Light or a wall at the end of the tunnel called Turkey?
In countries where the administrative system properly functions with its institutions and rule of law; and where the “reasonable social majority” recognises the value of political ethics, the tradition of critical expression by the media and public intellectuals is considered part of the natural flow.
However, in Turkey, where the crisis has now penetrated into the “marrow of the bones” of the social body, every critical opinion expressed regardless of the camps has long been perceived as “disaster-mongering” or even as “spoiling the game”.
Yet, the overall situation is too grave for any denial.
Even if they do not admit it, both the political class in its entirety at the helm of Turkey and the bulk of the opposition politicians are experiencing the biggest crisis of identity and vision in the history of the republic. The strategic compass and sound reason have gone missing.
What is Turkey being dragged into? Who are we, and who should we be? Since 1923, we have been supposedly “discussing” history; and interpreting our past, present and future on the basis of diametrically opposed views, cut off from the world; with an inconceivable sense of bitterness and revenge.
All these years, decades have passed and we still have nothing.
Such macro-identity crises drive states and societies to extremism, radical solutions and even wars - both internal and external.
As hopes faded in 1908, the year the Ottoman Empire installed a liberal constitution, the empire was plunged into a similar crisis and it was only through bloody wars that it could emerge from that dark tunnel - at the cost of mass suffering, crimes of humanity. But the traumas of that period - instead of being confronted - have pushed the last 99 years under the cover of an unnamed, de facto, permanent state of emergency.
We must admit that today there is no consensus on the format of the republic. Neither the state nor the majority of the people are keen on a legal system that would ensure equality and justice for all. The word “democracy” is an abstract term, which every part of the polarised society interprets differently, and selfishly. So far apart are also the analysis of cause-and-effect of the collapse of the tenets of the republican system, due to celebrate its centennial (“survival”?) next year.
In short, as of late 2022, there remains an enormous blockage that the political class, right, centre and left, cannot perceive with a cool head.
However, when we look at the characteristics and trends of the Turkish political class in terms of staying in power and taking power, some clarities should not be overlooked.
Culture is essential. Especially in the case of Turkey, currently rotting under an intense wave of corruption, from top to bottom. In a society where religion and morality, but also where secularism and morality are at loggerheads the way out seems farther than ever. The denialism of the destructive nature of the defect cultural norms may be helping build a wall of cement at the end of the tunnel, where some tiny glimmer of light is visible.
Political class is a main issue. When we look at the language used and the behaviour patterns exhibited, the root causes that determine the common denominator are obvious:
The majority of the main actors in today's fight with the old language of the last century are completely disconnected from the changes in the world, have an average age of well over 60, are overwhelmingly men, and most importantly, are the same cadres who had led the country to a dead end in the 1990s.
In other words, ghosts of the past, some deeply corrupt, and some with bloody hands of dirty wars of yesterday, are in line to take the power from Erdoğan and his partners. No wonder why so many first or second time voters feel contempt for this system of nepotism and clientelism.
Unfortunately, the 20 years under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) have failed to produce young leaders and cadres who could provide the country with fresh breath and blood. This is because a cadre that sees itself as the hunter of political favours and privileges, the guardian of the order, and that thinks that oriental cunning is politics, is busy wasting the precious time of the electorate with the same rhetoric and the same “forked tongue”.
AKP has become old and rotten. That is clear. But when we look at its multiple rivals, we see actors who are essentially competing to resemble each other in nationalist discourse.
Uncertainty and lack of direction is one phenomenon, but another phenomenon, which we see in every national crisis, is also becoming clearer:
The ruling party and the opposition are jointly radicalising the public towards extremes that open the doors to domestic and foreign aggression via the Kurdish issue, the domestic refugee discontent, the polarisation process and foreign policy.
Unfortunately, there is no dynamic in basic political indicators such as solution-oriented approaches and attitudes in favour of domestic and foreign peace to prevent radicalisation.
Civil society processes, which were nibbled in the 1990s, have been thoroughly suppressed and digested in the last 20 years - after a short spring.
Young and modern-minded people, who would normally be expected to participate in politics in a country under normal circumstances, have also been eradicated.
One of these young leaders, Selahattin Demirtaş, will soon complete his sixth year in prison, accompanied by the silence of the centre-right/left opposition, in the name of the survival of the established order.
The Green movement, a promising candidate to create a young/urban dynamic in line with the changes in the world, is deliberately not allowed to be turned into a party; it has met one blockage after the other, by the bureaucracy.
On the other hand, a phenomenon is flowing on its own riverbed and getting closer to destination. The details of this can be seen in Fehmi Koru's latest article. He refers to data of opinion polls and argues that the ultra-nationalist segment (votes) is now in all-time high - historically speaking.
“In general, the total votes of the parties that share the legacy of the late Alparslan Türkeş (the founder of the ultra-nationalism and pan-Turanism in Turkey) constitute the new historical record of that line. Both the IYI Party and the Zafer Party have cadres who used to work for the MHP. The total vote of that line represented in MHP + IYI Party + Zafer Party (MHP 7 + IYI Party 15 + Zafer 3) has reached 25%,” he wrote.
This trend is the product of the deterioration of Turkey's “factory settings” after 2013 (Gezi Protests and onwards). Similar to the socio-political conditions that paved way to the military coup in 12 September 1980, we can now clearly see the similar conditions that dragged the country into 2016 and beyond.
We can note here what Koru has left out: Turkey is a candidate country for a “Turkish-Islamic Synthesis” model, to be achieved at all costs in 2023. The current constellation of power in Ankara sees no resistance among the opposition in its offensive foreign policy and shift away from the West. The “synthesis” may accelerate its pace to amend the Lausanne Treaty, in terms of claiming further territories in Iraq and Greece. Cyprus will remain a lethal target. This is what makes the situation grave.
Because there is no other dynamic.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), as only a few of its members may be aware, is caught between “Turkey and Islam”. This may be an expression of an unnamed state of isolation for Turkey’s neo-Kemalists and their traditional party; an inability to meet the young voters, which number nearly seven million (more than 10% of the electorate), and most importantly, of being captive to a discourse that is disconnected from the world. In terms of the CHP, we are speaking of a party that has been invisible in the EU capitals and Washington D.C. for years.
As Turkey withdraws into itself like a mussel, it moves further to the East. Because it has apparently proven itself unable to overcome the biggest enemy: A rotten political culture, which feeds corruption across the spectrum, and a vicious form of nationalism.