In the last two decades, the political prejudices of Turkish citizens have reached their peak due to the populist and polarizing rhetoric of politicians. The division and polarization among the social layers of society, political parties, non-governmental organizations and members of the judiciary – even among those who run the country — are visible.
In 2002, when the living conditions and purchasing power of citizens were getting worse and the economic and financial crisis was increasing, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) seemed to be a reasonable choice for the voters in Turkey. Twenty years ago 35 percent of the electorate made their choice in favor of the AKP to become the ruling party.
In its earlier years, the AKP and its administration were able to maintain their public support by showing their will for full membership in the European Union, using language that attached importance to liberal, inclusive, libertarian and democratic values. On the other hand, although it was a politically correct stance, it was understood from its subsequent statements and practices that the AKP was not sincere in this regard. AKP leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was saying, “The EU is a Christian club, democracy is not a goal for us, it is a tool, it is a train for us, we get off when and where we want.” Both Erdoğan and the EU used Turkey’s full membership process for their own interests and distracted each other for years.
On the other hand, as a benefit of negotiations with the EU for full membership, the Erdoğan administration displayed positive developments in the first seven to eight years of its rule, between 2003 and 2010. Erdoğan and his party made important constitutional and legal changes on the way to full membership in the EU to abolish military tutelage and create more comfortable maneuvering areas for themselves. They took important steps in law, human rights, minority rights and the economy during this process. By using police officers and members of the judiciary who were sympathetic to the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, Erdoğan partially disabled the Atatürkist, secular, socialist, Ergenekon – called an illegal terrorist organization by Erdoğan – structures and the military (about 50 percent of whose top-ranking generals are now in prison).
After the shadow of the army on politics was eliminated, President Erdoğan started a war with the Gülen movement. The goal was to reduce or even destroy the economic power of the movement, which he saw as a rival group, and its effectiveness in the bureaucracy. During the corruption operations of December 17-25, 2013, Erdoğan understood that he could not emerge victorious in this war alone. For this reason, he decided to form a coalition against the Gülen movement with members of Ergenekon, whom he had disabled in the bureaucracy and especially in the army and which he had previously called a terrorist organization. Of course, this coalition was hidden from Erdoğan supporters, and even influential senior party officials were not aware of this partnership. Even today, most AKP members and supporters are not aware of it.
Erdoğan and his partners needed to produce a story to bring about this crucial and profound strategic change and to generate collective public support. While arguing with the Gülen movement, Erdoğan was saying that he would declare them a terrorist organization overnight with a law. President Erdoğan realized the story he needed was a coup scenario. As part of this scenario, a state of emergency (OHAL) was declared and all control passed into the hands of Erdoğan and his partners.
During and after a coup attempt that took place on July 15, 2016, Erdoğan was able to use all means of communication such as national TV channels and social media. Erdoğan’s ability to use communication tools showed that the coup attempt was suspicious and unusual. Erdoğan considered the unsuccessful coup attempt a blessing from God.
Using this grace of God as an excuse, Erdoğan dismissed more than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors and 29,444 members of the armed forces as well as academics, journalists and others from their jobs by canceling all their rights such as retirement benefits, degrees, careers and even their passports. Individuals who were dismissed from their jobs with Erdoğan’s arbitrary decision, contrary to all legal measures and without any legal basis, are not given employment in the public or private sectors, and thousands of them are still imprisoned unjustly. With the transition to the Turkish-type presidential system in April 2017, contrary to the principle of the separation of powers, the country became more polarized and impoverished with wrong political decisions by the Erdoğan administration, due to all the powers given to Erdoğan in a so-called “one-man” regime.
In an environment where the constitution has been shelved, the result is a system with no law, where what comes out of the mouth of “one man” is considered law, where foreign financial capital no longer comes to the country, where the judiciary has lost its impartiality and independence, and in which the foreign, domestic and national financial capital has also started to flee. With a very serious brain drain, the country has lost its most valuable human resources to the West or left them rotting in prison. Erdoğan has thrown not only himself and his party but also the country into the abyss.
The country, which has hit rock bottom with the wrong choices of the people and the wrong decisions of the administrators, can only be normalized with a fair administration that is at peace with the world. A government that attaches importance to universal human rights, upholds the law, values diversity and does not fight with its citizens could build a good future for future generations. In addition to being committed to these universal values, the administration of President Erdoğan or the one to come after the June 2023 elections must follow the basic/global principles of law, economy and finance. They/he must have expertise and experienced advisors to counsel him. This is the only way that Turkey can be normalized.
However, based on Erdoğan’s personality and his past behavior, it’s highly unlikely that Turkey will return to normal under an Erdoğan administration.
* Ali Soylu, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Management Department of Business, Cameron University, Lawton, Oklahoma, USA.