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The Unforgettable

Murat Belge*

Especially since these last elections, the number of people astonished by “voter behavior” in this country has increased. People share stories of specific incidents they have witnessed. A man complains about the harshness of life conditions. Yet, in the election, he goes and votes for the ruling party!

But the problem isn’t these individual incidents. We’re talking about a pattern of mass behavior. Specifically, the “retired” segment has been wronged; particularly, the retired segment overwhelmingly voted for the ruling party. How does this happen? Why is it so?

We know how the ideology of the Republic viewed religion (Islam). It’s clear how the AKP views religious institutions. Islamist parties are closed; their leaders are prosecuted. Apart from their own supporters (who are not numerous), there’s little long-term buzzing; a new party is formed, and the game continues. So, what changed that the AKP has become so dominant in politics? How and when did these voting percentages rise?

The founders of the Republic were stubborn men. In their eyes, religious opposition (labeled as “bigots,” “fanatics,” etc.) was no different from a “traitor to the nation.” They could not allow these bigots to hinder the bright future promised by the founders of the Republic. In short, westernization under the Republic caused much pain. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is aware of this, hence he started the “reconciliation” rhetoric. But looking at the election results, it’s clear that the voters have not forgotten the “single-party” practices. If the single-party system had achieved a certain success and had managed to change living conditions, these coercions and pressures could have been forgotten. But that was not the case. And societies do not easily forget the mistreatment they have suffered in the past. In fact, the oldest incidents might be the most remembered.

The centenary… It’s not a short time. But the confrontation that hasn’t happened for a hundred years now stands before us with all its harshness. Throughout all this time, the segment that had to bow its head is now preparing to establish its own “absolute” power, with accumulated feelings of “revenge.” They are not even pretending to camouflage their intentions. For example, the president’s words to cities that have suffered earthquakes: Local governments opposing the central government will not receive any aid. You might think openly saying this is a big mistake. But Erdoğan doesn’t think so. What he said is the policy he is already implementing. If there’s still someone who doesn’t understand, he states it clearly: “Know that if you don’t vote for me, you won’t get a thing from me,” he says in the clearest, most understandable way.

Clearly, there are those who agree with him. They probably think, “A statesman should be like this.” He should be consistent in word and deed. Moreover, he should not be moved by tears.

We can probably consider the period starting with May 27, 1960, and continuing with various coups, as a special period in Turkish history. Throughout this period, civilian governments and military coups shared power in a not-so-friendly manner—if we can call it “sharing”! But by the end of this period, the “moderate right,” which most of us thought owned Turkey, disappeared from the political scene (the “moderateness” of this right is debatable anyway). We don’t even know where the Armed Forces, which used to be the “lead role” on the political stage, stand now. But they must have significantly deviated from the behavior patterns we were used to.

We can say, I suppose, that the class coalition found its political representation in the AKP-MHP alliance, becoming the new power bloc of the era. This is not a very reassuring “coalition.” The economic crisis we are currently in is one of its indicators. The brilliance of Tayyip Erdoğan as an “economist” has a special place and a significant share in the crisis, of course. But even without him, the inexperience and clumsiness of this coalition show themselves. The “one-man regime” Tayyip Erdoğan ordered for himself cannot be expected to demonstrate political success in any society.

However, looking at the turbulences the Republic has gone through, it’s hard not to be astonished. It seems that amidst all this turmoil, our Republic’s semi-military structure has entered a process of decay from within and consumed itself. Mourning this is not wise, of course. But it’s clear that the power trying to fill its place now is five times worse. We have a tough job ahead.

*Murat Belge (born 16 March 1943) is a Turkish academic, translator, literary critic, columnist, civil rights activist, and occasional tour guide.

This article was first published in Birikim Magazine and translated into English by Politurco.

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