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One step beyond the beginning of the end in Turkey

Recalling the early 2000s, it is imperative to acknowledge the ambitious agenda that Turkey pursued during that period. The nation focused on endeavors such as EU membership, undertaking rapid transformations and reforms, emphasizing its European identity, revitalizing the economy, augmenting the gross national product and per capita income, promoting inclusivity of Kurds through democratic means, and fortifying the principles of a law-based state, including accountability and transparency. These topics dominated Turkish politics, highlighting a positive trajectory. However, the present scenario paints a drastically different picture.

Turkey has regressed, succumbing to a state of affairs characterized by autocratic rule, oppression, and tyranny. It has shifted its alignment towards the Eurasian axis, aligning with Russia, China, and Iran, while exhibiting signs of a narco-kleptocracy. The incarceration of dissidents, the closure or subjugation of newspapers and television channels, and the disregard for human rights, including the right to private property, reflect a nation devoid of stability and respect for fundamental liberties. Turkey has become destabilized, losing its secular nature and witnessing the dismantling of its military and intelligence apparatus by domestic adversaries, leaving the populace disillusioned and without a clear vision for the future. Regrettably, the list of concerns does not end there. Sociologically, Turkish society has undergone fragmentation, with polarization leading to alienation among its members. Rationality has eroded, severing connections with universal moral principles, resulting in a merciless and unconditional application of the belief that “man is a wolf to man.”

Material wealth has dissipated, infrastructure has crumbled, and the currency has depreciated to the point of worthlessness. A significant portion of the population lives below the poverty line, teetering on the edge of extinction, as their future prospects have been stolen. Analyzing the balance of the past 20 years, from 2002 to 2023, reveals a monumental collapse.

This period not only represents the nadir of modern Turkey but also signifies the most profound upheaval Anatolia has witnessed since its inception in 1299. Anatolia finds itself in a state of hopelessness and disintegration, surpassing even the turmoil of the Interregnum or the plague. Bonds that once united society have disintegrated, and the collective sense of “we” has vanished. Fragmented social groups have emerged, fracturing the desire for coexistence. Ethnic, political, geographical, cultural, and future-oriented divisions permeate society, exacerbating centrifugal forces along macro and micro dimensions.

The century-old state, frequently touted as requiring reform, has utterly collapsed, morphing into a mafia-like regime that corrodes existing structures at a cellular level, akin to cancer, converting everything into tools for self-interest. Education, the economy, defense and intelligence, security, academia, bureaucracy—every aspect of Turkey’s functioning has been exhausted. It is incumbent upon us to acknowledge the gravity of the situation and label it for what it truly is: the beginning of the end, a step beyond the precipice.

While it is true that Turkey has never been a flawless state, there existed dynamics of reform and correction that instilled hope in its future. Citizens possessed a deep-seated belief and aspiration that Turkey would one day rise to the level of contemporary civilization. Despite their differences, people held a genuine love for their country. Political red lines, such as open theft, plundering, corruption, deceit, and bribery, were firmly established.

Corruption was not swept under the rug but rather shaped political landscapes, ensuring accountability. Economic crises were rightfully attributed to the government, and politicians were held responsible. Despite imperfections, Turkey fared better than many countries worldwide, often drawing comparisons with Europe and the developed world. It was not relegated to the ranks of underdeveloped Third World nations, impoverished regions plagued by hunger and poverty, or the likes of Afghanistan. In contrast, today’s Turkey finds itself in a state of regression.

It is no longer a country where its people enjoy peace, happiness, and freedom, and where educated youth and affluent citizens eagerly seek to build their lives within its borders. Can we truly find contentment in such circumstances? Should we accept this as the new normal for Turkey? What has become of the Turkey of old? There was a time when leaders engaged in live debates on television channels, when newspapers and TV stations offered diverse perspectives, and when media enjoyed editorial freedom, albeit imperfectly. Academic freedom thrived, and the courts were not entirely under political control. That era was a thousand times better than the present one.

The much-criticized “guardian system” never imprisoned as many political detainees as it does today. Neither the coup of 1980 nor the events of February 28th caused such extensive victimization. Corruption during the eras of Demirel and Ecevit did not reach the scale witnessed today. Partisan nepotism did not brazenly prevail as it does now, surpassing the excesses of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Are we even aware that we no longer even ponder upon these realities? Moreover, the majority remains oblivious to these facts. Those who were children of ten when the AKP came to power are now thirty, reaching middle age. While old Turkey may have had its shortcomings, believe me when I say that the sociological, political, and economic cancer that has pervaded every aspect of society today did not exist back then. People were hopeful, and they held good intentions. Society, in its naivety, did not harbor a majority of opportunistic individuals.

As of today, all of Turkey’s structural problems have festered like gangrene. How much longer can this state of affairs persist? Turkey cannot be compared to Russia or Venezuela. Its natural resources are insufficient, and its agriculture and livestock sectors have been undermined. The nation is unable to sustain itself and lacks the capacity to produce technology. This issue extends beyond the mere existence of three to five-bladed drones or pseudo-domestic cars.

Turkey’s dependence on external sources encompasses everything from basic pins to machine parts, building materials to electronics, software to the pharmaceutical industry, petrochemicals to the automotive sector—across every field and sector imaginable. Furthermore, Turkey’s energy needs, including oil and natural gas, are entirely reliant on external suppliers.

The rapid depreciation of the Turkish lira will only exacerbate inflation, increase poverty, and further erode purchasing power. This is not merely an economic crisis; let us call it what it truly is—exhaustion. Turkey finds itself in a critical condition, where brain death has occurred. It teeters on the brink of disconnection, awaiting removal from the metaphorical operating table, akin to an “ex” patient. We have surpassed the beginning of the end, stepping into uncharted territory.

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Dr. Mehmet Efe Caman is a Scholar of Politics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Dr. Caman’s main research focuses on Democracy, democratization and human rights, Turkish politics, the Middle East, Eurasian politics and post-Soviet regions, the European Union. He has published a monograph on Turkish foreign policy, numerous book chapters and scholarly articles in English, German and Turkish about topics related to his research areas.

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