Whatever happened to the Turkish Republic


Today’s celebrations of Turkey’s Republic Day are a vivid reminder of the fractures tearing apart the body politic. Main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) said it would join the rally of pro-Kemalist outfits such as the Atatürkist Thought Association (ADD) and the Workers’ Party (IP), parallel to the official state pageant. The party established by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk has a message to the ruling AKP: the 89th anniversary of the republic belongs to us, not to you. The march was intended to kick off from Ankara’s Ulus quarter (where the Grand National Assembly during the days of the Independence War) and end at Kemal’s mausoleum. All fine except that the Governor of Ankara banned the event over security threats related to “top secret intelligence”.

Before the June 2011 elections the common refrain was that Turkey was about to build a new republic, based on a democratic constitution bridging the deep-running political, social and ethnic divides. This aspiration was very much reflected in several of the contributions to ECFR’s What Does Turkey Think.  But year and a half down the line we are in for a reality check. If anything long-standing divisions are retrenched and turning ever more acrimonious as Turkey’s secularists are harking back to the glory days of Kemalism in the 1920s and 30s. Joining forces with the hard-core Kemalists of the ADD and IP raises the ghosts of the 2007 republic rallies when CHP’s then leadership was openly calling on the military to intervene and topple the Islamist government.

Meanwhile AKP itself is succumbing to a civilizational discourse placing Turkey at the helm of an imagined Muslim World. Which, of course, should be music to the ears of Europe’s conservatives that are opposed to the country’s EU membership, largely on cultural grounds. Not so for those who hoped to see a Turkey at peace with itself under the star-studded European flag. Amongst the last in line is President Abdullah Gül who has issued a somewhat desperate call for moderation and adherence to democratic norms amidst the growing stir.  

Not sure his voice will be heard in the far-away Diyarbakir prison where inmates, incarcerated over PKK membership or involvement with Kurdish nationalism, are on a hunger strike since 12 September (the day of the 1980 military coup). The strike has spread over 57 other institutions and now involves 680 prisoners. Their demand: allowing PKK jailed leader Öcalan to see his lawyers and allowing defendants speak Kurdish at the ongoing KCK trial. Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin met with some of the hunger strikers at Ankara’s Sincan Prison and assured them demands were being heard. Coupled with nearly 700 dead in the renewed war with the PKK across the southeastern provinces the Kurdish issue is going from bad to worse.

So this is not a happy Turkish Republic - or to paraphrase Governor Mitt Romney “the Turkish model doesn’t even work in Turkey”.

Update 29/10/12: Hurriyet reports about clashes between crowds marching in Ankara and the police.

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