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Turkey:’Change but how and according to what?’

Omer Laciner*

If it is correct and accepted that the May 14-28 elections show both the definitive balance of our last century’s history and the beginning of a new era based on this balance, then it is a prerequisite to form our perspective for the coming period by taking into account the “data” we will list below.

1- Throughout Turkey’s two-century experience of modernization, the socio-cultural outcomes to be prioritized by this experience, the tendency to adopt and accept the legal infrastructure, have always been a minority, while a reactionary, skeptical majority, at least twice as much, has always existed. The history of political thought overlaps with this reality: The development of political movements and trends specific to modernity, such as socialism and liberalism, remains ineffective, while nationalism, which has assumed the backbone of reactionary trends, gains power even to restrict and limit opposing movements.

2- The modernization process could not succeed in purging the archaic state regulations that subjected the subjects to laws that consider religion, ethnicity, and gender differences/hierarchies and transitioning to a state order where laws and bureaucratic processes have equal validity for everyone. The perception of the state for the majority remained largely unchanged compared to the past, and at the same time, various forms of bribery, corruption, and favoritism, inherent in ancient states, continued to prevail as a kind of “normality.” In this regard, for instance, we cannot talk about a decrease in the mass support of AKP governments, which are by far at the forefront of the corruption and favoritism record, in the ranking of the governments with the most corruption, due to these reasons.

3- The distinguishing characteristic of the modern mindset, which considers class and interest conflicts normal and even a dynamic that enhances renewal and creative ability, has not been embraced, not even by most supporters of modernity, let alone its opponents. They see this characteristic as a factor that detonates the social unity they designed. However, in modern societies that legitimize conflicts, many values, works, and personalities that are the common pride of the vast majority have been formed, and they have become the most effective elements of the idea of belonging to that nation, as well as self-confidence. In Turkey, on the other hand, the result is almost the opposite. Political parties, conducting politics in a way that conditions one side to subordinate or hang the other, have turned society into a sum of “national-like” groups that are each other’s others. The 22-year AKP government, marking the outcome of our modernization process, is the “institutionalized” version of this destination.

4- Although it emerged as the physical winner of the process, the “native and national” faction under the influence of AKP has not been able to nourish this “victory” with mental capacity or cultural hegemony, nor with any claim of morality. In recent years, this trend has led to a constant increase in the emigration of qualified individuals abroad. In the provinces of Inner and Eastern Anatolia and the Black Sea coast, which are under the dominion of the government, the “others” of the native and nationalist group, who have been pushed into a ghetto life, have not been able to retreat despite the repression by the government in the provinces where HDP receives high support. However, they were able to maintain their showcase status in cities in Thrace, Aegean, and the Mediterranean coast, thanks to their partial majorities. Nevertheless, this showcase, which makes the cultural barrenness and lack of joy of the AKP-affiliated faction more prominent, has been more frequently obscured lately. Especially in these cities where regions with problems have been formed for a long time, where “non-conforming” is treated as a foreigner, it should be noted that we have entered a period where the potential tension between regions has increased considerably.

5- These provinces where the opposition has achieved the majority in many consecutive elections are the most influential factor in Turkey’s fate, as they represent nearly 70% of the produced economic value and the total number of qualified individuals, despite housing roughly 40% of the country’s population. Therefore, if the AKP government has any “putting things right” plan until the next general elections, the first essential condition for it is probably to regain the metropolitan municipalities of the Western Anatolia and Mediterranean regions that it lost in the previous local elections, especially Istanbul. At this point, the role that the Good Party (İYİ Parti) will play is critically important. In this new period we have entered, while calculating its political strategy and drawing a “roadmap,” the party must realize that it has a range of opportunities, not just an alliance that will gain more concessions than from a significantly weakened CHP, but also an opportunity that might extend to an invitation from the AKP to form a partnership instead of MHP. Additionally, it may consider absorbing the quite strong “nationalist” wing in the CHP that is expected to experience deeper upheavals.

Speaking of Turkish nationalism, there is one more point that needs to be mentioned: The recent elections once again demonstrated that the proportion of voters in this country who prioritize Turkish nationalism as their political identity exceeds 25%. If we don’t include the fractions of the Vatan Party that continue to operate like the consulates of China and somewhat Russia under this rhetoric, and add the strong “nationalist” faction in the CHP, the potential rises to 30% or even beyond. While it is evident that AKP, starting with a political Islamist support well below 30%, has managed to become the hegemonic force in the country’s politics, the idea that Turkish nationalists can reach the same position through a similar path was already voiced, for example, by Tuğrul Türkeş suggesting the formation of a “nationalist league” shortly after the elections. These kinds of initiatives, which will have a very strong resonance with the global populist, anti-migration, and anti-foreign sentiment, should not be underestimated in terms of their “success” potential, especially considering the possible developments mentioned above.

6- CHP, which has not gone beyond a superficial advocacy of modernization and therefore stifles attempts to transform its socio-political horizon into something like social democracy, and finally, can still maintain its position as the “main opposition” center due to the lack of an alternative, has concluded the May 2023 turning point that ended its “historical mission” with a serious defeat. How long can this party remain in that position and stay intact after this moment? This question cannot be postponed anymore for the urban and upper-middle-class voters who have been voting for this party, especially in the last twenty years, due to concerns about Sunni conservatism and for qualified professionals and workers, including Alevis. In light of the potential developments mentioned above, this question becomes crucially important.

*Omer Laciner was born in 1946 in Sivas, Turkey. He graduated from the Military Academy in 1966. In 1971, he was dismissed from the army for political reasons. He is the editor-in-chief of Birikim magazine, which he co-founded with Murat Belge in 1975. Some of his writings have been compiled in the following books: “The Kurdish Issue – While There Is Still Time” (Birikim, 1991), “The Crisis of Socialism: What Should We Have Done?” (Birikim, 2007), “Revolution in Socialism” (Birikim, 2007).

This article was first published in Birikim Magazine on July 28, 2023 and translated into English by Politurco.

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