Turkish people are tired of taking steps backward

One basic reason why Turkish politicians are unable to reach a consensus is the lack of an agreed-upon dictionary of political concepts.

Turkish people are tired of taking steps backward
The reasons behind the unwillingness of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the opposition parties to reconcile their differences should be sought in the "early childhood experiences" of the party leaders and of the country as a whole, social psychologists claim.

Speaking to Sunday's Zaman in a phone interview, Professor Abdulkadir Çevik of Ankara University's faculty of medicine, known for his studies on political psychology, says the culture of reconciliation is not something that can be acquired overnight. "Everything starts in the family. If the culture of reconciliation is not taught in the family, if the child suffers a traumatic experience, even if he or she becomes a political leader in the future, we observe the traces of this early childhood," Çevik says. As for the popular resistance to the idea of giving up, taking a step back, or compensating, Çevik explains that this is the result of a heritage of losing for over 300 years. "We have been walking backwards for generations now. We lost a huge empire, and the idea of losing anything frightens us. But the culture of reconciliation is about being ready to lose for the good of the whole," he said.

The discussion about the lack of a culture of reconciliation in Turkey is not something new. Recently the issue was aired through the initiative of the nongovernmental organizations gathered under the umbrella of the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB), calling the sides of the political struggle that has blocked the system to take a step back and look for possibilities of reconciliation. TOBB chairman Rıfat Hisarcıklıoğlu was in the spotlight in May 2006, when he convinced Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, opposition leader Deniz Baykal and Mehmet Ağar to pose in front of cameras shaking hands.

But this time the call of the NGOs was not enthusiastically welcomed. The prime minister initially said he was ready to make the first gesture, but then his staff announced that the AK Party's position was "Whoever made the mistake should step back, and the AK Party isn't the one that made it." The leaders of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) said the call of the NGOs should have specifically targeted the government that is blocking the system. In short, the call for reconciliation fell on deaf ears.

Former parliament speaker and former CHP deputy Hikmet Çetin is known in the recent history of Turkey as "the" reconciler." The term "Brother Hikmet formula" was used as an expression to describe situations where political parties were unable to agree on anything without Hikmet Çetin. Çetin made this fame through his manners and readiness to take his place at the table. He complains that the lack of a culture of reconciliation in Turkey is related to the immature state of Turkish democracy. "Democracy is not only about ballot boxes. It is also a regime of dialogue and reconciliation," he says, speaking to Sunday's Zaman. According to Çetin, one basic reason why Turkish politicians are unable to reach a consensus is the lack of an agreed-upon dictionary of political concepts. "We are still discussing basic concepts like secularism, democracy and the Kurdish problem. And we are fighting about concepts that should themselves be the building stones of dialogue and reconciliation. For example, secularism: The core of secularism is about the state keeping an equal distance from all faiths and people respecting the faiths of others. In itself, secularism should bring about reconciliation, but in Turkey it is a source of conflict," he explains. He says the "indivisible unitary structure of the country" should also be understood as a uniting and reconciliatory force, whereas it is a matter of heated debate in Turkey.

When the AK Party decided to change the Constitution to have the president elected by popular vote, CHP leader Baykal invited Erdoğan to consensus and reconciliation. When he was asked what he meant by consensus, he replied, "I mean, come and abandon this project!" This sentence reflects the genuinely Turkish understanding of reconciliation.

There is a widespread conviction among the Turkish people that the Ottomans lost at the table what they had won on the battlefield. This conviction could explain why Turkish politicians are not happy to be invited to the table of dialogue. Çetin offers a different understanding of dialogue: "Sitting at the table is about trusting oneself. Without sitting at the table, you can neither understand what the other side wants nor tell them your position. Sitting at the table is not compromise. But if there is a problem to be solved, there is no way in modern politics to solve it without compromising."

Professor Hasan Köni of Middle East Technical University believes that the lack of a culture of reconciliation among the political leaders of today's Turkey can be understood only if we understand the two decades between 1960 and 1980. According to Köni, those were the years in which the political mentalities of today's leaders were shaped, and those were also the times that Turkey was under the protective umbrella of NATO. "We were being protected by the Americans -- or, at least, we believed we were. We were able to say 'no' to the Eastern bloc. Our main political decisions were made by the Americans, and we had nothing to discuss at home. Those were the times in which our leaders were educated in politics. Now we have come to a point where we are challenged by several social, economic and cultural divisions. In the past we didn't have clashes of interest and we didn't need reconciliation. But today we are challenged by ethnic issues, separatist issues and political issues, with Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code [TCK] and with the EU membership process. Today we need reconciliation, but our leaders were educated in a time when it was not a necessity," Köni tells Sunday's Zaman.

The recent need for a culture of reconciliation is, of course, related to the fact that the actors of Turkish politics are changing rapidly. As has been said by Prime Minister Erdoğan himself, Turkish sociologist Şerif Mardin's center-periphery dichotomy has never been that explanatory in the history of Turkey, but now the periphery is moving to the "core of the centre." The core is understandably resisting the newcomers and the familiar fight for the chair has ensued. "Turkish culture has this tradition of fighting for power, going back to Ottoman times. Our political system is centralizing; political parties are centralized. The leaders of political parties are like the sultans of the past. Our culture of democracy is a culture of transition to democracy. This centralizing tendency explains not only the fight for power, but also why we cannot have real think tanks or really free academics. This explains why retired generals are filling the posts of think tanks," Mardin says.

Meanwhile, certain columnists have made a distinction between reconciliation and the easing of tension. Mümtaz'er Türköne of Zaman wrote on Thursday that the tension will drop only when the junta is cleansed from the Turkish political system, and on Friday he said that taking a step back is acceptable only if, like in the classic march of the Turkish Mehter military band, "We are going to take two steps forward."

Today's Zaman
Last Mod: 30 Mart 2008, 09:39
Add Comment