others, disruptions and crisis is unavoidable. Add to this the fact that the Alevis have lately become estranged from a state which they perceive as being owned by the conservatives, and our plight becomes insupportable. What are the Alevis, who are estranged from both the majority of society around them and from a state that is expected to be impartial, going to do? Where are they going to turn? How are they going to react? The fault line that separates the Alevis from the Sunni majority, and from the conservative state, is the one in Turkey that only widens for every day.



Yetvart Danzikyan in Agos writes that the AKP’s Syria and Alevi policy is proving to be another turning point, after the Gezi protests. The AKP’s pro-Sunni Syria policy and the fact that all those who were killed by police during the Gezi resistance were Alevis has opened up a fault line between the AKP and the Alevis that will not easily be closed. We do not know if the AKP has deliberately raised the bar, but if they did have a plan to needlessly disturb the Alevis and provoke them to take to the streets, then they have indeed succeeded. This issue has given rise to a culture of resistance especially in the Alevi neighborhoods of the big cities and in Alevi cities along the (Syrian) border. Both the Turkish position toward Syria and the treatment of every demonstration as a coup attempt that needs to be suppressed by police violence ensures that this culture of resistance will become permanent.  After this point, it seems that it will be difficult to persuade the Alevis by offering promises of democratization. We can also note that the political Kurdish movement, let down by the government, is preparing to take to the streets. It is probable that the Gezi resistance, the Alevis and the Kurdish political movement, sometimes together, sometimes separately, are going to create a new tension especially in the big cities. The AKP’s response is going to be of critical importance, whether the AKP takes an initiative to diminish this tension that is its own creation or prefers to maintain this tension at a certain level.



Yüksel Taşkın in Taraf notes that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) has several, hard-working social democratic deputies, who offer the hope that the party will indeed be able to remake itself into a social democratic force. He mentions Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a deputy chairman of the CHP, and Rıza Türmen and Atilla Kart. This change is not going to be easy to implement, but the lesson of history is that the CHP tradition – including the experience of the Social Democratic People’s Party (SHP) that merged with the CHP in the 1990s – has been successful when it opened its doors for especially those under 40 years of age who represent the dynamic sections of society. Thanks to this, CHP/SHP was able to understand the changing dynamics and demands of society, and develop relevant policies. In fact, during its existence in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the SHP succeeded better than the CHP of today to understand and include the sociology of Turkey.  Had the party also been able to develop an internal party culture where Kurds and the pious would have felt at home, there would have been no reason why social democrats would not have been in power now. Unfortunately, the SHP was dissolved, and replaced with the right-wing CHP. The CHP’s only salvation is to build a social democratic identity that provides concrete answers to Turkey’s changing sociology. Can it do this? If the AKP has been able to realize a serious remake from its Islamist roots, so can also the CHP. That process would be helped along, provided that we note the difference between offering constructive criticism to the CHP and the effort to discredit the CHP that has become the national sport of those who by contrast cannot bring themselves to say anything critical of the AKP.

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