“I must answer Mr. Steinworth that if Margaret Thatcher has brought communism to the Soviet Union (!) then maybe we can say that Erdoğan brought democracy to Turkey!!”
Since the "Gezi Park protests" started, all Europeans and even the rest of the world seemed to be extremely perplexed and caught by surprise! Most of the politicians and media chose to see in Tayyip Erdoğan a strong regional leader and in AKP a party comparable to conservative christian-democrats, serving as a catalyst for reforming the problematic sides of the Turkish Republic. So what could be the source of all these sudden flow of clashes, wild brutal police attack scenes, and protest movements filling up all the streets in so many cities starting from the last day of May?
Daniel Steinworth has written for the Spiegel, a very much in depth analysis of the recent turmoil and Turkey under the iron fist rule of Erdoğan. He is a journalist I know well, and overall he did a good job in this report. However there are couple serious criticism I will bring to his words as well as some complementary comments.
Let's first read a very problematic paragraph: "Erdoğan's successes are mostly accepted by everyone. If Atatürk has modernized the country, Erdoğan has turned it into a respected regional power. If Atatürk is known to have secularized Turkey, Erdoğan has democraticized it. In any of his election successes not one single foreign observer has ever expressed any sign of doubt about his status and power".
I am sorry to have to refuse Steinworth's assumptions right from the start although they reflect correctly the general feeling of the western media and power structure induced in this erroneous line of thinking. If "not one single observer has ever expressed any sign of doubt" this only proves how bad they follow Turkey and how superficial their analysis are! This is only a confession of overt insufficiency! I must tell Mr. Steinworth that if Margaret Thatcher has brought communism to the soviet Union (!) then maybe Erdoğan brought democracy to Turkey!! The Germans who have been able to follow my interviews in the German press and TV know already what I have been talking about for the last several years. Erdoğan on the contrary has gotten rid of most of the foundations of democracy in Turkey by doing his best to kill slowly secularism since he came to power. Everyone should know that there is no democracy without secularism. On top of that, Erdoğan has attacked all the possible branches of democratic opposition to his government. At this point, all the central mainstream media are living under his threats, totally doing now its own sad "self-censorship"! History will tell us that a censored media is one of the biggest threats to democracy. Furthermore after probably some series of "mysterious" phone calls and meetings, the Turkish press has been obliged to fire its best writers and TV commentators. For example, Emin Çölaşan and Bekir Coşkun were fired from Hürriyet and Ruhat Mengi and Uğur Dündar who have been "asked" to cease contributing to the Doğan Medya TVs. The once valiant Turkish Army which had until recently the charter on ensuring that the fundamental principals of democracy were ever tampered with, has been stripped of this responsibility. Anyway, the west could never understand that institution because of its own image misfittings to any comparison. Now half the generals are in prison for a would be "Coup d' Etat" in order to overthrow the current government. There is no whatsoever proof about these allegations. (Ergenekon and Balyoz court cases). One big difference between the Turkish and say, that of the United States, is that in Turkey although the law is not written any differently, the suspect is considered guilty until his innocence is proven. The latest presentation in court of lawyer Zeynep Küçük, makes it impossible with anybody with a right logical mind, to see any crime related to the intellectuals in prison. I hope that a German prosecutor can have the file translated from Turkish to see with his own eyes what kind of Kafkaesk court case our most important politicians, journalists, writers and academicians imprisoned for 5 years such as Mustafa Balbay, Tuncay Özkan, Mehmet Haberal and Doğu Perinçek have to go through! The university rectors protesting Erdoğan have all been removed from their seats, either taken to prison (!) or just being replaced by conservative if not overtly Islamist ones. The protesting university youth has been subjected to very heavy police brutality and prison sentences long before the Gezi Park clashes. For instance Ferhat Tüzer and Berna Yılmaz were sentenced to 8,5 years in prison for having hold a banner saying "We want free education and we will get it". The Turkish Judiciary system has totally lost its independence towards the Turkish government and now is directly tied to the Ministry of Justice and hence to Mr. Erdoğan. The result now is that almost all government decisions are approved, almost all opposition objections about unconstitutional law amendments are refused. The very pillars of the Nation's democratic values, are strictly controlled by the current regime. It' s common knowledge that most of the cases that have political connotation are first talked about by the government and as a "coincidence", the prosecutors of the Republic end up opening a file on the case. First, the press controlled by the government which gets the leads from the right sources, prepares the ground and the psychological pressure setting then it's all green light for the operation. At this point, 65 journalists are in prison in Turkey and 123 more have ungoing court case (report from CHP). Thus the AKP government now can be proud to be the country that has the most journalists in prison in the world! The Ministers gladly claim that "those are not journalists but terrorists"! Somehow no concrete proof is brought up and most of the detained journalists are very famous or very well known names that the public opinion trusts fully. The Turkish businessmen association TÜSİAD is often facing open or covered threats from the government after asking more democracy or secular education programs. In addition such requests are all too often met with astronomical fiscal fines levied upon them in order to squeltch them from further pursuing this demand which is a basic principal of any democracy. The large secular democratic Kemalist NGO's have been under huge government threats with inspections of all kinds following the very successfull protest ralies they had organized in 2007. I could continue with countless additional examples that demonstrate that we are far from being in front of a leader who has "democraticized Turkey"! If Steinworth is referring to the expansion of the right to wear the veil around the country and in universities and the different direct support brought to the lifestyle of İslamists, in such a narrow field of the understanding of the concept of democracy, we may say that Erdoğan was "successfull" indeed. But even there, Erdoğan has never been a democrat because he never ever accepted the rights of other citizens who chose to live in contemporary non-islamist life styles. Although after every election that he won, he made speeches claiming that he was indeed “the Prime-minister of all Turks, even the ones that didn’t vote for him” he has always debased them, humiliating their lifestyle choice.
From here, we can move up to the Gezi Protests which has made the news worldwide. So as Erdoğan often states, he is right: All we went through is not related just to the Park and to the protection of ecology. Of course that it goes deeper than that. The Park triggered the release of a tension. The drop too much overflowing the bucket and.. creating a tsunami! The young generation that had been insulted, humiliated by Erdoğan in their daily life choices suddenly woke up from their coma-like stillness and sparkled the streets of the country in an unarmed peacefull revolt against injustice. That famous evening went down to the annals of the turkish media as "the shamefull nights of the penguins". It received this name as the mainstream news channels scared off by the government were busy broadcasting a documentary on the life of penguins or marriage social programs! The rest of the world media, however showed the youth dedicated to their cause, despite the tear-gases, the violence and relentless oppression at unacceptable degrees at a local protest march. Erdoğan's constant debasing of the kemalist period and his autocratic regime switching him from art critic chosing the monuments to be destroyed to doctor of the nation chosing the ban of abortion or cesarian, from nutrition counselor to compulsory choice-maker for the turkish alphabet keypad, from alcohol enemy to constant preacher of religious education in a said to be secular country, was too much to handle for the secular "white Turks". Both for the parents who had embraced Atatürk's legacy since they were born as mature citizens and would rather die than live in a non secular society, as well as for their kids busy playing video games or spending time flirting in bars or watching football...
The police didn't mind throwing tear-gas capsules from only few meters and sometimes using plastic or real bullets. 5 deaths, dozens who have lost their eyes, thousands wounded and several in coma at different degrees. (No member of the government ever called or send a letter of condoleances or regret to none of the families of the dead or the wounded! That’s sadly unbelievable but unfortunately true) Also the fact that the Divan Hotel just near the Park that was used as a infirmary for the ones wounded in the clashes as well lost children could be overtly subject to police's and tear-gas, showed what kind of mercyless attitude government's forces used. (The government since that day, instead of apologizing for that aggression which is not even done during war times, chose to threaten the famous industrial tycoon Koç family, owner of the Hotel, as “collaborators of terrorists”. As this article was being placed on-line, the heavy-industrial complex TÜPRAŞ co-owned by the Koç family and Shell was under the assault of tax controllers assisted by the police, as well as few other companies of Koç like AYGAZ in gas and OPET in the petroleum sector).
Steinworth rightly asks the question "so where does Turkey want to be?" Who do we want to be? So it looks rightly in his eyes that Turkey is torn between two ends, the islamic inspiring rural or new transformed city suburban Turkey of Erdoğan, or the progressist, urban, modern society's Turkey. The reality is that that second Turkey was invented in the last decades first by Necmettin Erbakan and than by Erdoğan who could not "digest" the reforms and the cultural revolution of Atatürk, the founder of the Republic. It was made possible not through a big push in the Turkish society but through political minor victories of Erbakan and Erdoğan that were generated by the unforgivable and ridiculous divisions whithin the centres of the Turkish left and right. Erdoğan had become mayor of Istanbul with only 25,19% of the votes where as the centre left took a total of 34,08% and the centre right. 37,59%. In Ankara the same scenario was made possible by a 27,33% victory for Melih Gokcek while the center right divided in two and center left divided in three received each respectively 26,9% and 36,74% . Also in 2002 AKP won the elections with only 34,28 of the votes and got in return 2/3s of the seats in the Parliament due to the lack of coherence in the Turkish voting system turning nul all parties votes that are under 10% because of the threshold. This is how the shift to political İslam has started in the origin in a country where the intrusion of any religion in politics normally is totally forbidden according to the constitution and the law of the political parties.
The constitution court did react to all this intrusion of religion in politics in the year 2008 through the efforts of the Prosecutor of the Republic Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya. However, by the margin of one vote, the Constitution court led by an Islamist leaning President Haşim Kılıç appointed by Turgut Özal, chose to determine that "the AKP is indeed the centre of all unsecular activities and thus will have to pay a financial fine but the Party will not be closed down". Out of 11 members of the high Court, 6 chose to have AKP closed down and 5 decided against. If one more member had decided to have the Party to be closed down, 7 versus 4 would have been a sufficient number. In the days and months following that high court decision, Erdoğan behaved as if he wanted to take his full revenge from the secular society and institutions. The court cases attacking secular writers journalists and academicians started to accelerate. Since around those times, Erdoğan's choice of bad wordings and humiliating sentences directed towards those "who are not on their side" got harsher and more frequent. The world has never seen since World War II, such a leader who divides so openly his own country in rival camps while blatantly and overtly persecuting anyone considered to be opposed to his vision. For Erdoğan, in any situation since he has gotten the most votes in the elections, he will have the right to do whatever he wants without anybody getting in his way. In other words his definition of democracy is extremely narrow and insufficient. On the other hand, it seems more and more obvious for everyone that Erdoğan is seeing “democracy only as an election ritual repeating itself once every four years.” Concepts such as "minority rights-human rights-universal given values such as equality between men and women- ecology-transparency of public biddings and contracts" have obviously no much meaning in his alphabet. That’s why according to him, no matter what a government does during its “reigning years” in power, it should never face any obstructions! Even if they are destroying all the oxygen space of democracy and freedom. The unexpected fall of Mursi in Egypt, brought forward the discussions around the concept of democracy. Very often, the Turkish politicians and press made abstraction about the fact that the Constitution in Egypt, had been dangerously shifted towards unsecular grounds and that the crowds were extremely bothered by the fact that the running President had been trying to control several institutions during the same move, which was threatening the basic existence of the fragile and young democratic values in the country. Probably,as I explained in an open letter to Erdoğan in an article published on July 16th, he could understand this heavily unfortunate situation only if another government was harming directly religious rights of the people, forbidding the free frequentations of mosks or bringing an age limit of 18 years to the choranic studies etc. İn a case like that, it would be clear that Erdoğan would never say “well what can we do? They are in power, we must just wait for the next elections in two years from now”. Unfortunately, the AKP government’s strange black lists have even come to the point of “forbidding to leave flowers on the Atatürk monuments” on the day of the Republic (October 29) or on the day offered to the Turkish youth by Atatürk, (the 19th of May.)
Let's not forget that that all this "One man show" was made possible by the contributions of the European Union. Representants of the EU who were involved in the case of Turkey like Arie Oostlander or Claudia Roth, kept giving their approval for Erdoğan cheering gladfully for all his erasings of the Kemalist secular system in every aspect of Turkish social life and politics. Somehow they saw in his acts some democraticizing factors, obviously having understood nothing about the social-democrat realities of kemalism. Thus the EU cheered the Constitutional changes made by the referendum of September 12, 2010. While the EU congratulated the AKP for "having made those democratic changes to the Constitution”, the AKP government became autocratic in all its decision makings! The question remains to be answered: Why and how the EU decided that those changes were "democratic"? Which European country would agree to such a regime where the government is set free to do whatever it wants, without any checks and balances? İs it that they had no time to read or have translated the dossier? Can this ever be an excuse anyway? The result is that the EU has made some very special contributions to this pseudo-democracy reigning over Turkey.
One main reason for all this deaf and dumb relation of the EU with the real Turkish Republic, is the full misreading of the Kemalist period by EU politicians and press. It's not very surprising: if in their own time period and the age of communication, they were unable to read the political career of Erdoğan while it's being broadcasted "live", how do you want them to understand the period of Atatürk from back 75-90years? Obviously with a little help from AKP comments and the "second republican" Turkish journalists, the EU politicians end up seeing in Atatürk a fascist leader who only enforced some european lifestyles reforms on his own people who didn t want it. The reality is that he brought to the country all of the basics of a democratic republic, unlike any leader of his times. Taking the power from the hands of the Sultan and the Khalifa, he brought it down to the earth, to the people of the new Republic. Thus Turkey was also one of the first countries in the world to give equal rights to women in elections. He launched campaigns to speed up the new alphabet reading and writing which (it's never mentioned) increased a lot the level of literacy accross the country. He made all the possible efforts to the development of art and science. He only preached "peace" with the slogan "peace at home, peace abroad" and most important of all, he helped the launching of a plural Party system to rival his own, the Republican Party of the People, CHP. The first one had to be closed down after an assasination plot against Atatürk was put in action. The second one, the “Free Party" led by Fethi Okyar came to life in 1930. It didn't last since the new regimes ennemies created some bloody clashes in İzmir that proved to be the demise of the Party. Nonetheless Atatürk recognized early on, since the twenties, that a true democracy required opposing views. I guess this is enough as main information.I let the reader decide which one of the two has contributed more to democracy in Turkey, Atatürk or Erdoğan?
In other words, We the "white Turks" as they often talk about us in the foreign press mainly, we believe it's grand time for Europe to question its serious lack of knowledge about Atatürk's era. As a professional artist who is also the President of the Professional Turkish Artists Association (UPSD) I must also answer those lines of Steinworth: "Turkey's actual cultural art circles sponsored by the heirs of the families of the main leading industrial families such as Koc and Sabanci, have nothing in common with the somber kemalist art of the past decades." Well, this is such an anachronical comparison! How can you compare for instance, the period of Max Beckmann and the one of Sigmar Polke? Or can we say that Neo Rauch is somber in the Kemalist style(!) and that on the contrary Johannes Wohnseifer is playfull enough with his Jodi Foster or Reagan puppets? It would not make sense anywhere! But if anybody ever thinks that it does make sense, then I will humbly remind those art connaisseurs that as a kemalist, I started this multi media political art myself in 1987 with the box of democracy and I'll leave it there. Anybody with the right open mind can check the art of Ali Avni Çelebi, or Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu from the earlier years of kemalism till Balkan Naci İslimyeli or İsmet Doğan from my generation passing through Burhan Doğançay or Altan Gürman... So Atatürk not only brought all the foundations of modern culture and contemporary art, but most of the artists, filmmakers, writers, theater directors and actors are proud descendants of the Kemalist culture, unlike what Europe would like to believe, just looking at few galleries or exhibits close to kurdish politics. The main "united" art disciplines resistance was launched against the AKP, by the "Artist's İnitiative" (Sanatçılar Girişimi) a year and a half ago, with the countries most famous artists from all fields getting together with the slogan "we refuse!" (Reddediyoruz!) . The names include famous actors (Tarık Akan from the film "Yol", Rutkay Aziz) famous artists ( Mehmet Aksoy - from the destroyed "Monument of Humanity", Ekrem Kahraman, Mehmet Güleryüz), musicians (Edip Akbayram, Fazıl Say, İlhan İrem), famous theater people (Genco Erkal, Ferhan Şensoy, Orhan Aydın), writers (Ataol Behramoğlu- poet, Zeynep Oral - art writer, Ümit Zileli journalist) and hundreds of other names. I speak to you also as one of the three spokesmen of the Initiative.
Probably, as I like to emphasize, the main problem of western countries is their lack of understanding and knowledge on the very complex history of 20th Century Turkish Politics. Yes, Turkey has had problems in its democracy in the periods before Erdoğan too, but don't forget that since the plural Party system came to Turkey in 1946, the CHP stayed in power only 4 years in the first ones, and later CHP or any other social democrat Party could just be part of a coalition for only some 14 years with the seat of prime minister occupied by them for only 8-9 years. Turkey's rightist governments with various tint of Islamic concessions, are unfortunately mostly responsible of the undemocratic rulings that we know in the country. Even in all these grey years when we look back, not any other leader has ever attracted such massive reaction and none of them ever carried the zero tolerance Erdoğan has towards any criticism, including cartoons! Also often the military coups or memorandums, are often all placed in the same evil basket and commented as a whole, where as in reality they are as different from one another as enemy brothers are. I let serious researchers dig for themselves without blindly believing all the AKP versions on that summary.
As an epilogue to this ongoing story, I can assert that summary's such as "the Kemalist elite looking down on the rural Turkey" are practical journalistic summaries introduced by AKP that are quite far from the reality. Turkey was a country where religion was lived intensely by anybody who wanted to do so, a country where all levels of social stratum respected each other, including bureaucrats and peasants. We didn' t have Converse or Adidas shoes in years where money was rare, but we had endless pride and self confidence and self respect. We looked to the future with high goals. We were proud to be Turks and believed in democracy, science and art. Atatürk kept our spirit high on darker days. Coming back to today, I will only remind our German friends, that we as Turks deserve the best democracy in the world, as much as any German or any Dutch person. We don' t want to think that an Erdoganish left over of a would be democracy, is good enough for us! So we ask the world to follow closely the situation of intellectuals and journalists as well as protesting masses in Turkey. This applies also to the courtcases starting with Ergenekon and Balyoz (sledgehammer). The world has to make sure that again Erdoğan is not going to act vindictively against all those who questioned his decisions and actions. The already arrested participants to the peacefull mass demonstrations of Gezi Park might be a very bad sign for the future: It's one thing to have your "European Affairs Minister" claim that "democracy of the highest level is alive and well in Turkey", it' s another thing to apply that democracy! Let me tell you an example about what level of "Empire of Fear" we are facing: Actor Mehmet Ali Alabora who happened to give few interviews to media including CNN Int. in the beginning of the crisis had just said "well it's not just about the Park". Well I guess by now the whole world knows that fact. Can you believe that Alabora has been a continuous subject of intimidation, if not threats directly by the Prime-Minister, precisely for having said "it's not just about the Park"? Do you know any country in the EU where such a sentence from an artist can become an issue of harrassment and still be considered a democratic country? You better watch closely what's to follow.
We expect Europe to restart the dialogue with Turkey right at that point: Reminding of the basic concepts of human rights, secularism, democracy and freedom for everyone, including all the Turks on the opposition camp... This has become an issue of life and death in our country.
Also, please have someone convince our government that the fact that the whole world reacted spontaneously to the horrorfull images coming from Turkey, does not mean at all that this protest movement was triggered anywhere abroad! This is what they are trying to prove (!) nowadays...