Turkey's elections and historical baggage

Turkey is in the midst of a transitional period marked by considerable tension. The situation is far from normal and thus unlikely to last long. Yet it is difficult to see the developments ahead, which is one reason for the tensions: an unpredictable future.

Societies that can foresee the future thanks to their normally functioning, orderly, and established institutions are generally happier and more comfortable. People can envision their tomorrow and make decisions accordingly.

Turkey’s future is deeply uncertain. Some await a single-man rule that will go on forever, some expect a saviour though they have no idea from where, while still others hope for a miracle. Those are the optimistic ones. The pessimists are sure that Turkey cannot stand this crisis, that evil powers will divide the country or that a civil war will break out.

Pessimists in Turkey talk about the country’s negative historical heritage of the country, referring to a society in which the tradition of democracy has not been strongly established, public institutions cannot perform their usual function as they are manipulated by those in power, and people are loyal to their leaders our of fear or respect or some other traditional reflex, such as nationalism.

This sort of environment can lead to hero worship. The worshipped figure might be a religious leader, an ethnic leader, or a secularist leader. In fact, he or she does not even need to be alive. Loyalty to this sort of romanticised ideal, an idolised figure such as Atatürk, can also undermine democracy, as this person’s real or perceived opinions and wishes can be imposed on others as a roadmap or a vision. Critical thinking disappears and opposing views come to be seen as treason or ignorance, or both.

Yet pessimism does not emerge due to wrongful or psychological tendencies. Turkey is in a region in which democracy rarely bears fruit. Turkey did not undergo any true experience of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment or the Industrial Revolution, but instead implemented flawed copies of them.

Still, optimists have a counter argument that is also based on realities. Yes, a country’s historical baggage is important. Yet heritage is not destiny, history is not character, but instead more like a birth defect that can, over time, be altered and resolved.

Heritage and daily needs tend to find a balance. When social tensions are reduced, heritage comes to the fore. In times of crisis, people look for new approaches and history comes in for questioning. This article, for instance, is an effort to question Turkey’s heritage and find a resolution.   

Turkey’s ongoing political, economical, and legal crises have many people questioning their values. Our heritage has suddenly seemed insufficient. As daily needs go unfulfilled, it is natural for the heritage to find itself in crisis and lose credibility. As people start to question the heritage, which seemed sufficient only yesterday, new initiatives can begin to shape a new heritage.

In fact, the course of life tends to create new heritages. Though the results of an election may not change the course of events, changes in perception will inevitably affect the results of future votes. The ultimate value of today’s elections are not solely about their results, but also about the discussion and debate they prompt, which are invaluable in terms of societal development.

Indeed, elections are not just about outcomes. Perhaps even the fact that Turkey’s elections are not entirely free and fair has its merits, as the vote makes such defects plain for all to see. From this perspective, the more elections the country has, the more its people will benefit, independent of their results.


© Ahval English

The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.