Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Open Letter to Mr. Barack Obama: DEAR MR. PRESIDENT

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on April 6th, 2009- 

-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 6 Nisan 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

Mr. President, I am very pleased to see an American president is visiting my native country, Turkey, in the very early days of his administration. I am writing this letter to you to provide some additional insights about the current Turkish state of affairs, with the hope that they will assist in maximizing your Excellency’s Turkey meetings. President Obama, your administration must have noticed by now that Turkey has been accomplishing some positive results by reaching out to its neighbors in recent years. New Turkish foreign policies such as disentangling historic conflicts with surrounding countries have started to bear fruit. Turkish officials now visit any country in the wider region and can shoulder an exhausted US in the region.

            The Turkish government also has been making a lot of progress when it comes to reestablishing its relationship with its Kurdish population. Until only 18 years ago, the Kurdish language was prohibited in Turkey and Kurdish identity was mostly denied. Today, an official State television channel broadcasts in Kurdish.  However, much more work needs to be accomplished in regards to other minorities. "The threat is growing nationalism and frustration with the US and Europe", a new U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Philip H. Gordon wrote as a co-author of a book on Turkey and if the upcoming Armenian Genocide legislation passes in the House, this would further vent the chauvinistic flames in Turkey and could set back possibly newly improving relations with Armenia.

            You should be aware of the fact that, Turkey’s full membership ambitions have been somewhat discouraged and disappointing. It is true that, especially after the EU granted official-candidate status to Turkey for full EU membership in 2005, the Turkish administration has slowed the much-praised reform agenda. Turkish officials have given many reasons for this sluggishness though none of them are sufficient to explain this attitude. After all, these reforms are essential Turkish citizens who strive to live better.

Today, Turkey is trying to turn yet another important corner toward fostering its democracy, with facing its own recent history. The judicial investigation into a shadowy ultranationalist group known as Ergenekon is continuing. In order to prove that democracy and Islam can properly function hand-in-hand, the Turkish democratic escapade must reach its final destination as a fully democratic, secular and modern country.  Though still a mix of politicization and disinformation has disheartened many observers whom wish to see the trials as a step toward an accountable, and democratic Turkey, not a day for vengeance.

All the same, the Turkish democratic struggle is not moving forward linearly. First off, laws that govern Turkish political parties give utmost power to party leadership. This dysfunctional process enables party leaders to become impervious party dictators, who can annul local party organizations, cherry- pick the MP candidates and hold hostage the party members by various means to keep themselves “voted in” forever. For example, Mr. Deniz Baykal, a leader of the main opposition party, is a great illustration that in the face of the decades long ballot defeats, including the one on Sunday, he is still the strongest man in his party.

Mr. Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister and the leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is another example.  Mr Erdogan has been running a one-man show in the government, as the other founding fathers of the AKP have been eliminated one way or another in the recent years. The Turkish NGOs, think tanks, and colleges would have filled a big chunk of this vacuum; sadly they are neither equipped nor self-reliant enough to execute this historic role. Though the local elections promised some hopes for the future of balance equation amid dwindled support for AKP. Yet, AKP is still the winner and whether AKP collected necessary lessons or the opposition parties can resonate this new election results with the people remain to be seen. 

And there is the Turkish free press. In recent months there have been many disturbing episodes that have distressed many spectators who follow Turkey closely. First, Mr. Erdogan irately targeted the outspoken Dogan Media group urging people not to buy their newspapers. Then, tax inspectors decided to fine the same media outlet at a historic figure, which unsurprisingly overlapped with the local elections. The freedom of speech, tolerance and harsh humor are also under fire, as Mr. Erdogan persists on suing writers and caricaturists. This state of emotion prompts another sample of untouchable psychology and many Turkish experts now echo Erdogan’s authoritarian ambitions during the off the record talks.

Mr. President, from your cabinet appointments and some of the recent policies, it is clear that you value science very much. Though things are different in Turkey. It is reported that a top official at Turkey’s science agency, TUBITAK, forced the editors of its science magazine “Science and Technique” to remove a cover story on the work of Darwin. This incident comes into sight to be a sign of the discomfort with the theory of evolution. It is acknowledged that Darwinism is a powerful theory, yet it shouldn’t be taught as a scientific certainty. However, Turkish youngsters have right to know and discuss this theory as well as others.

Dear Mr. President, this letter is written in light of a Turkish phrase, which is common in my culture, “I am telling my daughter, so the bride will hear it.”  The real audience of this letter should be the Turkish politicians and Turkish people I mention within. If the people of my country covet to attain a modern democratic and secular state with fully functioning elements, no one can stand against this will. Nevertheless, one never know how a miracle happens: Perhaps hearing some of Turkey’s shortcomings from a popular and transformational American president might just do the trick and assist to prepare the groundwork: this time for our ‘change’

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