Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Erdoğan's way

I was reading a critical analysis in The Guardian by Jon Henley about German Chancellor Angela Merkel titled “Angela Merkel: Europe's savior -- or biggest problem?” (Nov. 22) when my attention was drawn to a man on the TV, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the prime minister of Turkey. He was addressing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputies in Parliament. It was supposed to be one of those regular Tuesday addresses, but the more attention I paid the more it became apparent that here was a politician on the top of his game as a leader; he was extremely high spirited, completely in command of his verbal skills, hitting new heights in his oratory abilities, and this was all evident in his facial expressions and posture. Everything seemed to be in place. He was truly enjoying the moment, with masterful pausing and smashing punch lines. Within the space of half an hour, he managed to touch upon many critical domestic matters as well as global ones. He declared that the names of some dubious military figures (linked with crimes against humanity in the past) at major military barracks will be replaced with more ordinary “war heroes”; he demanded that Bashar al-Assad leave his post immediately; and he went into detail explaining a politically popular topic of the introduction of payment in lieu of compulsory military service. He went on further in the midst of loud applause to attack his most favorite and easiest target of all, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). Referring to denials of the CHP's role in the 1936-39 massacre of Kurds in Dersim (which, no doubt, borders on genocide), he took enough time to ridicule CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and promised that within a day he would make public certain official documents proving the role of the one-party government of the period, the CHP. And he did. The very day he made the headlines in the international press for prompting Assad to step down, he also took an unprecedented step in the history of the Turkish Republic. He not only shared some key documents, proving the extermination of more than 13,000 Kurdish civilians in what is now Tunceli province but, to the bewilderment of the public, he apologized for the crimes against humanity. For such a delicate issue in a nation known for sweeping under the carpet many of the wrongs of the past, he was met with standing ovations. This was, objectively speaking, phenomenal. In a world where a lack of proper leadership, on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere, is visible, Erdoğan stands out with his qualities and abilities, which can be observed and analyzed carefully without bias. (His popularity remains unchanged at above 60-65 percent at the polls.) In domestic politics he is unchallenged and will be invincible for some time to come. The way the opposition acts and reacts, gives him all the space and time he needs to completely set the agenda, while they continue to drag behind. His main challenger, Kılıçdaroğlu, is now politically finished, dwarfed by his own denial of history and his inability to rule his own party. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the second largest opposition party, is marked by its own anachronistic manners before the world, and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the political wing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), is unable to correct its relationship with violence. In that sense, “Erdoğan's Way” is wide open. Whether one approves of it or not, his way has been a crushing dynamic. It has been operating on its own qualifications to transform the old instruments of the Kemalist republic: The army is on the retreat towards a more professional role, and the judiciary, once heavily idealized by Kemalist dogma, is in the midst of restructuring itself, in an open-ended process (which can turn out to be correct or wrong). Now, this dynamic has started to shatter the Kemalism-obsessed CHP, which looks like a traffic jam at a roundabout where every car driver wants to drive to a different direction. But Erdoğan's Way is not without its traps and pitfalls. Now that the West finally realized that Turkey has not change its axis, we can discuss where the chances and risks are. Leave the good and likely story aside -- namely, of Erdoğan as the second transformer after Atatürk, who will by 2023 shape a modern, truly democratic, civilian, predictable world power. The risk is authoritarianism, benevolent or not. Apart from pushing this Turkish “glasnost” further, Erdoğan also hinted on erratic choices that come with the package; he lashed out at the German foundations with ungrounded accusations, openly defended Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) operations (trespassing on the territory of the judiciary), rejected conscientous objection and continued to cause concern that the line between terrorist activity or government critique and freedom of expression (he has been alienating dissidents in various camps for a while) is very thin in his mind. What's next? Apart from the challenges of the state of the global economy, he is hoping that the opposition will remain stuck and he is counting on the massive support, which is overwhelmingly pro-change, that he now enjoys. He is now at a point where the temptation to exert his single-man authority may distort his democratically mandated mission to enhance the civilian domain for a freer flow of ideas, encourage debate, boost tolerance and carry out speedier reforms. His journey continues to be exciting, with inherent risks. 2011-11-24

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