January 31, 2016

Abant’s message to Turkey

Günal Kurşun

I attended the 34th Abant Platform meeting in Bolu over the weekend.

In general, Abant Platform forums are the most inspirational events, and this was no exception. The topic this time was “Democracy's challenge with Turkey,” and intellectuals gathered to debate the level of democracy in the country. The rising authoritarianism of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and its ongoing conflict with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in southeastern Anatolia were two critical points underlined by almost every speaker.

I sincerely thank the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV) for its excellent organization, which gave us a chance to listen to the most outspoken speakers in the country. I had the opportunity to take the floor for a few minutes and mention my ideas to improve Turkey's democratization process. I think there are two main benchmarks before Turkey to be overcome. The first is a confrontation with the past. In my opinion, it will not be possible to raise our level of democracy if we do not confront the issue of the 1915 Armenian genocide. I call it a genocide, but the name is not important here and whether we call it a genocide, a massacre or Meds Yeghern is not the biggest part of the problem. The main point is to confront what we, as a nation, did in the past.

In addition, what is also needed in the extreme are confrontations of the following: the government's 1938 Dersim massacre of Kurdish Alevis, the 1942 Wealth Tax (Varlık Vergisi) on all non-Muslims, the anti-Greek, Armenian and Jewish pogrom in İstanbul on Sep. 6-7, 1955, and the Sunni majority massacres of Alevis in Çorum (1980), Maraş (1978) and Sivas (1993). We can extend this list to the coups of 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997. I think that by confronting the burning issues surrounding all the minority groups, including the LGBT community, Alevis and Kurds, as well as the majority groups in the country such as Muslims, we will have raised the first pillar from which we can improve democratic standards in Turkey.

My second idea is that we have to overcome routine abuses of the law, which is being used as a tool of anti-democracy. For now, Turkey is using the law as a tool to punish opposition figures and strengthen authoritarianism. Electoral authoritarianism was another point discussed during the Abant meeting. I sincerely think that two basic steps may lead to the cessation of this loutish atmosphere. Acceding to the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court, which can try the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression, can give a sufficient guarantee that all the actions cited above will not happen again. An amendment to Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution, which states that “if a conflict occurs between international treaties Turkey has ratified, international treaties are above the Constitution and have a direct applicable basis,” may help to stop the abuse and misinterpretation of the text. This will also help to stop the abuse of law from fortifying the authoritarianism of the government.

The European Union's vision is still hanging on the wall. We've still got 35 chapters to pass before we can say we have raised our standards. I sincerely think that holding these standards in high esteem and putting our energy into them would be beneficial for stopping the ongoing “civil war” in Turkey. Both the AKP and the PKK have to lay down their weapons and try to focus on a new peace process. This is the only solution and was the peaceful message I took from the Abant meeting.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 31 January 2016, Sunday