AK Party and Turkey’s near future

I have observed a recent surge in the emails I receive from my readers who support »»

I have observed a recent surge in the emails I receive from my readers who support the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). The majority of them are considerably disappointed in the party.

There are several common characteristics shared by those who send me these emails: They not only voted for the party -- they seriously support it and have been working on a volunteer basis or within the party organization for at least 10 years. In a sense, they are the unknown heroes who have made the AK Party what it is. If the AK Party has managed to established organic ties with the public so successfully, it is because of such people who interact with the public on an individual basis. These people have worked, self-sacrificially, everywhere in Anatolia and all across the country. They have enjoyed no personal benefits from their ties to the party, but they do have certainly expectations of it.

What were/are those expectations?

These people, the “others” of this country, wanted the AK Party to create a clean, democratic state. Indeed, seeing them as the others, the state had previously used its power to crush these religious people, women with headscarves, Kurds, Armenians and anyone labeled as dissidents. They wrapped this repression in a secular-modern-democratic-Turkey package. And, for a long time, they managed to deceive part of the public and the world that they were actually secular, modern and democratic. Thus, they argued, if coups were being staged and the deep state was committing murders, it was because the secular republic was in danger. They had used this as a convincing argument to suggest there was a serious reactionary danger in the country.

Many people will remember what happened during the postmodern coup of Feb. 28, 1997. Strange people and groups emerged out of the blue and engaged in scandals that would make the blood of religious people run cold. Yet, the propaganda suggested that these people were representing religious groups. The military-guided, neo-nationalist (ulusalcı) media outlets published these scandals, including intimate images, of so-called leaders of religious orders. In the company of these grotesque images and the shocking remarks from these people, the argument that a reactionary threat was very close was pumped into the public consciousness and subconsciousness. One of the coalition partners was a religious party and, since it had come to power, the secular republic had been imperiled. This was their thesis.

Indeed, they managed to overthrow a democratically elected government with a military intervention. The media’s unrelenting support of the coup prevented democratic opposition or any objections to it. Many people -- who we could refer to as the voter base of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) -- even applauded the coup. This was because they believed the secular republic was in danger. So, it was a legitimate act for the military to stage a coup to secure the regime. They conceded that a coup was not favorable, but, in the favorite slogan of those days, they would say, “It is better to go back 10 years with a coup than to go back 1,000 years with reactionaryism.”

Today, we know from the investigation into the Feb. 28 coup and the media’s reports about it that everything done to lay the groundwork for the military takeover was false. Instead, it represented a joint effort by the military and pro-military media networks, businesses and bureaucrats.

As a result, when the AK Party came to power despite all the obstructions it faced in the first elections it entered in 2002, religious and liberal groups against whom the Feb. 28 coup had dealt the biggest blow welcomed the AK Party with enthusiasm. Unlike its predecessors, this party was not monolithic nor self-isolationist. They didn’t see the US as the devil or the members to the European Union as a nightmare. They perceived the country as a whole and were working hard to make reforms. And, as a result, a big democratic coalition was created in the country. This was the coalition of the “weeping children of the Republic.” The main component of this coalition consisted of religious people, but liberals, non-Muslim religious minorities, liberal leftists, Kurds and some Alevis also supported them.

At that time, the junta planned continuously to overthrow the AK Party. To justify the coup, they portrayed the AK Party as an evil community with a secret agenda to pretend it was a democratic center party and turn the country into Iran when the time was ripe. However, democrats, liberals, liberal leftists and intellectuals representing non-Muslim religious minorities backed the AK Party, and this did not quite fall into place in the usual way, helping to protect the AK Party from this propaganda.

It would be better if I spoke on my own behalf. During that time, I wrote articles for the Agos daily newspaper, established by dear Hrant Dink, who would be killed a few years later. We, the non-Muslim religious minorities, had been frequently victimized by the Kemalist neo-nationalists who would pose as modern people but who were actually fascists and, therefore, we had developed a serious reaction to being “otherified.” For me, a headscarved woman not allowed to become a deputy or judge is no different than an Armenian not allowed to become a police officer, let alone a high-ranking bureaucrat. If a Kurd is tortured or jailed for speaking his/her mother tongue or if an Alevi is discriminated against because of his/her sect or if a woman or a poor man or a homosexual faces discrimination, then no one can claim this country is democratic. In other words, there is a systemic problem in that country, not problems specific to Armenians or headscarved women.

In sum, I know well the roots of this discrimination. This evil system had to change and be reformed. During the first 80 years of the republic, there were so many violations, and the state had turned into such a criminal machine that no one save a happy minority could live happily if this system did not change. And the public was not willing to let this system go on without change. Indeed, the world has seen a revolution in information technology. A segment of the religious group called the Anatolian Tigers was opened up to the outside world. In other words, a bourgeoisie class that was needed for a revolution but that had been destroyed by the coup of Sept. 12, 1980, was being formed among religious groups. In other words, things had gotten started.

Such an historical background can be found behind the success of the AK Party, created by these dynamic groups in the elections of Nov. 3, 2002. The party managed to act as the political, legitimate and peaceful embodiment of this strong demand from the bottom. Serious reforms have been implemented. For the first time, legal proceedings have been launched against the deep state and junta members. The public defended the AK Party against the anti-democratic efforts of the still-strong coup supporters. 2007 and 2010 were landmark years. For the first time, the government harshly reacted to a military memorandum, that of April 27, 2007. And, in 2010, the constitutional provisions that gave the tutelage its power were amended in a referendum. Judicial bodies were made more democratic and constitutional and legal obstacles to the adjudication of members of the military and bureaucracy were abolished.

In the last elections, the AK Party came to power for a third time, with over 50 percent of the national vote. This was how the public rewarded a party that met their expectations to a great extent. The reforms had not completed and the deep state had not been fully revealed, but a serious advantage had been earned. It would be easier and less dangerous to maintain the reforms with this advantage. This was the public’s expectation.

But this didn’t happen. In particular, the Uludere tragedy -- in which 34 civilians were mistaken for terrorists and killed by military airstrikes in Şırnak’s Uludere district due to false intelligence -- and the AK Party’s cold attitude toward the tragedy came as a shock not only to religious Kurds, but to all supporters of the AK Party. The AK Party acted not as their old party, but as the old state. The AK Party’s supporters were also disappointed when the match-fixing law was amended and the prime minister openly opposed the investigation into the Feb. 28 coup.

Lack of political movement that can gain public trust

Here are some points that must be emphasized. First of all, and as a general rule in life, a lack of competition, alternatives and rivals has made the party overly self-confident. Indeed, neither the CHP nor the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) exhibits the dynamism needed to come to power without a miracle or the AK Party making a serious error. For a long time to come, it seems, no political movement will emerge in Turkey that will earn the public’s trust and send the AK Party packing.

The second is exhaustion. We are talking about 10 years of conflicts and adventures that must have exhausted the prime minister and the party’s senior executives. If we were a Western democracy, the party’s leader would change and the problem would be automatically solved, but Turkey is still a country in which the political arena is dominated with the cult of the leader.

Third, the AK Party falsely believes that it has dominated the state and the bureaucracy with its undeniable successes. That is, the AK Party has evolved into an Ankara party, paying heed to the excuses of bureaucrats rather than the demands of the public.

The fourth is the lack of democratic maturity of the AK Party and its senior executives. The majority of the AK Party’s senior executives, including the prime minister, do not have the democratic heritage needed to take the country’s democratic progress further. That’s why they cannot cope with the public’s democratic demands and fall short of being on par with the public’s democratic maturity. They don’t have sufficient democratic capital. To accumulate this capital, they need time and experience, but Turkey has no time to lose.

In conclusion, we are going through expected developments. It may be possible to mechanically solve in eight years the problems that have accumulated over 80 years, but we need more time to overcome mentality-related problems.