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June 12, 2011, Sunday

It seems some are awfully mistaken about Turkey

“One morning, as Turkey was waking up from anxious dreams, she discovered that the CHP had been changed into a democrat!”

More precisely, she was told so. Some believed that the oldest political party of the country might have gone through a process of metamorphosis overnight, particularly those who are ready to believe so. For instance, the circles that have supported the authoritarian Republican People’s Party (CHP) -- some media conglomerates, pro-state capital holders, the military and other Kemalists -- have continued supporting this party as if nothing had happened.

What they did was more than provide support; they sided with the current team during the leadership change in the CHP. In the first turning point and the struggle between the old and new teams in the post-Baykal process, the judiciary’s swift decision confirmed the new owners of the party: the choice of the Kemalist establishment was “the new CHP.”

This may seem surprising at first sight, but I suppose it has some reason. They keep supporting the party, not because they believed the CHP has changed, but because they actually did not. Representatives of “Kemalist circles” understand the change of discourse in the CHP in a changing world and in a country where the grass roots’ demands for democracy and change are so strong.

But what is odd is the presence of those who are ready to believe this, like The Economist, which urges the Turkish voters to chose the CHP, or like The New York Times, which argues that failure of Erdoğan to win an overwhelming majority in Parliament would be better for Turkish democracy.

Above all, could a paper or magazine encourage the voters of another country to vote for an identified party? Yes, it could; I, too, do that. I feel joy when pro-democracy parties win in any part of the world and I feel sad when the opposite happens. And for this reason, I do not want the CHP to become stronger. And for this reason, I find the comments defining the “new” CHP as democratic fairly baseless and incorrect.

The CHP’s change -- even if it happens on a discourse level alone -- facilitates the introduction of democratic steps. For this reason, I too support its new discourse, but let us not exaggerate; this support does not go as far as casting a vote for it.

For better or worse...

I admit some actions and statements of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) bother me. They bothered me more noticeably during this election process. However, for better or worse, it is the most prominent democratic political actor in this country, and it is carrying out a democratization program.

There is always need for an offsetting force vis-à-vis the tendency of authoritarianism in political leaders like Erdogan; but this force is not the CHP. You may not like Italy’s Berlusconi; however, you cannot just support any old fascist party just because it argues it has changed. You critically evaluate its actions to understand whether indeed it has. For instance, you take note of whether it nominates coup suspects rather than whether it condemns a coup as a matter of discourse. Does the “new” CHP extend support for coup suspects? Does it nominate them in a way that guarantees them “safe seats” in Parliament? Well, in this case, I have nothing further to ask.

The Economist asks us to believe this Kafkaesque change and make a decision that will undermine the deep state investigations. They argue there are some exaggerated charges of conspiracies. They should be asked how they know these are truly exaggerated in a country with a long tradition of coups. Let us assume that The Economist’s claims were true for a moment: Would you not be terrified if even one-tenth of the non-exaggerated part were actually true?

Some attribute the European media’s criticisms of the AK Party and this sudden CHP affinity to the neocons or the Israeli lobby in the US. I do not know whether this is true, but what I do know is that either those who planned coups in Turkey, murdered the members of minorities and caused bloody turmoil in Turkey in 1990s are awfully wrong about the CHP, or The Economist and The New York Times -- if they carry out this naïve pro-democracy performance based on the true beliefs and convictions of the editors and writers of the magazine -- are.

But I am not ready to test who is right or wrong; the democratization process in Turkey is not complete yet. There is a long way to go to overcome military tutelage. The Ergenekon investigation is going on. We all know what will happen if we just let go of the tail of this beast. I am not ignoring the investigations into the media, the problems with respect to freedom of speech and some of Erdoğan’s annoying statements and remarks. But in the final analysis, I consider the practices, the trends and the direction of change.

When I do this, I note the following: Nowadays, most human rights advocates are able to walk without a guard; we are able to discuss the Armenian question without any risk of attack; the ban on the women wearing a headscarf has been eased; and the negotiation process continues with respect to the Kurdish issue. But I am well aware that this process is not irreversible, and precisely because there is some light at the end of the tunnel, it seems to me reasonable the whole democratization process could be risked.

I am not very old, but I have lived in this country long enough to appreciate that I should not rush to be convinced by the discourse of this new CHP prematurely. And as a political scientist, I am aware that a political party cannot go through a major metamorphosis overnight.

Believing that the CHP has changed just because its discourse has means risking the whole democratization process; this will also mean undermining the ongoing deep state investigations.

Thank God The Economist cannot cast its vote here.

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