turkeys democracy faces a test of strength
Last Updated : GMT 12:45:25
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Last Updated : GMT 12:45:25
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Turkey's democracy faces a test of strength

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turkeys democracy faces a test of strength

Sinem Tezyapar

If we leave the vandalism and violence aside for a moment, what is happening in Turkey right now is something I find very healthy. Opposition and critics should be allowed in solid and active democracies, and the Turkish people's asking for more freedom, wishing for an advanced democracy, and using peaceful ways to express themselves is something I fully support and it shows the real democratic strength in Turkey. However, everyone would admit that such a mass movement of protests—which is becoming a symbol of liberty and democracy in Turkey now—would not be allowed about one or two decades ago. So rather than reading the oversimplified analyses about Turkey, one has to know a little about Turkish political history and how these democratic values were embraced quite recently. Turkey made a transition to a multi-party system in 1950. Since then almost every ten years, Turkey's democracy has been interrupted by military interventions; two military coups, three memorandums, and many attempts and threats of military interventions throughout the Turkish Republic's history—not to mention their forcing the passage of certain laws and obliging some governments to resign. The infamous 28 February 1997 memorandum is still on Turkey's agenda today since some military officials are officially on trial for planning coups which were illegal according to the constitution of that time. Even in as recent as 2007, when an observant Muslim President was elected, there was a warning posted on the Internet. In 2008, the AKP (the Justice and Development Party) was nearly closed because of having Islamic tendencies. So even at times when there was no open military intervention, one has always felt the threat of it. For the first time, Turkey is enjoying the beauties of democracy. For the first time torture has decreased dramatically and the ones who exploit their duty can be put on trial. For the first time in Turkey's history, unidentified murders have stopped; we have lost many, many scholars, politicians, journalists and their cases still remain unsolved. During the undemocratic past of Turkey, our prime ministers have been murdered, protestors have been hung, and thousands of people remember those times in vivid grief and pain. The new generation only knows the times of Turkey's rising on her feet. Of course democracy today is not in its ideal form; it is not perfect but it is working, it is progressing. And even if Turkey's democracy may not be mature enough, not liberal enough, we still have a functioning democracy in a Muslim-majority country, a unique example in the region. In the political spectrum of Turkey, one can see a plurality of opinions. In the 2011 elections, there were 15 parties that entered the elections; 22 of them will take part in the 2014 elections. Among these parties there are leftists, rightists, Kurds, communists, democrats and conservatives, and they represent a wide range of opinions and ideologies. The elections are held every four years, and the leaders of Turkey come and go through elections. So those who describe this uprising as a “Turkish Spring” are mistaken, and their analogy is simply incorrect. Turkey—a democratic and secular country—is not Syria's dictatorship nor the leadership in Turkey is like that of Qaddafi, Assad or Mubarak. People in the Arab countries have been—and in some still are—fighting for their fundamental human rights against tyrannical regimes; they want equality; they want to enjoy their civil liberties and basic democratic rights. On the other hand, Turkey is run according to secular laws, and this system promises equality for all citizens regardless of religion, and in practice an atheist, a communist, a Jew, a Christian or a Muslim are the same in terms of laws. The first evaluations were very superficial because people overlooked the complexity and the diversity of the protestors. Some wanted to categorize this as secular vs. Muslim. However this was not true because the protestors are coming together from different ideologies, and one can easily see people with headscarves or observant Muslims making their daily prayers in Taksim Square. What is more, secularism is not seen as a threat but as an assurance of their religion by most of the Muslims in Turkey since the state is not supposed to interfere in people's freedom of religion. This does not look anything like the protests in Egypt, Syria or Libya either, which were intended to end the dictatorships, and trying to free themselves from bullying tyrants. It does not look like the Occupy Wall Street protests of New York, which was an anti-capitalist protest. It does not look like Greece or Spain which were largely reactions against the austerity programs in the wake of the EU/IMF bailout, and came about simply because of the economic crisis. Thus the protests in Turkey are unique. Sinem Tezyapar is a political analyst. https://twitter.com/SinemTezyapar The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent or reflect the editorial policy of Arabstoday.

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