By Ümit Şahin
You may find this article too optimistic. I have no doubt that you think it is a bit untimely, too do-gooder, and even naive. But I believe that we have no other choice. We need a roadmap through the dark tunnel in which we find ourselves, and hope for that. Also, I was so scared during the night of July 15th that the perpetrators of the attempted coup would be successful, thereby Turkey’s drift to a civil war by moving away from democracy forever would become unavoidable. My sigh of relief that let me go to sleep in the morning of July 16th after I understood that the coup was squashed, may still be fresh. So, please excuse for my optimism.
On the other hand, I also acknowledge the rightful unease because of the declaration of the state of emergency and the possibility that the exclusions and arrests could include the dissidents that have nothing to do with the perpetrators of the attempted coup. But if you want me to tell the truth, I’m not buying the apolitical nihilism of the ones who analyze the situation with the cliché of “we got over the military coup, but the civil coup is worse.” Of course, the situation can worsen.
We already have a weak democracy, and we’re thankful that it was saved. And yes, we are at the start of everything; the state of emergency was declared, civil and political life is restricted, the days that one needs to defend their basic rights and freedoms, more than ever, has just been started. So, the possibility of trimming of even our weak democracy should worry all of us. But saying now that “thankfully the coup was not successful, but now everything will be worse” is not politics. Or, you can say that this is politics, only if you believe the most horrifying military coup attempt that Turkish history faced was just a mise-en-scène, and that saying it was a “fake attempt” from the first night, was talented political analysis and foresight.
That is why we need to express hope when we reflect upon how we get over this situation and how we rescue our democracy. If you ask me about my feelings, I am not in an optimistic mood either, but having optimism for our political proposals is a must. (Or you may say “pessimism because of intelligence, but optimism because of will…”)
Consequently, I believe that we need a two-item simple plan in order for Turkey to never experience a viscous cycle of coups and to stabilize a minimum level of democracy. I also believe that all the political parties and movements, firstly the government, as well as civil society and opinion builders will need to discuss this framework sooner or later. President Erdoğan and the government should have been tested enough and are aware of that it not being that easy to save their power without democracy, by only chasing the dissidents. Starting with the ones whoever seems to be the most powerful at the time, as well as concentrating the political power and collecting it to a single man.
The two-item plan that one needs to implement consists of returning to the EU process (and rapidly clearing the way for the solution in Cyprus for this aim) and returning to the peace process by stopping the war. All the other things that are to be done may be seen as the elements of this two-item plan.
Item one: Returning to the EU
Remember why we want it, when Turkey was starting the membership negotiations with the European Union. It was not because the EU is the most perfect union and not because it is heaven on earth. We wanted it, because we think that EU would be an anchor to protect Turkey’s democratic regime with its rules and institutions. During the process, and because of the mistakes of both sides, this anchor was displaced before we could hold on and Turkey started to lose its democracy.
I don’t think that the mistakes of the EU and the European politicians were less than the Turkish politicians on this setback. In the early years, even in 2004, the EU and the European politicians who caused the rejection of the Annan plan, which was the best ever opportunity to solve the Cyprus issue and Turkey’s participation to EU must name themselves among the ones in charge of Turkey’s drift to this period of attempted coups and even the refugee crisis that also unsettle Europe. Then, a 75% no vote in the Southern part of Cyprus resulted in accepting Cyprus into the EU unilaterally just one week after this fiasco and erecting the Cyprus issue as an impassable barrier in front of Turkey’s membership to the European Union.
Now I wonder what they say: Cypriot politicians who block the opening of the negotiation chapters with pleasure, and Mr. Sarkozy, for instance. This fiasco could be placed in the background of Erdoğan’s renunciation of the EU membership that he once thought of as a protective choice against the military coups that he has been trying to get rid of since the earliest days of his rule. And this might be starting point of his strategy to neutralize his dissidents in all the levels of power (and one can see now what big mistakes they made for the sake of this) instead of an EU protection, which he decided will never be realized, and that he continues to build a one-man regime as of late. Of course, nothing can be an excuse to destroy democracy, but this is one side of the truth. Turkey has started to lose its democracy, once it lost the EU anchor, and finally it faced a bloody coup attempt.
Now, what is to be done is to turn back swiftly to the EU process. The most important opportunity for this is that the official negotiations are still going on and we have not lost the candidacy privileges. Although the government seems like it does not care what happens with the EU at all, if it decides to do so, it can smoothly fasten the process and clear the way without any concern as it does a political twist. Only last month a new chapter was opened. And government will not need to explain this policy change to its electorate. They were started to get warmer again lately, because of the discussions on visa liberation. And the government can stop the debate on capital punishment in a minute.
One of the most important things for this sake is to clear the way for the solution in Cyprus in which the negotiations are going on better than before thanks to Mustafa Akıncı, the new president of Northern Cyprus. This can be done by all kinds of relevant gestures including drawing some of Turkey’s military presence from the island. Then, Cyprus can be reunited as a federal state, Turkey can recognize this united Cyprus, and the most important barrier in front of Turkey’s EU membership could thus be removed. Resuscitation of the EU process is needed for convincing the politicians in EU countries and the European public in which populism and xenophobia has peaked. Brexit may make the situation even harder. But if Turkey takes the first step and shows its determination, many things can change.
In this regard, European citizens of Turkish origin and everyone, including members of the civil society organizations and people who have good relations with Europe need to play their part. I, myself, would consider it no waste of time if I was to dedicate my next couple of years for this sake.
Item two: Turning back to peace process
The second step one needs to take is to finalize the military’s role in Turkish politics. We know that the AKP government tried to make it. They tried to crack down on the army more than anybody else before, partly in the framework of EU laws, and partly in the name of interrogations of the previous coup allegations. But they did not do this with proper principles, and what they did was not enough.
And finally, they faced a reckless and bloody coup attempt that was unprecedented, and was perpetrated by a minority (but not a small minority, as we now know) in the army whom they for a long time thought saved the government from the military's tutorship. What was done to reduce the influence of the army on politics was not accurate and enough. Therefore, sending the army to a war again, and increasing their authority to commit a war, even in the cities, was the last thing for a government that was really trying to prevent a coup against itself was to do. Yet, if you provide impunity to an army for all kinds of violation of rights and unlawful acts they do, they could even perpetrate an unexpected coup against you.
Now, what is to be done is to turn back swiftly to the times before the general elections of June 7th, and even to 28th of February, 2015, that is to say, to the Dolmabahçe consensus. I’m not even saying solve the Kurdish question. I say we need to stop the war, to silence the arms, to restart the peace negotiations which was called the “solution process”, to empower civil politics, to acknowledge that the decision on removing parliamentary impunity was wrong and therefore to strengthen the democratic Kurdish politicians, and HDP at first, therefore minimizing the effect and intervention of the military on politics, and consequently sending the army back to its barracks.
Of course, these should be followed up by precautions such as reducing the size of the army, and gradually revoking the compulsory military service. Look at the European countries where the military cannot get involved with the politics; you will see what is to be done. Only this way can you give the army a shape in which they will never again attempt a coup, not by putting caterpillars in front of the gates of military headquarters.
As a conclusion, I don’t see any other solution than to turn our face back to the EU and the peace process in order to get over the coup atmosphere, to disallow coup attempts in the future, and to guarantee a minimum of democratic stability. It is not the time to despair by talking only about the worst case scenarios, to defend fundamental changes for everything, and to compete for radicalism. Instead it is time to be moderate, to defend normalization, and to invite everybody to common sense. This is not the right time to question the legitimacy of the AKP government. As all the democratic forces, we need to normalize the situation, to remind the AKP of the steps it took when it made the EU candidacy and peace process possible in the past, and to invite to try it once more altogether.
Maybe this time, with a little help of the lessons of the many mistakes of the past, we can overcome.