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August 14, 2012, Tuesday

Re-securitization of Turkish politics?

Surely without attaining security for individuals as well as for states, it is not possible to build a civilized state of affairs. The freedoms and welfare of the people requires a mechanism to protect them. But in some cases, the very freedoms and welfare of the people may be threatened by mechanisms supposed to protect them.

Concerns about security, when abused and exaggerated, may indeed strangle rights and liberties. In a country where all civil and political matters are somehow linked to security, it is impossible to attain liberties and human rights. Once security gives way to supreme and unquestioned authority, leaving no space for the social and political autonomy of society, society itself would be endangered. I remember for instance a particular decision of the National Security Council during the days of the Feb. 28 process that wine production should be supported in Bozcaada, a small island in the Aegean Sea, so that the local Turks would not be tempted to sell their land to the Greeks who were trying to takeover land on this island! It is absurd, but this is how a “security mentality” works.

But there are more examples. A “security mentality” is not only a paranoid mentality, but also an appropriate tool for governing. I call it “rule by fear.” Through a security discourse, governments generate authority and legitimacy, and become able to escape accountability. Under “normal politics” it is very hard to sell the people an authoritarian ruling machine. But if a situation is believed to threaten the very existence of the society and the state, everything may be justified.

In Turkey, the security of the regime has been the key instrument to discipline the society at large and suppress the opposition right from the beginning of the republic. It justified the establishment of the single party rule in 1925 and the closure of the opposition party at the time, the Progressive Republican Party. From then on, protecting the regime and maintaining the secular character of it was used as a pretext to deepen the Kemalist regime.

There was also the “security of the state” to look after. Countries that had ambitions on its unique geography, they told us, surrounded Turkey. The Russians, the Greeks, the Armenians, the Arabs as well as the great powers, all conspired against Turkey.

Thus, people at home had to be united against immediate threats in the neighborhood and even be aware of their internal extensions. Under such a continuous existential threat, the idea of a fully functioning liberal democracy, human right and pluralism were regarded as luxurious and even risky.

Once the survival and the security of the state and the regime were attained, the primary demand for democracy, rights and liberties could be put off indefinitely. The emergence of the Kurdish question was regarded a constant internal threat to the unity and integrity of Turkey and added another justification for authoritarian forms of politics.

This is how the Kemalist regime used in a dynamic way the “security discourse” to eliminate its opponents and excuse its authoritarian methods. In other words, Turkish authoritarianism was driven by a securitization wherein all other values and objectives are subordinated to security and it was taken to be the absolute priority.

Recently, it can be seen that the government is using this old language of securitization in its domestic and foreign policies. With increasing problems in the neighborhood, the old rhetoric of “Turkey is surrounded by enemies” is being revived. As the Kurdish issue is taking on a truly regional and international dimension, and thus getting out of Turkey's control, attempts at “externalizing” the problem have intensified. Unrelated events are increasingly explained by references to a conspiracy orchestrated by a single center. “Someone has pressed the button” is frequently used to devalue critiques of the government.

If the AK Party does not want to become authoritarian it should avoid using a language of securitization, the outcome of which is to silence the media and discipline society. Silencing the opposition on security grounds is possible, but it is fatal for democracy and pluralism.

Resolving the Kurdish question is the key to consolidating democracy in Turkey. This is so because this question has the potential to securitize Turkish politics and justify an authoritarian change which would seriously limit the rights and liberties of all.

Establishing peaceful and cooperative relations with neighbors is another key to consolidating democracy in Turkey. The perception that Turkey is surrounded by enemy countries constructs a national psyche that is inclined to sacrifice liberties, rights and democracy. So it is important for Turkey to go back to the philosophy of “zero problems with neighbors” policy. A Turkey that has tense and conflicting relations with its neighbors cannot consolidate its democracy, deepen its rule of law and expand its rights and freedoms.

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