February 2, 2016

Under what conditions was the Abant Platform meeting held?

Cafer Solgun

The 34th meeting of the Abant Platform, one of the distinguished gathering places of Turkey's intellectuals, was held in Bolu over the weekend.

"Democracy's Challenge with Turkey" was the title of the meeting, attended by prominent intellectuals and politicians. The situation in Turkey was discussed at length by the participants and the results of the meeting were announced in a declaration.

A good many news stories were published about the meeting. Pro-government media outlets were naturally rife with "defamatory" articles. But I didn't see any news story detailing the very conditions under which the meeting was held.

In the past, the president, the prime minister, ministers and political party executives would swarm to the meeting and take notes about the presentations made during the meeting, and final declarations would trigger serious debate. But this year's gathering was attended by no one from the ruling party. Pro-government columnists or commentators did not come either.

I must note that some guests decided not to attend in the nick of time although they initially confirmed their participation. The commonly cited excuse was: "I face intense pressures. I am sorry." This one, I would say, is a serious excuse. If you attend the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV)-backed Abant Platform meeting, you will certainly be stigmatized as a member of the “parallel structure” -- a veiled reference to the supporters of the Hizmet (Gülen) movement. This stigma may incur the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) wrath, eventually leading to you losing your job and coming under government surveillance.

Thus, I should note, those who attended the meeting took this serious risk.

Just like other guests, I did not know the venue of the meeting until the very last moment. It was as if we would have an "illegal" meeting. If the name of the hotel had been announced in advance, this might have eliminated the possibility of holding the meeting altogether. The owner of the hotel might receive a phone call from somewhere, upon which he might decide not to rent out the meeting hall even if you paid for it in advance. This has happened in the past. So it was not a risk that came to mind for no reason at all.

This alone is a thought-provoking situation. There is always the risk of your not being able to find a conference hall to organize a meeting for Turkey's leading academics, journalists, writers, politicians and civil society representatives…

Eventually, the meeting was able to be held without a "last minute surprise." However, all of the participants nurtured doubts or concerns that a police raid may come at any moment during the meeting. Indeed, gendarmes or counterterrorism police units might raid the hotel and detain those present on charges of “plotting to overthrow the government.”

But no such raid came. The possibility still exists, of course, that a prosecutor may launch an investigation based on the news stories in some papers. I hope no such nonsense will occur. I think even the mere consideration of such a possibility is enough to portray the very democratic crisis our country is going through.

Indeed, the first sentence of the final declaration was: "Our democracy has been undergoing one of the deepest crises in its history."

The very conditions under which the meeting was held should give you some idea about the magnitude of this crisis.

Turkey is being crushed under this crisis.

But we will not stop looking to the future with hope, despite everything. We can at least still find a hotel to rent out to meet secretly and have intellectuals who attend voice their views boldly.

Published on Today's Zaman, 2 February 2016, Tuesday