In search of the ‘New Turkey’
Two years ago, in the build-up to the country’s presidential elections, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke of creating a ‘New Turkey’, founded upon a new constitution. He promised to strengthen democracy, resolve the Kurdish issue and work towards ensuring Turkey’s accession to the European Union.
Since these pledges were made, two parliamentary elections have been held in a climate of fear with attacks on the offices and supporters of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic party. Erdoğan has denounced the rulings of constitutional courts and threatened their future independence. Newspapers critical of government policy have been closed and leading journalists have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. Almost 2,000 people have been killed since the breakdown of the Kurdish peace process in 2015. Human rights have been curtailed, particularly in Kurdish and Alevi areas where curfews are also in place. And I have been shocked by the reports I have received from my Turkish, Kurdish and Alevi constituents regarding attacks on their family and friends by alleged Erdoğan supporters.
Following the failed military coup last month, the phrase a ‘New Turkey’ is back in vogue. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, chair of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s party – Labour’s sister party, has said that an opportunity has been created to open a ‘new door of compromise’ in Turkish politics, as long as the rule of law and justice are respected.
Whether that door is open or remains closed is in the hands of Erdoğan, but recent events tell us that he and his government leave very little room for compromise.
It is revealing, and deeply unfortunate, that senior representatives from the HDP were excluded from the million-strong Democracy and Martyrs’ rally in Istanbul, which was addressed by the president and other opposition leaders earlier this month. As Figen Yuksekdag, co-chair of the party, has said, any hope of creating a new, more united and tolerant country will fail without the active participation of Kurds, Alevis and minority groups.
Since 15 July, we have also witnessed the arrest, imprisonment or suspension of as many as 70,000 people, from the military, judiciary, civil service, and teaching profession with alleged links to Fethullah Gulen’s movement – the man blamed by Erdoğan for the failed coup. How can rounding up so many people be a proportionate response to an attempted coup which was condemned by all? And how can it be possible to identify that number of alleged co-conspirators in such a short space of time?
These are not the actions of a government seeking to foster a culture of reconciliation in Turkey. Nor do Erdoğan’s temporary suspension of provisions within the European Convention on Human Rights, and his support for the reintroduction of the death penalty, indicate a willingness to engage meaningfully in accession talks with the European Union. If this is the case, it would be a tragedy for Turkey and the EU. They both have so much to gain by tackling together many of today’s most important, international issues – from terrorism to migration to the pursuit of peace in Cyprus and in Syria.
I fear that the country’s current trajectory, under Erdoğan, will lead towards an even more authoritarian state rather than in the direction of a place where all citizens are able to exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms.
Therefore, it is so important that we continue to support those progressive voices in the country calling for greater democracy, the advancement of human rights and the promotion of equality and social justice.
This is the promise of a ‘New Turkey’ we all want to see fulfilled.