Farewell Turkey, it was nice knowing you. Or at least farewell to the Turkey of democracy and liberty, you almost made your centenary.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the Turkish republic in 1923 and left us with a progressive nation that removed the religious head of state position and instead instituted a constitutional republic that gave a voice to the people of the former Ottoman Empire. Atatürk did not believe in Islamism (political Islam), instead he favoured the approaches of the Western world and separated the mosque from the state, that ideology however has just been formally snuffed out thanks to a power grab from the country’s current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
President Erdoğan’s success in yesterday’s referendum has allowed him to award himself Caliph-like powers for life. Turkey’s democratic experiment has come crashing to the ground. Maybe the poll was rigged like his opponents say, or perhaps it wasn’t. In the same manner as the ‘coup’ last summer was real. Or maybe it was staged to give Erdoğan pretence to call for these powers. Either way everything has worked out perfectly for the Turkish president, a man who once famously described democracy as a bus: he would ride it until it got him to his desired destination and then he would disembark. Yesterday that destination arrived and Erdoğan got off the bus, dragging his country along with him.
It’s difficult not to notice the resemblance to the events that occurred in Germany in 1933, the political crackdown on opposition and the fervent use of media to sell the messages of the state. Close to 100,000 people have been forced from their jobs since the failed coup last year, these include judges, lawyers, teachers, journalists, military officers, and police, 40,000 of whom have found themselves facing many years in prison for daring to think differently than the president. The similarities between Turkey and Germany give us an impression of history beginning to repeat itself. The outside world looked on in shock as Erdoğan took the microphone and gave his cheering supporters a promise, a promise to bring back capital punishment to the once forward looking country.
For many years the Turkish experiment was intriguing to the western world, particularly to the members of the European Union. Most EU countries, Britain included, had the official position that Turkey should be allowed to join the EU, further expanding and cementing the ideology of democracy in the young republic. Now however I very much doubt that position will continue to be the case.
There will undoubtedly be many who look to blame the EU for the results of this vote. They will argue that the EU turned its back upon Turkey in recent decades and if only we had shown a kinder, more gentle face to the country then we could have encouraged them, instead we were ‘Christian-clubby’, and exclusionist.
This I shouldn’t have to say is narrow minded self-obsessed nonsense and anyone who believes the EU is to blame is unable to comprehend the political reality of Turkey and the intentions and goals of Erdoğan, he had this aim in mind when he first came to power in Turkey in 2003.
Turkey began down this route because of its president, it had nothing to do with the outside world, Turkish civil and political societies were shown to be unable to resist an Islamist like Erdoğan. Britain and other countries could have done nothing to halt this descent into illiberalism.
Turkey is gone and we could never have stopped that.
Steven Cook, from the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote an essay piece for Foreign Policy, entitled RIP Turkey; 1921-2017 within which he summed up the situation perfectly; “The Turkish republic has always been flawed, but it always contained the aspiration that – against the backdrop of the principles to which successive constitutions claimed fidelity – it could become a democracy. Erdoğan’s new Turkey closes off that prospect.”
The republic was ailing but now the life support has been switched off thanks to an electorate never allowed to hear the truth.