Prime Minister Erdoğan asked the crowds in his rallies after the Gezi protests in Istanbul: “Where were all those people back on the 28th of February 1997?” The protesters answered on Twitter: “Kindergarten. I was born in 1993.”
As social commentators make opportunistic use of Turkey’s recent trials to speculate about the cause of these protests, and to sermonize at Turkey’s expense in favor of their pet political theories, the reason for this discontent is actually quite simple. The majority of the people we saw at the forward echelons during the Gezi protests in June 2013 were born at a time when Erdoğan was only an obscure figure on the world stage; the mayor of Istanbul. They were raised in an ever-improving atmosphere, hadn’t seen the military coups that took place many times in this country. They have no baseline of bad memory against which to judge the current stability of the country or the sufficiency of the freedoms we enjoy compared to the oppression we knew before. Therefore, their demands lacked substantial cause. They were simply in need of a change in style. There were many young ladies among the protesters that I know closely. When I asked one of them why they went there, since it really surprised me that they would go there in the first place, they said: ‘We want to see the Prime Minister smile more often’.
A change of style
Judging from its actions in the aftermath of last month’s protests, this is a message which has not been entirely lost on the AKP. The Prime Minister launched a more compassionate, down to earth attitude. He even cracked quite a few jokes so far in his public speeches. Surely what was asked from the government was not this easy. After a decade of economic growth and fairly prosperous lifestyle, the Turkish public was looking for a total makeover of their government. Contrary to popular belief, many Turks don’t have a problem with their elected cabinet being devout Muslims, but they were agitated by the lack of understanding in aesthetics and general style.
There were many young ladies among the protesters that I know closely. When I asked one of them why they went there, since it really surprised me that they would go there in the first place, they said: ‘We want to see the Prime Minister smile more often’.
After weathering this recent storm of criticism, the government heralded the begining of Ramadan last Saturday at the Çanakkale Şehitleri Anıtı (the Gallipoli Martyrs Memorial) with a special iftar meal in honor of the heroes who fell there. The event was attended by 98 participants whose grandfathers fought and died in that campaign.
Meanwhile, at Taksim Square, tables were decked with flowers, and red and white table cloths signaled the return of beauty and tranquility in a place where conflict so recently paralyzed the city.
During the same week, we heard the news of a new government department responsible for architectural aesthetics in the new buildings and landscape works. AK Party already allocated women, elderly, relatives of the martyrs and disabled citizens as a group entitled to special treatment. But we have seen more emphasis on this act this week and the Turkish government passed a new law to provide interest free loans to the relatives of martyrs and disabled people. We can see from their tone that they got the message.
The government is still building the third bridge, still building the Istanbul canal, still creating a third airport to Istanbul.
Turkey and Egypt
Erdoğan voiced his concerns about Egypt at an iftar dinner in Ankara on the 17th July, where he explained why he did not want to meet ElBaradei or anyone from the current Egyptian interim cabinet. “This is not an elected cabinet,” said Erdoğan. “This is an appointed cabinet by the junta. We do not support juntas, we do not legitimize juntas. Our conscience is more important than our benefit from the situation.” Not surprisingly, he drew a parallel with Gezi protests and how his voters didn’t let the same thing happen in Turkey. He was right. The same game was tried in Turkey and it failed. In many mainstream media outlets outside Turkey, it was the same rhetoric of Turkey’s Islamists versus Egypt’s Islamists. “Comparisons deplete the actuality of the things compared” said William S. Wilson in Why I Don’t Write Like Franz Kafka. Details get lost, colors fade, edges become blunt in comparisons. Every Muslim politician should not be labeled as Islamist and not every practicing Muslim is an Islamist. Stereotyping is lazy and counterproductive, especially when he is acting within a secular constitution.
Staying wary of the PKK
So far so good in Turkey. Is it really? Maybe not. Because in the meantime, the PKK found an easy break through the fog and started a new project of urban structuring and regrouping. The terrorist group, which reportedly has 50,000 members in Syria and 40,000 in Iran, recruited 2000 new guerilla fighters just this month. I remember making it very clear that the PKK will stay alive and well as long as the ideology is not challenged. If the government does not educate the people of Turkey against the dangers of a Leninist mindset, PKK will continue to recruit more. We kept hearing about a “peace process” with PKK, which I warned is only a temporary cease-fire until they gather their ammunition, regroup in the cities and wait for a good time to strike back. Those who did not have enough knowledge about the previous cease-fire periods of the PKK, one of which lasted for 6 years, wanted to believe this time the princess kissed the right frog. Sorry to be such a killjoy but the frog is not turning into a prince any time soon. As long as the Turkish government does not use all its might to turn this peace process into a process of anti-communist education, we will keep losing innocent people to the mountains as they become guerilla fighters.
Those who did not have enough knowledge about the previous cease-fire periods of the PKK, one of which lasted for 6 years, wanted to believe this time the princess kissed the right frog. Sorry to be such a killjoy but the frog is not turning into a prince any time soon.
There will be some who after reading this will wonder what the fuss is all about. Isn’t Communism an old, tired idea, lost in the pages of history written in decades past? The Berlin Wall has fallen, the Soviet Union is no more, and various democratic movements have swept the adherents of Communism from government in lands around the world. It is always difficult to describe the situation in Turkey to outsiders because our circumstances are so unique. To say that Turks are obsessed with staying free from the clutches of Communism is akin to saying a drowning man is obsessed with swimming. Turkey has taken so many bold steps, and achieved so much in the last decade. Yet we are not so far removed from what was before, that we are able to put aside fears of a return to it, which must explain the junta-allergy of majority of the Turks. Junta is a classical move of the left.
Turkey chooses freedom
It is not that Turks are afraid of public discourse or debate on this subject. Communists, surely sensing the irony, often make claims of oppression and suggest they are unable to be freely heard. The fact is, we already have. And we have done so repeatedly, with the same result. Each time Turkey has been
given a chance, Communism has been rejected, over and over again. It is probably normal for a married couple to have disagreements, some would suggest these are even healthy. But repeated disagreements over the exact same subject, when the matter has already been clearly decided time and again, is often a path for the destruction of what might otherwise be a beautiful union.
Turkey has already been through enough heartache. We do not want to dissolve our peaceful and prosperous union. Just as the “Turkish Spring”, if you want to use this cliché phrase, already happened long before the Arab version, our rejection of Communism happened long before the actual demise of the groups and ideologies supporting it within our borders. We have been there, done that, and bought the pro-democracy T-shirts. We love our nation, and we love the direction in which it is headed.
We, as a nation, are ready to move on, as so many others have, and we ask the losers of this tired argument to respect our decision. We choose freedom, we choose prosperity, and we choose unity. May this be, in my era, something we speak as Turks, in one voice, united in purpose and guided by liberty, for all the world to plainly hear.
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak