Turkey: From glorious democracy to failing state

Published 30.08.2016 01:26
Updated 30.08.2016 01:28

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been complaining about the attitude of western countries after the July 15 failed coup attempt. He reproaches foreign political leaders on their failure to stand up for Turkish democracy. The initial expectation was the coup would be successful and Turkey would go back to a democracy under military despotism. Any normal person could see that this is a total oxymoron, yet Turkey's close European partners and its so-called strategic ally, the United States, thought it would be better to avoid such a clear contradiction. In fact, they meant Turkey would be more stable if Erdoğan had been removed from office and if nobody cared about Turkish democracy. For many of them, Turkey has been suffering authoritarianism and even dictatorship under the presidency of Erdoğan and a successful military coup would have saved the Turkish people from tyranny. They thought it would be a legitimate idea if the people, instead of having democracy, had the second best option. Turkey would not be a fully-fledged democracy but for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) under the leadership of Erdoğan, and that its many reforms improved the quality of Turkish democracy. It might have been a slow process but nevertheless, Turkey has been doing its best. Westerners, like the many white supremacist feminists that have been trying to protect Muslim women, do not understand one fact: the Turkish people do not need saving. Democracy is not something that can be exported or imported, and we have witnessed what happens when the United States and its western allies have tried to "bring democracy" to the Middle East with their bombs and bullets.


Perception management has been an integral part of politics for decades and it has been managed by powerful actors both domestically and internationally. Turkey's fall from grace is the result of such manipulations. Any foreign "expert" on Turkey, whether it is an academic, a journalist, an analyst or a policy maker had been relying on Turkey's "white" elites, who could speak their languages, to obtain knowledge and information. The global public opinion on Turkey until recently used to be very positive and Turkey was even an example for other Muslim countries thanks to its improving democracy. Yet, suddenly Turkey was relegated to the league of second class democracy at best and a dictatorship at worst. There are many reasons for this deterioration from a "shining beacon" to a "failing state." First of all, the sources for the westerners, mostly liberals and to a certain extent Gülenists, stopped writing nice stories on Turkey. There might be several reasons for the sullenness white liberal elites feel about the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) policies and they may have considered the pace of reforms too slow, which may be why they began to express their dissatisfaction during and after the Gezi protests. They believed that after securing 50 percent of the vote in the general elections, Erdoğan intended to take the country in into "majoritarian democracy." They feared that this would lead to authoritarianism. This fear was immediately reflected in western media outlets and the Turkish public was shocked when CNN International and various other television channels began to broadcast the protests live with extremely biased commentaries without any counter arguments. Since the Gezi events, there has been almost no positive media coverage on Turkey in the Western media.


The other group of informants for western journalists and academics has been members of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) with their gigantic media and international lobbying activities. They began their mudslinging after it fell away from the reigning political party over the university entrance preparation schools' closure. This group of informants used to glorify the AK Party's policies when they suited them. During the Ergenekon (Sledgehammer-case) trials, their media, especially the English-language newspaper Today's Zaman, published pieces defending the arrests of military personnel and journalists as they claimed it was for the benefit of the country and it would enhance democracy. Back then nobody questioned their real intentions, for example when the Gülenists infiltrated the judiciary and decided to arrest and imprison two journalists - Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık - who were critical of FETÖ. At that time some western and Turkish liberal journalists and academics were invited to the Abant Meetings with paid trips and accommodation in luxury hotels. These liberals were convinced - rather deceived - on the glorious democratic future of Turkey. There was almost no dissenting voice on the arrests made by the Gülenists within the police force and the judiciary. Perhaps it could be attributed to the laziness of western journalists and academics. But at the same time the Turkish public was also deceived by the argument that because Turkey has suffered a military coup in every decade since 1960, it would be a country in which the "man with a gun in his hand would submit to the political order." This is quite understandable but the method was never questioned. Yet, when things changed, five members of Congress in the United States did not lose any time in urging the secretary of state to warn Turkey over strengthening political freedoms on March 27, 2015.

Upon the pronouncement of the Gülen group becoming FETÖ, they suddenly became the new liberals and began to complain about the arrests of journalists, members of the judiciary and police officers. Through their contacts in the western media, they started a smear campaign against Turkey, as they did a few years ago with a false image of Turkey when things were for their benefit. Together with dissident liberals they now blemish Turkish politics by accusing Erdoğan of being a dictator. This accusation is all the more meaningful, as it would provide a legitimate reason for a coup. Yet, the Turkish people defied this attempt courageously, despite the fact that it was not appreciated by westerners, even to the extent of a young man standing in front of a military tank at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989.

The laziness and ignorance of journalists cannot be blamed alone as there are many experts on Turkey in the West who follow the course of events closely and have a sound understanding of Turkish politics, economics, and culture. But they prefer to remain silent, perhaps for the benefit of their countries.

* Professor of anthropology in the Department of Radio, Television and Cinema at Marmara University

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