Insight Turkey 4th Annual Conference
Panel II: Democratization in Turkey: What is Next?
Chair: Ambassador James H. Holmes (American Turkish Council)
Ali Bayramoğlu (Yeni Safak Daily)
Mustafa Karaalioğlu (Star Daily)
Oral Çalışlar (Radikal Daily)
Taha Özhan (SETA)
Ali Bayramoğlu focused his remarks on the reformist policies enacted by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the past 12 years. He articulated that the AK Party has been particularly successful in relation to three specific arenas, including: economic and social politics, as indicated by recent World Bank figures; issues of Kemalism, in which they have been “toppled” to make the government increasingly civilian-dominated; and in asserting a stronger sense of self-confidence both within Turkey and on the world stage. Two “pressures” of democratization that have characterized the AK Party’s time in power have been establishing the authority and leadership to guide Turkey’s democracy. Mr. Bayramoğlu explained that efforts made to reach this goal have been successful in shaping Prime Minister Erdoğan’s image as a “strong and democratic” leader. The future of democratic governance in Turkey following the recent local elections, Bayramoğlu explained, rests on key issues, including the Armenian issue, the Kurdish peace process, constitutional problems, and those surrounding recent events such as the Ergenekon trials.
Mustafa Karaalioğlu first set the tone of his presentation by asserting that Turkey is engaged in a “very important” time of change that will hopefully lead to a healthy democracy. While he stated that the country will continue with the democratization process, many of the same issues, such as the role of the military, will be observed along the way. The Gezi Park protests added another dimension to this process, as the AK Party government has increasingly been the target of widespread criticism. Mr. Karaalioğlu stated that in order for there to be a just, equal and “true democracy” in Turkey after dealing with an unjust government system for decades, everyone must make changes. The primary goal in the transition from the “Old Turkey” to the “New Turkey,” he described, is to finish this democratization process and foster a “calm and solid future” for the country. This comes at a significant time of change in light of the Erdoğan-Gülen split and changes in public attitudes toward important political issues, such as the Armenian and Kurdish issues.
Oral Çalışlar commented on what he described as a contradiction between internal and external views of Turkey when speaking about democratization within the country. In terms of external views, he concentrated specifically on American reactions to developments within Turkey. While these tend to conclude that there is little to no democratization taking place within the country, Mr. Çalışlar asserted that this is not necessarily the case from the Turkish perspective. He described Turkey as going through a period of change characterized by a “crisis of establishing a new democracy.” This is especially observable when looking at the status of minority identities, particularly Armenians, Kurds, and Alawites, within society. He described Turkey as progressing in this domain as it has begun to address their demands for freedom of expression. While the country may need to make many more steps to foster a more inclusive environment, Mr. Çalışlar asserted that a “democratization fight” has launched Turkey forward, not backward, in this process. In order to understand what is taking place within the country in this regard, there must be a general understanding of the divergences in Turkish and Western perceptions of democracy.
In his remarks, Taha Özhan criticized the tendency to compare Turkey’s political experiences with those of Egypt. While both countries have faced coups d’états in the past, Turkey has sustained its civilian government for over a decade. Since the AK Party was elected into office, it has successfully withstood attempts to remove it from power. Mr. Özhan provided an overview of the major events taking since 2002 that summarize the AK Party’s resilience. He highlighted 2007 as the first time that a civilian government within Turkey rejected the military’s intervention. Throughout the past 12 years, the AK Party has also been furthering the democratization process by, for example, attempting to handle the Kurdish issue and actively supporting the Arab Spring protests. While Mr. Özhan positioned democratization as the main trend in Turkish governance, he also asserted that it will continue to be challenged, especially in light of the December 17th corruption allegations.
The Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) at Washington, D.C. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, independent, nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. dedicated to innovative studies on national, regional, and international issues concerning Turkey and US-Turkey relations.