Turkey’s troubled republic has entered its centenary. Everything would seem fine in the country if you would take seriously the mood of celebration on the day marking the occasion on October 29, 2022. A republic taking into its grip those in power, and its pious/nationalist base or those in the opposite camp, while squeezing seculars into the shorelines in the country.
The ethos of the Turkish Republic’s centennial was all about pride and progress.
Proud? Really? Progress? How?
The heart of the matter is that, as a massive systemic crisis suspends the country into a point of collective coma, gnawing at state’s tenets, much is about a grand illusion.
While the country’s majoritarian and brutal power and its radicalised base live in a dream of silencing all dissent and oppress the undesired identity groups, the other segments live in an imaginary world of ousting the power by way of ballot boxes, despite the fact that it remains unable to bring together their own electorate unified on a single vision for the future.
In a nutshell, 99 years of Turkish Republic have been marked with inequalities, a brutal denial of the plurality of its social texture, refusal of devolution of power, neglect of universal values that merge republics with democracy, dysfunctional rule of law, and steady discontent. It is a system that never reached a level of socio-political stability. It was the republic’s unique geopolitical position that paved the way for internal unrest, unceasing disagreements on its rule and its corruption on all levels.
Now, with an unprecedented single-party rule of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), the crisis-shattered country prepares for a showdown, under the disguise of elections in late spring of 2023.
Fear and hope were never as intertwined as they are now and this is because the vote will define for good, through a yes or no, the ultimate course of the country.
For Erdoğan, the path is clear. He is set to transform Turkey into a republic, in which he – with his ultranationalist partners, and, spooky business and relentless security circles – will continue unchallenged as the omnipotent ruler. Challenging the Turkish leader is a group of dwarfed opposition parties as he faces a society that, he hopes, will have learned the dire price of dissent. He has good reasons for a success.
His ongoing moves and acts may speak against the illusion that he is weakening. As somebody pointed out to me recently that “Erdoğan embodies all the different features of the society he has emerged from.” There is a strong point made in this statement. Erdoğan is the product of the culture which is inherited from the Ottoman era and in many ways endorsed by the founders and the “guardians” of the republic. In a society reproducing tribalism – from rural to urban, from left to right – and patriarchalism, Turks have always loved strong elements of the “iron fist” – be that in their leaders or in institutions such as the military. For them, it is the “authority” which possesses the sole mercy to help the obedient masses.
Erdoğan knows this and carries out successful implementations based on cultural patterns. He knows that the classic “class theories” never worked in Turkey. As soon as an elected leader is given the opportunity to “decode the state”, he/she no longer has the need to be dependent on the masses. Like a chameleon, he knew when and how to purge his allies, and renew them. As fortunate and cunning as he was to do so, he now has all the necessary tools of the state and external support to come closer to his dream: Reaching the zenith of his political career as the invincible leader of the republic.
In other words, a formidable transformer, feared, awed and ever determined – at home and abroad.
All of the chips are effectively stacked in his favour. Against his strategy stands a confused, fragmented, so-called “centrist” opposition bloc that keep a decisive political force in alienation: the pro-Kurdish HDP. By doing so, the opposition alliance keeps itself crippled and vulnerable.
The malady among Turkey’s opposition elite is amazing. After two decades of a rule, it continues to underestimate the skills, survival instinct and brinkmanship Erdoğan displays. The make-believe still continues, to this day, even when Erdoğan plays his game successfully in international politics, as a street-smart chess master. His credentials play a role in Russia, Saudi, the Gulf and the United Kingdom, providing investment for him even in the future. He is also thriving in a crippled EU and an undecided United States.
A bird’s eye view would suffice to tell how troubling the political stage in centennial Turkey is. The “centrist” opposition bloc, the so-called “Table of Six” consists all of either nationalist or conservative parties. (Yes, the secular CHP is not a leftist party at all: it is by definition a republican, etatist, elitist , nationalist, party, whose foreign policy is increasingly distanced from the West.)
At the same time, even the “Table of Six” is a product of the culture, which blocks the political parties from rejuvenation, internationalism, modernity and patriarchalism. So in a nutshell, the political stage of the “battle of the century” will be a ground for a hustle and bustle within the rotten political class. (For those interested, there are some sections about its patterns in my book, “Die Hoffnung stirbt am Bosporus” – “Hope Dies in Bosporus”, Droemer, 2018).
Yet, the hopefuls may object and point out that Erdoğan may not be that invincible in the presidential leg of the elections. The grand illusion that sweeps over Turkey’s rather idle opposition circles the reality that, at least in the moment and unless a miracle occurs, the opposition will be unable to nominate a contender who will be able to have the courage, stamina, eloquence and vision to rival Erdoğan.
History teaches over and over again the same lesson: Leaders define the course of history. In Turkey, there is (was) one and he is in prison: Selahattin Demirtaş. Thus, even if Erdoğan loses (a highly unlikely outcome given the circumstances), if one considers the structures in bureaucracy he formed, his successor may only be able to accomplish cosmetic changes and will be unable to overcome the Herculean task of grappling with the country’s multi-dimensional crisis.
But let us remain hopeful that such an analysis is proven wrong.
Let us keep in mind the famous quote: “Pessimists are well informed optimists.”