The first unchangeable and unalterable clause of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey is the sentence “The state of Turkey is a republic.” However, in today’s world, an undemocratic republic has no value. For example, China, one of the most totalitarian and oppressive regimes in the world, is also a republic. For example, Libya under Gaddafi was also a republic. For example, Syria under Assad is an Arab Republic, just like our Turkish Republic.
Dictatorships and authoritarian regimes often define themselves as “republics.” They present themselves as regimes based on the people’s power and claim to derive their legitimacy from the nation. However, most of these regimes are actually enemies of the people. They oppress and even kill their own people, subjecting them to torture and suffering.
Republic has been a stagnant station in the development of democracy. After the era of absolute power held by kings and sultans in monarchies, humanity invented constitutional governments that would limit the absolute powers of monarchs. In England, in 1215, the limitation of the king’s absolute power through laws and parliament was attempted. We also attempted it in 1876 but failed, and then again in 1908. The republican approach, on the other hand, emerged as an understanding based on the sovereignty of the people, rejecting monarchies and supposedly giving power and will (supposedly) to the people, after the French Revolution. The republic was an important milestone in the transformation of the understanding of democratic governance. However, many countries got stuck at this station. This form is very convenient for authoritarian leaders because it has the word “people” or “republic” in it. It highlights the name of the people, but you use your own power, leadership, or arbitrary regime. Unfortunately, the Republic of Turkey was governed exactly in this way throughout the Single-Party era.
Saying “we are a republic!” no longer means anything in the world. In fact, people from many countries with the word ‘republic’ in their names, including the Republic of Turkey, are flocking to monarchies like the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Because in these countries, there is real democracy, not just symbolical monarchs. There is the rule of law, respect for human rights, a welfare state, justice, equal opportunities, the value of labor, and human dignity. Therefore, the republic, which is among the ‘unchangeable’ principles of our constitution, does not mean anything on its own if it is not crowned with democracy.
In the “Qualities of the Republic” section of our constitution, the Republic of Turkey is defined as “a democratic, secular, and social state governed by the rule of law, based on the notions of public peace, national solidarity, and justice, respectful of human rights, and committed to Atatürk nationalism.” Those who know a little about law and justice have always said the same thing to the AKP (Justice and Development Party), which has been ruling the country for 21 years, to the Erdogan regime. “No one is begging for mercy from you, asking for forgiveness, or expecting favors. Just follow and implement the rules stated in the constitution and laws, even if there are shortcomings and gaps, that’s enough.”
Let’s examine and scrutinize together. What is the situation with the second article, which is among the unchangeable principles?
“The public peace” no longer exists; on the contrary, the ruling power ensures its own security by disturbing and making the society feel insecure.
“Solidarity among the people” has been destroyed, the social elements that constitute the nation have been fragmented and divided like never before, and they have been made enemies of each other. The President, who should ensure the social unity and integrity of the country, personally divides the society, labels it, and incites one segment of the nation to be booed in public squares.
There is no need to discuss the state of “justice.” The judiciary has been turned into a “political tool.” Prosecutors and courts have been transformed into a tool to punish, intimidate, and coerce opponents of the government. We have magnificent halls of justice and numerous judges. In all courts, it is written that “justice is the foundation of the state,” but the current functioning of justice has become a political instrument that undermines the foundations of the state and social peace.
We have failed in terms of “respect for human rights.” According to the European Court of Human Rights, Turkey ranks first in human rights violations. We have a government that tortures people from the elderly to babies, disregarding its own constitution and laws.
“Atatürk nationalism” is one of the most absurd articles in our constitution. Even Kemalist Mümtaz Soysal questioned this situation in his book “100 Questions about the Constitution,” asking how there could be nationalism in the name of one person.
Now let’s talk about the issue of being a “democratic, secular, and social state of law,” which is constantly repeated but devoid of content, with no explanation of its value and importance to society, and where the importance given to Mustafa Kemal in the education system is not even a fraction. It is evident to everyone that Turkey is not a democratic state anymore, and the remnants of democracy can only be seen under a microscope. They expect us to believe in the existence of democracy just because there is a ballot box. If putting a ballot box meant democracy, all dictatorships would be democracies. From Turkmenistan to Iran, from North Korea to everywhere, there are ballot boxes.
Another unchangeable principle of the constitution is secularism. I also believe that secularism is important in its true sense, but no one questions how “Diyanet,” which was a support for the Kemalist regime yesterday and is now extensively used by Erdogan, is compatible with secularism. Secularism in Turkey is not understood as the state not interfering in religion and beliefs, being neutral, and standing at an equal distance. On the contrary, those who govern the state can use Diyanet, mosques, and state-employed imams as they wish. The understanding of secularism that forces the mention of Mustafa Kemal in prayers, as if he were a religious figure, is no different from the AKP, which engages in political propaganda in mosques. Diyanet was established during the single-party era and served a similar mission during that time, considered the “Golden Age.”
Likewise, the AKP has completely destroyed the “welfare state.” Turkey is one of the most unequal countries in terms of income distribution. There is no social justice left, as the lower income group lives in poverty and destitution while the upper income group accumulates wealth upon wealth. Unemployment is at its peak, and the minimum wage falls below the poverty line. The AKP regime even cut the pensions of retirees who do not share their political views. The constitutional right to work was abolished by administrative decisions known as emergency decrees, condemning millions to poverty and depravity, leaving them hungry.
The rule of law is also one of the unchangeable principles. However, who can say that Turkey is a country governed by the rule of law? Currently, Turkey is not even a legal state. There is an arbitrary government in the country that does not even consider laws that can be debated as to their democratic and legal nature. Can a regime led by a politician who says, “I do not recognize the decisions of the Constitutional Court! I do not respect them!” and does not implement the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights be called a “rule of law” regime?
As we can see, all the principles stated in the constitution as “unchangeable, not even open to proposal” have been changed, and their essence has been hollowed out.
For now, the country’s language, flag, and capital remain unchanged or perceived as unchanged. We also have the vague definition of Atatürk nationalism and a Republic devoid of democracy.