February 1, 2016

The Abant Platform: A photograph of Turkey

Mümtazer Türköne

The Abant Platform offers up some very realistic measures with which to grasp the specific chemistry and power of democracy in Turkey.

This past weekend saw the 34th Abant gathering. Over the years, this annual meeting has offered a spot where Turkey's important intellectuals and politicians can come together. The topics discussed at this yearly meeting are scrutinized in great depth and fine detail. For many politicians, including some from the ruling party, the Abant Platform has become a place to make leaps in careers, while meeting people with extremely different views and identities and forming dialogues with them.

Any and all democracy-minded circles in Turkey accept the Abant Platform's role as a critical one in that it searches out a shared language while bringing together different factions, connecting them through their devotion to democracy. So much so, in fact, that even prominent names within the ruling party's most inner circle have passed through this platform in past years, taking advantage of the very special atmosphere of tolerance and compromise that this platform has created.

This island of democracy met last weekend in Bolu, where attendees both confirmed and criticized the deficiencies in Turkish democracy and justice, as well as the apparent turn toward dictatorship the country has taken. Buses left from Istanbul and Ankara to bring attendees to the Bolu meeting, but even the journey was an accurate reflection of the state of democracy in Turkey -- the government decided to relocate the meeting, but kept the new location secret until right before the attendees arrived.

Nearly all the intellectuals in Turkey ready to speak out in favor of democracy and freedom -- and to challenge the authoritarian atmosphere so quickly descending over the country -- attended this year's Abant Platform. Mehmet Altan, Murat Belge, Doğan Bermek, İştar Gözaydın, Nazlı Ilıcak, Ahmet İnsel, Eser Karakaş, Baskın Oran, Ergun Özbudun and Ufuk Uras were just some of the notable participants.

The prevailing views aired at this meeting were focused on the idea that much of what is unfolding in Turkey is linked to a personal search for dictatorship, and that the underpinnings necessary for this dictatorship had been hastily built and created. In this light, there was much criticism for the “attempt to create a new constitution,” which has occupied so much of the news lately. It was decided that this attempt ought to be fought against for as long as it takes for the supremacy of justice to be restored in Turkey. In the resolution paper at the end of the conference, it was underlined that in a country dealing with problems like the new Penal Courts of Peace system and changes to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), and with serious problems concerning the independence of the justice system and damage to the principle of separation of powers, a search to create a new constitution is wholly unnecessary and inappropriate.

Compared to other political parties, representatives of the Kurdish political movement were in heavy attendance at this year's Abant Platform. Thus, naturally the relations between the lack of democracy and the ongoing Kurdish problems were also put up for debate. Most at the meeting were in agreement that the problems in the Southeast of Turkey are providing one of the richest sources for the construction of a dictatorship in Ankara.

The 34th Abant Platform took place as usual in an atmosphere of freedom of expression -- where differing viewpoints could be expressed without hesitation -- a fact that was particularly striking, as Turkey itself heads in the opposite direction. While voices were deep, resolute and knowledgeable, there was a dark mood over the meeting, as no one could yet see an exit path from the current situation. Intellectuals view problems differently than politicians; being an intellectual means speaking the truth not just when convenient, but all the time. And it is an intellectual resistance that can give society hope for democracy. This past weekend at the Abant Platform, this sense of resistance was as strong and palpable in feeling as a statue in Bolu.

Published on Today's Zaman, 1 February 2016, Monday