“Dear deputies, let us share the honor of getting rid of the black stain on Turkey’s law and Constitution. Let us be realistic: We will either be able to put some 90-or-so-year-old ex-generals before the courts or leave their fate to divine justice. But we are doing something: Turkey’s elected legislative body today, for the first time, says, ‘Yes, coup perpetrators can be subjected to trial and interrogated’.”
As Ertuğrul Günay, a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy and the current minister of culture and tourism, spoke in Parliament, addressing in particular his former “comrades” in the Republican People’s Party (CHP), what they did was not nod, not say “aye,” let alone applaud him. Instead, they rotated their seats, turning their backs to him.
It was, doubtlessly, one of the most remarkable, most symbolic acts noted in the recent history of the Turkish Parliament. On one side is the ruling party, placed in the conservative right and often seen with a great deal of suspicion for its “hidden agenda” both domestically and abroad, which voted to abolish an “article of shame” (guaranteeing impunity for the military junta of 1980 and their rank and file) in the military-sponsored Constitution. On the other is an opposition party, which labels itself “center-left” or even “social democratic,” a member of the Socialist International, whose entire group of deputies not only visibly turned their back to pleas but also refrained from voting.
Turkish politics is full of irony, at times even surreal. An original political scientist, İdris Küçükömer, had argued in the late 1960s that while the real identity of the “left” (meaning progressive) as we know it in Turkey was actually “right” (reactionary), the “right” of center was in fact the bearer of the reverse, unspoken identity. He was criticized thoroughly at the time by both the left and the right, but time has proven -- over and over -- that his was a very sharp observation.
The wee hours of April 28, 2010, were in that sense truly striking. Almost alone, the AK Party, a post-Islamist movement, sent a clear statement in the General Assembly that it is opening the door to seeking justice for one of the darkest episodes in the country -- a coup that led to the hanging of 50 people, and for more than half a million people to be detained and systematically tortured. It sent a strong message to the world that there is a will among the elected in Ankara to deal with a violent intervention which led more than 20,000 people to be stripped of their citizenship, tens of thousands to flee to Western Europe from a country then described as “one open prison.”
The vote on lifting the impunity of the junta followed, remarkably, another historic decision. By the decision of the AK Party government, all major trade unions will tomorrow be able to march toward and demonstrate together in Taksim Square, in the midst of İstanbul, breaking a 32-year ban. The joy among the leaders of the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (DİSK), the Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions (Hak-İş) and the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions (Türk-İş) was visible. Every May 1 in those 32 years was a day of protest and violence because the workers’ demands remained intact and frustrations were at the point of explosion.
It was impossible not to notice the irony again. A conservative party with Islamic roots, the AK Party, paving the way for expanding freedom into a forbidden zone, while a party which claims to represent the working masses did not even bother to thank the government for this long-overdue decision.
Obviously, such moves perplex foreigners -- particularly when words and pompous announcements from time to time turn into deeds like this. Understanding this is simple: What defines the manner and conduct of politics in Turkey is the distance between the parties. The closer a party sticks to its grass roots, such as the AK Party and to a certain extent the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the easier they reflect the true nature (for progress) of Turkish society; the more remote they are, such as the CHP, and the Democratic Left Party (DSP), the more alienated from reality they become. Therefore, the concepts left and right have lost their meaning here more than anywhere else in the world.
Under such circumstances, the demand for change is vocalized in mysterious ways, and paradoxes surprise us all. In response to accusations from his previous “comrades,” who called him a “renegade,” Günay mocked the CHP deputies as “enemies of democracy who tie their hopes to the military as they see that they cannot deal with the will of the people.”
The question again is whether the recorded attitude of the CHP in Parliament on a vital issue will have any impact at all in its membership in the Socialist International. This, indeed, remains to be seen.