September 2, 2015

The US and Turkish dictators

İhsan Yılmaz

I do not remember how many times I have criticized the US government's ambivalent approach to Turkish democracy. It has generally centered on the concept of “Bon, pour l'Orient” (Good, for the Orient). That is, the de facto understanding of the US government has been that a limited, procedural, illiberal democracy is what Turks have deserved and this is all they can achieve, It would be an exaggeration to claim that the US treats the Turkish government's disrespect of human rights, democracy, pluralism and the rule of law in the same category as Saudi Arabia.

But whenever Turkish democracy has trials and tribulations, what Turkish democratic forces see is an American government that becomes enchanted by Pentagonism; i.e., security and military relations are above the rule of law, democratic solidarity, universal human rights and respect for pluralism. It would be unjust to expect that the US must pressure all governments for these, but it is our right to expect that the US must do whatever it can with its soft power to stop its one of NATO allies from receding into dictatorship. On that account, US governments have miserably and consistently failed Turkish democrats.

Remember the Feb. 28, 1997 coup process: The Turkish militarist elite, a conglomerate of military officers, judiciary members, businessmen, media personalities and intellectuals had been oppressing the devout Muslims in the country. If the Justice and Development Party (AKP) can still receive 40 percent of the votes, this is thanks to the trauma that the Feb. 28 process left in the minds, hearts and consciousness of practicing Muslims. In other words, the Feb. 28 militarist elite is the illegitimate father of the AKP and Erdoğanism. Similar to today, innocent civilians had been oppressed by the state at that time, just because they did not share the worldview and lifestyle of the hegemonic elite. Similar to today, journalists, media outlets, civil society associations, private schools, human rights defenders and ordinary citizens were constantly abused.

What was the US government doing during those turbulent, traumatic, monstrous and evil times? Similar to today, it was obsessed with military relations with Turkey, and did not care much about what was happening in Turkey. Journalists in Washington, D.C., did not hear a single word of criticism about all these undemocratic and inhumane acts of the Turkish state just because of the fear of disturbing powerful Turkish rulers. Just like today.

Nobody is asking the US government to bomb Turkey. God forbid! Nobody is asking the US to incite a coup in Turkey. God forbid! Yet are being almost completely silent or bombing Turkey the only two existing alternatives? Are American diplomatic minds not able to come up with creative solutions to pressure the Turkish state to keep its promise of abiding by standards for universal human rights, the rule of law, respecting everybody, democracy and humane treatment for its critics? NATO members have mutual duties and rights on these issues. If the US has similar problems in future (!), we will condemn our own government here for silence about these problems in a friendly country.

Published on Today's Zaman, 2 September 2015, Wednesday