August 10, 2015

'Turkey’s social problems a result of faulty default settings'

Zaman daily columnist Şahin Alpay points out that tensions looming over Turkey are due to the founding principles and philosophy of the republic, which was formed in 1923, adding that in recent years the AKP has increasingly been showing some of the more negative traits of Kemalist ideology.

As Turkey bears witness to an unexpected rise in violence and social divisions in recent weeks, Zaman daily columnist Şahin Alpay makes the argument that the shaky nature of the country’s social dynamics lies deep within the principles that guided its formation in 1923 by secular founding father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. “The reason for Turkey not being able to achieve tranquility is due to its erroneous default settings,” he says.

The 71-year-old Alpay’s analysis derives from his professional knowledge and life experience, spanning over the majority of Turkey’s modern history. A columnist for Zaman daily since 2002, Alpay’s career in journalism extends over forty years, having served as writer and editor of prominent dailies such as Cumhuriyet, Sabah and Milliyet. He also worked as an advisor for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in 1993.

Şahin Alpay underlines that the secular, nationalist, foundations of the country - known as Kemalism - do harbor ideological traits that are far from fully reformed. A cause of social grievances, such incomplete notions manifest in many common phrases such as ‘Turkey cannot modernize through democracy,’ ‘Islam is against modernity,’ ‘single party rule is a must, therefore any opposition is a traitor’ or ‘a single ethnicity needs to dominate all.’ He does however add that there have been improvements, including within the CHP, the very party Atatürk founded, commending the party for making a distinction between authoritarianism and secularism in recent years.

One key point of Turkey’s modern republic came in the turn of the millennium with the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) winning the 2002 elections. Alpay underlines that in its 13th year in governance, the AK Party has gone from reforms extending freedoms to conservatives and other groups and tackling the political power of the military, to turning into ‘An Islamic Kemalist’ rule, “losing tolerance for other forms of Islam” and denying that Turkey had any Kurdish issue, in spite of being the ones to embark on the settlement process aiming to extend Kurds more rights and end combat.

One of the low points for the AK Party Şahin underlines is the vast corruption allegations dating back to the December 17-25, 2013 probes, which implicated the upper echelons of the party on allegations of bribery and illegal gold trade with Iran. He argues that the AK Party has turned back to the military for support, years after curbing its authoritarianism through a number cases stemming from coup plot allegations. In doing so the government has blamed both the cases as a conspiracy of a “parallel state”, a term coined by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to describe the Hizmet Movement, consisting of followers and sympathizers of Islamic Preacher Fethullah Gülen. The Zaman daily columnist echoes the wide-held criticism against the government for unfairly targeting the Hizmet Movement and using it as a scape goat to exonerate itself from blame.

“The AK Party tried to cover up corruption allegations by proclaiming the probe was ‘a parallel state conspiracy’, hence trying to forge an allegiance with the military. AK Party figures, for instance, have stated that the coup plot cases were nothing more than ‘a plot to undermine the army.’ However I do not believe that the army in its entirety buys into such false claims.”

Alpay also warns that the checks and balances over the country’s institutions are eroding, and to this end points to the National Intelligence Agency (MİT). “The deep state as we see it today might be the MİT. In fact the MİT is almost operating as a state within a state. I do not believe that the MİT is operating within the rule of law,” he added.

One positive influence for the country Şahin Alpay points to is Fethullah Gülen and his message of peace, dialogue and tolerance. ”In 1995 I penned an article in the Milliyet newspaper, titled, ‘Respect for the Dear Hodja’ [which translates as ‘an Islamic schoolmaster’, and often a common title ascribed to Fethullah Gülen by the general public]. In the past 20 years Gülen has never proved me wrong.” Alpay also commended that Hizmet Movement for also doing its part in contributing to change by “better understanding the value of secularism.”

Published on BGNNews, 9 August 2015, Sunday