January 30, 2016

‘Democracy’s Challenge with Turkey’ debated at Abant Platform

A large group of Turkey's intellectuals gathered on Saturday in Bolu province for the 34th Abant Platform meetings to debate the democracy problems of the country amid criticism of increasing authoritarianism and conflict in the country.

The participants, most of whom are veteran intellectuals from all walks of life, agreed on the unsolved challenges of Turkish democracy, including the Kurdish issue, the debate over an executive presidency and “Turkish style” constitution as well as heightened level of arbitrary rule.

The meeting, whose theme is “Democracy's Challenge with Turkey,” is focusing on both Turkey's recent past and the current issues of today.

Reha Çamuroğlu, moderator of one of the panels, stated that Turkey goes through an ¨extraordinary period¨ which is not likely to end in an ordinary way in his own terms. Writer and scholar Murat Belge defined the current period in Turkey ¨frightening¨ while bringing example from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's instruction to local governors not to pay attention to official regulations.

Placing responsibility on the elites of the country, Şahin Alpay, columnist for Zaman and Today's Zaman, said that Turkey now encounters a tutelary system backed by the people which replaced the military tutelage.

In the Abant Platform meeting, the representative of each group in society tended to express grievances with the state in Turkey. The editor in chief of Greek newspaper Apoyevmatini, Mihail Vasiliadis, said the state applied a policy of erosion against non-Muslims in the country.

Kurds on the other hand, such as pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) Diyarbakır Deputy İmam Taşçıer, listed the Kurdish question number one challenge of democracy in Turkey while calling for ¨collective rights¨ for Kurds. Another Kurdish politician, Hüda Kaya, urged everyone to pay attention to the atrocities in the Southeast Turkey while making a warning that violence would soon spread to the West unless people react to the ongoing issues.

A large group of journalists who have been targeted by the government were also in attendance at the meeting. TV journalist Tarık Toros, who was the editor in chief of Bugün TV that was taken over by the government on air in last October, complained about the lack of solidarity among different segments of society in Turkey when it comes to defending the rights of others.

February 28 mentality is still in charge in Turkey

Another sacked journalist Nazlı Ilıcak directed attention to the ongoing ¨witch hunt¨ against the Hizmet movement and rejected the assumption that the movement was an ally of the government. ¨Whomever is the government, that is responsible for mistakes in the past.¨ Ilıcak cried out in reference to the mishaps in some of the controversial legal cases regarding the soldiers during the last decade.

Professor of law Serap Yazıcı on the other hand argued that those who conducted the February 28 post-modern coup in 1997 are still "influential and in charge" because they chose to use Milli Görüş (National View), [a political view from which the AK Party originated] instead of fighting against it.¨

Majority's dictatorship is in the making

Political scientist Baskın Oran argued that Erdoğan has been establishing the dictatorship of the majority thanks to the popular support he receives. "He has created the Islamist version of the nation state," Oran pointed out while adding that the people in Turkey are learning how to struggle against an evil that came out of the ballot box.

Another political scientist and former CHP deputy Binnaz Toprak, like many other participants, referred to the political culture and said that a genuine liberal idea has never been rooted in Turkey.

An unchecked, personalistic system is desired

Veteran Professor of Constitutional Law, Ergun Özbudun, who in the past chaired a commission set up by the AK Party to draft a new constitution, said that the problem with constitution making in Turkey has nothing to do with the disability of Turkey, but with unlawfulness.

According to Özbudun, the government in Turkey at the moment desires a "personalistic rule deprived of all checks and balances" by asking for a switch to a presidential system. He also mentioned public opinion polls which suggest that people are against the presidential system in the country.

Stating that this government eliminated judicial independence in Turkey, Professor Özbudun expressed his concern over separation of powers in the suggested executive presidential system. Many AK Party officials have been referring to the system they would like to introduce a "Turkish style presidential system," details of which are unknown to people.

The Abant Platform witnesses an extensive participating from a wide range of scholars, civil society representatives, journalists and politicians. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Yakar Yakış, Former Minister of Tourism and Culture Ertuğrul Günay, author Perihan Mağden, HESA President İbrahim Cerrah, columnist and professor Mehmet Altan are among the few names of the guests list.

Organized by GYV, Abant Platform has been a main forum bringing together independent intellectuals to discuss Turkey's key social and political issues.

The Abant Platform says it "was established on the premise that dogmatic biases dominant for a long time in Turkish political life are foremost permanent obstacles hindering democratic development." Since 1998, it has held regular meetings for the purpose of discussing and establishing solutions to critical problems in Turkey.

Published on Today's Zaman, 30 January 2016, Saturday