[Originally published in Turkish Daily News]
First, congratulations to the head of the EU Commission, Mr. Jose Manuel Barroso and EU’s Commissioner for enlargement, Mr. Olli Rehn, for the excellent job they have done by giving bold support for Turkish democracy. The vision that they presented in their recent trip to Ankara and Istanbul is the best hope that this country can really have: Continuing with EU reforms, strengthening democracy, and accepting democratic secularism, as opposed to the unabashedly authoritarian one that we have.
While such comments from Europe are simply music to democratic ears, the views raised by Turkish figures such as the CHP (Republican People’s Party) leader Deniz Baykal and his fellow anti-democrats is like a horror show. The latter simply tell us that we, the Turkish people, are not mature enough, hence we elected the wrong party to power, and thus that a bunch of judges sitting in Ankara should have the authority to correct our mistake by overthrowing the government. (Baykal probably is also hoping that the same judges might pave the way for his prime ministry a post he can never ever achieve through the ballot box.)
Our Bloody Internal Affairs’
The huge mental gap between the European friends of Turkey and the Turkish enemies of democracy is what makes the latter enraged with the former. I don’t know whether you have noticed, but in the past few weeks they have been very angry with Barroso, Rehn, and other European officials who have criticized the ongoing judicial coup d’etat, i.e., the closure case against the incumbent AKP (Justice and Development Party.) Baykal and his men, and all other ultra-nationalists and secular fundamentalists, some of which are in the media, have been constantly attacking this foreign meddling with our internal affairs.
No big surprise. Turkish autocrats have always hated interference by the West in our wonderful ways of governing such as our well-established state tradition of imprisoning, torturing or killing our dissenting citizens. For decades, the Europeans and the Americans have told the masters of our state not to do such horrible things. The implicit response was something like this: Why don’t you just mind your own business? These are our subjects. We damn well know what to do with them.
And now, the masters of the Turkish state are planning to trample on the political will of 52 percent of their subjects the sum of the voters of the AKP and the pro-Kurdish DTP, which are both in the Constitutional Court’s death row. And the same old message is given to foreigners who dare to speak against our exclusive ways: Why don’t you just mind your own business? This is our autocracy. We damn well know how to rule it.
The fact that the autocrats and their supporters in Turkey are referring to the principle of independence should not mislead anybody. That principle is actually an invaluable one: It grants a nation its national sovereignty, which forms the basis for democracy. But independence loses all its meaning when used by a tyranny in order to defy the international standards of democracy and human rights. North Korea, for example, is obsessed with its independence, because that principle allows the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il the son of the Eternal Leader Kim Il Sung and his nomenklatura to run the country like family business.
That sort of independence is the first refuge of all despots, and is the biggest threat to Turkey these days. If this country becomes more independent in that North Koreanish sense, it will, for sure, be a much more unpleasant place for the majority of its people. Democracy will be crippled, human right abuses will peak, and freedom (of thought, religion, and the markets) will be severely suppressed. That’s why Europeans, Americans, any anybody else who cares about Turkey, should feel not just free but also morally obliged to interfere in our internal affairs in order to stand by our democracy.
America The Confused?
Unfortunately, Washington does not have a terribly impressive record on this issue, especially when compared to that of Brussels. About a year ago, when we were going through yet another limited coup attempt, that time by the military, a spokesman of the U.S. State Department had notoriously declared, We don’t take sides. To date, some (not all) officials at Foggy Bottom, or elsewhere around the Potomac, seem to have this strange belief that the military and the autocratic judiciary are parts of a checks and balances system in Turkey. This is, of course, ridiculous. Checks and balances take place within democracy, not between democracy and autocracy. The problem in Turkey is that the military and the judiciary often extend their constitutional powers in order to usurp the authority that belongs to the elected representatives of the people.
What would the Americans think if the Supreme Court was considering closing down the Republican Party because President Bush is too godly? What is happening to the AKP and Prime Minister Erdoğan right now is not too different.
Don’t some American officials really get that? I don’t know. But I want to know. I also want them to get a better perspective on Turkey which is one of the reasons why I am on a plane right now that is heading to Washington. While you are reading this column, I will be at a panel at the Brookings Institute to discuss the AKP’s closure case with two prominent professors of law, Mümtaz Soysal and Levent Köker. I think I will profoundly disagree with Professor Soysal, the arch-Kemalist, and it will be an interesting debate. More on that will be coming soon.