In the wake of the attempted coup of July 15th, a crackdown on human rights has been taking place across Turkey, with arrests, sackings and infringements on the freedom of movement. The only way to ensure that rights are respected and that Turkey becomes a democracy governed by the rule of way is to re-engage with the EU accession process and to relaunch the stalled peace process in the Southeast of the country.
You may find this article too optimistic. I have no doubt that you think it is a bit untimely, too do-gooder, and even naïve. But I believe that we have no other choice. We need a road map through the dark tunnel in which we find ourselves, and hope for that.
I was so scared on the night of July 15th that the perpetrators of the attempted coup would be successful, and that as a result, Turkey’s drifting towards a civil war by moving away from democracy forever would become unavoidable; that the sigh of relief with which I finally fell asleep on the morning of July 16th after I learning the coup had been quashed may still be fresh.
So, please excuse my optimism. On the other hand, I also acknowledge the justified unease because of the declaration of the state of emergency and the possibility that the exclusions and arrests could include the dissidents that have nothing to do with the perpetrators of the attempted coup. But if you want me to tell the truth, I’m not buying the apolitical nihilism of those who analyse the situation with the cliché of “we got over the military coup, but the civil coup is worse.” Of course, the situation can worsen.
We already have a weak democracy, and we are thankful that it was saved. And yes, we are at the beginning of everything: the state of emergency was declared, civil and political life is restricted, the days that one needs to defend the basic rights and freedoms more than ever has just started. So, the possibility of further undermining our democracy should worry us all. But saying, “thankfully the coup was not successful, but now everything will be worse” is not politics. Or you can say that this is politics only if believing the most horrifying military coup attempt seen in Turkish history was just a mise-en-scene, and saying it was a “fake attempt” from the first night equates to trenchant political analysis and foresight.
That is why we need to express hope when we reflect upon how we can get over this situation and how to rescue our democracy. I am not in an optimistic mood either, but having optimism for our political proposals is a must. (Or you may say “pessimism because of intelligence, but optimism because of will…”)
Consequently, I believe that we need a two-part simple plan in order for Turkey to avoid a vicious cycle of coups and to stabilise a minimum level of democracy. I also believe that all the political parties and movements, firstly the government, as well as civil society and opinion builders, will need to discuss this framework sooner or later. Also, President Erdoğan and the government should have been tested enough and should be aware that it is not so easy to save their power without democracy, by simply chasing whichever dissidents seem to be most powerful at the time, as well as concentrating the political power and projecting it onto a single man.
The two-part plan that should be implemented consists of returning to the EU process (and rapidly clearing the way towards a solution in Cyprus for this aim) and returning to the peace process by ending the war in the southeast of the country. All the other things that are to be done may be seen as the elements of this plan.
Returning to the EU
Let’s remember why we wanted to join, when Turkey was starting the membership negotiations with the European Union. It was not because the EU is the most perfect union and not because it is heaven on earth. We wanted it because we think that EU would be an anchor to protect Turkey’s democratic regime with its rules and institutions. During the process, and because of the mistakes of the both sides, this anchor was displaced before we could hold on and Turkey started to lose its democracy.
I don’t think that the mistakes of the EU and the European politicians were less than those of the Turkish politicians in this setback. The European politicians who instigated the rejection of the Annan Plan – which was the best ever opportunity to solve the Cyprus issue and Turkey’s participation to the EU, with a no vote by 75% in the Southern part of Cyprus and accepting Cyprus into the EU unilaterally just one week after this fiasco in order to then present the Cyprus issue as an impassable barrier facing Turkey’s membership to the European Union – are among those responsible for Turkey’s drift to this period of attempted coups and even the refugee crisis that is unsettling Europe.
This fiasco could be placed into the background of Erdoğan’s renunciation of EU membership, which he once thought would be a protective choice against the military coups that he has been trying to get rid of since the earliest days of his rule. And this might be a starting point of his strategy to neutralise his detractors at all levels of power (and one can see now the extent of the mistakes made in this attempt) instead of an EU protection that he decided would never come about, so he continued, lately, to build a one man regime. Of course, nothing can be an excuse for destroying democracy, but this is one side of the truth. Turkey started to lose its democracy once it lost the EU anchor, and now it has been faced with a bloody coup attempt.
Now, what is to be done is to turn back swiftly to the EU process? The most important opportunity for this is that the official negotiations are still going on and we have not lost the candidacy privileges. Although the government seems like it does not care what happens with the EU at all, if it decides to do so, it can smoothly accelerate the process and clear the way without any concern as it does a political twist (just last month, a new chapter was opened). And the government will not need to explain this policy change to its electorate, who appeared to adopt a warmer attitude lately since the discussions on visa liberalisation.
One of the most important things is to clear the path for a solution in Cyprus, in which the negotiations are going on better than before, thanks to Mustafa Akıncı, new president of Northern Cyprus. This can be done by all kinds of relevant gestures, including withdrawing some of Turkey’s military presence from the island. Then, Cyprus can be reunited as a federal state, Turkey can recognise this united Cyprus, and the most important barrier in front of Turkey’s EU membership could thus be removed.
Resurrecting the EU process also requires convincing the politicians in EU countries and the European public in which populism and xenophobia have peaked. Brexit may make the situation even harder. But if Turkey takes the first step and shows its determination, many things can change. In this regard, it is not just European citizens of Turkish origin, but it is everyone, including members of civil society organisations and people who have good relations with Europe, who needs to play a part.
Returning to the peace process
The second step one needs to take is to curb the military’s role in Turkish politics. We know that the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) government tried to achieve this. They tried to crack down on the army more than any previous government, partly in the framework of EU laws, and partly in the name of interrogation of the previous coup allegations. But they did not do this with proper principles, and what they did was not sufficient. And finally, they faced a reckless and bloody coup attempt that was unprecedented, and it was perpetrated by a minority (but not a small minority, as we now know) in the army, who, for a long time, thought they had saved the government from the military’s tutorship.
Therefore, sending the army to a war again, and increasing their authority to commit a war, even in the cities, was the last thing a government really trying to prevent a coup against itself ought to have done. Yet, if you provide impunity to an army for all kinds of violation of rights and unlawful acts they do, they could even perpetrate an unexpected coup against you.
I am not even talking about solving the Kurdish question. I say we need to stop the war, to silence the arms, to restart the peace negotiations that were described as the “resolution process”, to empower civil politics, to acknowledge that the decision on removing parliamentary impunity was wrong and therefore to strengthen the democratic Kurdish politicians, and the HDP (People’s Democracy Party) at first, which would therefore minimise the effect and intervention of the military on politics, and would consequently send the army back to its barracks.
Of course, these should be followed by the precautions, such as reducing the size of the army, and gradually repealing compulsory military service, following in the footsteps of EU countries, where the army’s influence in politics has been completely suppressed. Only in this way can you establish the conditions in which the army will never again attempt a coup – and not by putting caterpillars in front of the gates of the military headquarters.
As a conclusion, I don’t see any other solution apart from turning our faces back to the EU and the peace process in order to get over the coup atmosphere, not to allow coup attempts in the future, and to guarantee minimal democratic stability. It is not the time to despair by talking only about the worst case scenarios, to defend fundamental changes for everything, and to compete for radicalism. Instead it is time to be moderate, to defend normalisation, and to invite everybody to common sense. This is not the right time to question the legitimacy of the AKP government. As all of us as democratic forces, we need to normalise the situation, to remind the AKP of the steps it took when it made the EU candidacy bid; of the possible past peace process, and to invite it try again once more, altogether.
Maybe this time, with a little help of the lessons of the many mistakes of the past, we can overcome.
This article was originally published on Yeşil Gazete.