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August 28, 2012, Tuesday

Chariot and the horse

The official mood following the terror attack in Antep points to further pollution of the chemistry in the upper echelons in Ankara. While the funerals for the victims brought together the leaders of the three parties -- Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and Devlet Bahçeli, excluding the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the political wing of the PKK -- there was no gathering at all to discuss the issue.

Minister of Justice Sadullah Ergin two days ago sent another signal of concern. Speaking of the so-called “4th Judicial Reform Package” (due this fall), he voiced reservations, citing the “rise of terror” as a possible obstacle to expanding freedom of expression.

But the most interesting -- and unexpected -- step so far has been taken by Cemil Çiçek, parliamentary speaker, who hastily gathered journalists together to issue a draft of the 11-point National Consensus Against Terror document, which he called a “personal move, or a move by the Speaker, if you will.”

In it, Çiçek argued that Turkey cannot possibly proceed with the current Constitution, whose authors (members of Evren junta) are on trial. “The fight against terror will be easier with a new constitution, as the Spanish example showed,” he added.

His draft text is, for the most part, a mediocre melody with contrapuntal notes. Its premise is “that terror is a national cause, above governmental policies, that has to be fought by the state,” and he calls for unconditional laying down of arms, joint acts in solidarity between the political parties and NGOs, handing more power to the security apparatus and increased international cooperation.

Çiçek mentions that rapid work must be done to pass a new constitution, although he does not mention a new timetable.

But the most revealing part of the document is Point 7, which “touches,” as it were, the peripheries of the matter. Defining (again) the problem of the “Southeast” as an economic one, it proposes a set of “economic and cultural measures” as far as “they do not damage the united nation-state structure, and ‘integral' administration scheme.” He mentions, shyly, a “strengthening” of local mechanisms.

The most interesting reaction to the text came from Bülent Arınç, the spokesman of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. Rather bluntly, Arınç said that the party had no knowledge of the document, and dismissed its content as a “memorandum.”

Indeed, the outdated official rhetoric injected into the text shows, once more, the growing rift within the top echelons of the civilian executive, and also smells of the resurfacing of actions reminiscent of remnants of the deep state, possibly to encircle and set limits around future actions of the government.

In other words, the profound confusion surrounding the methodology of discussing and trying to resolve the Kurdish issue once more threatens to take the government hostage, no matter how popular it is.

It also shows a deeper problem: a fatalistic mindset that delaying will solve the issue at the end of the day -- as well as ignorance about how to deal with the ethnic rifts while preserving democracy.

Çiçek is right in identifying the “slow-motion” constitutional process as a focal point. But, as a result of the mental blockage that affects many politicians, he places the chariot before the horse: Çiçek seeks a pact reminiscent of the Ajuria Enea in Spain, signed in the fight against armed Basque separatist group the ETA in January 1988. Is he aware that when Spanish politicians agreed on the Ajuria Enea, as a reaction to ETA terror, Spain had already long finalized its constitutional reform? It was a commonsense action to own and protect the precious social contract that had brought all the Spanish political parties (except two at the far left) together.

Is there any reason why the political parties and NGOs in Turkey would agree to a security-promoting text in the “fight against terror,” having no idea whether Turkey will have a new constitution? Fighting terror should be a collective exercise, something all (well, most) citizens proudly identify with and cherish; the action of not just a state, but a fully democratic state.

As Gökhan Bacık wisely stated in his latest column in Today's Zaman: “Lacking a social contract, Turkish politics is a vicious circle of quarrels, sometimes erupting as bloody struggles, into which groups such as Alevis, Kurds, Islamic groups, seculars, Turks and political parties are locked. Since none of these groups has the ability to establish a social contract, no serious problem of Turkey's, such as the Kurdish one … can be resolved.”

Çiçek did not need an 11-point proposal. Point 1 is very obvious and sufficient: to press relentlessly for a speedy constitutional process, with a set deadline of Jan. 1, 2013. Period. It is very possible to do that.

But, gloomily, we all know, do we not, that the series of terror acts, killings, bombings and fury is a vicious cycle that slows normalization even further.

Whether this umpteenth Kurdish armed uprising (in a conflict now 28 years old) is used to block Turkey from taking a constitutional leap I will simply leave to your judgment. 

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