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October 28, 2012, Sunday

October 29 and the tremulous republic

After 89 years of adventure in modernity, tightly linked to more than 30 fundamental Western institutions and domestic laws inspired by those in Europe, with a complex social fabric, Turkey once again celebrates its birthday in a restless mood.

After almost exactly 10 years of Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule, the issues it highlighted and kept the nation occupied with remain divisive, with mental edges sharpened, and its agenda of democratization has turned into a bowl filled with uncertainties.

One should expect new forms of unease, deep contradictions and even violence today. As the formal celebrations of the national holiday in the capital are taking place in the Hippodrome, followed by a huge reception given by Abdullah Gül at his official residence, some parts of the opposition will be busy challenging the ban on an alternative demonstrations, including those organized by the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Democratic Left Party (DSP) and Workers' Party (İP). They will also be joined by the Atatürkist Thought Association (ADD).

The motivation behind the ban cited by the governor of Ankara is not convincing. He refers to a “threat,” but it is clear that the security forces have been very successful in averting threats in even more “dangerous” circumstances. The ban obviously will add to Turkey's already troublesome record as a restrictive state, defying the Copenhagen criteria. It is telling for the state of democracy when the right to celebrate the national holiday in one's own peaceful way is strained. This is part of the picture. Yet, we also know that the CHP will boycott President Gül's reception, choosing to be fully absent. I know some CHP deputies are furious about this party decision, which they openly referred as “our folly.” It seems also clear that the top military brass will be among the guests, as will both the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and other minor parties. This singles out the CHP again as it joins a marginalized, ultra-Kemalist party's (the İP's) loud and aggressive militants on the street. Why? One wonders when the CHP will benefit from the proper decision-making from its leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, that is necessary for its credibility as a party whose lack of coherence with a pro-freedom agenda contributes to the unease of this nation. Kılıçdaroğlu seems to know no other way than to remain a mirror image of his adversary, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in an endless, fruitless race of rage.

Oct. 29, 2012, exposes Turkey's deep divisions once more. One would have thought that since Nov. 3, 2002, the rule by the AKP would have filed down some of the sharp edges within the social fabric through economic stability and a wider sharing of prosperity. But, as I have noticed during my lengthy talks with various people from all walks of life in Turkey, there is a disquiet one notices easily beneath the surface.

It should not be a surprise: It overlaps with reality. Conservatives, usually quiet and patient, have sensed dangers regarding Syria and, yes, even the economy. Those from the tough secular elite have risen in volume once again, I noticed, as they feel justified in pointing out what they see as vanity in power and a rise in authoritarianism. I witnessed an intense discussion one night between two friends that brought me to realize that the fault lines in politics after a decade were still wide open.

“We have never had it so bad,” argued one. The AKP rule had turned into a majority-backed dictatorship and worse was yet to come. “You don't know what you're talking about,” countered the other. “I am from a religious minority in this country, and you seem to have forgotten what people under military rule or puppet governments had to go through. I see no alternative, still, but the AKP. We have it much, much better, and thank God those days are over.” On and on it went, in higher decibels. During the Eid holiday, when I talked to some elderly Kurdish friends, I heard only gloom and doom. Violence between Kurdish militants and the government had waned somewhat, but now they were severely anxious over the hunger strikes and the puzzling attitude of the government regarding reforms.

It goes without saying that today we will not see a nation joyfully celebrating a historic day. As before, all segments are staunchly stuck in their own agenda, with the edges that divide each constantly sharpening. The beacon of reconciliation, peace and consensus is proving itself evasive. With a government that remains shy towards reform and directed toward enhancing its power, a main opposition entirely adrift in sea of lost identities, Kurds who are now applying all sorts of opposition instruments, and others in various social classes feeling deceived by a lack of normalization, today will be just another day of strain. Once more, the need for a new constitution, the only antidote to the ghosts of this Pandora's box, displays itself to Turkey on its birthday.

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