Ankara: Glasnost, Kurds, Armenians, 1915


Today’s Zaman, Turkey
April 23 2013


Such is the power of the dynamics of transformation. Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “switching-on” of the Kurdish peace process
at the very end of December 2012 showed how deeply “Turkish glasnost”
was hidden in the depths of the sociopolitical fabric.

It has now unleashed whatever was left unaccomplished. Careful
followers of the intensifying debate in the media, of the
pulse-taking visits of the “wise people” to Anatolia and of the
scenes of frustration in the town squares are now being invited to
think that what I call “glasnost a la Turca” — with its stop-and-go
characteristics — has now gained new dimensions.

Most people in the street hope that the peace process be completed
successfully, but those who remain confused and doubtful are not
a few. A recent, undisclosed poll of voters I have been briefed on
shows that both the voters of the Justice and Development Party (AKP)
and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) have lost
some ground, but not to the other parties: The AKP lost 6 points and
the CHP lost 4 points to the portion of voters who are “undecided.”

This does not mean rising opposition to the peace process, but a
sense of being left out in the dark, not being informed enough. In
this sense, the “wise people” journeys do help us to understand that
thorough work needs to be done to convince the crowds of the coastal
strips about a happy ending to it all.

The intense debate, often in conflict with Turkey’s stiff legislation,
does also help us understand the devil in the details. We now know even
better, for example, that a new, draft constitution which includes a
new system of a (semi) presidential model is not in the bag for the
AKP hopefuls.

A recent interview in the Taraf daily with the Peace and Democracy
Party’s (BDP) co-chairman, Selahattin DemirtaÅ~_, shows that the party
will be tough when discussing a possible AKP-signed draft. The BDP
seems to have a great deal of opposition to Erdogan pushing through a
further empowering “one-man rule” system, it voices reservations on
maintaining a tutelary mechanism of the exclusively Sunni Religious
Affairs Directorate as a constitutional institution and shows
determination on women’s rights.

Turkey’s enhanced glasnost also helps us see the genuine political
fault lines more clearly, within the CHP as well as the extreme-right
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). At this stage one can expect a
thorough process so that all the camps really mean what they say
and do.

As I have been arguing constantly in this column, Kurds — both
conservative and secular — of this country are key to the completion
of the glasnost that has dragged on for far too long; but it is also
about the darkest past.

Without a proper reckoning with the Ottoman Armenians’ tragedy which
has defined the tenets and the mentality of the republic, closure of
the transformation taking place will never feel complete.

Today, as the descendants of those who perished as a result of
ruthless, genocidal policies of the Committee of Unity and Progress
(CUP) commemorate the horror from their homelands in Anatolia,
we are only two years away from the 100th anniversary of the Aghet
(Catastrophe) — the annihilation of the Ottoman Armenians.

Turkey’s glasnost has been instrumental to defeat the taboo of the last
century in Turkey. Today, on April 24, people will gather in Adana,
Ä°zmir, Ankara, Batman, Bodrum, Dersim, Diyarbekir and Ä°stanbul.

Every year, the number of participants has increased: from 700 in
2010 to 3,000 last year.

But the question is whether Turkish glasnost, if successful in sorting
out the Kurdish peace process, will also help lead to a proper apology
from Ankara in 2015.

No one is sure. The rapprochement with Armenia being frozen, the
pressures of a rich Azerbaijan and its lobbies having increased and
the lack of a culture of “institutionalized repentance” are all reasons
for pessimism. They are also backed by behind-the-scenes preparations
for watering down the memory of the tragedy, by focusing all attention
in 2015 on World War I and Ottoman suffering.

It is, of course, on the wrong track. The real virtue is in the double
apology: first on the tragedy, second on the denial.

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