The Last Exit

February 4, 2021

The EU summit held in Brussels on December 17, 2004 decided that accession negotiations with Turkey would start on October 3, 2005. The process was accordingly launched at the Luxembourg Intergovernmental Conference.

This was two years after the Justice and Development Party’s (JDP) coming to power when democratic reform appeared to be high on the agenda. In early April 2009 President Obama visited Turkey. He addressed the Turkish Parliament and referred to Turkey’s strong, vibrant, secular democracy as Ataturk’s greatest legacy. At the time Turkey’s hard and soft power was appreciated. Its contribution to regional stability was valued.

A decade later we still have the JDP in power but another Turkey. “Democratic reform” has been replaced by authoritarian rule proving our constitutional/institutional weaknesses. In 2017, with only 51.41% of the vote, Turks approved the so-called “presidential system”. Since then, our polarization has deepened because people have seen only its failures.

On paper, Article 2 of our constitution says, “The Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state governed by rule of law.”

Implementation starts with adverbs but, however, nonetheless…

Article 7 of our constitution says, “Legislative power is vested in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on behalf of Turkish Nation. This power shall not be delegated.”

Implementation starts with adverbs but, however, nonetheless…

Article 24 of our constitution says, “Everyone has the freedom of conscience, religious belief and conviction.”

Implementation starts with adverbs but, however, nonetheless…

Article 25 of our constitution says, “Everyone has the freedom of thought and opinion. No one shall be compelled to reveal his/her thoughts and opinions for any reason or purpose; nor shall anyone be blamed or accused because of his/her thoughts and opinions.”

Implementation starts with adverbs but, however, nonetheless…

Article 34 of our constitution (As amended on October 3, 2001; Act No.4709) says, “Everyone has the right to hold unarmed and peaceful meetings and demonstration marches without prior permission.”

Implementation starts with adverbs but, however, nonetheless… 

Article 138 of our constitution says,

 “Judges shall be independent in the discharge of their duties; they shall give judgment in accordance with the Constitution, laws, and their personal conviction conforming to the law”,

“No organ, authority, office or individual may give orders or instructions to courts or judges relating to the exercise of judicial power, send them circulars, or make recommendations or suggestions.”

Implementation starts with adverbs but, however, nonetheless…

Yet we still say, we see ourselves as part of Europe. Like Belarus? Because in geographic terms Belarus is also part of Europe, more than Turkey. But geographic location or proximity does not necessarily mean the sharing of values. What enabled Ankara to launch the EU accession process was the promise of our democracy. Regrettably, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party has utterly failed to keep that promise.

The disproportionate use of force, under whatever pretext, to suppress the protests against the appointment of a new rector to Istanbul’s prestigious Boğaziçi University is wrong and more than likely to nullify whatever remaining claims Ankara has to a place in Europe. In other words, as the police shot plastic bullets at demonstrators and the government shot itself in the foot but with real bullets.

But our democratic decline, though a fact, is not the end of the story. The world is at a critical juncture. So far, global solidarity in the face of Covid-19 has been dismal. The pandemic is having a negative impact on global economy. For a variety of reasons, the balance of power is shifting. The negative impact of climate change is now a reality. Technological progress is continuing at full speed. In brief, the world may enter a different era sooner than expected.

To keep abreast of such rapid evolution Turkey needs to invest more than anything else in education, our one and only compass to the future. Ankara must divert funds from controversial and extravagant projects to schools. It must respect the independence of universities; recognize them the right to elect their rectors. It must reward scientific achievement. Otherwise, we shall soon find ourselves at a dead end, unable to follow, let alone match contemporary advance in any field. Technological progress is more than producing drones for military use.

As for our foreign policy, there is not much to be said, not much to add to what has been said over and over again to no avail. We may soon have to admit that Turkey has already changed axis without anyone realizing it; that we are irreversibly a member of the world’s authoritarian camp.

About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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