Once upon a time, Turkey was the sick man of Europe because its economy was in tatters thanks to Turkey's big businesses plundering the country's funds. Turkey was run by an elite who disregarded the needs and wishes of the 70 percent they simply did not represent. Every time the 70 percent tried to come to power through democratic means, they were shot down by a military coup. The elite used the banks and the weak financial system to plunder state funds in a corrupt environment. Every coup was supported by the West.
At the same time, Turkey was called a fragile democracy. Last but not least, it won the unique description of being a "military democracy." The military dominated the political scene through the notorious military-dominated National Security Council, which was actually operating to supervise the government and parliament. Such was the scene in Turkey - the "old Turkey" before 2002.
Then the Turkish nation declared "enough is enough," and in the 2002 elections, it shut all the mainstream political parties out of parliament and brought the newly-founded Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to power.
The AK Party then won every successive election with greater popularity and effectively put an end to the military domination in politics. The party strove to usher Turkey into the 21st Century by legislating and applying sweeping political, economic and social reforms. It was particularly successful in social welfare projects, in the health sector as well as in communications and transportation.
But all these have been easier said than done. The AK Party first had to fight an uphill battle against the military that wanted to oust it but failed badly in successive campaigns until 2007, when the government, led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, won a massive majority in Parliament despite military challenges and received the moral support to send the military back to the barracks. The elite that lost power could not stomach this defeat and has been trying to stall Erdoğan and his colleagues ever since.
However, Erdoğan was unaware of a massive creeping danger that was to hit him hard in 2012 when he realized that his "staunch" ally," that was the Gülen Movement - affiliated to the Islamic Nur religious order, was in fact plotting against him. The plot surfaced in February 2012 when prosecutors under alleged orders from the Gülen Movement went ahead with a plan to arrest National Intelligence chief Hakan Fidan for establishing a dialogue with the PKK, Turkey's Kurdish militants who had been waging a terrorist war against the state since the mid-1980s. The plot was foiled with difficulty, but the real blow was to come in December 2013, when prosecutors and policemen affiliated to the Gülen Movement used the Gezi protests in Istanbul to undermine the government. That followed a police operation to arrest four AK Party cabinet ministers on corruption charges that would eventually lead to the arrest of Erdoğan's son, thus force the collapse of the government. All these plots were foiled, but not before inflicting massive damage to the government. Despite this, Erdoğan won the March 2014 local elections that the opposition turned into a referendum against the prime minister and his administration. The impressive victory was followed by Erdoğan's victory in the presidential elections.
All the turmoil and plots have nonetheless created political shocks that have to be overcome. Erdoğan wants to weed out the Gülenist followers in the state structure. In the process, we are facing inevitable turmoil in the bureaucratic system, especially among the judicial and police ranks. This has forced the government to take tough steps that have been termed ‘undemocratic' by the opposition and many quarters in the West. Some freedoms and liberties seem to be at risk. Added to all this is the complication created by the peace and reconciliation with Turkey's militant Kurds, which is progressing despite the ups and downs. That too is a challenge for the AK Party administration that has to fight the odds on too many fronts.
Despite all this, impressive social policies have remained intact and the economy is still performing relatively well in the current global turmoil. Projects are progressing but at a slower pace.
After 12 years in office Erdoğan feels his efforts to create a "new Turkey" must be bolstered by deep-rooted judicial and structural reforms in the state, and thus he is promoting the establishment of a presidential system after the June 2015 parliamentary elections. Whether the AK Party will win this mandate to help him create a presidential system remains to be seen. If it does not, then Turkey will continue to progress with an enhanced parliamentary system and Erdoğan will have to accept this.
The EU has always helped democracies flourish in Greece, Portugal, Spain and even in the former Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe. Yet, Turkey has not benefitted from this kind of assistance, even as moral support.
Recent history has shown while the membership of countries like Cyprus and even Greece have posed great difficulties to the EU, Turkey's membership would only be an asset. Turkey is fighting on all fronts and deserves this support. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham is a massive threat to Europe, and Turkey is a strong antidote for the religious extremists. Turkey has always been and will remain a balancing factor in its region and an asset for the EU. Today, the EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU. Is this so hard to comprehend?