By Ali Ezzatyar
The dust does not seem to be settling at all on protests in Turkey this week. All the while, talk of an "increasingly authoritarian government" and the erosion of democracy has had a particularly ironic resonance for one portion of Turkey’s population: the Kurds. Making up 25 percent of the country and historically estranged from Turkish society, the view from the southeast is one that could benefit outside observers as they try to make sense of transpirings in Istanbul and beyond.
The notion that Turkey is becoming increasingly authoritarian under Erdogan only makes sense if your chronology is a few years long. It is true that, using his democratic mandate, Erdogan has been aggressive in the implementation of his agenda over the last few years with very little effort in the way of consensus building. But in the context of 50 years of Turkish history, the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) represents a step forward both economically and democratically as the rest of the world defines those terms.
The line between a brand of "Kemalist" secularism and democracy is blurred by a large part of last week's bona fide protesters, who likened their Turkish government to that of other deposed dictatorships in the Middle East. The importance of that form of secularism is espoused especially by supporters of Ataturk's Republican People’s Party (CHP), which held a monopoly on power and information in Turkey for most of its history. It is an ultra-secularism that is better described as the separation of church and society, not the separation of church and state, in addition to extreme Turkish nationalism. While the protests do target legitimate shortcomings in the Erdogan government, such as curbs on personal freedom, they are not defined by them. Rather, they are defined by the shift away from a traditional Turkish way of existence, which is uncomfortable for many. The allegations being lobbed against the AKP and Erdogan existed the day they took power.
The Kurdish example helps contextualize the protesters' allegations a bit. Since the founding of the Turkish Republic 90 years ago, Turkey has ceremonially excluded the participation of its openly Kurdish citizens from any aspect of civil society. Dozens of Kurdish parties have been banned from the "democratic" process and elected members of parliament have been jailed for treason for merely speaking Kurdish in parliament. Thousands of Kurdish journalists have been jailed and tortured by successive Turkish governments for writing in Kurdish or on Kurdish issues, with more Kurdish journalists in jail today in Turkey than journalists imprisoned in all of China or Iran. The list of injustices like this against Kurds is long.
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Labels: Kurds, Middle East, Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey