In the second part of a two-part series on the changing face of Turkey, Emre Kazim looks at changes in Turkey’s politics over the last 20 years, and the accompanying successes, and problems. For the first part of this series, looking at the economy, click here.
On the political front, a second pillar has been the commitment to democracy and human rights of the AKP. A ‘turn’ away from the ‘old’ Eastward looking perspective of Erbakan, towards the endorsement of European ascension was hailed as a break away from the perceived problematic ‘political Islam’. This removed the wind from the sails of the scaremongering propaganda aimed at fevering fear of an ‘Iranisation’ of Turkey by the Islamic movements. However, progressively the Europhilic trend has died down, due to the disillusionment of the on-going fruitlessness of the European ascension process, pushing Turkey to an Eastward gaze (Turkey is now seen as a major player in Africa and Asia, not only economically but politically also).
A platform has been created for civic debates about the future of Turkey and the nature of the state that people in Turkey want to live in. The process of ‘constitution making’, is a good example of this. The current Turkish constitution is a product of the coup d’etat of the 1980’s, which saw the military takeover by General Kenal Evren (under the auspice of stability). The constitution was ratified in 1982 but almost as immediately as power was transferred to a civilian government, parties from the entire political spectrum sought to amend the apparent problems it brought with it; for example, articles 3 and 10 (implicitly) deal with ‘Turkishness’ (AR. 3 (1) states ‘The Turkish State[s …] language is Turkish’) which ethnic minorities find problematic, and Article 26 in relation to the implications of ‘denigrating of the Turkish nation’ to freedom of speech. To date, the Turkish constitution has been amended 16 times.
Described as a camel with too many humps on its back, this new constitution has long been overdue. However, despite the popularity of the AKP – the only party in Turkish republican history to have increased its vote in three subsequent elections -the AKP has many issues which remain to be resolved. The legal interpretations of laicite – the ever symbolic headscarf ban, for example – have not been addressed, despite being a party which, ironically, gained much of its popularity with the religious conservatives of society. The pressing question of the Kurdish people requires special focus- including their treatment, rights and security issues that the tension presents. In addition, the silencing and imprisonment of high profile authors and journalists, who have been critical of the state, has undermined the efforts to portray a vision of a progressive Turkey. Nevertheless, developments in the social, political and economic environment, in the past three decades, have nurtured the creation of a new space within which unthinkable debates are now taking place. Many eagerly anticipate what the outcomes of such discussions will be.
Hannah Arendt writes that change is guaranteed, but it is in our time that the pace of change has been accelerated. The growing economic confidence of Turkey, disillusionment with European ascension, an eastward political stance and continued increase in foreign investment are likely to continue to morph the face of the Turkish nation. It is, therefore, difficult to make any premonitions as to the future of Turkey, indeed much has altered but it is unclear where this will lead. Major questions remain; is the neo-liberal approach sustainable? Will the bubble burst? Can the AKP maintain its electoral support? If not who will pose this challenge? What are the implications of an increasingly assertive ‘minority question’? How will new, eastward facing, political affiliations impact Turkish foreign policy? If ‘change’ is to be sustainable, these questions must be urgently addressed. At the very least there is evidence and hope of a new Turkey – one without the looming shadow of the military juntas.