Saturday, March 20, 2010

If the West really wants to help Turkey improve its democracy...

Last week, the U.S. State Department released its “2009 Annual Report on Human Rights” and, like many other countries, it allocated considerable space to discussing cases of human-rights abuse in Turkey.
The picture is grim for Turkey, as always, even though it has made sweeping reforms in many areas to increase its prospects for full membership in the European Union.
Turkey, without a doubt, has changed substantially since the 1990s. That was a tough decade for Turkey as it sought to find its new identity and adapt itself to the “new world order” led by the only remaining superpower, the United States. Turkey was not only trying to figure out how it should define its new, unique role in light of changing international dynamics, it was also going through a very difficult period filled with economic, social and political battles. The endless coalition governments and fights, abrupt elections, skyrocketing inflation, numerous devaluations and one post-modern military coup in 1997 were just a snapshot of this decade.
Friction, a feature of relations between the Turkish state and the Kurdish segment of the country since the founding of the Turkish Republic, was also on the rise during this decade. The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a separatist armed Kurdish group, escalated its attacks, especially in the southeast region of Turkey, where the majority of the Kurdish population lives. Hundreds of unknown murders occurred, especially during the mid-1990s, mostly targeting the Kurdish businessmen who were suspected of helping the PKK.
Turkey’s political instability reflected badly on its social structure. With Turkey increasingly relying on its military establishment as the only stable force, the Turkish military increased its martial operations, budget and sway in the country. Enjoying its height in terms of popularity, the Turkish military pushed the pro-Islamic Welfare Party, or RP, out of government in 1997, hoping it would in this way stop the ongoing debate about the nature of the secular system and its uneasy coexistence with growing religiosity.
The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, emerged as a political force at the beginning of the 2000s. Under the leadership of the charismatic Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and several other senior conservative political figures who had also risen from the ranks of the banned pro-Islamic parties, the AKP was welcomed by voters as a viable governing alternative.
Fast forward to the present day: Turkey’s high-spirited recent international diplomacy has been hailed by the Obama administration in the U.S. as a potential diplomatic partner throughout the Middle East and Islamic world. Turkey also wholeheartedly, and sincerely, believed that Obama could unclench the fists of those rogue regimes, including Iran, and bring much-needed stability to the region following the Bush administration, a period that put Turkey in a difficult quandary, because of the “with us or against us” rhetoric.
Turkey’s new proactive foreign policies, which heavily emphasize links with the Arab and Muslim worlds, sparked discussions in many Western capitals about the country’s direction and whether it is drifting away from the West and turning its face to the East, or the Muslim world. According to this school of thought, the AKP is a party of religious deception that has an ultimate goal of undermining secularism, linking Turkey to the Muslim world and imposing Islamic law.
The tension between the religious/conservative forces and secular forces continues to this day. Recent allegations over the “deep state” have created sharp divisions among the Turkish public. Investigations have focused on the alleged Ergenekon terror organization, a shadowy gang that is accused of aiming to overthrow the AKP government and staging a military coup by spreading chaos through bombings and attacks across Turkey. But as these investigations went on, with still no end in sight, questions about the fairness of the trials accordingly started to rise.
While the AKP’s reformist agenda undoubtedly made Turkey freer and more compatible with Western democracies in terms of written rules and regulations, the same administration’s authoritative tendencies have become more visible in recent years.
The U.S. State Department’s 2009 human-rights report, released March 11, is proof of these authoritarian tendencies in the AKP administration. “In November [of 2009], the Justice Ministry confirmed allegations that 56 judges’ and prosecutors’ telephones had been tapped as part of the Ergenekon investigation,” the report’s authors wrote. “Some observers reported that many of the judges and prosecutors whose telephones had been tapped were noted for their anti-[AKP] decisions...”
One of the most important watchdogs in Turkey, the Turkish press, has been increasingly under the threat of the AKP administration. During 2009, the same report says: “The Ministry of Finance levied a total of 5.9 billion Turkish Liras (approximately $3.9 billion) in tax fines against the Doğan Media Group... These fines nearly equaled the total value of the company’s assets... fines undermine the economic viability of the group and therefore affect the freedom of the press in practice.”
Prime Minister Erdoğan continuously sues cartoonists and advises media bosses to fire those columnists who “write irresponsibly,” as he said as recently as March.
Civil societies and nongovernmental organizations are not strong enough to impact the public opinion in Turkey. Think tanks in Turkey are also relatively very young, and are far from being independent. The frictions within the judiciary are visible, and growing conservatism, which is encouraged by the ruling administration, has created what is called “neighborhood pressure” to push public servants to appear more pious in order to be promoted, according to many accounts.
While the AKP administration has passed reforms to curb military influence, there seems to be another danger of “authoritarian” rule, with the Turkish prime minister having solid powers in the absence of appropriate and durable checks and balances. With the current one-party hegemony, along with narrow-minded and weak opposition parties, observers assert that “corruption and influence peddling are the inevitable consequences of today’s Turkey.”
What is left for us is to work for the improvement of civil societies in Turkey, forces that will stand up for a free society and a well-oiled democratic machine. If the West truly wants Turkey to improve its democracy and not get trapped in another authoritarian threat, it must do everything it can to improve those institutions. Maybe this mission can be the last and best option to help Turkey catch up with its Western peers, instead of publishing annual condemnations of human-rights abuses, which seem to be cropping up under one authoritarian regime or another anyway.
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Guest - geoff
2010-03-16 22:40:00
 please ,please, i have heard enough of the complaining ,if turkey wants to progress it must develop a true democracy where there is freedom of speech,thought and expression.say what you feel and feel what you want without any threat of prosecution under draconian laws 
Guest - kedikolu
2010-03-16 22:10:07
 How is it possible for Turkey to have independent and strong civil organizations while there is one party hegemony in the country? everybody has to check with erdogan and get his approval to make a move.. if they wont bow to erdogan, they cant get the funding, no funding no staff, no staff no .... 
Guest - dr p
2010-03-16 18:33:58
 @viggo: well said, but i hope you don't mean armed intervention in every atrocity. there has to be some guiding philosophy as to when to intervene, and to what extent, but such lies beyond me. we (the usa) can't be the world's policeman - a task at which we've failed miserably anyway. should countries bordering the incident intervene, and what if they don't? of what ustility are sanctions? i don't know where to begin, let alone, where to end such involvement. 
Guest - Viggo
2010-03-16 17:38:43
 Firstly, we should recognize that the report is not aiming at Turkey. It deals with human rights violation and one part of it happens to deal with Turkey. But in a more general sense, I think that man kind has a general responsibility for helping other people suffering under violations of human rights, even if such violations happen to take place in another country. I can not really understand the logic by some people below, suggesting that when people are suffering, others should not do anything but just turn a blind eye? Is that the way you are acting in person as well, if you hear for example your neighbour beating his wife, see a rape in the street, someone beating his dog really bad. Do you then just walk away and say "not my problem". I think mankind has a common responsibility to reduce suffering, and then you can have your "nationalistic ideas" ("we area so strong and independent we dont need any help" type of attitude) as much as you want. To watch people suffering, regardless of religion and nationality without helping them is wrong! 
Guest - dr p
2010-03-16 16:14:28
 i agree with those who have posted that the west should help turkey by not helping and allowing the people to decide internal matters. however, should the west give carte blanche to any nation which tramples human rights? there has to be some accountability with real consequences for bad behaviour. any alternatives? 
Guest - David. S
2010-03-16 15:43:38
 Perhaps if these abuses were admitted to and dealt with in a clear and transparent manner, there would be fewer human-rights condemnations. Don't shoot the messenger. 
Guest - Nihilo
2010-03-16 13:55:06
 I strongly believe that every government wants democracy for its interests... 
Guest - Murat
2010-03-16 13:21:28
 As Psycho alluded to, Turkish democracy's biggest problem has been its least democratic institutions: Political parties. Cemaats are nothing but a different form of it. People tend to ignore the fact that meddling of the military was mostly an effect not the cause. The irony is that TSK is light years ahead of our political parties in terms of institutional democracy and transparency. Until people wrest control of the country from the politicial party sultanates, the quality of the democracy will not imporve, it may even get worse because the last brake of the regime is also being dismantled. 
Guest - sam
2010-03-16 12:41:38
 if the west wishes to help Turkey ... then DO NOTHING + do not interfere !!! weather Turkey needs a civil war as per France or US or weather she needs a war as per Germany ... Turkey NEEDS TO FIND HER OWN WAY without any political guidance (especially from countries that wishes to restore democracy all over the world ... what the heck, if they are not with us there may as well be dead type attitude) 
Guest - Levent
2010-03-16 12:32:41
 What a load of ..... Why would we want anything from anyone? If we are to want anything, to quote Diogenes; "Cease to shade me from the sun.". Or to put it more simply, keep your nose out! 
Guest - vural korkmaz
2010-03-16 12:07:38
 The author, Ilhan Tanir, says: "If the West truly wants Turkey to improve its democracy, ... it must do everything it can to improve those institutions." Nobody can improve democracy in a nation other than the people itself. Because, democracy is an admisnistation by the people, for the people, of the people. Democracy cannot be imposed on anybody. I would say this: "If the West truly wants Turkey to improve its democracy, it must help Turkiye to educate its people to gain skills and knowledge which would help Turkish Nation to establish democratic institutions and fight for their civil rights in domocratic, legal and peaceful ways." So far what Turkiye has been seen from West is harboring terrorists (PKK and others) in the name of civil rights, supporting fabricated claims and lies by Armeian terrorist organizations against Turkish Nation, etc. 
Guest - Katie
2010-03-16 10:54:39
 I fundamentally disagree that the West should help Turkey in such a way. Turkey & the Turkish people should sort out their own problems. We have seen repeatedly the resentment toward the West whenever they try to help, the only thanks they get is shouts of interference & US poodle ! People power is the way to get changes, do not cower to the bullying of egomaniacs. 
Guest - LeePsycho
2010-03-16 10:03:19
 I think you have the solution skewed a bit. If you want to move this conversation to where the solution lies, you have to remove the Political Party altogether. While a political party can help people run for office through campaign contributions and name recognition etc... The Group Psychology of the Party removes the representative nature of democracy. within that blog is a segment of George Washington's Farewell Address wherein he warns about the allowance of Political Party in Democratic Government. I have to tell you I see all those warnings comming to fruition both in Turkey and the US alsong with many other 'democratic' countries. 
Guest - viggo
2010-03-16 09:25:58
 The first and most important part must be to present the truth, to bring out all the dirt in the light. The author some how manages to make it, as is often the case, that it is the messangers fault and imply that he/she should be silenced. But I would say that, the mort important factor for improvements is a free media and a free flow of information. If we can not even recognize that there is a problem, then how can you fix it. 
Guest - janissary
2010-03-16 05:28:07
 i kindly disagree, sir. i can think of a very powerful civil society organization, with newspapers and tv channels, that has a strong role as an opinion maker in turkey. it's the cemaat. and guess what, that is just fine with all standards of western democracy. they do support the akp, but pray tell, which civil society organization does not have a political opinion? they all do, and they all can potentially support any given party. strengthening the civil society in turkey will also mean more freedom of organization for the cemaats. after all, they have been the backbone of the ottoman society for centuries. are you ready to live with that?

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