Again, momentous events are taking place in Turkey and its neighborhood.
A civil unrest hit Turkey for weeks in May and June over a government project aimed at rebuilding a replica of an old military barrack in Istanbul’s Gezi Park.
It started as a protest to protect the park, but went far beyond the original purpose. The protestors attempted to draw a no-cross line for the government, which is increasingly perceived as intervening in individual choices and lifestyles. According to the government, the protests were specifically targeted at Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, and were part and parcel of a global conspiracy to topple their rule. The response of the government was not one of consolation but confrontation.
On march 21, almost one million Kurds gathered in Diyarbakir to celebrate the Kurdish New Year, Newroz and listened to the message of Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed PKK. In the midst of the cheers and applauses, Ocalan declared that the era of armed struggle for the Kurds ended and the PKK would lay down its arms.
Two years ago the Arab Middle East was shaken by popular uprisings. The events have resulted either in regime change or reforms in some countries, and oppression and violence in others. At the outset the uprisings, which stretched from Tunisia to Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria, were hailed as the beginning of a new era in which people power will reign in the Middle East.
The Syrian crisis is deepening. Pro-Assad forces have so far killed more than 30,000 Syrians; hundreds of thousands have fled to neighboring countries. The refugees settled in Turkey have exceeded 100,000, the threshold figure that Tur- key had already declared as its limit that it can provide services to.
Another hot summer in the Middle East… Tens of thousands of Syrians continue to flee the violence inflicted upon them by Bashar Assad’s regime by seeking refuge in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Now desperate, the regime is using its airplanes to punish the opposition in Aleppo and other cities of Syria, and is threatening to use its chemical weapons.
As the spring issue of Insight Turkey goes to print the Middle East nears another great crisis or even a war. The Syrian quagmire may be the current harbinger of full-out war in the region. It has been a year since the uprisings started. The Syrian regime met the peaceful demonstrations of its people with violent and bloody repression. The Arab spring, it seems at the moment, got stuck in Syria where President Bashar Assad confronted the demands of his people for change with a violent crackdown. The well-known “mukhabarat state” of Syria did not bow to “people power,” at least for the time being.
The process of making a new constitution has prompted a debate about the place of Kemalism in the supreme normative order of the Turkish state. Whether Kemalism will be part of the new constitution is important because it will determine the democratic characteristics of the regime to be established thereafter. Questioning the compatibility of Kemalism with democracy this commentary argues that unless Kemalism is abandoned as an ideology protected by the Constitution and the law, there can be no full-fledged liberal democracy in Turkey. An ideology protected and promoted by the constitution sets limits to freedom of thought and expression, and blurs the boundaries between the ideological and the legal. Linking the search for a new constitution with the crisis of Kemalism it is concluded that a post-Kemalist order is needed in order to consolidate democracy, establish civilian control over the military, redefine secularism, and resolve the long-standing Kurdish question.
The year 2011 left a new Middle East in its wake. People power has toppled powerful authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. What will emerge out of the so-called Arab Spring remains to be seen though. While celebrating the first anniversary of their “revolutions” Tunisians and Egyptians are still far from certain about the prospect for a consolidated democracy in their respective countries.
There is no better instrument than the ballot box to decide “who is to govern” if we care about popular legitimacy. No one can question the mandate given by the people through a free and fair election to a political party, irrespective of its ideology, identity and program.
A wave of change has been shaking the Arab Middle East led by Tunisia and Egypt, spreading to Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria. We are witnessing what is apparently the emergence of “people power” in the Middle East. Whether it will be institutionalized in the form of democracy is yet to be seen. It may still be too early to come to the conclusion that people power will reign in the Middle East, but the pressure is on.
Turkey’s history of democratization is also a history of constitutional amendments. This is so because the last two Turkish constitutions of 1961 and 1982 were penned under the military regimes. As such, a restrictive civil rights regime and institutionalization of the power of the unelected bodies vis-à-vis representative organs characterized these military-made constitutions.
Turkey’s political transformation is continuing with new waves of democratization. The latest move is an initiative proposed by the AK Party’s parliamentary group to amend the constitution. With proposals to amend 27 articles, the reform package, currently being considered in the Turkish parliament, is one of the most comprehensive amendments to the current constitution.
The Turkish political scene did not witness a profound change with the local elections of March 2009. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) continued its strong electoral performance and maintained its status as the most popular political force.
The Turkish domestic and foreign policy agenda has been occupied by monumental developments over the last three months. Discussions have ranged from a new period in Turkish-US relations in light of US President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Ankara, to the efforts for a rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia, to the future of Turkish-Israeli relations, and to the strength of the AK Party following the March local elections.