Friday, December 04, 2009

A cloud of quasi-authoritarianism


Nowadays, Turkey is discovering itself once more by going through a new period, a period coupled with changing dynamics along with various “openings” that have taken place during the past few years. This period gives the people and writers alike enough courage to question some of the dark sides of Turkish history, as well as the powerhouses that have been untouchable throughout the decades.

Turkey is striving to put behind a period of quietness when it comes to some taboo subjects and events. Even Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is not being spared from this new spirit of criticism, and I have always believed, just like Falih Rifki worried in his great book, “Cankaya,” that the worst thing we did to Atatürk was to elevate him to another god.

I am very much in favor of squaring the account with the past. I am against the idea that some events and periods of history should not be discussed. On the contrary, I think our recent history and even the history of Islam must be questioned meticulously, even if it is very hard to find anyone who does the latter.

While many pundits enjoy the fact that they finally, after decades of oppression, are able to openly question the misdeeds of the past, or the current regime and most importantly the actions of the Turkish Army, I just stare at this newly found spirit and tell myself how much progress Turkey has made over the years towards becoming an open society. For I seriously believe that the most significant trait of an open society is to have an environment in which anyone can engage in honest discussions, even if some of them may hurt the national pride. From the tragic events that happened to the Armenian people during World War I to the Turkish wealth tax in 1942, from the violent 1955-1956 street protests to the periodic overthrow of civilian governments by the Turkish military, I am all for getting to the bottom of these controversial episodes.

Just a few years ago, it was surreal to even imagine that any active military officer could be detained, leaving aside getting arrested by civil authorities. Now it seems that the arrest of a military officer is becoming ordinary news. Let me be clear: I do not, at any rate, just get excited when I run into news about an arrest. I do not think every single military arrest or detainment is a sign of a better democracy, in contrast to the opinions of many columnists.

I do, however, think that it is an important development if the arrest of “anyone” is based on substantiated evidence. But I worry that, for example, many of the arrests that are being made in the ongoing "Ergenekon" investigation may not be according to universal justice and prosecution principles. Holding many civilian and military officials alike in custody for years, without being able to bring concrete evidence is very disturbing. Overlooking the distinction between suspicious writings or tapped phone conversations without attested exhibits for a committed crime is too big a mishandling. As mad as some people could be, justice cannot and should not be a way of getting payback for some of the wrongdoings of the past or being on the other side of the discussions.

Turkey's free minds should have enough latitude to ask tough questions to find out the real reasons behind some of the disturbing historic episodes or unfair treatments of different segments of the society that have shaped today's Turkey. Once we reach a level of trust and honesty and once we know that everyone at the table wants to see Turkey on the road to perfection, then we will realize that we are all actually not that far from each other. Turkey has enough personality, history, tolerance and many more elements to succeed in such an endeavor.

One of the cornerstones of any functioning democracy is freedom of the press, and today in Turkey this watchdog is being oppressed in a fashion that has never been seen in recent history, except during the periods of strict military rule. So I ask the question to those who claim that they want nothing but an open and accountable Turkey: Why is it that those sharp-witted intellectuals fall short of questioning today's nightmares or hardly make a passing by commenting about the hurdles that Turkish democracy is facing while they impeccably question Turkey's past.

Intellectuals, who deem to dig into the roots of the past misdeeds, prefer only to show mere “tolerance” for the foreign press for its criticism of the dark clouds that travel over Turkey. Many of those opinion makers assert or imply that they choose to be quiet about today's powerfuls' misbehavior, simply because there is no alternative out there, and that if we do not support this administration, we might just slide back. I think it is this miscalculated view of things that today makes Turkey's democracy failing or fragile. If the consciousness pens keep failing to show their backbones, when they are needed the most, against the most powerful, we are not progressing towards a better working democracy, but are giving way to another authoritarianism to take the baton from the predecessor.

Avowing tenderness for those who have courage to stand up does not mean one does one’s homework, but one only ignores it. Those pundits might still want to act like they are die-hard democrats by displaying mercy to others and “allowing” them to do their homework; actually it just turns them into a sort of chameleon-like democrat, who has no difficulty blending with the color of contemporary powerhouses. These timeserving and score-settling minds, however, could be equipped with sharp-witted and strong historic references, but in a real world, lack the necessary democratic spirit, and seem that they cannot get away from being dragged into the past all over again.

It excites me to see recent open discussions in the Turkish press, for they will give me hope that we are finally finding a way to reckon with the past's ghosts. I feel proud in showing them to our peers in the West. Then, when I see the cloud of quasi-authoritarianism wandering over Turkey's skies, and also those very audacious pundits become mum over these heart-joggling menaces to the Turkish democracy, I restart wondering, whether this whole new chapter that is taking place is just another sign of hitting the forces which are now weak or on the defensive side. Then I become pessimistic again and begin to think, whether this seeming era of enlightenment of free-spirited debate is just another chapter of a mere power struggle. And I find myself losing a lot of sleep over this scenario these days.

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