Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Kids Are Alright?


By Murat Cem Mengüç

Last week in Turkey was marked by the celebrations of the Turkish National Sovereignty and Children’s Day (April 23), a combined holiday which celebrates the transfer of political sovereignty from the Ottoman Sultanate to the Turkish people and acknowledges the orphans of the nation’s martyrs. During the same week, political campaigns for the coming parliamentary elections took off as well. Fought with nasty retorts and personalized attacks, political campaigns are always more suitable for the gossip driven front pages of the Turkish media, and judging from the headlines of April 23, they surely stole the spot light. Trusted polls still indicate that AKP (Justice and Development Party) is due for its third landslide victory, but the scene is far more polarized than the previous elections. Also, the events surrounding the election campaigns suggest that the classic institutions of CHP (People’s Republican Party) and MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) no longer fight the Islamist conservative AKP by themselves. Opposition to AKP has become an intimidating block, and some polls suggest that MHP and CHP are the leading parties in the three major cities. Beneath them, a tacit coalition operates loosely and tries to destabilize AKP on a regular basis. TKP (Turkish Communist Party), SDP (Socialist Democratic Party) and BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) all joined in to create an environment in which they could carve a piece of the electorate at any cost.

A recent example of this tacit coalition was the general outcry arguing AKP was cracking down on journalists. Having become a meritocracy of its own, AKP is long accused of silencing is critics. This time the occasion arose with the banning, by the Turkish court, of an unpublished book. about Islamist leader Fetullah Gülen and his influence on Turkish politics. Gülen’s followers are dear to AKP, but it was not clear if AKP was involved at all. In the heavily charged Ergenekon trials, trying to explain the paramilitary activities of the Turkish State against its own citizens in the Kurdish East, the book became evidence because its author was arrested in connection to the trials. Rightfully so, the media and citizens united against the banning of a book yet to be published, and the common finger pointed at AKP, without a valid discussion of the reasons why the court may have benefited from keeping an unpublished document unpublished, suggesting that most of this criticism was reactionary.

A similar event was the protests staged by angry college students who believed a cheating formula for the state university entrance exams was circulated. This centralized exam is an archaic institution and determines the future of all students who wish to study at government universities. The cheating formula was never unearthed but TKP and SDP mobilized the youth, holding banners and chanting slogans that accused AKP for having masterminded a cheating formula to benefit its own meritocracy.

Later came the banning of 12 independent candidates from the approaching election lists, 7 of whom were Kurdish. This last incident caused widespread street protests in major cities; one person died, a number of post offices and banks were set on fire, and AKP headquarters and public busses were stoned. BDP and PKK sympathizers organized demonstrations, while banners and slogans argued this political ban was designed to benefit the AKP. However, there was no clear sign at all that AKP was involved.

The election campaigns began in this climate, and the leader of AKP and Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdoğan stated that he was ready to bring thousands of people to the streets to counter these nonsense protests against his electorate. In response, Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the MHP, stated that he could confront Erdoğan’s people with his grey wolves (the mythological symbol of Turkish fascism, here referring to his youth groups). Erdoğan’s answer retorted that Bahçeli’s “dogs” would run for their lives when confronted by the will of people. Then, an eyewitness video in which the police officers from Sivas were shown chanting a fascist march on the streets and identifying themselves as the grey wolves was circulated widely. A bystander was seen making the grey wolf sign to celebrate their courage as well. The city of Sivas has been a hub of political confrontations between the religious conservatives, fascist nationalists and Kurdish fractions for many years.

Obviously, AKP has become more confident and feels cornered at the same time. The party is nervous and thinks that it is indispensable as well. It forgets that it is a tolerated, not fully supported institution. It is permitted to do politics as long as it doesn’t turn up the volume of its ideological discourse.[1] Of course, where the arguments are personal and the media is thirsty for sensation, this is a hard task. Thus, Zaman (the leading religious daily) argues that jamaat (religious community supporting the AKP) is being turned into a scapegoat for anything that goes wrong.

This year, Turkey celebrated the 90th anniversary of its national sovereignty as a country where the media loves sensation, the military is on trial in civil courts, the police officers chant fascist slogans, the Kurdish minority burns banks and post offices, and the mass graves of recent history are being excavated reluctantly. While a coalition against AKP jumps at any chance of being in the headlines and pointing its finger at a democratically elected government, they lack reflection. Obviously, one day, the AKP government will be ousted, most probably by a confused coalition. However, the ultimate victims of this ousting may be the Turkish democracy and the reactionary Turkish youth, herded into the streets by opportunist politicians. The last national holiday celebrated the Turkish children but generated little interest. The next national holiday is May 19 and is dedicated to the Turkish youth. Economic data, the unemployment rates, rising food and oil prices, constant news of revolution in the Middle East, and the escalating tone of Turkish politics suggests a perfect atmosphere in which this year's youth may become  next years tool for a collision. If the politicians are to drive them into the streets in ever growing numbers, the Turkish Military may become involved as well. Some politicians think that the military is too busy to do this, but they may be wrong. The Turkish military has its own agenda and is ready to seize the best opportunity to put an end to the Ergenekon trials, which ruined its reputation.

[1] Readers might like the following essay on this subject. Hakan Yavuz, “Is There a Turkish Islam? The Emergence of Convergence and Consensus” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 24, No. 2, October 2004.
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