As a foreigner living in Turkey for more than two months now, I’m always told by Turkish people that I can’t understand Turkey as far as politics are concerned. But I think it’s worth trying. In order to do so I interviewed three journalists of differing views.
“Nowadays, judicial independence is flouted, freedom of press is trampled, human rights are not respected and intolerance and obscurantism are growing,” says Ali Sirmen, a columnist in the Cumhuriyet newspaper.
72 years old, Ali Sirmen is a journalist ever since he studied law in Paris at the end of the 60’s. Passionate about his work, he says he always stood up for his belief in democracy and freedom of speech. He is also a staunch supporter of secularism along with the other founding principles of the Turkish republic.
However, the other two journalists, Kürşat Bumin of conservative Yeni Şafak daily and Robert Koptaş of Agos, an Armenian newspaper published bilingually both in Armenian and Turkish, believe that Turkey is on the right path to democracy despite several shortcomings that could be criticized.
“AKP is the party of those whose voices were not heard before. They are not perfect, but they are pro-democracy,” Koptaş, whose predecessor Hrant Dink was assassinated in 2007 by a young rightwing extremist. The trial is still continuing among allegations that several security officials knew about the assassination plan but they did not prevent it.
According Koptaş, Kemal Atatürk, governed Turkey with an iron hand, separated politics from religion and during his drive for modernization, he forcibly imposed Western style of attire instead of the usual Islamic clothing, replaced Arabic script with Latin alphabet and all these changes were carried out without the consent of the people by and large.
“We are living through a political struggle. That is unprecedented in recent history. There was only one way to do politics: you needed to be approved by the powers of the state toenter politics as a party. That is to say, you had to accept the official ideology. But now, Turkish people can talk about their rights, it’s starting to be more democratic. The base of the country is changing fast; the actual government is more open minded and willing to hear new ideas. As long as this struggle exists in Turkey, I’ll be optimistic,” comments Koptaş.
Bumin says that in true democracies there is no place for official ideologies like Kemalism. “For the last eight years Turkey is governed by the party of the prime minister. In Europe they say that it is an Islamic government. But I think this is not correct. There is a constitution, there are laws. This is a secular government,” observes Bumin.
But according to him there is a “cleavage” in Turkey with the seculars on the one hand and conservative Muslims on the other. “The army is on the side of the seculars and also the bureaucracy. Some parties like CHP (Republican Peoples Party) that pretend to be social democratic, but in fact they are just Kemalist.
If there is one thing in which these three men agree, it’s that AKP (justice and Development Party) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is going to win the next election scheduled for June 12. The percentage they are predicting are slightly different, but they all agree on the fact that most of the Turkish voters are going to choose to reelect this party.
Regarding the political opposition to AKP, Kursat Bumin and Ali Sirmen both agree that it’s not popular enough. “The opposition is not ready to take over. It must be pointed out that CHP is partly responsible for the fact that recent elections have been won by AKP. The party should be younger and more active. With the recent change in the party leadership it is improving but this is not enough. The only hope for the next elections is that they get around 30 per cent of the vote,” says Ali Sirmen.