Where do revolutions come from? A revolutionary step refers to the transformation of political and socio-economic structures, in part or in whole, within a presumably short period of time. Such structural changes attain visibility if and when they are accompanied by instant chaos, open conflict and the involvement of the masses in violent acts and bloodshed. Rapid change often entails equally high costs emerging very quickly. The history of revolutions is filled with such examples.
What name, then, would suit the political developments that occurred in Turkey since the first years of the millennium? If the answer is "change," then the whole "revolution" debate would be pointless. In that case, "change" should have presumably created political and economic tensions coupled with structural transformations and a great debate about the political ecosystem. Describing the post-2002 situation in Turkey as merely "change," however, could be severely misleading.
A simple yet fool-proof way to test whether or not a revolution has happened relates to the magnitude of tensions. In other words, one can often tell the difference between change and revolution by observing the severity of reactions to their outcome. As such, the resistance shown by the post-2002 situation's opponents and the size and excitement of its advocates could provide answers.
Had a simple process of change with no political ideology, elite transformation and political-economic dynamics taken place, it would have been extremely difficult to account for the resistance that the process has faced over the past 13 years. After all, a broad coalition of bureaucrats, big business, government agencies, foreign countries and those claiming ownership of intellectual hegemony actively opposed the agenda – a list that covers pretty much everyone who would fight a revolution.
The fact that the process, which began 13 years ago, set the stage for a lot of firsts in Turkey's political history helps establish that what happened was more than just change. The emergence of novel political and sociological terms coupled with major changes in the content of public debate has been some of recent history's prominent features.
The emergence of new subjects of public debate, which requires no proof except a quick glance at Turkey's bookstores, played a crucial role in the post-2002 period. The driving force behind this process, no doubt, was the way the guardianship regime and the former establishment dealt with the country's most pressing issues. A number of red lines, which had been marked with strict prohibitions, had tamed and limited even the most radical debates. The 2002 elections, in turn, opened Pandora's Box to establish that no subject, however coherent, was off-limits.
Keeping the above developments in mind, there is little doubt that what happened in 2002 was indeed a revolution, and the period between then and now has set the stage for a deep and historic change. The fact that the revolution took place just five years after the 1997 military coup established a new order alone gives credit to the 2002 elections as a revolutionary act. That the poster boys for the establishment instantly labeled the affair a counter-revolution also helps. The various elements required to authenticate the revolution have also been present – leadership, popular support and elite transformation gave rise to new political notions about time, space and history.
The bloodless transformation of the past decade, an amount of time more than enough for revolution, albeit a little short for political and social change, did not take shape until the "new Turkey" debate. While the climate of stability stemming from the 2002 revolution helped mobilize public support behind change, which slowly penetrated the mainstream, an even more prominent development took place, that of the specific components of the guardianship regime that evolved into counter-revolutionary forces, which will remain one of the two parties in the struggle over Turkey in the 21st century. Quite possibly the conflict will be over sooner than later.
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