ISTANBUL — The current state of Turkey offers little cause for comfort.
• The claims of corruption and theft multiply with each passing day.
• Those same claims are about to be swept under the rug.
• The judiciary is effectively finished.
• Limitation of basic freedoms is on the rise.
• Authoritarianism is alive in the form of virtual one-man rule.
In short, even with yet another victory in local elections this weekend, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has not borne a bonafide democracy. Instead, what it has managed to “normalize” in society is an atmosphere in which Turkey’s conservatives are able to breathe a collective sigh of relief, to finally feel as equals with others and hold their heads up high.
This atmosphere is the singular creation of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, AKP’s leader.
Consider the following: Not long ago, a student with a headscarf was not able to attend to a university, and even the most democratic-minded people among us were arguing that “the citizen can wear a headscarf, but the civil servant cannot.”
The current administration solved this problem, undid the old regulations, and even the people who’d caused this problem realized how ridiculous they had been. “The headscarved women are our sisters too,” they now say.
Moreover, Erdogan is running an extremely powerful propaganda machine and selling the concepts of “corruption” and “lawlessness” to this crowd as “they are attacking me because I gave you this.”
AKP’s supporters are not saying “let him steal,” nor are they telling themselves “let us turn a blind eye to our people’s theft.” Maybe a few, but they are not the majority among AKP voters.
A magical bond
It is time we try to understand the minds of Turkey’s conservative people. That does not mean whitewashing the lawlessness, corruption or authoritarian tendencies going on these days.
Understanding the conservative people would help us grasp the concept of why the conservative crowd does not radically distance itself from the AKP. It would let us reason with an open mind.
There is a magical relationship between the conservative crowd and Tayyip Erdogan. Ending this relationship requires a process, which cannot happen overnight.
Opponents have to stand in front of this same crowd with a new relationship based on trust. The opposition, especially the Republican People’s Party (CHP), took serious steps in this direction. But a relationship of trust is not easy to build.
It is not just the CHP. Even the most democratic circles are just reaching a certain level of maturity regarding the demands and freedoms of the conservative people. But the conservatives see such moves as an attempt to act more democratic because they cannot overpower the government.
Or put another way, there is a suspicion of sincerity. It is meaningless to expect the conservatives to suddenly and radically distance themselves from their own party in such an environment.
Making such hostile comments as “they are sheep” or “they vote for the food donations” should be abandoned, and replaced by a patient, sincere and tireless effort to build trust.
In short, I am saying that we must stand against corruption, lawlessness and the limitation of freedoms. But we must find a way to do this without being seen as enemies to the people.