Don’t you just love it when you see a line-up for a photo-session?
Everybody goes silent as if sound is recorded in the photograph. Young men who look like they just left a hair-stylist, wearing Italian or tailored suits, hand-made shoes, expensive big, chunky watches. Some young ladies wrapping designer silk scarves into turbans and designer handbags hanging from their elbows, designer sunglasses fashionably lift up over their headscarves, the red undersides of the shoes reflecting from the polished shiny marble they pose on. Semi-precious doesn’t cut it any more; they are most definitely certified diamonds on her jewellery. They all get out of their big SUV’s and shiny sedans. The new generation of AKP love flaunting it, unlike some of their fathers who have grown up in poverty they have opened their eyes to riches, power and influence.
Leading up to the 3rd of November 2002 general elections, after Mr Devlet Bahçeli as the leader of MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) had cried out to break-up the three-way coalition with centre-right Motherland Party (ANAP), nationalist left Democratic Left Party (DSP) and the MHP in July of that year, one of the main slogans of the newly established and untested AKP then was “we promise to cut the hoses of corruption and bring justice”, justice being one of the words in the party’s name.
Incidentally, when AKP won the elections with 34.29 %, Republican People’s Party (CHP) received 19.38 % and the rest of the votes 46.33 % were gone to parties who didn’t make it over the 10% electoral threshold and thus didn’t make it into parliament. Almost half of the votes cast were not represented in the 2002’s Turkish Grand National Assembly.
AKP also promised wealth to the nation through development, which is another word in the name; “Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi” translates as Justice and Development Party. There was a period when Mr Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insisted on his party’s abbreviated name ought to be “AK Party” rather than AKP because AK means white, clean, pure in Turkish. He insisted on it to create the image of a pure and clean party that would bring justice and development. International support was at its peak and Turkey was exemplified to the Middle East and other Islamic countries as the possibility that reform and democracy can prevail in a Muslim country. Mild Islam was what they called it. It was also the era leading up to the Grater Middle East and North African Initiative, later dubbed as the Arab Spring. And what a spring it was that brought rains of blood and tears.
Considering that an average outfit of some AKP youth costs no less than several thousands Turkish Lira and a basic SUV is in the hundreds of thousands we can assume that some truly have gained wealth and prospered. Whether or not it trickled down to the “people” is another question. In rural areas, the average man and woman still tries to make ends and worries for their children’s future.
Faith, religion, tradition and the protection of Islamic conservative values were of utmost importance. The headscarf ban was abolished a few years after AKP had taken the reigns of the state and now you can see civil servants, police and military officers in turbans and headscarves. It was the “namus”, honour and chastity of a Muslim girl and she should be able to wear it with pride. So they did. As if modern, secular girls who do not wear it aren’t honourable who keep asking the question why the honour of a girl or a woman was to be dictated and protected by a man. By the way, where lies the honour of a young boy or a man? Scandals of rape and child molesting by teachers, deaths in building fires due to lack of safety precautions in religious schools and dormitories are quickly swept under the carpet.
Of course, there are many conservative Muslim women who have adhered to their beliefs and traditions while making headway in their education, profession and their strong and independent standing in society overall. Sure, there are Muslim women who choose not to wear the headscarf and yet are quite conservative in every way. By and large the Turkish society, particularly in urban areas and large cities like Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana, Bursa, Antalya and others you can’t tell the difference between a conservative Muslim young girl or a woman, unless she wears a headscarf and a long coat, from a secular one. As with men, Muslim conservative and traditionalists don’t wear gold at all but only a silver ring if they are married; and that on the right hand, have a trimmed moustache and mostly don’t wear any bright colours. But in cities we all look alike.
More than fifteen years have passed since the promises of justice and development were made. Reforms passed, the economy has grown, wealth created, some development appears to have taken place.
The are exclusive restaurants, not serving alcohol but finest of nargile, shisha or huqqa, fusion cuisine and fine-dining trends from around the World, now open in many cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, Bursa, Adana, Diyarbakir and resort towns like Bodrum and Antalya. They even have chains with branches in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha.
You can always find expensively dressed crowds engulfed in intense debates and protest about President Trump’s announcement to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Of course, the Americans were never friends of Turkey; they were new imperialists who were responsible for all military coupe’s in recent Turkish history including the 15th of July failed coupe. If only they knew that their fathers and grandfathers were cheering to welcome the US Navy’s 6th Fleet to Istanbul in 1967. Against the protests by leftist students the very forefathers of todays AKP, Islamist youth joined forces with the nationalists to beat and throw them in the cold waters of the Bosporus.
Today, the Americans were harbouring the Number one enemy of the state, Fethullah Gulen and CIA and FBI were protecting him. Had they known what an evil man Gulen was they would have never have gone to his schools, attended the “sohbets” or “communion”, the gatherings to discuss religious and social issues at Gulenist schools or one of the follower’s office meeting rooms.
Of course, the Westerners and Europeans were eyeing a slice of our motherland once they reached their ulterior motive of partitioning Turkey. They tried it once before. English and French were guilty of conspiring against the Ottoman Empire and after centuries of creating internal disruptions and rebellions they had achieved creating a never-ending chaos and bloodshed in the Middle East.
Now the Germans had shown their true face and joined in the chorus of anti-Islam and anti-Erdoğan slander. The Dutch were no better, not having allowed Turkish cabinet members to rally during 2015 general elections and 16 April, 2017 referendum. What would you expect of them, considering they were all neo-Nazis anyway.
It was only the Ottoman era that brought peace to these lands. If it weren’t for the Turks Islam would never have reached such a strong place in the World. The Jews and Zionists were guilty of undermining the financial system even today, and “Reis”, referring to President Erdoğan as captain, leader in eastern Black Sea and Nationalist terminology, quite rightly pointed out the interest lobby behind all the Gezi protests in 2013.
Most members of the young and excited crowd have two smart-phones of the latest models; drive cars of American and European carmakers that they criticize. Nearly all have “friends” in Ankara helping to organise deals and contracts for government agencies. They all have a fairly good understanding of the Public Procurement Law and its clauses that make conditions favourable for them through sole source or invitation only procurement processes. They are quite literate with the large grants and subventions for local Research and Development and production through their ties in the capital to guide them to share these benefits.
Many have offshore companies in the USA, UK, Netherlands or distant island paradises and connections with many international companies from countries they constantly condemn.
In many instances you can overhear these eager business people raging to know how and why these bureaucrats came up with requests without consulting them first. It put them in a twist and they were caught off-guard. Now everybody knew of a tender and there would be too much attention and too many bids. They had to make “necessary arrangements” at the requirement analysis stage.
When listening to their patriotic outrage and the martyr rhetoric you would think they all served their compulsory military service as Commandos or Special Forces members in conflict zones and were battle hardened. Reality is to the contrary. Many registered with companies of friends or family members abroad to create records exceeding five years so they can “get out” of military service as guest workers abroad.
“It can be argued that Erdoğan is, in a way, what the average Turk sees when he looks in the mirror.”
During the first years as Prime Minister, Mr Erdoğan vehemently opposed nationalism, calling it the great divider of the ummah, the people of Islam. Now, agitating the nationalist and patriotic sentiment seems to serve his endeavour to stay in power post 2019 presidential elections. The alliance struck with Mr Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, MHP, comes to his aid with his “uplifting” and fired up public speeches whenever Erdoğan faces any situations he needs to rally the troops.
You can’t blame the average Turk for loving Erdoğan, as my colleague Burak Bekdil elaborated in his article “Why Does The Average Turk Love Erdoğan” dated December 10, 2017, (read here: https://sigmaturkey.com/2017/12/10/average-turk-love-Erdogan/). “There are remarkable parallels between the political sociology of the average Turkish voter and Erdoğan’s Islamist worldview” Bekdil says and “It can be argued that Erdoğan is, in a way, what the average Turk sees when he looks in the mirror.” He goes on to state “It is true that Erdoğan has won millions of votes through his impressive “mega projects,” including a huge mosque on an Istanbul hill; a third airport (one of the world’s biggest) for the city; roads, highways, and bridges elsewhere on Anatolian land; a third bridge over the Bosporus; generous social transfers; and persistent economic growth (though Turkey looks more like a consumption-construction economy). But one must also consider the sociological profile of the voters.”
“Justice is in the hands of the powerful.”
The young generation of AKP appears to have figured out how to manage their business affairs through political and bureaucratic connections. Handouts and gifts keep “small” people happy and open doors. Sharing the benefits and wealth with the wealthy and powerful creates stronger alliances and solidifies relations. Ones who don’t have it yet only aspire to get to that stage and yearn to be closer and be included to power hubs.
There certainly is justice and development is in progress, if only limited to a small elite. But as a wise man put it: “Justice is in the hands of the powerful.” So, either we all wait until power is given to the people or development in all spheres of society will permeate to create an equilibrium denying power to a small group. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But in a land where conspiracy theories become realities very fast, we might just see dreams come true.
Maybe, one day we will learn from our mistakes and failures. Appointments could soon be based on merit. You never know, there could be a dramatic increase in science laboratories opened around Anatolia instead of Imam Hatips (Islamic Imam and Preacher Schools). We may well be surprised if one of these days Europeans envy our curriculum and PISA rankings. Actually, we might just surprise ourselves if one day we start knocking down ugly buildings to replace them with parks and recreational zones.
I am not a believer in “you get the governance you deserve.” This country deserves better, much better.