Atatürk's Republic

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Posts Tagged ‘Bursa

A Turkish Liberal Democrat?

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A true liberal democrat is a rare species in Turkish politics but it appears that they do in fact exist.  Last week I attended a talk by a Turkish MP from Bursa Aykan Erdemir.  Erdermir is an interesting figure: a young Harvard PhD and former professor who was elected as  a CHP MP from the AKP dominated district of Bursa in 2011.  His talk, titled “Prospects for Pluralist Democracy in post-Gezi Turkey” painted a clear-eyed picture of the causes of the Gezi protests and real problems Turkey faces if it is to become a truly liberal democracy.

Erdemir identified a number causes that worked in conjunction to create popular uprisings in Turkey this summer.  He believes demographic changes that Turkey has been undergoing for the last several decades are central to growing political discontent.  The shift from large, extended families to small, nuclear ones has changed a formerly heavily patriarchal society into what he dubbed a “child-archal” society.  Erdemir believes that the patriarchal state is out of sync with the changing family dynamic; a dynamic which has resulted in an more individualist world-view amongst the younger generations.  He also mentioned the population shift from rural to urban areas, the growing export based economy and the increasing educational attainments of the average Turk as factors that have resulted in a significant societal shift.  Erdemir emphasized the ubiquitous of technology in Turkish society, specifically the use of smart phones, which has created greater access to larger world and competing ideological view points.

Erdemir quite rightly observed that this trend toward greater engagement with the world and intellectual pluralism cannot be “undone.” However, he identified a number of challenges facing those who wish to promote greater liberalness in Turkish society.  The Turkish State has few checks and balances and is becoming more efficient and competent and the bureaucracy is expanding.  This is bad news for groups such as the Gezi protesters as the government has more coercive power without any internal mechanism to check it.  Erdemir also discussed the phenomenon of the increasing conflation of the State and the ruling party in the minds of both those in power and the Turkish masses in general.  The ruling party has also engaged in what he termed “state capitalism” or “clientalism” but could also be given the cruder moniker of crony capitalism.  Erdemir also criticized the government for its censorship of the media and the increasing surveillance of citizens.  He did not criticize capitalism itself however and made a connection between market freedom and political freedom.

Erdemir did not shy away from another problem with a more personal connection: the lack of a credible opposition to the AKP.  He was optimistic about some of the changes his own party has undergone since Kemal Kilicdaroglu became chairman in 2010 but said that the party was only about halfway to where it needed to be.  Erdemir does not think that there will be a massive shift in favor of the CHP next election and believes that Turks would prefer the AKP with new leadership in place.  Clearly this is a reference to the more moderate Gul potentially replacing Erdogan as Turkey’s premier (either in the form of Prime Minister or a more empowered President).

From his district of Bursa, Erdemir has been able to observe what the more conservative elements of society think about the Gezi tumult.  Growing out of an Islamist past, the AKP has been criticized in recent years by numerous observers (including myself) for failing to remember the state oppression they fought against for so long and co-opting the same repressive measures of the previous, strictly secular governments.  Erdemir reported that at least some of the ordinary conservatives in his district were sensitive to the fact that the oppressed seemed to have become the oppressors.  He found that those ordinary Turkish conservatives were disillusioned to a certain extent by the events of this summer and expressed that this is not what they wanted from the AKP.

Erdemir emphasized multiple times that the CHP was a “social democratic” party but mentioned nary a word about the party’s “eternal chief“.  The CHP is officially a socialist party, in that it is part of the Socialist International association of political parties.  Interestingly,  Erdogan’s newest yes-man Yigit Bulut recently made headlines in Turkey for asserting that Erdogan is a “true socialist.”  This seemingly out of the blue comment could have been an awkward attempt at undermining the appeal of the CHP (though it was quickly dismissed by the official party spokesman).

In regards to the difficult regional problems Turkey is coping with, Erdemir criticized the “adventurous” foreign policy that the Turkish government has pursued over the last few years. As Assad himself recently warned, Erdemir believes Turkey’s funding of Syrian militants and the increasingly sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict could come back to haunt Turkey.  However, He also believes that Turkey can not be a democratic “island” in the sea of increasing chaos in the region and there needs to be a promotion of democracy in the region.  To quote: “You can’t be a democracy with Al-Qaida as your neighbor.”

From this talk as well as in his other media appearances and commentary in English, one can conclude that Erdemir is a rare true liberal in Turkish politics.  However, my Turkish is not good enough for me to fully analyze how he presents himself to a domestic audience.  I of course want to believe that there are real democrats in the Turkish government, but remain skeptical until I can get a good report on Erdemir’s rhetoric and reputation in Turkey.  If you are someone who is thus informed, please let me know about the “Turkish” Erdemir in the comments!

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Written by ataturksrepublic

October 4, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Gezi Continues

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Yesterday a tragic incident provided proof that Gezi is far from over.  Many of the facts surrounding the event are still in dispute, but what is clear is that during the course of a protest in Antakya early Tuesday morning, 22 year Ahmet Atakan died.  His death triggered renewed protests across the country, including Istanbul, Ankara and the AKP stronghold of Bursa.  Istiklal Boulevard in Taksim was once again the scene of police intervention with tear gas and water cannons.

Though eyewitnesses report that the protests were smaller than those at the peak of the Gezi uprising this summer, the renewed clashes between police and civilians is an important and potentially dangerous sign.  Many reports state that Atakan died during a protest related to the previous death of a Gezi protester.  However, some also mention that the protest Atakan participated in was against Turkey’s involvement in Syria’s civil war.  Whether or not Atakan went out with the intention of protesting Turkey’s current and future involvement in Syria, his death is perfectly poised to exasperate an already tense situation.

Atakan’s hometown Antakya is located in a small peninsula of Turkish territory that sticks down like a thumb into Syria.  The area has a proud history of religious and ethnic diversity, even through the periods of ethnic cleansing that homogenized much of the rest of Turkey during the 20th century.  However, the Syrian civil war is putting a strain on both inter-communal relationships and the relationship between the citizens of the province and the Turkish government.  Potentially making this situation even more explosive, Atakan was apparently an Arab Alawite, the ethno-religious group to which Assad belongs.  Most Alawites both in and outside of Syria continue to support Assad’s government, if for no other reason than they fear the consequences for their community if the rebels prevail.  So far the Alawite community in Turkey has largely kept a low profile, but this death could energize the community to lash out against the Turkish government or even Sunni refugees and fighters from Syria.  Resentment of Turkey’s unofficial involvement in the Syrian civil war is not isolated to the Alawite community.  Polls consistently show that the majority of Turks are against further intervention in Syria.  The bombing in Reyhanli earlier this summer, which was assumed to be connected to the Syrian regime, already demonstrated the potential for retaliatory attacks against Syrian refugees in Turkey.

In addition to it’s involvement with the Syrian war, Turkey is also currently confronted with another extremely delicate internal situation.  A few days ago, the much hailed peace process between the Turkish government and the PKK broke down.  The Turkish government has claimed that the PKK has not withdrawn enough of its fighters from Turkish territory and now the PKK has stated that it will halt its withdrawal until progress is made on the issue of Kurdish cultural rights.  Ethnically Kurdish areas generally refrained from participating in the protests this summer.  However, there were representatives of the Kurdish BDP party at Gezi and the movement in general has shown itself to be sympathetic to the issue of Kurdish rights.  If the protests we witnessed on Tuesday result in a revived Gezi movement, Turkey’s frustrated Kurdish minority may find this an opportune moment to revive protests for their rights as well.

The Turkish government has a potentially explosive situation on its hands.  In the case of the Gezi protests of this summer, the repeated use of force by the police encouraged protesters to seek out creative non-violent ways to continue their resistance.  However, if the government chooses to meet minority protesters in Turkey’s south with violence, past experiences demonstrate the potential for prolonged, deadly conflicts to erupt.

Written by ataturksrepublic

September 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm