In one of his speeches, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of the Turkish Republic, said: “The Republic demands new generations who will possess free thought, free understanding and free conscience.”
That was indeed the fundamental difference between the new Turkish state and the sick old man of Europe, the Ottoman Empire. In one there was an almighty sultan, absolute rule, multiple justice and education systems, mullahs, sheikhs, serfdom; in the other a demand for new generations with free thought, conscience and understanding.
The republican project that Atatürk described as his greatest achievement has failed. The old regime of the sultans sneaking in gradually, with the president of the country already acting like an almighty absolute ruler, the government adopting decrees every other day, the taking down one or more fundamental pillars of the “secular” republic, and the Parliament rendered into an awkward powerless institution with well-paid deputies. The president who could not take sick leave and decided not to spend the Republic Day this year in Brunei, New York or somewhere in Africa, decided to abandon the capital Ankara, and with him, move the celebrations to İstanbul to inaugurate the third airport of the largest city in the country. Though some officious pen slingers claimed that Chinese had already constructed an airport three times larger than the new Istanbul airport that cost only 12 billon dollars while Turkey spent – of course, through a generous built operate and transfer system with guaranteed number of passengers – 34 billion dollars. Naturally, Turkey has all the right to boast about it now that it has one of the largest airports in the world and on route to become a global travel hub.
The nation state and the secular republic with all their norms, principles and establishments have been placed on a target board. Over the past 16 years, under the pretext of “advanced democracy,” a new conservative capital has been created and nourished. Local administrations were “disciplined” and allegiance was assured. Universities were domesticated and the much-opposed Higher Education Board (YÖK) occupied and converted, becoming one of the most effective tools of the new regime. Under the “Not enough but yes” campaign, liberals were fooled into supporting a set of constitutional reforms; the remaining checks and balances of the secular, democratic republican system were tarnished, and high courts were fully tamed. With the thriller’s indictments based mostly on secret testimonies of brigands and electronically concocted evidence, respected commanders of the Turkish Armed Forces were made criminals, sent behind bars and sentenced as part of a campaign to castrate the military. That has been achieved as well. After the failed 15 July 2016 coup, the Fethullah Gülen group was effectively purged and a major threat for Turkey was averted, but the regime of the country rapidly evolved into something very much like the Ottoman times with the so-called executive presidential system.
One early republican era march, praising the achievements of the young republic, said: “We have woven Anatolia with iron nets in 10 years.” The song was boasting about the railroad achievements of the young republic. Now the president has been adamantly challenging that song, saying: “Not them, we have woven an iron net all through Anatolia.”
Indeed, he is right. Yes, it is not merely roads and railroads – during the past 16 years, when it comes to infrastructure, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has achieved a tremendous successes. Turkey’s economic development over the past decade has been remarkable. The Marmaray tunnel crossing, the new airport and such grand projects are a testimony to that great success that everyone should salute with praise while at the same time applaud the great strides the Turkish lira has taken towards becoming a national barter tool.
Turkey is fast becoming something far different from a secular, democratic Turkish Republic…