The way in which Turkey is commemorating events shows just how far it has distanced itself from Europe. This weekend, Turkish leaders will stage a pompous mass rally of the sort that one usually only sees in people’s republics, when it commemorates the first anniversary of last year’s failed military coup. It is designed to celebrate “the victory of democracy” at the same time the country is divorcing itself from that ideal.
Everything in this new state is directed toward President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Since that fateful night, he has styled himself as the hero that re-established Turkey by crushing the coup.
Replacing Ataturk’s Republic
Although Turks have regularly re-elected Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) since 2002, they had consistently rejected Erdogan’s “New Turkey” project. The idea called for a presidential system aimed at replacing Turkey’s parliamentary democracy. Then, one year ago, the failed coup provided the momentum needed to replace Ataturk’s Republic with Erdogan’s Republic.
The first republic was an imperfect democracy but the new one is neither free nor democratic. It is based on the myth of the “nation” gathered around Erdogan. Anyone who criticizes Erdogan or his religious conservative agenda is labeled an enemy of that “nation.” Turkey’s state of emergency has made it easy to stigmatize such critics and dissidents as “terrorists” and to persecute them. Firings and arrests have snowballed since the attempted coup. But they began back in 2014, as a reaction to corruption investigations focused on Erdogan’s sphere of influence. Lists of names were compiled back then, now those same people are the ones being fired and jailed.
Hope for a new opposition
Early on, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) called last year’s event a “controlled coup.” He claims that Erdogan had information about plans for the coup and had control over it – nevertheless he decided to let it be carried out. Kilicdaroglu’s “Justice March,” which proceeded from Ankara to Istanbul over the last few weeks, will not topple Erdogan, but it does provide some hope.
For years the CHP was Turkey’s encrusted state party – now it is redefining itself as an anti-establishment party fighting the new corrupt state party, the AKP. Erdogan has forcefully shown the CHP where its limits are. Recently Kilicdaroglu’s deputy was sentenced to 25 years in prison. It is painfully obvious that Turkish leaders are not interested in “the victory of democracy.” Not this weekend, nor any time thereafter.
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