I still remember the time when our elementary school teacher told us about the “history” of the official flag of the Republic of Turkey.
Supposedly, one evening, while Ataturk was visiting the battlegrounds of the War of Independence, he stumbled upon a fallen soldier. The blood drenched young man was lying on the ground. Ataturk noticed the reflection of the white crescent moon on the soldier’s bloody uniform, and decided right there and then that this image, a white crescent and star on red background, would be the nation’s new official flag.
The color red on a flag, therefore, came to represent for me the struggle of a nation and, in time, as I grew into adolescence, the guardianship of the state of its subjects. Later in life, I began to associate different colors on flags with other notions. For me, whereas blue stood for “freedom”, white stood for “peace”, green represented Islam, light blue represented Judeo-Christian faith and so forth. Of course, there was no scientific basis for my flag-colors-hypothesis other than a few circumstantial ones. Such as , while communist nations like the USSR and China heavily emphasized red in their flags, more liberal nations in general used red more sparingly, and more often than not, not at all. Instead their flags featured blue and white -freedom and peace, as far as I was concerned.
Putting my silly assumptions aside, the color red did seem to represent the State in other areas as well. Turkey’s oldest (and once upon a time, only) political party’s flags and emblems were red as can be. Most political parties that came afterwards also featured red heavily in their flags and emblems. Red was the color of the carpet laid out in front of foreign dignitaries; it was the color of the military. Red represented the sternness, the demureness and the authority of the Turkish State as well as the political landscape in general. The grave nature of the color red representing the State, apart from keeping the citizens at an arm’s length, also, I believe, seeded in us a general sense of trust in the state as the ultimate authority. We were conditioned, for example, to believe that the courts would be just, at least in their applying of the current law, regardless of how unjust the law in question was. We knew that the human element of civil servants were out of our reach, that we wouldn’t connect with them on a human level, but they would serve us just as well without any prejudice or patronage. In short, the Turkish State was there at an arm’s length, just out of reach, a patriarchal figure that didn’t bestow much sympathy towards its subjects, but would also act, mostly, indiscriminately amongst them.
This stern status quo of the Republic of Turkey began to change under Erdogan and AKP’s rule. We began to see a government that was more in touch with its citizens than any other in the past. This did not only help them win victory after victory, while the old guns of Turkish politics kept their distance from the public, but it also caused a shift in what the State meant and represented. People were less scared of their government with its friendly face. The face of the State was now a smiling one rather than the frowning one we had become accustomed to for decades.
AKP’s grand plan to sway the public away from their well-established conception of the State as it was in the past, required some certain visual changes as well. They well knew that the color red stood for the ways of the past, of CHP, of Turkey’s dark structural, ethnic, socioeconomic and political divide. AKP had already rejected the color scheme of their political party of origin, the Welfare Party whose emblem was strictly red and white and was virtually indistinguishable from CHP’s, and had opted for a warmer orange color to represent them. During the elections, when you went to the ballot box and looked at the ballot, AKP’s colorful emblem stood apart from almost all other parties with their red and white symbols.
Turquoise as the representative color of the Turkish state came later during Erdogan’s reign around 2013. From there on, almost everything that represented the State began to take a turquoise hue: the Presidential offices, official carpets, police uniforms, the Parliament in general, national sports teams jerseys, all underwent a color change.
“So what”, you might ask, “What difference does it make what colors are featured in government business?”
To that I’d say, “Nothing occurs in vacuum.” Turquoise is hardly anything more than a metaphor here. The State’s directional change towards a more folksy, unofficial template brought with it an overall deterioration of how it handles its duties. If red stands for the State, the blue for freedom and white for peace, turquoise stands for a crude, flimsy, and scrappy kind of populism with no regard to established laws and ways. And the “turquoisation” of Turkey manifests itself in a makeshift and arbitrary legislation, a populist and nepotist government, and a lawless and unjust judiciary.
It is under the amicable surface of turquoise that you find car trains derailed by the hurried railway systems, hordes of journalists and politicians convicted by extrajudicial accusations, election laws changed immediately after the ballot boxes close, a happy-go-lucky Economy Minister announcing three economic masterplans in as many months, a thousand-and-one room Presidential Palace, and most recently a local election cancelled under no applicable laws in existence. It is the way of the turquoise.
When the Supreme Electoral Committee was under deliberation to rule on the validity of the Istanbul local elections, I, like many others, was under the impression that, as much as they wished (and were pressured) to cancel the election results, they would not be able to do so because, well, laws… I had clearly overlooked the fact that we are living under a deep turquoise state where all is shaky and nothing is as it should be. The election night tricks put forth by AKP and Turkey’s official news agency, the AA, were all part of the unwritten constitution of the Republic of Turquoise: it doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as it is done, and the thing to be done is to hold on to the power at all costs. And you don’t have to worry about any repercussions because there won’t be any, because there won’t be anybody to enforce it. That’s the modus operandi of the turquoise.
Turkey’s journey from deep red to turquoise has been a perilous one. We have swayed from excessive lawfulness to excessive lawlessness. I don’t think even the most ardent CHP supporter would wish to go back to the way things were thirty, forty years ago. All we need is some of the “red” coming back and the “blue” overtaking the “turquoise.”