ANKARA: What happened in Turkey and what did not in 2007?

Today’s Zaman, Turkey
Dec 31 2007

What happened in Turkey and what did not in 2007? (2)

BULENT KENES

It was the first day of 2002. A friend of mine gave me a call at an
early morning hour, wished me a happy new year and then asked me how
I was doing. After 2001, marked by uncertainty and dominated by
crises, bankruptcies and layoffs, I remember saying to my friend in
the first hours of the new year precisely this: `Well, what else
could I be doing? Just trying to get through 2002 as quickly as I
can.’
Just like in the first days of 2002, 2007 signaled from the very
first day that it would be a year we’d have to get through. Strangely
enough, there was neither a political crisis nor an economic one as
we left 2006 behind for 2007; there was also no mass bankruptcies nor
chaotic events. Just the opposite, the economy was booming and income
per capita was increasing by the day. Turkey was flourishing. And
Turkish democracy, although at a slow pace, was making progress
thanks to serious civil reforms enacted on the way to the European
Union. The unrest did not stem from any of these; indeed, it came
from the fact that the presidential election would be held in 2007,
and this election was enough to stir up political fears in a country
like Turkey.

And all the fears were soon proven to have not been unfounded, and
2007 turned out to be a year that was very hard on Turkey. However, I
can say with peace of mind in this last day of the year that 2007 has
been a critical turning point, for coming up with solutions to all
our acute problems caused by our defective democracy and for our
democratization adventure. I’m positive that history will record this
determination as an accurate one. Even though we may have faced a
wide range of anxieties, we will remember 2007 as a passageway to a
more mature Turkish democracy, to a more civil and participative
understanding in the administration and as a door opening to a
serious opportunity to put an end to the trouble of terrorism.

In my previous column, I recalled what did not happen in 2007 and
promised to write about what has happened this year. I should first
of all note that 2007 has been a difficult year for the journalism
profession. It has been a year during which we — among our
journalist friends — frequently joked that `we consume so much
material in one day; material that countries like Norway and Sweden
couldn’t find in a year.’ As a matter of fact, we experienced days in
2007 such that we were forced into changing our headline topic hour
by hour. If we are to remember those politically hot days, we can
note the following:

This may be a little personal, but I became a father twice in 2007,
in two very important ways. After a magnificent celebration, Today’s
Zaman began its publishing life on Jan. 16 under my direction.
Although it was only its first year, it played a historic role in
causing the critical developments of 2007 to be correctly perceived
abroad and among foreigners in Turkey. And in this long year, I
tasted the sweet feeling of becoming a father for the second time
with the birth of my daughter Elif Leyla.

Of course, not all the events that occurred were as happy as these
two. The first tragic incident of 2007, which was expected to be
marked by provocations and high tension because of the presidential
elections to be held, was the killing of Turkish journalist of
Armenian descent Hrant Dink. If there is a single positive aspect to
this, it must be that it aroused a nationwide mass reaction against
the assassination. The positive atmosphere that developed around
civil society organizations and citizens claiming Dink, regardless of
his ethnic background, was as important as the negative atmosphere
created by the state’s reluctance to delve into the dark structure
behind his murder.

The first half of 2007 saw many opposition rallies with high
participation. Acting on the paranoid fallacy that the republic and
secularism were under imminent threat, tens of thousands took to the
squares with a single target in mind — to prevent anyone nominated
by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) from residing in the
Çankaya presidential palace for seven years. The main slogan they
kept chanting during these rallies, where they claimed that the
government did not represent the bigger portion of the society, was
`Tayyip look at us and count how many we are!’ Organized by retired
generals remembered for their unrealized coup plans during their
terms of service, these rallies caused the tension in the country to
rise, thereby providing an important ground for those endeavoring to
stop the presidential election through anti-democratic methods.

Amid this political pandemonium, they fabricated an absolutely
nonsensical formula that did not exist in established practice —
that the quorum to hold a parliamentary session was 367. The
Constitutional Court approved of this cock-and-bull formula, under
heavy pressure from the propaganda of the elitist clique and the
military’s midnight e-memo. Therefore, the government decided to head
for early elections. What reversed that dark process, which gave
serious signals that Turkey was about to go off the rails of
democracy, was the ballot box, the temple of democracy.

The results of the July 22 elections shattered all the dark plots to
pieces in an atmosphere marked by bellows of rage in relation to the
fallacy that the republic and secularism were under threat, by
efforts to give a new shape to politics with interventions made from
outside and by escalating terrorist attacks, which put great pressure
on Turkey to carry out a cross-border military operation. Above all,
the whole of Turkey and the world found the answers to the slogans
chanted at the rallies called `republican’ and clearly saw that this
rally-loving disgruntled group was only a marginal segment of
society.

All the plans belonging to the main opposition party fell through.
While the Republican People’s Party (CHP) lost a good deal of the
trust placed in it due to its strategy of tension and emerged from
the elections suffering great political devastation, the Nationalist
Movement Party (MHP) and the Democratic Society Party (DTP), which
obtained the chance to enter Parliament after the passage of some
years, acted differently from the CHP. The first candidate in the
process, Abdullah Gül, was elected to the country’s highest post, for
the sake of which so many crises were sparked. Parallel to this
election, a process of drafting a civil constitution started. An
intensive political and diplomatic effort was exerted for the
cross-border operation. Although some tried to abuse the cross-border
operation plans in order to change the political balances in the
country prior to the general elections, it was launched in December
with accurate planning, correct timing and a proper method.

Turkey became the scene of many other historic developments — so
many that we cannot list all of them here — as well as many
provocations and dark events. However, the obvious winner of 2007 is
democracy. Now, I can easily remark that I don’t view 2008 as a year
we have to get through, and I hope that it will be year to be enjoyed
by everybody to the fullest. Happy New Year.

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