Turkey's reform tradition, from past to present

Published 02.08.2019 20:23
Updated 03.08.2019 00:07

When we accept Ibn Khaldun's famous statement that "geography is destiny," then Turkey's destiny is on a difficult path. After the emergence of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of Enlightenment thought, Western states began to spread their colonial empires throughout the world.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire took part in the Westernization of the world via dramatic modernization reforms. With the Tanzimat reform era, the Ottoman Empire had taken the same path to modernization. Meanwhile, England and France desired to occupy the Ottoman lands. In such a decisive historical era, Sultan Abdulhamid II emerged as one of the most long-lasting, reformist sultans of the late Ottoman Empire. Despite the ongoing adversity against Abdulhamid II among Western and our "colonized" intellectuals, Abdulhamid II laid the foundations of the Turkish Republic by realizing modernization reforms in the fields of education, army, industry and infrastructure. In this respect, he is the precursor of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Today, Turkey's patriotic people with different political allegiances are grateful to the reign of Abdulhamid II.

From the Ottoman Empire to the Republic, Turkey's three-century-long history of reform is marked by iconoclastic leaders. Especially the periods of Adnan Menderes, Turgut Özal and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan come to the front of our recent political history. Nonetheless, dear departed Necmettin Erbakan's mission of turning Turkey into a great country by revitalizing its historical and religious heritage and by undermining the "colonized" mentality of military tutelage paved the way for the construction of a solid national identity, and thus, laid the foundations of Turkey in today's context. Unfortunately, Erbakan's political power could not last long enough to enable him to realize comprehensive reform of the state structure.

When we take into consideration the drastic reforms that were realized during the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) political power, then we need to clarify that President Erdoğan, one of the most consistent political leaders in terms of democratic principles, has been defamed in world public opinion. Last week, I met with an Iranian friend who migrated to Germany. I had a conversation with his children on Turkey who expressed their hatred of President Erdoğan much to my surprise. When I tried to understand the motives behind such a hatred of Iranian Azeris who live in Germany by asking the simple question "why," they replied: "Germans do not love him."

In 2002 when the AK Party came to power, the main topic of discussion was over the term "millennium." As a magical concept pertaining to a new kind of optimism, everybody was discussing the prospective path of this second millennium. Turkey entered the new millennium with a post-modern coup that was realized by the long-standing military tutelage. As the coup was aimed at religious people, the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) did not oppose the military intervention. Therefore, the democratic struggle against military tutelage had to be carried out first by the Welfare Party and then by the AK Party. Throughout Turkey's political history, periods that followed after military interventions have always been periods of freedom and reform. The period of the AK Party's political power followed the rule by turning into one of the most reformist periods in Turkish political history.

Since the last local elections in Istanbul, an outstanding group of opinion leaders and academicians have been preparing, under the coordination of professor Bekir Karlıağa, a report on the AK Party. Before presenting its criticisms and recommendations, the report concentrates on reforms that were realized by the AK Party, which is itself defined as a "reformist political party," during its 17 years of political power. The following topics provide only a glimpse of the AK Party's reformist agenda: Expansion of individual areas of freedom; elimination of military tutelage; liberalization of the economy; conducting revolutionary reforms in the field of health; realizing immense projects of transportation; stable economic growth that make Turkey the 17th greatest economy in the world, despite ongoing economic stagnation; resolution of long-standing problems in the field of education; promoting communication between citizens and the state structure; vanquishing and overwhelming the terrorist organizations – the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ); adopting an independent foreign policy attitude that prioritizes Turkey's national interests through a multilateral and multidimensional foreign policy and conducting revolutionary improvements in the field of defense security. In our next column, we will continue to discuss the AK Party's reformist character.

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