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May 22, 2012, Tuesday

Understanding the root causes

The reasons why the republican transformation that ended the Turkish monarchical system and the caliphate did not turn into a full-fledged revolution are two fold: the nature of the leadership and class structure. The leadership that introduced the republican system was bureaucratic, although this phenomenon was not coincidental as the Turkish economy was pre-capitalistic. In addition, neither a bourgeoisie nor a working class was present to balance off each other and lay the grounds for a middle class to develop a vibrant democracy.

Instead, an unrivaled bureaucracy controlled the state apparatus to shape the society as it saw fit with the basic instinct of staying at the helm despite internal and external changes. The chances of a government that was more sensitive to change and better representation was severely curtailed.

The bureaucracy’s lust for controlling political life arrested economic and democratic development. Emerging dissonance between pressures of change and wider representation and a restrictive political-administrative system led to a series of coups and also ushered in the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) reality.

Popular organization and economic dynamism overwhelmed the bureaucratic administration and the regime started to “normalize.” The economy grew threefold in 10 years, military tutelage was curbed to a great extent and a previously timid foreign policy gained an unprecedented zest and aggressiveness, boosted by the steadily growing economy.

Today the former bureaucratic elite and the dependent business and political class no longer rule Turkey, which is good news. But the new rulers lack elite qualities. Their organizational knack for politics and entrepreneurship in economics is not matched by international standards of law, arts, pluralist and deliberative politics, and tolerance to cultural differences. Their “conservativeness” is more of an excuse for mono-culturalism that does not differ much from the political understanding of the former elite they replaced.

This can be substantiated by two factors: an inability to grasp and solve the Kurdish problem, and hegemonic use of power despite the fact that what carried the incumbent government to power was popular will (which will be dealt with in the following article).

Last December, 34 Kurdish youths were bombed by war planes on suspicion that they were terrorists infiltrating from the Kurdish zone in north Iraq. The ongoing debate centers on whether the intelligence came from American or Turkish sources. What difference does it make, except that either foreign or domestic agents misled Turkish military decision makers?

The problem starts from the very name of the locality. Originally called Roboski, it was later changed into the Turkish Uludere. Its Kurdish character could not be tolerated by the Turkish authorities that altered thousands of names such as this one. Secondly, the whole area is poor and locals resort to petty smuggling, which the authorities are fully aware of and which has been going on since national boundaries were drawn nearly a century ago.

The local military (gendarmerie) unit was pre-informed of the movement of the convoy, a routine act as always, for the sake of their protection. However, the concerned military operations unit at Central Command (General Staff) did not bother to confer with local sources and misinterpreted the aerial footage provided by unmanned aircraft. As a result 34 Kurds, all citizens of Turkey, were killed. The only remaining member of the unfortunate convoy, Ferhat Encü, left Turkey to settle in Iraqi Kurdistan as he was unable to cope with pressure brought to bear to cover up the scandal.

Although many months have passed, neither the government nor the military circles have revealed the nature of the blunder and declared who was responsible. No one has been held liable so far. Once a pro-state village that had joined the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Uludere buried its slain members in PKK colors. The government and the bureaucracy took a united stance against a very sensitive issue proving that the Kurdish problem is still perceived as a security matter rather than a human rights matter. We also learned what “collateral damage” was, though we still do not know what the solution is.

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