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February 07, 2012, Tuesday


The biggest challenge recently faced by Turkey has been redrafting its outdated constitution. Although the present constitution has undergone many organ transplantations since its birth in 1982, as the child of a military father and a subdued mother -- a society taken ransom by the 1980 military coup -- its authoritarian and tutelary spirit is still very much intact.

This is one of the four major obstacles to further democratization and the establishment of civilian rule in Turkey. From the beginning of the republic in 1923, the state was sanctified because it was presented as the last vestige of Turkish existence under the relentless threat of external enemies and internal traitors acting in unison. Only the state and its glorious army could protect the nation, which possessed neither the power nor the wisdom to run itself. This dictum became the core of the state philosophy called Atatürkism, or Kemalism, named after the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Mustafa Kemal was awarded the title -- not family name, because other members of his family were not allowed to use it -- of Atatürk in 1934. The word is generally translated as “father of Turks,” but more so it means “ancestor of Turks.” The title virtually marks the beginning of the history of Turks under his leadership and mentorship.

Republican generations were raised with this ideological baggage. Law, education and statecraft were all fashioned accordingly. That is why approximately one out of four Turks adheres to this indoctrination and votes for the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the political heir of Kemalism.

Military coups are not illegal for them; they are merely adjustments to bring the regime back to Kemalism’s original principles. The army is not only a professional defense organization; it is also the guardian of the regime. Authoritarianism is not a threat to democracy, provided the Kemalist bureaucracy rules. A union between political and military power is only bad if other political actors benefit from it. This hypocrisy has created a fertile ground for authoritarian politics that can be exploited by all political actors in positions of power. After all, authoritarian politics was one of the founding principles of the revered republic.

The second obstacle is the definition of the nation and citizenship. Constitutionally the nation comprises Turks. All others are either nonexistent or non-entities; hence, they are ephemeral. A sundry of ethnic and religious minorities were subdued and deterred from opposing this legal and factual inequality. Being too populous, autochthonous and ready to pay the price of their opposition, only Kurds effectively objected to the system that afforded them neither equality nor the opportunity to participate in it as what they are. The conflict drives the wedge further between the Turk and the Kurd. The continuation of the conflict requires animosity and antagonism, which are unfortunately still perpetuated by the leaderships of both sides.

Reconciliation and due reforms are blocked by the opposition, the military and a considerable part of the general public -- that vote for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) as well -- because it is believed that cultural concessions will eventually lead to Kurdish secession. Caught between a deep-rooted suspicion of minorities, especially of the Kurds, and predominance of the Turkish identity as the sole persona of the nation and the state, Turkish governments have not been able to find a way out.

There are two more obstacles to a mature democracy in Turkey. The first is the “dominant leader” cult. Everything, including the constitution, party and election laws, reinforces obedience to the leader or those who are in power. Their authority is not questioned until they fail.

Finally, the cultural trait based on the superiority of men over women that is reinforced by law, juridical practices, the belief system and folk culture depletes much civic energy, undermines the contribution of women to social life and inhibits synergy between the genders. Cultivating democratic values and institutions in this masculine and antagonistic culture will take time, to say the least.

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